The age of console networks is at an all-time high since each of the big three have their own respective offerings: Switch Online, PlayStation Network, and Xbox Live. While they each have their own quality of service, one similarity is present: auto-renewals. That’s what the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) over in the UK have taken an issue with, and as a result, they’ve launched an investigation into each of the aforementioned services to get a better understanding of the each company’s policies surrounding auto-renewals. The main goal of this investigation is to see if any of these companies have broken consumer protection law.
Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft have been written to by the CMA giving them the opportunity to explain so that the CMA can “better understand their practices”. On top of that, the CMA is also requesting the experiences of customers of each console network service in order to gather more data for the investigation.
Andrea Coscelli, who is the Chief Executive of the CMA had this to say about the investigation:
“Our investigation will look into whether the biggest online gaming companies are being fair with their customers when they automatically renew their contracts, and whether people can easily cancel or get a refund. Should we find that the firms aren’t treating people fairly under consumer protection law, we are fully prepared to take action.”
If the CMA does find either of the ‘Big Three’ guilty of breaking consumer protection laws, they are “fully prepared to take action”, says Coscelli.
The whole reason why the CMA is going through with this is that when someone signs up for a Switch Online, PlayStation Network or Xbox Live membership, the auto-renewal feature is automatically turned on. This means that when the due date for the next bill arrived, funds will be automatically withdrawn from a customer’s account. Some people are unaware of this (or simply forget), so when the withdrawal takes place, it catches them by surprise.
This investigation is still in its early stages, so time will have to pass before a verdict is reached.
In my experience, I’ve noticed that when signing up for Switch Online, Nintendo makes it very clear that the auto-renewal feature is present. It can be easily disabled by navigating to the ‘Nintendo Switch Online’ tab over on the Switch eShop. So, while I could be wrong, I don’t think Nintendo will lose in this investigation since it makes it clear enough to each customer what they need to do in order to avoid being charged.
I also have experience with Microsoft’s services, specifically Xbox Game Pass. While separate from Xbox Live, the payment systems function similarly, including auto-renewals. I signed up for the “$1 for one month” promo earlier this year and forgot to turn off auto-renewal. As a result, when the period ended my PayPal account was hit with the full $10 bill. Thankfully, I disputed this with Microsoft’s customer service system and was able to get my money back; come to find out there’s even an option for when you forget to cancel a subscription. So, Microsoft may also not come out on the losing side, though it doesn’t make the auto-renewal notice as clear as Nintendo does.