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CMA investigates customers’ auto-renewal terms in online gaming terms and conditions

Published on 04 July 2019

How might the CMA’s investigation into auto-renewals and other potentially unfair terms in online gaming contracts affect wider industry?

The background

The CMA has launched an investigation into the major players of the online gaming industry such as Nintendo Switch, PlayStation and Xbox, in order to determine whether their commercial practices are lawful. It will examine a number of these businesses’ contractual provisions such as their auto-renewal (rollover) terms, their refund policies and their terms and conditions. 

The development

The CMA has contacted the major gaming companies both to ask for information about their specific gaming contracts and thoughts and experiences to support the investigation.

This action is the second phase of the CMA’s response to the Citizens Advice “super-complaint” regarding the loyalty penalty, which had identified practices such as expensive exit fees, compulsory auto-renewals, lack of satisfactory warning of the auto renewal and difficult procedures for the cancellation of contracts.

The CMA’s new investigation will focus on the issues below:

  • Fairness of contractual terms
    Do the terms and conditions give the company a wide discretion to alter and amend the worth of the deal? For example, would it be able to increase the price or reduce the number of gaming options available to the consumer?
  • The refund policy

    Do the companies make the consumers ability to obtain a refund or cancel their contract difficult? If so, what are the factors that deny consumers those rights?

  • The auto-renewal process
    Is the process of starting a new membership clarified to the consumer? Is the auto-renewal a default option and how regularly is the consumer alerted that their contract will auto-renew before further payments are taken? As Andrea Coscelli, the chief executive of the CMA, stated, “roll-over contracts are becoming more and more commonplace and its essential that they work well for customers”.

As of yet, the CMA has not come to a conclusion as to whether the companies’ contractual provisions are unlawful. However, if they do find the terms unfair then enforcement action will be taken.

Why is this important?

The outcome of this investigation could bring pressure to bear on all companies which seek to impose “unfair” terms on their customers, such as auto-renewal terms (without sufficient warning), complex procedures to make cancelling a contract harder or give the company an excessive amount of discretion to alter the terms of the contract.

Any practical tips?

Look at your contracts and determine whether there are any unfair terms. If there is an auto-renewal clause, it may be worth highlighting this term to your customers at the outset of the contract, and giving them plenty of notice before the contract renews and they are charged. In addition, do not obscure the consumer’s ability to cancel the contract.