UK government responds to petition asking them to regulate publishers into keeping games “in a working state”

By admin May5,2024

The UK government has responded to a petition asking for “government intervention” to force the industry to keep video games “in a reasonably working state when support ends”, rather than allowing them to become unplayable such as when online servers are shut down. The petition was prompted by the closure in March of ten-year-old Ubisoft racing game The Crew.

“Consumers should be aware that there is no requirement in UK law compelling software companies and providers to support older versions of their operating systems, software or connected products. There may be occasions where companies make commercial decisions based on the high running costs of maintaining older servers for video games that have declining user bases,” says the government’s response. “However, video games sellers must comply with existing consumer law, including the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (CRA) and the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPRs).”

The Crew’s servers were shut down for good earlier this year, and since it had no offline mode, this rendered the game unplayable even in singleplayer. The closure prompted YouTuber Ross Scott to start a campaign called Stop Killing Games. The campaign encourages players to raise the issue of forced video game obsolescence with governments and regulators – thus prompting this petition.

The government’s response explains the current regulations and what might constitute a breach of them in this context. Digital content such as video games must, for example, “be of satisfactory quality, fit for a particular purpose and as described by the seller”. On the issue of satisfactory quality, the regulation would only be “breached if they are not of the standard which a reasonable person would consider to be satisfactory, taking into account circumstances including the price and any description given.”

Likewise, a product which becomes unusable long after purchase likely only constitutes a breach if it’s counter to the manner by which the product was advertised. “If consumers are led to believe that a game will remain playable indefinitely for certain systems, despite the end of physical support, the CPRs may require that the game remains technically feasible (for example, available offline) to play under those circumstances.”

The response provides contact numbers and websites consumers should use if they feel there has been a breach of the regulations.

No video game is explicitly advertised as something which will “remain playable indefinitely”. The concept is faintly absurd, given the expense and effort in maintaining software. Likewise, I think you’d struggle to find a reasonable person who expects an online game to remain playable online forever, given the assumed operation costs of servers and the many precedents for online games shutting down.

Yet there’s still something that feels particularly ick about the closure of The Crew. It was not rendered unplayable by player-side software or hardware changes beyond Ubisoft’s control, but by ill-explained “upcoming server infrastructure and licensing constraints”. It is also a game that, to many, was not an intrinsically online experience, but a singleplayer game.

Do I think the solution to this is government regulation? No, not really. I think it sucks that The Crew was closed down, but I also think it’s unreasonable to expect games to be maintained indefinitely, and I can’t claim to know anything about the needs of The Crew’s server infrastructure. I think a better option than government petitions is probably petitioning GOG.com, where The Crew currently has just 36 upvotes.

The UK government petition will remain open until October 16th, and if it reaches 100,000 signatures it will be considered for debate in parliament.

By admin

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