Fortnite refunds, digital downloads and CD keys – are you being treated fairly?

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31/01/2019 We’re increasingly dealing with a lot of complaints about video games – and it’s tricky to give advice because the video game market has developed faster than legislation can keep up! We think there are huge problems in this area – and we’d like to see something done to tidy things up.

The rise of Fortnite and other free-to-play games has meant that baffled parents across the country have had to learn terms like “micro-transaction”, “skins”, “CD keys” and more – but even if you were already in the know, it’s still pretty much impossible to know what these terms mean for your rights.

Can you get a refund for your kid’s Fortnite skins? If you’ve bought yourself a new game off of a CD key site, can you get a refund if the key was already used? Are you even due a refund for downloaded digital content? We’ll try and tackle all these questions – but be warned, it’s tricky and we think the situation needs to be made a lot clearer for consumers.

We think the situation is confusing for consumers – and might be treating people unfairly!

Micro-transactions (including Fortnite skins and V-bucks) – can you get refunds?

If you played Farmville or Candy Crush back in the day (or if your children play Fortnite), you’ve undoubtedly come across micro-transactions. They’re basically small in-app/game purchases (normally costing about £1.99 but potentially for up to £20 or more – depending on the game) that give you either a small advantage or a new feature in an app or game.

Most games that have micro-transactions demand that you pay for them in a special in-game currency – which is normally bought separately in real life money.

Fortnite has V-bucks, other games have crystals or gems – the names vary, but they’re all pretty similar in that they cost real cash. Here’s where things get tricky.

While most games and other digital platforms have put in a way of getting a refund for unwanted purchases, you’ll generally only get in-game/app currency back for purchases you’ve made using it in game. That’s right – when you’ve made a purchase in game, you’ll only get crystals or gems back. This means that once you’ve put cash into a game, there’s no quick, automatic way to get it back if you realise you’ve made a mistake.

Fortnite, for example, last year implemented a refund policy that gives you the chance to get a V-bucks refund for accidental purchases – but you can only use it three times. Epic Games, Fortnite’s developers, often consider refund requests to reimburse consumers with cash in exceptional cases (such as when children have accidentally racked up charges of thousands of dollars) – but this is done on a case-by-case basis and, as the Better Business Bureau recently revealed, Epic Games may be struggling to deal with the number of people trying to get in touch with them, since hundreds of complaints to Epic Games go unanswered.

You can't currently raise a complaint about Fortnite through Resolver – but we're looking for a way to make this happen. Consumers deserve a way to make their voices heard – and we want to help businesses deal with their backlog of complaints as quickly as possible.

But what are your rights?

Well, it’s tricky. The Consumer Rights Act 2015 considered digital content when it was released, but was only really drafted with things like music and movies in mind. There is no automatic right to reject digital content – which basically means you don’t have your normal right to a refund within 30 days. You do have the right to a repair, replacement, price reduction or refund if something is faulty – but this probably won't help here.

The thing is, it has gotten extremely easy to accidentally buy stuff in games – especially if you’ve let your small child play on your mobile and you’ve got your card details saved.

Most purchases can be made in one click (because game developers know that making it hard to buy stuff stops you from spending), and they’ve got all sorts of fancy tricks to keep you spending. Game developers have borrowed a few moves from the guys who make slot machines. Every purchase makes lights flash, coins jangle and things bounce around – all visual cues designed to give you a sense of satisfaction.

You have some rights under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 – but exercising them can be tricky!

In fact, other developers have played the system even further, with pricing structures for their in-game currency that’re designed to always leave you with a tiny bit left over. They’ll sell you 3000 gems for £30 – but that thing you want in game costt s 2700 gems! You’re left with some gems sitting around, which is a neat little psychological trick to get you to buy more so you can use up what’s left.

An environment like this is specifically designed to get people to cough up their cash – and when the core audience includes kids, surely there should be better protections in place to step in when things go wrong? Currently, the route to redress is pretty confusing for consumers and varies according to the company you're dealing with – many of whom are based in the US and say in their terms and conditions that legal proceedings will be carried out under their consumer law (which is notably weaker than ours in certain areas), a fact that only confuses people further.

CD Keys, Steam and refunds for games

Steam, the digital download system made by Valve, is pretty good these days. They’ve got a nice refund system that can pay out real cash or in-app currency if you have to return a game (for any reason – and it’s normally up to you how you get cash back). They’ve supported refunds for games that have been delivered with features missing. They’ve responded fairly well to the Gambling Commission and the Belgian gaming authorities, who had to crack down on various black markets and gambling operations that had sprung up around their platform. Generally speaking, their refund system is fairly effective in giving consumers a fairer deal.

That being said, there are other platforms that cause a little more harm to consumers. We’ve had a fair number of consumers come to us to ask about their rights when it comes to digital content resale sites – namely, sites that sell second hand CD keys.

A CD key is a code that can be redeemed to download a video game. No disc required.

This is a way of selling on games second-hand (something that most download platforms really don’t like). It’s generally a lot cheaper to buy from a cd key site than to buy a direct download or disk – but you don’t really have the same protections.

Most CD key sites won’t offer refunds if the key has been used – even if you weren’t the one that used it!

We’ve heard from plenty of people who’ve been sold useless keys – and can’t get a refund.

There are actually rules around this – the Consumer Rights Act says that any digital content sold to you has to be “as described” and “fit for purpose”. If it isn’t, you’re due a replacement or a refund. We’d argue that any CD key you’re being sold should be valid and redeemable. However, since this type of site is basically part of a grey market, there’s pretty much no oversight and no redress for people who’ve been messed about!

Better redress

We think that these are problems that need to be looked at urgently. As the market for these products continues to grow, the types of issues that consumers will be facing will get broader and broader.

It would be fantastic to see some new legislation drafted to give consumers a better path to redress when things go wrong.

Resolver and doteveryone

We’ve been working with our friends at doteveryone to put together an event called Yes to Redress. We’ve been bringing together industry-leading figures and academics to talk about the tech-related problems consumers are facing – and hopefully find some solutions.

The last meeting was a fantastic success and the next is coming up very soon.

We’d love to be able to consider the things you think are important, so Resolver wants to hear about your tech-related problems. If there are certain internet, digital or tech-based issues you’re worried about, please let us know by emailing us at yourstories@resolver.co.uk. We won’t be able to get back to every response – but we’ll use your input to fight for a fairer system!

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