Game returns in SA: what are your rights?

Return broken game

Let’s set up a scenario: you read/watch/fantasise about Studio X’s next big upcoming video game, you pre-order it, you count the days until it arrives, you open the box/download it, and it is broken or buggy. Now what?

MyGaming spoke to several retailers and distributors, as well as an attorney, to see what rights you have as a consumer and how you can go about getting a refund.

The Attorney

Nicholas Hall is an attorney, chair of Make Games SA, and an avid gamer. He gave us the legal low-down on how you should go about returning your bum copy.

“There are a couple of things that need to be noted first: Physical and digital copies of games are considered “goods”, and games, in terms of the law, are not software, they are considered for the most part as films (thanks to a court case from 1996),” said Hall.

“There is no general right of return under SA law. This means you can’t decide to return a good on a whim. The Consumer Protection Act and Electronic Communications and Transactions Act law specify certain instances when a consumer can lawfully return goods.”

Hall said that under the ECT Act, any purchased goods or services from an online store carries a 7-day “cooling off” period. This means that boxed copies of games can be returned, for any reason, as long as it is sealed/unopened. “So, if you bought your game online, you cannot rely on the ECT Act to return it, even if it is buggy to hell and back, if you opened it – which you would need to do in order to see that is was buggy.”

“Out of the various rights of return given under the CPA, only two are really applicable,” said Hall.

“The first is that if you have not seen the actual goods – a boxed copy of a game you ordered online – then on delivery you are entitled to inspect it, and if the goods do not meet the ‘type or quality’ you could reasonably expect then the consumer can refuse delivery.”

This is applicable to broken discs, the wrong version of the game, or the wrong game.

“Unfortunately this isn’t really a viable option in the scenario where the game is buggy, because in order to find this out you’d have to accept delivery in order to open it and play it.”

E.T can't go home

E.T can’t go home

Hall said that this leaves gamers with only one option: the general warranty of quality that is implied in every sale of a good.

“Basically, our law says that any time anybody sells you something a warranty of quality is attached to that sale. What this implied warranty says is that the consumer is entitled to receive goods that:

  • Are reasonably suitable for the purpose that they are intended to be used for;
  • Are of good quality, free of defects, and in good working order; and
  • Will be durable and usable for a reasonable period of time.

Hall said that if your game does not meet this warranty, then you can return it for a full refund, replacement, or repair, up to 6 months after receiving it. “What is important to note is that the consumer gets to elect which one they want, and they get to do so at the supplier’s cost and without penalty.”

“Another important thing to note is that the liability for this warranty goes up the supply chain. So you can go to the retailer who sold it to you, or the actual company who developed the game.”

The question is – does a buggy game break this warranty?

“I would argue that if the bug is sufficiently game-breaking it probably would. For example, with Watch Dogs a lot of people where unable to play due to uPlay not allowing them into the game. Clearly the defect is so severe that the game is not in good working order. Minor bugs or occasional errors probably wouldn’t meet this criteria, though.”

“In short, if you bought a game and the game had such a game-breaking bug that you effectively couldn’t play it, the consumer is entitled to return it to the retailer they purchased it from and demand a full refund.” Hall said that this does not apply if the game is simply “bad”, like Impire.

If the retailer refuses, report them to the National Consumer Commission, take them to small claims court, or, if you can get enough like-minded gamers together, institute a class action lawsuit.

The Retailers and Distributors

We spoke to several local distributors and retailers to ask them about their return policies when it came to broken games.

Kalahari

“Defective games and other software may be exchanged for the same game/software, but no refunds will be payable. This can be found in our returns policy, under ‘Exceptions to the general rule’ in section 1.5. Our refund policy complies with CPA regulations.”

BT Games

“BT Games does consider returns or replacements for our clients on all products. We fall in line with the returns/exchanges/repair procedures as laid down by our suppliers as well as the CPA requirements.”

