The Competition and Markets Authority, an independently led part of the UK government, has just launched an investigation into Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo over their online games and services. The CMA will be investigating services like the PSN, PlayStation Now, PlayStation Plus, Xbox Live, and others to determine if they break any consumer protection laws. Most of the concern revolves around auto-renewing of subscriptions refund policies, and the general terms and conditions.
“The CMA is concerned about whether some of these companies’ business practices are legal, such as their use of auto-renewals for online gaming contracts, their cancellation and refund policies and their terms and conditions,” the CMA said in a statement about the investigation.
Questions being raised through the investigation include:
- Are the contract terms unfair? – Do the companies’ terms give them wide discretion to change the quality of the deal, for example, by reducing the number of games included or increasing the price?
- How easy it is to cancel or obtain a refund? – Are there any factors that make it difficult for people to cancel their contract or get their money back?
- How fair is the auto-renewal process? – Are customers clearly told that their membership will be rolled over, are they regularly reminded that they are on a roll-over contract before further payments are taken, and is auto-renewal set as the default option?
At this point, the CMA made it clear that it has not reached any conclusions, but that it is “fully prepared to take action” should they find that consumers aren’t being treated fairly or that they break any consumer protection laws.
The investigation into gaming companies is part of a broader consumer complaint surrounding services like mobile contracts and other services that auto-renew. The concern is that there is no easy way to cancel those auto-renewal options. Sony’s recently been making some changes to its refund and cancellation policies, but it’s not clear if those changes have anything to do with this investigation.
This investigation also has nothing to do with other loot box investigations that are currently active.