UK government responds to Stop Killing Games petition, and it's not good: 'There is no requirement in UK law' that forces companies to support old software

 The Crew screenshot.
The Crew screenshot.

The UK government has issued a response to a petition filed by the Stop Killing Games campaign, and it's probably not what organizers were hoping to hear. The Department of Culture, Media and Sport said videogame companies must comply with existing consumer laws, but also noted that there is no law compelling them to support older versions of their products.

Stop Killing Games came together earlier this year, catalyzed by Ubisoft's decision to end online support for The Crew, rendering the 10-year-old racing game unplayable because of its online requirements. Founder Ross Scott is hoping that pressure from gamers will convince governments to impose laws requiring game makers to ensure games are left in a playable state when online support is ended, very generally by removing any dependence on connectivity in order to function.

The UK Government and Parliament Petition website says that any petition garnering 10,000 signatures will get a response from the government, and the Stop Killing Games petition is well past that benchmark, having attracted more than 23,000 signatures so far. The site does not, however, guarantee a response that will make petitioners happy, and I have to guess that not many are happy with this reply.

"Consumers should be aware that there is no requirement in UK law compelling software companies and providers to support older versions of their operating systems, software or connected products," the response states. "There may be occasions where companies make commercial decisions based on the high running costs of maintaining older servers for videogames that have declining user bases."

UK law requires relevant consumer information to be "clear and correct," and forbids omitting, hiding, or presenting that information "in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner." To that end, "if consumers are led to believe that a game will remain playable indefinitely for certain systems, despite the end of physical support, the [Consumer Protection Regulations] may require that the game remains technically feasible (for example, available offline) to play under those circumstances."

Reports of instances in which those regulations have been broken can be made to relevant consumer helplines, and there is a right to repair, replacement, or "some money back" in cases where digital games fail to meet legal requirements. But the response concludes with a very strong suggestion that the passage of time is not necessarily a quality control issue.

"Consumers should also be aware that while there is a statutory right for goods (including intangible digital content) to be of a satisfactory quality, that will only be breached if they are not of the standard which a reasonable person would consider to be satisfactory, taking into account circumstances including the price and any description given," the response states. "For example, a manufacturer’s support for a mobile phone is likely to be withdrawn as they launch new models. It will remain usable but without, for example, security updates, and over time some app developers may decide to withdraw support."

It's not the best analogy ever but even so, the overtone is not especially encouraging. In a video response using The Crew as an example, Scott said it's "debatable" whether the game's dependence on servers for basic functionality is sufficiently clear to consumers, because it's "buried in the fine print" of the EULA, and the box cover only says it "requires internet."

"Anything less than saying exactly when the game will cease functioning isn't enough," Scott said. "The majority of customers won't notice it otherwise."

At the same time, he also acknowledged that the interpretation of "clear and correct" is entirely subjective, adding, "The government could just say, 'Nah, this is plenty. The customer is informed.'"

The government's response to the petition isn't the end of the story: It will remain open until October 16, and if it accrues 100,000 signatures it will be considered for parliamentary debate. Petitions in other countries are also underway: One in Canada, for instance, has drawn 5,400 signatures and the support of MP Elizabeth May, a necessary step toward an official response from the government. A Stop Killing Games representative told GamesIndustry that the group is also speaking to a lawyer about possible next steps. I've reached out to Scott for comment on the UK government's response to the petition and will update if I receive a reply.