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Epic Games to pay $245M for tricking users into making unwanted charges (ftc.gov)
520 points by brarsanmol 6 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 303 comments

> Additionally, the order bars Epic from blocking consumers from accessing their accounts for disputing unauthorized charges.

This could be bigger than people realize. This is very common in many tech companies like Uber/Doordash/Sony/etc. where if you do a chargeback, you often get blacklisted on their service. It would be amazing if this starts to end this practice, and you can actually have authority to get your money back from your credit card and not be penalized by the service for it when they refuse to actually help.

Came here to say this too. This just needs to be the rule generally. Steam and Amazon do the same thing - get hacked and get charged for some items, if you dispute the Steam charge you lose your $5000 account, that's not a fair playing field and effectively negates the protection offered by credit card networks. Hopefully steam resolves it, that's always the first line of defense, but if they don't, you still can't charge me for it.

It should really be a blanket rule against revoking access to previously purchased items in any form. If I get hacked and the perp buys something on my amazon account, I shouldn't lose access to music I've purchased etc.

And as someone else notes - this also is a problem with Google revoking your account (or losing access to it) and then losing access to other services that auth against Google single-sign-on.

I think ultimately the only way to solve this is to legislate some notion of digital "ownership."

Steam SOLD me a game. Amazon SOLD me an e-book. Shut down my account or refuse to do further business with me as you like, that's your right, but if you SOLD me something, you can't have it back. You need to either make it available to me or return my money. If Amazon wants to put the word "buy" on a button, then something needs to be sold. Otherwise the button needs to read "acquire revokable license" or something.

And, of course, this leads to the reason it'll never happen: first sale doctrine. If I own something, I need to be able to transfer it to someone else.

Isn't a big blocker in this space the fact that when you can hide behind a digital license to use a copy of the game the potential that you may, at some point in the future, be unable to deliver a copy of that game to the consumer isn't a big issue?

I had thought that electronic goods dealers (e-books, steam, whatever) had some issues with actually selling goods because of the fact that a sold good needs to continue to be accessible even if their platform becomes too expensive to operate at some point.

I wonder if we could shift the definition of sale to something more reasonable access-wise in the long term and come up with a reasonable path for resale since, with a third party host like steam, infinite transferability isn't really feasible - there are technicalities around account registration and the like that would need to place some limits on your right to resell the item.

While not realistic to get the world to move to this there is a simple test - if you're still selling it and/or still protecting it with DRM then you have capability to distribute. If the answer to both is no then accessing the content where you originally bought it isn't a big issue anymore. What's a reasonable amount of access (e.g. "can I just redownload the game 24/7 for 8 years") would need to be defined but that's a much easier problem.

With the current model you run into an inherent conflict between protecting content you aren't truly relying on the monetization of anymore and what's fair to users because it requires putting the publisher/publisher's agent in front of the access.

Or you may not be licensed to deliver a copy of that game.

This has already happened with e-books, the rights are negotiated for a term and then when they're not renewed the copy is deleted off the consumer's device.


Another odd place this might crop up is music licensing... if the license for some music expires, often the show will be re-mastered with a different track instead. But that could be viewed as a different "edition" of the work, and if you aren't allowed to yoink the user's purchased copy (or simply stream the newer edition) then you have a problem.

Frankly these issues have already gotten out of hand and forcing producers/authors to reach less predatory agreements may be a good thing. I'm not thinking of the small author here, they're already losing, but the estate of a dead artist of some smash-hit catalog will often milk that extremely hard.

> Isn't a big blocker in this space the fact that when you can hide behind a digital license to use a copy of the game the potential that you may, at some point in the future, be unable to deliver a copy of that game to the consumer isn't a big issue?

It is for online only things, but if you buy a game and download it that shouldn't come with some assumption or requirement that I can forever re-download a copy. If I buy a download, it's fair to expect me to backup the thing I purchased. That works for music, movies, and ebooks - any DRM that requires a connection to some server, or an account should allow for transfers and companies who use that kind of DRM should be required to notify owners and patch the DRM out of products if the company no longer wants to maintain the servers and accounts provide that protection.

MMOs are still a problem since you aren't selling the game, just access to the systems that run it, but I think most people understand that.

> Otherwise the button needs to read "acquire revokable license" or something.

Somebody get the EU on that, stat.

