Gamers Are Lucky To Live In Australia

It’s easy to take a lot of things for granted. That’s especially true when something like Cyberpunk 2077 comes along, and you remember that Australians have the safety of our notoriously powerful consumer protection laws.

Refunds are, despite what our local laws often say, never something to be taken for granted. Even in a country like Australia, the consumer protections only hold because regulators frequently and repeatedly go to the mat to inflict fresh wounds on retailers and platform holders whenever they stray. It’s a constant war. Valve getting served to the tune of $3 million, years after they’d implemented their existing refund policy, didn’t stop Sony from refusing digital refunds locally.

Unsurprisingly, arguments like “it’s not actually a game” and “only the game developer can give us permission to refund it” didn’t fly with the Federal Court. And earlier this year, amidst the drama of COVID-19, Sony paid out $3.5 million. A bargain, really, when the court found the maximum penalty could have been “at least $63.9 million”.

It’s worth remembering, because all those arguments, cheeky tricks and refusal of refunds that got Sony, Valve, Kogan, MSY, EB Games, EA and so many other companies laughed out of Australian courts?

They’re being deployed overseas, and gamers are getting absolutely shafted.

The only platforms where users have been fortunate seems to have been on Steam. Microsoft generally processes refunds pretty quickly, but some users are reporting that their refund requests are being denied, even after CD Projekt Red’s open mea culpa.

It’s a disaster. It’s certainly not helped by the fact that CD Projekt appears to have clearly panicked, offering refunds before telling platform holders. But on the whole, Australians are fortunate in that they have a degree of protection that’s flat-out not available overseas. Gamestop, for instance, has started openly refusing refunds, saying anyone affected should contact CD Projekt instead.

That sort of behaviour would immediately get shut down in Australia. Australian consumer law dictates that the seller also bares responsibility for the product, and no amount of legalese or smooth wording can wash away that fact.

Here’s a reminder from the ACCC’s win against Sony, where Sony had attempted to tell users that they couldn’t seek refunds after 14 days, or if a game had been downloaded (emphasis mine):

Between October 2017 and November 2017, SIENE (through its call centre agents), in trade or commerce … engaged in conduct that was misleading or deceptive or likely to mislead or deceive, and made false or misleading representations to each concerning the existence, exclusion or effect of any right or remedy they may have had, by representing that, even if a game had a major failure or some other failure to comply with a guarantee that could not be, or had not been, remedied, SIENE was not required to refund the users more than 14 days after purchase or if the game had been downloaded, when in fact there is no such limit on consumers’ rights to obtain redress from suppliers of goods under ss. 259 and 263 of the [Australian Consumer Law], in contravention of ss.1 8 and 29(1)(m) of the [Australian Consumer Law].

A key part there: obtaining redress from suppliers of goods. Sony might not make Cyberpunk 2077, but if you bought it through Sony, then Sony’s legally required to process the refund in accordance with Australian consumer laws. The same applies whether it’s a physical copy of a game or a digital code, and it applies to any platform holder or storefront you buy it from.

So instances like this, where at least two Australian gamers were refused refunds on Cyberpunk 2077, simply won’t fly.

User Kremeleon also provided some screenshots of upside down trees glitching through the screen, and severe artifacing. While it’s up for debate how frequent or how impactful those things might be on gameplay, I’d simply point to the fact that if the ACCC could force refunds for Fallout 76, there’s little reason why Cyberpunk 2077 wouldn’t fall under the same banner.

If visual errors, lag, server problems and graphical anomalies were enough to be considered a major fault under Australian consumer law, then Cyberpunk 2077‘s state at launch — regardless of what CD Projekt might patch in weeks or months later — would surely qualify too. It doesn’t matter what the developer does after the fact: it’s the state of the game at the point it was purchased that counts.

Now, naturally, local retailers are going to push this all the time. Even after JB and EB Games started tacitly accepting refunds without question, there were still isolated reports of individuals who had been refused refunds, although those have dwindled in the last few days. It’s mostly been international platforms treating Australian users just like everyone else.

But Australian gamers at least can be secure in the knowledge that they have the backing of the competition regulator and its near-flawless record when it comes to situations like these. Companies, platform holders and developers will always try and push the boundaries, obfuscate, or make things more difficult. Users overseas don’t have that same kind of backing, so when CD Projekt stuffs up the messaging and pissed off customers get pinballed between developer, publisher, platform holder over and over again, there’s often no real recourse.

Our fortune is that our competition laws act like a rubber band, snapping companies back to a more reasonable position via the force of a few million dollars whenever things get pushed too far. And not every country is so lucky — and not every country has governments, or statutory bodies established by their governments — to have regulatory forces that fight to protect that right.

Note: if you’re having trouble getting refunds, the ACCC recommends users “make a complaint to the ACCC or their local state or territory consumer protection regulator”. The ACCC has guidance on how to make a complaint here. There’s also a list here of the consumer protection agencies for every state and territory.

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