The regular procedures are to be followed before we action a return, refund, or exchange. These include:

  • Faulty item being within a warranty period;
  • Clients may be required to trouble-shoot or receive support from the distributor’s service centres first, and if a legitimate fault is found a return authorisation is issued;
  • Proof of purchase is required; and
  • No damage or abuse, etc.

Takealot did not reply to questions sent to them.

Megarom

Megarom advised dissatisfied customers to contact their call centre – the number is attached to games they distribute –  and they will assist. Each case will be judged on an individual basis.

Ster Kinekor

“All software carries a 30 day limited warranty. ‘Out of box failures’ (manufacturing faults) as experienced by a consumer within 30 days from date of purchase may only be returned to the retail outlet who in turn will contact Ster Kinekor for authorisation once satisfied that the problem/fault is valid considering a technical evaluation.”

“The software may then be exchanged, on condition that there is proof of purchase and the software has not been mishandled or damaged in any way by the consumer and is in its original casing. Note that the software/game may only be exchanged for the exact same software/game purchased and may not be exchanged for any other software/game.”

In terms of a gamer being unsatisfied with a product, “returns for any other reason other than [out of the box failure and/or manufacturing faults] can unfortunately not be executed.”

Apex Interactive

“Every game that leaves our warehouse will have an FPB sticker on with a support contact number. This support number will get you in contact with Apex who will provide step-by-step assistance with troubleshooting the game whatever the fault is. If the game proves to be faulty, you will get a reference number that will enable you to get a replacement of the same game at the same store. You will need your proof of purchase (till slip) and original packaging/box for the store to assist you. Dissatisfied customers, when it comes to buggy games, will be dealt with on an individual basis.

Tell us about your attempts to return a broken or buggy game, in the comments and forum

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  • Space_Chief

    This is one of the reasons I have no respect for software developers and film producers. You watch a trailer for a game or film, you get the thing, the gameplay is bad, or game is too easy or hard, or story is retarded. You’re forced to pay and like it.

    Contrast this to buying a toaster or a TV. Your toaster burns your toast. You change the settings and whatnot and it still burns your toast. You return it for replacement or refund. Your TV does not display all content to your satisfaction. You return it for a refund. Obviously it’s open as was the toaster.

  • Steven Currie

    It’s not quite the same. In the instance of movies / games, you can still “consume” it with the retailer having no way of proving that you have done so. Yeah sure, the content may not suit you, but that’s just the thing. It is a matter of taste. If it is genuinely faulty, then yes, returns blah blah blah.

  • Space_Chief

    A game is supposed to bring enjoyment. Likewise a toast is supposed to not be too burned. It’s not enough to consume. There has to be value to the thing.

    A film / game which is not enjoyable is faulty. You wouldn’t go to a restaurant and be happy with an edible yet badly tasting meal? Maybe too salty or cold which came with a flat Coke?

    Progammers are special snowflakes. They don’t want the rules that apply to everyone else to apply to them.

  • Does anyone else feel like toast this morning?

  • Sky_Duke

    The sad thing is that almost all games released today are buggy (i.e. they all require day 1 patches) and we don’t get quite as many demos as what we did in the past so it’s not quite assured that even if the games were bug free that we’d like them.

    Luckily, for the patient few out there that aren’t easily absorbed in the hype (and don’t mind throwing money away without knowing that a game will be to their liking) we have reviews and YouTube.

    Luckily I’ve not had to return a game in the past (although there are a few that I thought were complete sh|t).

  • Mossel

    If you buy the new album from your favourite band and you dont like it, do you think you should be able to return it? Simple answer? No. You shouldn’t have bought it in the first place. It is a work of art and what you may consider “not enjoyable” others may consider a masterpiece. It is completely unreasonable to compare art to tech.

    If the game is broken or track 2 on your album doesn’t work… now that is a different story. Should you be able to return a vehicle after 2 months and demand a cash refund for simply stating: “I dont like the way it drives.” ?

