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Oz vs. EA - The 3 year video game refund battle

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After a three year debacle Australians will finally be able to get proper refunds for their digital purchases in Australia. That the problem even lasted that long highlights one of flaws with digital goods. Consumers have minimal to no recourse to solve problems.

The issue down under

Australia's problems began when EA refused to give refunds to purchasers of Sim City, a game whose entire media narrative was that it was broken. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) took exception to that position and pointed out to EA that their refusal to issues refund was in direct contravention of Australian Consumer Law. Now three years of backing and forthing later, EA has finally been convinced of the wrong of their position and altered their refund policy.

“Businesses such as EA selling digitally downloadable goods cannot avoid their responsibilities under the Australian Consumer Law just because they are located outside of Australia,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said, in a statement.

“If you sell to consumers in Australia, then the Australian Consumer Law applies to all goods or services you supply. This includes all of the ACL consumer guarantees, which cannot be excluded, restricted or modified.”

For their part EA had the following to say on the matter via Kotaku Australia:

"We’re pleased to have worked cooperatively with the ACCC to resolve the ACCC’s concerns and ensure our players in Australia have the best possible experience when purchasing and playing EA games. In addition to rights available to our players under the Australian Consumer Law, we are also proud to offer our global, industry-leading Great Game Guarantee that allows for digital returns within certain timeframes if anyone is not satisfied with a digitally-downloaded game from EA. (see: https://www.origin.com/en-au/great-game-guarantee for further details).”

The issue everywhere


It's all well and good that this worked out in the end, but the fact that this story took three years to reach a resolution highlights one of the main issues with dealing in digital goods. Recourse for mistakes, honest or otherwise, is often difficult to come by and, as was shown in this example, can sometimes require the intervention of a third party. And may take up unnecessary length of time.

I've written on this topic before and shown how troublesome it can be to get satisfaction when trying to resolve issues relating to digital purchases. But this really shows that in the realm of digital transactions too much of the power lies in the hands of the seller. The relationship between the transactional parties is not an equal one and this stems largely from the ability of the seller to ignore and frustrate the efforts of the buy.

This is especially so when the seller operates from outside the national borders of the purchaser, as is the case for South Africans. In Australia's purchasers there had the backing of third party, the ACCC, to assist and also the fact that they are a significantly large market. Even then, it tool three years for the problem to get solved.

What will happen to South Africans if we run into similar issues? We have excellent consumer protection laws here and representatives bodies, but is our market significant enough for EA/Steam/PlayStation Store to care? I don't think we are.

Now this isn't to say we should brush off digital purchases, but local consumers need to remain wary. If things go wrong, we may not have many options.

Source: Kotaku Australia

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