SimCity server woes: Can UK gamers get a refund?

The always-online SimCity's server woes continue -- we ask if gamers who've downloaded the game can get a refund.

The new SimCity game continues to experience crippling server woes , with some gamers suffering long wait times or unable to access the game at all. Amazon has gone so far as to briefly pull the game download from its site.

It's a sorry state of affairs, but if you're a UK gamer who's paid for the physical or digital version of the game, then based on what experts we spoke to have to say, you may be entitled to a refund.

EA has stated on Twitter that in general it does "not offer refunds on digital download games", with its returns and cancellations policy echoing a similar sentiment.

Not good. But EA has a separate policy for the EU, which reads, "If you live in the European Union and you purchase a game or service, such as game points or currency, from one of our websites, you are entitled to a 14 day Cooling Off Period during which time you can withdraw from your purchase."

'You will lose your right of withdrawal if you start downloading your software'

That sounds more promising, but the small print continues, "You will lose your right of withdrawal if you start downloading your software." This could mean that at the point where your purchased game starts downloading, you shed those 'cooling off' rights and are no longer eligible for a refund.

Obviously that would seem unfair, as you wouldn't necessarily know that you wanted a refund until you started playing the game. I've contacted EA asking for clarification on the EU terms and conditions and whether the cooling-off period also applied to downloaded games, but was told the publisher has no additional comment at this time. If EA does get in touch offering its own position on refunds, I'll be sure to update this story accordingly.

'Consumers have rights'

If EA is found to have flogged faulty goods, it may be required to offer you a refund regardless. "If the item was bought in the UK," Money Saving Expert's Dan Plant explains, "then consumers have rights, under the Sale of Goods Act 1979, to a refund."

That applies to physical items, so would kick in if you bought the physical disc version of SimCity, which according to reports is no guarantee of playing a working game. You're entitled to a refund if: the item wasn't of satisfactory quality, wasn't sold as described, wasn't fit for purpose, or doesn't last a reasonable amount of time.

Does that encompass SimCity's server wobbles? It's up for debate, but I'm sure many gamers would argue that the game hasn't been of satisfactory quality so far, and wasn't sold as described. Not fit for purpose could be the biggest sticking point, as the issues with playing SimCity are caused by EA's own servers not being up to task, rather than a problem with shoppers' PCs.

As for the digital version of SimCity, Kate Hobson of Citizens Advice says it could be covered under the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982, under which consumers have the same rights. "This would apply," Hobson explains, "if a download version of the game had been purchased online."

'Consumer rights to download purchases obviously wasn't envisioned'

"The application of consumer rights to download purchases obviously wasn't envisioned when the Sale of Goods Act and the Supply of Goods Act were written," Hobson notes. This may change in the future -- the government consulted on the law relating to digital downloadable goodies last year.

Even if EA argues that SimCity isn't in fact faulty, Distance Selling Regulations are in place to give buyers seven working days in which to change their mind about a purchase.

This is related to the cooling-off period mentioned above. As Citizens Advice details however, this period can begin or expire depending on when 'service' is deemed to have begun, and -- as noted above -- it's not clear from its terms and conditions when EA considers its cooling-off period for digital goods to have started, or to terminate.

If you're in the UK and want a refund, your best bet at the moment is probably to contact EA via its customer-service system, and explain exactly why you're unhappy with what you purchased. PC gaming blog RockPaperShotgun reports that some angry customers have been given refunds, so you may get lucky.

In some cases where a launch goes awry (when, for example, Apple dubiously launched the third-generation iPad in Australia as a 4G product ), sometimes companies will open the doors to refunds for any dissatisfied customers. So far there's no sign of EA taking such action, but fingers crossed, eh?

In the wake of the intense server strain this week, Amazon briefly yanked SimCity from its virtual shelves, the BBC reports, and still bears a note saying, "Some customers have reported issues when trying to connect to the SimCity servers."

To try and get more people online, EA has cut functions of the game, including the fastest in-game time setting, which is useful for speeding through boring stretches of gameplay. Leaderboards and achievements have also been removed in an effort to make the game work more smoothly.

It's entirely possible that in a week or so SimCity's servers will have cooled down, and everyone will be able to play the game as intended. Is that enough though? Should EA offer refunds to gamers who paid for a pared-down gaming experience? Let me know in the comments, or on our Facebook wall, and for more on SimCity and everything game-related, check out our pals at GameSpot.

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About the author

Luke Westaway is a senior editor at CNET and writer/ presenter of Adventures in Tech, a thrilling gadget show produced in our London office. Luke's focus is on keeping you in the loop with a mix of video, features, expert opinion and analysis.

 

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