  • chris

    Completely agree with you…

  • Atmos

    So this is great example. The first final fantasy 14, used a payment method that didnt work in south africa.

    The game was unplayable because the account got locked, and square didnt even know where south africa was, I was given a full refund by BT games.

  • Space_Chief

    Let those who consider it a masterpiece pay. It simply is not possible to know ahead of time if something is really enjoyable or not. And enjoyment is the essence of the product. One does not buy music albums simply to have music play, one buys them for enjoyment or appreciation of the music.

    Look at clothing stores. Women, often return clothes which may have looked nice in the changing room and which other women may like but they find not appealing. It’s entirely subjective. Most stores, the better ones at least, like Woolworths, Macys or Marks and Spence, allow such returns, even for refunds. They want the product is resalable condition. With software the opening of the plastic wrap is not a big problem because unless the disk is scratched the software is untouched.

    A car which one finds difficult to drive, e.g. the power steering is not powerful enough and one struggles to much also should allow for a return. Should one have known about it in advance? Maybe it only happens after you park 3 times in a row, so maybe it’s not possible to know beforehand.

    All within reasonable time of course, but that’s a practical consideration for the sake of the inventory of the seller.

    That something has aesthetic attributes is irrelevant. Music must be aesthetically pleasing and if it’s not, it’s defective for that person.

    The track 2 not working is a problem with the medium. That medium and software on it are two different things. Our copyright laws even go with that, which means you supposedly buy the medium but only rent the software on the medium.

    You guys are just appealing to special pleading for software (incl music, film).

  • Space_Chief

    You?

  • Space_Chief

    You?

  • Andrew Craucamp

    Nicholas Hall says “[The consumer] can return [a game] for a full refund, replacement, or repair [and] the consumer gets to elect which [of those options] they want”. The suppliers that MyGaming contacted seem to believe that “no refunds will be payable” is an acceptable response under the CPA. Which is it? Good article btw.

  • Mossel

    I will give you another example. If you buy a book and you dont like the ending, should you be able to return it for a cash refund? I don’t think so.

    You can analise this as much as you want, it just doesn’t make sense to consume a work of art and then decide you don’t like it and demand your money back. Also, what stops you from actually enjoying it but lying to the retailer when you return the item?

    This is the reason reviews exist. Read a review, ask a friend, go test it in store (test drive, listen to the cd, play the demo etc). Then decide if it is worth your money. If you just buy it before doing research you really habe no one else to blame but yourself.

  • Space_Chief

    Mossel, it’s a good point. Say the book is classified as comedy but the ending is dark and not very comedic. Would it then not be fair to return it? Say the book is written poorly? One buys fiction for enjoyment. If the book isn’t, it should be returned, within a reasonable period of time and in good condition.

    It makes sense to return something for aesthetic reasons. One often returns decorations or furniture for this reason too. There is an element of art in clothing, furniture and home decor too.

    (What stops people lying— that’s part of doing business and irrelevant here. The way things are is the consumer has no recourse.)

    You haven’t argued why it makes no sense for returns for aesthetic reasons. Merely saying it makes no sense is not an argument.

    Presence of reviews is irrelevant. The retailer does not provide a review and then state that one has to view it first. They provide a trailer. And often the trailer or a promotional blurb and sometimes those are unlike the content of the work itself.

    BTW earlier you said that appreciation of games, music and so forth is subjective. Does this make reviewers somehow exempted? A reviewer is as much subjective as the next guy. He may comment on technical and literary aspects of a work, sure, but that doesn’t really cover all aesthetic elements.

  • CTN

    This is why I torrent all games before I purchase them. If the torrented game works, I will buy the game to support the publishers, but if I hate the game, I will delete it off my system and not buy it.

  • Beanz777

    You seem to think that if goods are not to your liking then they should be returned. I must ask have you returned anything under the circumstances you mentioned and got your refund?

