Tobold's Blog
Thursday, November 08, 2007
Termination of Service and refunds

I've decided to make the subject of all my posts today the "Termination of Service" rules of MMORPGs, because they are so rarely discussed. No, I have never gotten kicked out of any game, it was only reading the Termination of Service rules from WoW that awoke my interest in the theme. The specific subject of this second post is about refunds.

Imagine little Johnny gets a wad of cash from his grandma for his birthday, and buys himself a MMORPG. He opens an account, prepays for a lifetime subscription, and starts playing. Not knowing much about what is allowed or not, and not reading the lengthy EULA and TOS, he follows the bad advice from a buddy from school and on his first day in the game buys some gold and/or installs a bot program. On his second day little Johnny gets banned from the game. (Not likely, I know, but theoretically possible given the rules). Does he get any money back?

When you pay $50 for a single-player game without internet activation, you receive something of value. You can play the game whenever and as long as you want, and you could even resell it. When you buy a MMORPG for the same money, you already can't resell it if you used it just once. And if the server shuts down or for some reason you broke a rule and the game company decides to terminate their services to you, you can't use the game you bought at all. One recent bad scenario was people paying for a pre-order box of Gods & Heroes, and then the game was cancelled before it was even released. In that case people got refunds, which was pretty messy. But what about refunds in the event of a termination of service? Several games offer lifetime subscriptions now, and even in World of Warcraft you can pay your subscription for 6 months in advance. But the game company has the right to terminate their service to you for any reason they see fit. For somebody not very well versed in the ways of MMORPGs it is hard to see why some mods are perfectly legal, while installing other mods is a bannable offence.

Game companies should have the right to refuse service to customers that they deem harmful to the game. But they should also refund that customer for any subscription that he has prepaid and will not receive due to the termination of service. But as far as I know these companies don't have any refund policies right now. Refunds probably weren't deemed necessary when somebody got banned half-way through the month and was paying a monthly fee. But with the possibility to pay for a lifetime subscription or 6 months of subscription in advance, that policy isn't tenable any more.
How much of a lifetime subscription would you refund? I'm sure the company's legal team could define 'lifetime' and work something out but, even so, it seems wrong to try to refund partially an unlimited account.

Besides, if you break the T&Cs you have forfeited your right to the service. I don't see any reason to expect a refund. If you start taping a film in the cinema and get kicked out, would you demand a refund for the portion of the film you didn't get to see? I don't think it even makes sense that you would try to.

If you get screwed by your 'buddy' giving advice then, whilst you may not be getting what you deserve, your complaint is with him, not the company.
I am missing the point of Your example mate...the EULA and TOS are there to be accepted for a particular reason, since MMORPG games are different from 'regular' games. If one cant read them and obey it is his/her own business.
Imagine that in Thailand You can get into serious problems for spitting on the ground in public places...the fact You didnt know about it before coming to Thailand does not justify the offence.
Hmm you really hit heavy waters here... ToS and EULAs.

First off the legal status of these documents is not really clear as far as I know. Software companies made them up preemptively in case they get sued. And they are of course written to give software companies the maximum leeway possible in court.

To read them as actual "intent" document is kind of not what their function is.

Let me give you a WoW example: WoW ToS states that they promise to deliver online service for their fees and there won't be any compensation unless they cannot render the service. But they also define what constitutes service, which is that exactly 1 server is up and running (no mentioning of queues).

Now clearly this is written from a legal standpoint. Blizzard will respond way before they have a 1-million people queue on the last server up.

It's written so that in court Blizz can point to actually guaranteeing service (i.e. not disclaiming any service for their fees) but set the limit of delivery so low that reasonable complains are not covered as guaranteed service.

But it gives an idea how these documents are to be read.

I wouldn't say that EULAs and TOS are accepted as the above poster claims. I for one consider them legally questionable, because if you read them carefully they basically disclaim all but the very harshest sueability situations of software companies in virtually all realistic cases.

In many other business what constitues service has been established over time (i.e. "what having been served a meal in a restaurant" means, or what "having received a subscription-paid newspaper"). For MMOs the companies have written how they view things, but it really isn't established in the sense that if a bunch of people really sue when they cannot play for weeks (long queues) but pay full subscription, that this will hold up. Likely it actually won't. But at least software companies can argue in court, that you did agree to this because you did scroll down and hit OK when you installed the game. But the same argument wouldn't save a restaurant owner of course. Certainly if the NYT doesn't show up on your doorstep for weeks, you inquire and the company does not remedy the situation, there is solid grounds for the customer. And a service clause by NYT that if you get 1 paper per year that is enough for a 365 volume subscription, that certainly won't work. But that's roughly how MMO ToS and EULAs are written.

I'd expect courts to question ToS and EULAs if they ever actually get into a dispute situation. I'm pretty sure MMO companies want to avoid these dispute situations hence they will remedy stuff early. Which in an odd sense I actually don't mind ToS/EULAs. They really don't mean as much as they say most of the time.
To the termination example: Say a customer orders and pays for food, and then they get kicked from the restaurant. Do they get their money back if the service (food) hasn't been rendered yet?

I'm pretty sure that in most countries the right to control who uses your service/establishment and the guarantee of service are separate issues. But you really want a lawyer on this, best one who specializes on that kind of stuff.

Has there actually been a case where a LotRO lifetime subscriber got terminated?
As someone who buys my WoW subscription in 6-month blocks, I would definitely take Blizzard to Court (albeit Small Claims) and try to get the unused portion of my prepaid service refunded.
Well if someone does something against TOS and Eula you could say he deserves the loss of money.
Where my problem starts, is that there is no fair judge or something like that. The game company simply tells you that you have broken one of their 'laws'. They sometimes don't even tell you which one or when.

That don't seems very fair to me, how should you prove your innocence when all they tell you is a big "YOU HAVE SINNED!"?
Over the years in various MMO's (UO, ATITD, SWG, WoW) I have known people that have had their accounts 'unfairly' banned. In most of the cases people got their account reinstated or money refunded eventually once they explained the situation. You have to be pretty persistent about it though.

If you're paying by credit card you could get a hold of your credit card company and say you didn't receive the service you payed for and (after a bunch of paperwork) the vendor would get back-charged and your credit card account would be credited.
I'm reasonably certain that at least some MMO companies (NCsoft, for one) will refund unused time if you get banned. I would assume that there would be the same policy on "lifetime" accounts, with "unused time" = price of "lifetime service" - number of months used x usual monthly fee / usual monthly fee (forex, if you buy a $300 lifetime account, and you play it for a year, and the usual fee is $15, they'd assume the unused portion is $300 - $180 = $120.) But that's just speculation.
Ncsoft games use timecards, When you scratch the code off it isnt returnable. On top of that they even prohibit using credit cards to pay for more than 1 account (many players multibox).
In my case, I'd been playing LOTRO for a couple months, then BAM! They updated and suddenly I can't see things clearly and textures are so stretched out that I can't play, no matter what graphics settings I use. Now, my video card has the most recent drivers, works fine with other games, etc. Should I be stuck paying for something I can't play anymore?
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