One of the most noticeable things that came out of E3 2018 was that most games shown on the stage were both available for pre-order and also shipping in 2019. Maybe “most” is an exaggeration but there was certainly a fair number of games that just don’t have a shipping date at all. That’s been quite a controversial idea for several years – it was the main topic of discussion before the launch of Evolve some years back, when 2K Games aggressively pushed pre-orders with several incentives more than six months prior to the game’s launch. We even have memes about it. For gamers in Germany, though, pre-orders without a set release date will soon be a thing of the past, with a ruling from the Higher Regional Court of Munich.
Countries in the EU seem to have gotten a little gatvol of the games industry recently. Several EU countries have ruled on the legality of loot boxes recently (others are expected to follow suit later this year to match recent rulings made by the Netherlands and Denmark), and we may soon see a continent-wide ban on games which include addictive gambling mechanics in gameplay. The pre-order ban is a new development, and was made thanks to a ruling by the Higher Regional Court of Munich this past week. Düsseldorf Consumer is a NPO representing consumer interests in Germany specifically, and brought a motion before the courts to clarify the legality of pre-orders without set launch dates.
“When consumers order goods on the internet, providers must specify by when the goods are delivered,” said Wolfgang Schuldzinski, CEO of Düsseldorf Consumer. This is a clause in the consumer protection laws set by the German government, which works similarly to our Consumer Protection Act (CPA). According to a report by Heise on the ruling, the ruling was made in response to a consumer protection claim that was made against German retailer Media Markt over the pre-order offer for a smartphone Samsung Galaxy S6 in August 2016.
Because the ruling was made in general terms to all products ordered over the internet, this included digital goods like software and video games, as well as media and physical products. Companies which advertise pre-orders for a product without a set launch date need to adhere to the ruling, or risk fines levied by the government. Interestingly, few people are talking about the applicability of the ruling to crowd funding schemes like Kickstarter – if consumers pledge support to a project with the expectation of receiving a product, the ruling would apply. Similarly, if a Kickstarter project’s stretch goals include the launch of a specific product like a video game, and there’s the reasonable expectation that they’ll meet these goals once the money is raised, that would also be affected by this ruling.
South Africa’s Consumer Protection Act has a similar clause in its laws, notably a clause that we can expect timely performance and completion of the services, and/or notice of any unavoidable delays in the performance of the contract or service. We’re not that important a market for distributors and game publishers, though, so any local laws won’t have a dramatic effect like those of Germany, one of the biggest and most important EU markets.