Today, EA announced via its Twitter feed that it would not be providing refunds on digitally bought copies of SimCity via the Origin store. But what are your rights in this situation? In the case of SimCity, where a product is clearly not working as advertised, are you able to demand a refund? Turns out it's a bit of a grey area.
EA's tweet stated the following...
Regarding recent confusion: In general we do not offer refunds on digital download games. Please review our policy https://t.co/nn5xsqVNKh
— Origin (@OriginInsider) March 7, 2013
EA's policy is that boxed products purchased through the Origin store have a 14-day window for a refund. You can send back any physical product you bought on the store within 14 days of its delivery, no questions asked.
All physical products purchased through our Origin Store come with a 14-day unconditional guarantee. If you don't like it, you can return it within 14 days of its delivery for a prompt refund — no questions asked!
Refund will be by method of original payment; shipping and handling not included. The customer is responsible for shipping costs to return products.
However, EA's terms and conditions state that no refunds will be offered if the product is bought digitally.
The exception is Europe, where consumer law states that a 14-day cooling-off period is mandatory. EA's terms and conditions allow for this.
If you reside in the European Union and you purchase a product or service on one of our Websites, you have the right to withdraw from your purchase within fourteen calendar days, commencing on the day after the date of purchase.
But what are your rights in Australia? At the moment, for a great number of consumers, SimCity is a product that is faulty. Are you able to demand a refund whether you bought it digitally or not? It really depends on your definition of "faulty". Speaking to the ACCC, the national consumer regulator, Australian legislation makes no mention of any cooling off periods in consumer law, but it does state that if a product has a "major problem", you are well within your rights to ask for a refund. If it's a "minor problem", EA is within its rights to try to provide you with a solution that will fix the problem. Simply put, if SimCity's issues are defined as minor, you have to wait for the server fixes, and you don't necessarily get to demand a refund.
And the situation becomes increasingly blurry in the definitions, because it's difficult to ascertain whether we define Sim City as a product or a service. The game itself is a product, but the problem here is with the service.
According to the ACCC a product has a major problem if
— it has a problem that would have stopped someone from buying it if they’d known about it. — it is unsafe. — it is significantly different from the sample or description. — it doesn’t do what the business said it would, or what you asked for and can’t easily be fixed.
A service has a major problem if
— it has a problem that would have stopped someone from buying it if they’d known about it. — it is substantially unfit for its common purpose and can’t easily be fixed within a reasonable time. — it does not meet the specific purpose you asked for and cannot easily be fixed within a reasonable time. — it creates an unsafe situation.
So does Sim City have a "major problem"? I would argue yes. If you can't play the game, then, yes, it has a major problem. Will it be fixed within a reasonable time? That remains to be seen, and EA has not yet provided a specific time frame as to when the problem will be fixed. It has also stated that the service will be hampered over the weekend, except it's being described as "service fluctuations".
We are working on the servers 24/7 - expect performance fluctuations. Our fans are our number one priority. Thank you for your patience.
— SimCity (@simcity) March 7, 2013
Earlier in the week, it was also stated that the situation would be resolved before the international launches (which included Australia).
We’re making changes to prevent further issues, and are confident that Origin will be stable for international launches later this week.
— Origin (@OriginInsider) March 5, 2013
Given the circumstances, given the lack of a timeframe and the fact that the service is severely hampered, we believe that consumers are well within their rights to demand a refund regardless of whether the product was bought as a physical product or digitally. In Australia, the terms and conditions are largely irrelevant, since terms and conditions cannot override consumer law.
We've contacted EA Australia asking for its position on the matter and whether it will be providing refunds to those who ask. We'll update when we hear back.
UPDATE: EA Australia got back to us with the following statements with regards to refunds for Sim City in Australia.
Origin Australia is covered under the Origin Global Terms of Sale. However, for our customers in Australia, Origin will always comply with Australian consumer laws that apply to the purchases consumers make in Australia. These consumer rights are in addition to those in the EA Terms of Sale in our Origin store.