Report: Major Game Publishers Have Predatory Microtransaction Patents And No Refund Policies

Some publishers have predatory monetization patents that will leave even the most enthusiast of gamers completely baffled.

Microtransactions have seeped through the cracks of the games industry to become almost mandatory for increased earnings. The past couple of years alone have bore witness to the rise of “games as a live service” from leading game publishers. The goal has always been to not only lock content behind paywalls but to also force players into spending under the guise of optional benefits.

These in-game purchases are now part of the design, ranging from small amounts to rather hefty ones. They may not be friendly to players but are dear to game publishers, and why not? Microtransactions have already helped companies rake in billions and the more the numbers go up, the thinner the line becomes between gaming and gambling.

Predatory Monetization Patents

It’s no secret that game publishers have been pouring resources into sophisticated technologies to increase the likelihood of player-spending. It’s, though, overwhelming to see how far these programs have come. Systems are now being designed to observe player-behavior and adapt accordingly to encourage repeat in-game purchases or inflict a desire to pull out wallets.

Activision, one of the highest earning game publishers, has two patented technologies (US2016005270A1 and US2017100676A1) that collect and exploit player-data to drive microtransactions.

The first system tailors matchmaking to pit a novice player against an experienced one, encouraging the novice to emulate the decked-out player by purchasing items being used by them. The second system generates personalized messages for players losing or quitting more frequently, enticing them with more purchasing offers for perceived superiority.

Electronic Arts, another game publishing giant, has a patented technology (16/256472) similar to Activision’s but with more complexities. It still fiddles with matchmaking but considers a variety of player-data such as skill, sportsmanship, preferred play-style, and such. The system will recognize, for example, what kind of attacks players prefer and tailor around that to push player-spending.

Electronic Arts also picked up an additional patent (US9666026B1) from another assignee that creates a sense of urgency by decreasing the value of microtransactions over time.

NetEase, one of the largest mobile game publishers, has a patented technology (CN106557938A) that manipulates pricing of items according to player-habits. Someone who doesn’t make in-game purchases will be offered discounted rates. Regular spenders, however, will be offered newer and expensive options.

Kabam, a broken mobile game publisher right now, takes the whole cake when it comes to monetization. The company has nine patented technologies, all of which revolve around brute-forcing microtransactions from every corner.

There’s one (WO2015179450A1) that manipulates drop rates based on player-spending, another (US9403093B2) that flashes offers based on the amount of funds remaining in the player-account, and one (US2016346677A1) that hides the amount of time players can remove from the waiting period by spending.

Refund Policies Of Major Game Publishers

When going over the terms of service and user agreements set in stone by some of the biggest gaming companies, a dire fact comes to light. They are all designed to revoke any right to refund or have grey areas that make it tedious to reverse any player-spending, unauthorized or not.

Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, Apple, Google, Tencent, Activision, Electronic Arts, NetEase, Bandai Namco, and more, have all placed an age restriction. Anyone under 13 years of age are required parental consent, meaning that they automatically lose the right to refund in-game purchasing. It gets even worse.

The companies take no responsibility of products complying with any applicable law, and those products are provided “as is” to place any product-related faults on players for using them. In addition, items purchased through microtransactions are still owned by their respective companies. The player-right to keep using them is limited and can be revoked anytime without warning.

Some gaming companies like Sony, NetEase, Electronic Arts, Nintendo, Activision, and Bandai Namco have a literal no-refund policy. All in-game sales are final and any in-game currency won’t be refunded. Others have a small time-frame for players to make a case for refunds, which varies from company to company. Tencent has a one-month policy for refunds, but only for erroneous charges. Microsoft has a two-month policy, but similarly for erroneous charges.