  • Mossel

    Let’s assume it is possible to return all items such as film, games and music. Let’s take a random movie that got a 60% score on metacritic for example. That movie still made money and they can now use the reviews and money to possibly create something better.

    But if 40% of the people return the dvd or demand money back at the cinema, will they still make money? It’s not a masterpiece, but it is still pretty good and relatively fun to watch. So now effectively we as consumers have doomed them as artists just because we do not accept the quality of work? It is not like in technology where if you dont get 3.5GHz on your motherboard you can return it. How do you measure if a film was funny enough? Chuckles per second?

    Even if we can return it, why should the retailer carry the burdain? Why not the writer, composer? What makes you as consumer so special that you have the power to say I dont like the key change in song number 4 on the cd, thus I demand my money back?

    I dont completely agree that aesthetics should be a valid reason to return something. You buy a car for aesthetics as one of the main reasons. Is it reasonable to decide after 2 weeks that you suddenly don’t like that aerodynamic curve on the side? Now you demand you money back because you feel embarrased to be seen in the car?

    Also reviewers are subjective, that is why I try and read a couple of them to get a good average. But that’s just me.

  • Space_Chief

    Yes. Quite a few times.

  • Neil

    The real thing to remember is that the game was made to to be enjoyed by as many as possible. There is no way that they can make the same game tailored to your specific tastes. As Mossel said, read many reviews. Also by reading many reviews you will find a reviewer who has a similar taste to you and bases your purchasing on that reviewer as he obviously shares the same view as you.

    The best case for an example of where the returns policy actually worked out for a lot of gamers was with Aliens: colonial marines, where was was advertised and the end product did not match. there was a big outcry and gamers were given a choice to replace the game with another game.

    But you really can’t expect them to give you a refund if you don’t like how it ended. If you don’t like paying for a game on the chance you won’t like the ending, then play games that don’t have a cost.

  • Space_Chief

    It’s not quite evident that people will all demand returns. Maybe the people will like your product. And they’ll keep it. You assume everyone is dishonest. And you only assume this for the consumer but not for the producer of the work. Seems as if you have a bias and are not consistent.

    I’m not sure the argument: “the movie x sucked and about 40% of the buyers did not get their money’s worth but that’s ok because the producer can make something better next time” pans out. Are you sure? Because that sort of thing encourages the producer to produce the same type of crock, doesn’t it? There is less incentive.

    Besides this is not about making the producer a profit or revenue, it’s about the consumer getting value for his money.

    If your product is good, it will sell. In fact some things sell out despite pirate versions being on the internet.

    The retailer’s burden is not my problem. The retailer may return the item to the manufacturer.

    How do you measure a film was not funny? It’s subjective. There need not be a measure. You’re arguing practicalities which can be worked out or set aside or are probably not going to be relevant.

  • Space_Chief

    The producer got paid with my money. If I don’t like the product I didn’t get the value from the product. I don’t see a reason why he should be paid with money which gives him value for a game which gives me none.

    That the game is tailored to the majority is irrelevant. Besides most people will enjoy it, if it’s tailored to them. If only a minority asks for a refund, it’s not a big deal. If the game was so bad, the majority asked for a refund, obviously that’s better as it weeds out the junk much faster.

    People need to have faith in their product and not rely on special privileges granted to software and games/music to make that bit of extra profit. It’s dishonest and unjust.

  • Space_Chief

    “As Mossel said, read many reviews. Also by reading many reviews you will
    find a reviewer who has a similar taste to you and bases your
    purchasing on that reviewer as he obviously shares the same view as you.”

    Reviews make a nice aid to deciding however they can’t replace actual game play or use. Demos are better and perhaps where proper demos are available the law can stipulate that refunds for gameplay reasons won’t be available. But reviews by themselves, not so much.

    All in all I see special pleading. Software producers have it easy IMO. They produce a product which is not guaranteed to work and which may not provide enjoyment but you get your money regardless. Special snowflakes.

