MICROSOFT, Sony and Nintendo are all being probed over fears they could be ripping off gamers with the way subscriptions are sold.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said today that it is going to investigate to see if the console makers’ business practices are legal.
This will mostly focus on how you pay for Xbox Live Gold, PlayStation Plus and Nintendo Switch Online.
When you pay for these subscriptions online, they are generally set up to automatically renew after a set period.
Some special offers also start with a free or very cheap trial period that then automatically charges you once it expires unless explicitly cancelled.
All three services are needed to access all of the consoles online features, enabling more multiplayer gaming, access to some online games, and other extras.
The CMA has written to Nintendo Switch, PlayStation and Xbox requesting information about their online gaming contracts to help “better understand their practices”.
They also want to hear from customers, whether you feel hard done by or not.
The goal is to find out if the contract terms are unfair, whether it is too difficult to cancel or get a refund, and if that auto-renewal process is transparent.
“The CMA has not reached a view as to whether or not companies have broken consumer protection law,” they say, but stand ready to take action if needed.
One specific concern is whether the contracts allow companies to change the terms of the deal “by reducing the number of games included or increasing the price”.
This may set alarm bells ringing for Sony and Microsoft, because Sony just reduced the number of free games offered to PlayStation Plus members and Microsoft just revealed it is set to raise the price of Xbox Live Gold.
Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA, said: “Roll-over contracts are becoming more and more commonplace and it’s essential that they work well for customers.
“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.”
That action could include forcing the companies to promise to change the way they bill customers, how they deal with refunds, or how they behave when services on offer are reduced.
If they don’t promise to change their ways they could find themselves in court, be hit with fines and forced to make changes.
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Talking to Sun Online, a Microsoft spokesperson said that they would be “co-operating fully with their investigation.”
Nintendo was more bullish, saying: “It is our firm belief that all our business practices are fair and compliant with relevant regulations and legislation, and therefore we look forward to cooperating fully with the CMA’s requests for information.”
Sony did not respond to a request for comment.