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Gaming blues - the PC version of Arkham Knight and consumer rights
- AuthorPeter Dalton
Big AAA titles usually launch under a weight of expectation. Unfortunately it’s not uncommon for such titles to struggle under this weight, especially when launching on multiple platforms. Sadly, the latest victim of this is the final instalment in Rocksteady Studio’s excellent Batman series, Batman Arkham Knight.
While Arkham Knight has opened to rave reviews on the Xbox One and PS4 (our own Andy Moseby reports it is “awesome“), on the PC the title went missing in action only one day after release, with the publisher, Warner Brothers, pulling the game from sale. The cause: the PC version simply didn’t work as promised. Users and reviewers report slow texture loading, poor framerates and other major performance issues, even on high specification hardware. There are also reports of features missing entirely from the PC version. Rocksteady and Warner are now working to fix the PC version (which was initially ported from the console versions by a third party developer). There is no date for the completion of this, but recent email leaks suggest that it won’t be ready until at least the autumn. Meanwhile sales on Steam, the most popular PC digital download retailer, remain suspended.
Where this leaves gamers who purchased the PC version, either as a pre-order or before the sale suspension, depends on where they purchased the game. Purchases through Steam will be refunded as long as the request is made within 14 days of purchase but only if the game has been played for less than two hours.
However this doesn’t apply if a key or steam wallet was purchased elsewhere. Purchases though other electronic stores depend on the policies for the store in question. For example, the popular Green Man Gaming Service (which actually sells Steam keys) has said it will offer a refund, but only if an “upcoming” PC patch doesn’t fix the game. Purchasers of the game in-store will have to rely on the refund policy of the store in question, which tend to be non-existent if packaging has been opened.
All of this re-opens the vexed question of consumer rights where a video game doesn’t live up to expectations. Steam’s refund policy is relatively new, and Green Man Gaming’s refund offer is an exception; its standard terms state that it does not offer refunds “due to your dissatisfaction with the product or if your computer does not meet the minimum Product requirements”.
There is consumer protection legislation which overrides retailers’ standard terms and conditions. For example, the UK’s Consumer Contracts Regulations contain protections for consumers buying goods online (or in any manner other than in-store), including the right to return the goods for any reason within 14 days of delivery. However these do not apply to software where the packaging has been opened, or digital downloads (the buyer loses his right to cancel the contract on delivery of the download as long as he has been advised and consented to this – most online retailers have this written in to their terms and conditions). The Sale of Goods Act contains protections around fitness of purpose and quality of goods. However, in practice it’s hard to determine whether a game has breached these requirements; when is a game not of “satisfactory quality” or not “fit for purpose”? Arkham Knight does run on PC; just not very well, and whilst framerates and graphical problems abound, there could be legitimate arguments that these do not render the game a breach of the Act. Further compounding this is the fact that the terms and conditions for online stores may not be governed by English law; Steam purchases for example are technically made under the law of Luxemburg, although the terms also state that where the gamer’s domestic consumer protection laws offer consumer protection not available in Luxembourg, these domestic laws will prevail. How this would play out in practice is a subject for another post, as these issues can be very complex.
Consumer protection issues remain a hot topic in the gaming industry. It’s not uncommon for publishers to (over) hype new releases to stimulate pre-orders and then release a product which doesn’t match that hype. There is still ongoing litigation in the US over “Alien: Colonial Marines”, in which consumers are suing Sega (and until recently, the developer, Gearbox), as the game didn’t, allegedly, live up to pre-launch trailers and hype. The majority of sales for all but the most popular games come in the pre-launch period and immediately after release, and some publishers have begun placing review embargos on their games, preventing publication of reviews until the game has launched. This has led to accusations that publishers are aware their games do not live up to the hype, or contain broken or incomplete features, but are preventing consumers becoming aware of this until after the game has gone on sale (and a large proportion of sales have already been made).
The increasingly common crowd funding of games has also led to concerns. The upcoming PC space sim, Star Citizen, has raised an astonishing $77M through crowdfunding from committed gamers. There are already concerns about “feature creep” and development issues which have some commentators suggesting the game is in trouble (although the developers strongly deny this and to my eyes it still looks awesome). If a crowdfunded game runs into problems, or doesn’t actually release at all, it’s not clear that, at a practical level, funders would get any of their funding returned to them.
This is something I intend to return to explore more in future blog posts. For now, I, like many other PC gamers, am crossing my fingers that Rocksteady can repair the PC version of Arkham Knight so that it releases in the way it was promised, and which matches the excellent versions available on consoles. In the meantime I would always think twice about pre-ordering any game until reviews are out.