  • Splendid

    How will returns work then on a kickstarter project? Or preoders? The fact of the matter is returning a game because you did not like it is not feasible and will be abused. If a game is broken this changes things and they should be returned. I think a good way around bad games is to force developers to release demo’s and review copies before the game is release

  • Space_Chief

    Kickstarter is not the same as buying a game in CNA or TakeALot.

    It need not be abused. Secondly as is, the system now is being abused by the producer/dev side. Thirdly one can set limits. For example you have 14 days to evaluate the product and return it for a refund. Obviously someone who really enjoys the game will want to keep it longer. Someone who hates it will not. Some will play it for 14 days and get a refund. But it’s still better than NO RECOURSE once you open the wrapping, unlike other things.

  • Space_Chief

    Just remembered another great example. While searching for robotic vacuum cleaners many people said they purchased device X or Y and then did not like it because it was too noisy. Do you know that they got a refund? Yep. Amazing.

    Had this been a software product they’d be told to go scr-w themselves. (BTW the noise is an issue which could potentially have been fixed in future firmware updates.)

  • Beanz777

    Furniture and clothing? Here we are talking about games and other software related goods. Do you see any resemblance between a game and a lounge suite?

  • Space_Chief

    Yes. They’re both finished goods which are sold in exchange for cash. They have an aesthetic component above a functional one, a couch has to look good and fit in with the rest of the home decor all the while being a comfortable couch. Clothes the same. Yes women return clothes all the time but it has to be within a certain time period. Some people abuse this by buying expensive clothes, going to a function and returning the item the following day because it does not wear well or look good.

    And yes I’ve told you about people who returned Neato Botvacs because they were too loud. They cleaned the floor damn well though. The models are not that loud though, as I own one. But for some they were too loud or louder than Roomba.

  • Splendid

    See this is where the issue is, It’s not all black and white, 14 days for a game, I own a lot of games that are only a few hours long but worth every penny, Now someone else might think a game that is 3-4 hours long at $10 is not worth it and then can return the game in the full 14 days. While I do understand your point its difficult to control, In the end this will be abused. I would like to see more consequences for company’s like Alien Colonial marines who led on for a game to be something its not. At the end of the day if the developer was honest with all their details of the game, be it game play vids screen shots etc and you still bought the game then you got what you paid for and should not be allowed to return it.

  • Splendid

    Sad that so few games offer demo’s

  • Splendid

    After a lot of screaming at them?

  • CTN

    Today, I get to play Wolfenstein The New Order. so much excitement.

  • Xileer

    In the future where you buy a toaster, scan it, replicate it, and return it as “faulty” or such (And end off with an identical clone of the toaster at a fraction of the price) the law will be far more severe.

  • Wurnman

    oh the lies…

  • Some people that I know buy their games on the PC and then leave them in the wrapping for the first 2-4 weeks. If there are no game-breaking bugs and others are generally happy, they rip off the plastic, install and get playing. If not, they take it back for a refund.

    I wait for a price drop or for the game to go on sale about 3-6 months after launch. That way there’s patches out for it already, I know what I’m getting into and I’m saving money as well.

  • Space_Chief

    Maybe yes, maybe no. It’s irrelevant.

  • Splendid

    I would tend to agree with you, While this does seem viable I am sure there are a lot of games you didn’t buy after you finished them. I just tend to not buy the game until there are some reviews out or a steam sale in cases of extreme doubt

  • Wurnman

    Ive stopped downloading or getting cracked games for one simple reason. Patience. With Steam/Humble bundle sales and other digital stores buying a game is so cheap nowadays. BUT some people want it now and can’t wait for prices to drop or just can’t wait to play the game later. It’s a lame ass excuse playing a cracked version to see if you want to buy it.

  • Jamie Thomson

    Yip, lying to himself. Foolish really.

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