On Thursday 1st October The Consumer Rights Act 2015 came into force as part of UK Legislation with the UK Government's intention that it serves to merge and replace three previous consumer protection laws, The Sale of Goods Act, The Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations and The Supply of Goods and Services Act in an attempt to make UK consumer rights clearer to the public and have disputes between customers and business resolved quickly.
One of the significant updates added to this new legislation is giving consumer rights when purchasing digital content which was previously considered to be a legal grey area when customers had issues with online music, digital films, video games and electronic books that they purchased and sought refunds or repairs due to faults discovered. Now all digital content sold in the UK will be treat on equal level with physical goods in the eyes of the law of consumer protection.
The UK charity Citizens Advice Bureaux has posted information and advice for consumers about the new law. In their Practical Examples document, they offer a scenario of what would be considered “Faulty Content“ with a video game.
“You download a free game (for example, a virtual world) and build up some virtual currency in the game through your normal game play. You then buy some additional virtual currency in order to make an in-app purchase (for example, an item for their world). The item is faulty and doesn’t appear in your virtual world.
Under the Act, as the game is free, the provider does not have to provide a remedy for any faults in the game. However, once you paid a price for some content then, if the you can show that that content is faulty (that is, does not meet the quality rights), the provider will be liable to provide a remedy. The provider is only liable for faults affecting the chargeable elements of the game.“
The three major digital distribution services, Steam, GOG and Origin, all have refund polices with the aim of keeping in line with the European Union's Consumer Rights Directive 2014 for simplicity due to their international reach. The new UK legislation demands that refunds, repairs or replacements of goods be offered within the first 30 days of purchase, however the EU directive states the following when it comes to digital goods.
“You also enjoy the right of withdrawal within 14 days from concluding the contract for online digital content. However, once you start downloading or streaming the content you may no longer withdraw from the purchase, provided that the trader has complied with his obligations. Specifically, the trader must first obtain your explicit agreement to the immediate download or streaming, and you must explicitly acknowledge that you lose your right to withdraw once the performance has started.“
With the exception of GOG, whose policy seems to match that of the UK legislation, there is a potential conflict between which law digital distribution companies will need to follow if they are based outside of the UK.
EU member states have no restrictions on making their own laws concerning working conditions, social policy, consumer protection and the environment if they are seen to be compliant with The Lisbon Treaty. If however a national law and EU law come up as a conflict in court, the case Costa v E.N.E.L set the precedence that EU law has supremacy over national law.
At this time all companies, ether UK based or international, selling video games to UK customers will have to adhere to the new UK legalisation. Whether an international company will challenge this at a European Court or not remains to be seen.