Company Age restrictions Right to refund Warranty disclaimer Value disclosure Product ownership
Activision Not for under 13 years; Parent liable for underage purchases Australia: Entitled to refund in event of “major failure” No warranty or representation that the product complies with any applicable local law Virtual currency has no value; No compensation for loss
Limited, revocable licence; No ownership rights; Product may be disabled without notice
Apple Not for under 13 years; Parent consent for underage No refunds on electronic software downloads Product is licenced ‘as is’, ‘with all faults’ and ‘as available’; User bears all risk No compensation for loss or damages Limited, revocable, non-transferable licence
Bandai Namco Not for under 13 years; Parent has read the agreement No refunds Product is licenced ‘as is’ and ‘as available’ without warranty No compensation for loss of content
Personal, limited, non-exclusive licence; Right to remove or disable content
Electronic Arts Not for under 13 years; Parent consent for underage No refunds; No refund for unused virtual currency Product is licenced ‘as is’, ‘with all faults’ and ‘as available’; User bears all risk Virtual currency has no value; No compensation for loss Limited, revocable, non-exclusive licence
Google Play Not for under 13 years; Parent permission for under legal age All sales are final; Request within 48 h All warranties excluded No compensation for loss or damages Limited, non-exclusive licence
Kabam Not for under 13 years; Parent consent for underage No refunds Product is provided ‘as is’ without warranty of any kind Virtual currency has no value; No compensation for loss Limited, revocable, non-exclusive licence
Microsoft Adult age; Parent consent for underage and bound by terms No refunds; Must contact Microsoft within 90 days for charges in error Product is licenced ‘as is’, ‘with all faults’ and ‘as available’; User bears all risk of using it. Virtual currency has no value; No compensation for loss
Limited, revocable licence; Microsoft granted licence to use the user’s content
NetEase Not for under 13 years; Parent permits use and is bound by terms; 18 + to buy virtual goods No refunds Product is provided ‘as is’ without warranty of any kind Virtual currency has no value; No compensation for loss
Limited, revocable licence; No ownership; Licence may be revoked any time
Nintendo Adult age; Parent supervision for those under 18 years No refunds Product is provided ‘as is’ without warranty of any kind Rewards cannot be redeemed for cash and may expire; No compensation for loss
The services contain content that are proprietary property of Nintendo
Sony Legal age of majority; Parent agrees for underage use No refunds; No obligation to reverse unauthorized charges No warranty given about the quality, functionality, availability or performance. Content provided ‘as is’ with faults Virtual currency has no value; No benefit or compensation for loss of virtual items
Limited, revocable, non-exclusive licence; User has no ownership of property
Tencent Not for under 13 years; Parent consent for underage Service-specific; Erroneous charges within 30 days All services provided ‘as is’; Service may not be ‘error-free’ No compensation for loss of content or data
Limited, revocable, non-exclusive licence; Updates may affect availability

Microtransactions And Future Of Gaming

Evolution is part of the process. Industries can’t and shouldn’t be stopped from innovating, even if it has to do with monetization. However, it becomes extremely concerning when those same innovations impact consumers through what can only be termed as unfair mediums.

Microtransactions are controversial for a reason. They are not really the bane of gaming, but become so when integrated nefariously to compromise players. There needs to be some sort of consumer protection against possible financial and health hazards, and it needs to be introduced as soon as possible.

Further delays will have to deal with the future of artificial intelligence, which will be more adept at predicting and responding to player-behavior, perhaps even on a psychological level, something that social media platforms are already doing.

That being said, there are examples from the games industry that can be hailed. Riot Games, for example, has a pretty amazing microtransactions structure for League of Legends.

Pricing is standard and players can unlock random loot by just leveling up. While players can only refund three purchases made in the past year, the developer is known to constantly help out when contacted directly, even adding a few funds at times when players are short.

The same goes for Epic Games with Fortnite, as well as for Grinding Gear Games with Path of Exile, which particularly has one of the best microtransactions ever made. Path of Exile and all of its content are absolutely free, but players can spend more to make their lives easier. There are no pay-to-win woes — perfectly balanced, as all things should be.

Without any third-party interference, game publishers need to realize that microtransactions have no need for predatory actions. They can still earn without treating their consumes like cattle.

Down The Road…

Remember how Middle-Earth: Shadow of War allowed players to purchase high-level Orc captains with real-world currency? That option was exclusively for the single-player campaign but was also vital for the endgame, something that should never dip into the need for microtransactions. Sony has now patented something very similar. The PlayStation company calls it an “in-game resource surfacing platform” and will allow an in-game voice to provide hints if players find themselves stuck at any point.

Those hints, though, will come at the cost of microtransactions. For a small fee, players will be given on-screen prompts to beat certain bosses, solve puzzles, find the correct path, and such. Sony wants to make gameplay easy, but this may as well force some developers to spike the difficulty curve in order to force players to open up their wallets.