The GDPR flagged this as a "TODO" item and left it explicitly there, so someone was at least already thinking about it.

I sometimes wonder if it is going to take a massive Estate Law court case to push the needle on this. We're about to the point where "Grandma's Steam Library" is going to be big enough in expected cash value that descendants would meaningfully fight over it, and open up the can of worms that is current digital goods laws. (Including the fact that technically Grandma's Steam Library has *no* survivorship guarantees and Steam's TOS, like most TOS agreements in current digital services, terminates along with the person it was contracted with.)

> only way to solve this

I dunno, I've had a solution on hand that has consistently provided high-quality, seaworthy FLAC, MP3, MKV, MP4, etc... of all of my favorite media content. Since around maybe 2003, 2004.

Totally agree. Either that or they should be forced to change the wording from "buy" to "conditionally gain access subject to revocation at any time for any reason without recourse".

Alternately (or additionally), I'd love for regulatory prohibition of implied ownership of these sorts of items.

Ex. if access is revokable, it's illegal to use the word "Buy" alone - have to use "Rent" or "License" or "Buy License" or something that doesn't imply ownership (because ownership is not being offered)

Its funny how Buy is actually Rent, like how Steal is actually Copy.

I don't feel like this is a meaningful change.

If steam changed all the "Buy" to "Rent" on it's website, nothing would actually change.

I think it would change, but Rent is also not the right word.

I'm familiar with Rent and I intuit what it means. I have access to an asset for a limited time, and then I can choose to continue renting it, or not. The decision is in my hands.

License might be a better word. Because what they're selling is a "one time payment for use of this asset for an undetermined amount of time" - that's not "buy" but it's also not "rent".

When my license ends it's likely I can't get another. Certainly its not my decision to make.

The period of the license us unknown - till you block my account, till you go under, till you decide this service is no longer available, till _your_ license-to-license expires, and so on.

So yeah, I don't think it's Rent.

> then I can choose to continue renting it, or not. The decision is in my hands.

That is not implied by the term rent. Very often rentals are for a fixed amount of time. Especially for video game rentals, back when they were common.

I think rent implies you have limited control better than license does.

Customers would be informed. Many would leave for GOG.com

I do not think customer behaviour would change that much.

Then Amazon has no reason to resist this change!

Words are powerful. See how hard they fight the legislation.

> music I've purchased

They really ought to stop using "buy"/"purchase" metaphorically to mean something more like "one time fee for an indefinite lease that ends upon account termination." If they simply used a word better suited to the reality of the situation, then it wouldn't be a surprise that the account (which is a privilege, not a right) is a dependency of using what you paid for. Maybe something like "micro-upgrade [my account]."

Obviously eliminating that dependency is even better, but baby steps.

The bigger issue is that because of the market power of these digital storefronts, it doesn't matter what your mental model of the transaction is, you don't have a choice in the matter. Yes, online stores with better terms exist, but they don't tend to have the games that you'd want to buy.

I always get a warm feeling when a game I'm interested in has an itch.io link, but I'm not gonna delude myself into thinking it'll ever replace Steam, even if Steam had to stop calling itself a store. Steam is just far too established, and the network effect is just way too strong.

I think a lot of platforms would change the terms of their digital products if they could not use the term "Buy" otherwise.

> the account (which is a privilege, not a right) is a dependency of using what you paid for

The moment you made the account a pre-requisite to use something I have already paid for - whether it's software, music, or an internet connected lightbult, is the moment the account stopped being a privilidge.

Do you see where it is headed next? We have internet connected cars and door locks. There are subscribtions for a butt-heater in a car.

Withing the next 5 years someone will freeze to death because a company has pulled or made a mess of their account.

There is no other line of business where you can unilaterally revoke a service that the customer has already paid for. Where continous service requires some conditions or behaviour, this is spelled out in a contract - these companies change their terms on a whim.

> > music I've purchased

> They really ought to stop using "buy"/"purchase" metaphorically to mean something more like "one time fee for an indefinite lease that ends upon account termination."

That doesn't really apply to buying music though, does it? If Amazon banned my account, that wouldn't prevent me from listening to the MP3s I've bought from them. It would only prevent me from re-downloading them from their servers if I somehow lost all of my local copies.

But if I buy a CD from a physical store, they also don't give a me another copy for free if I lose it (even without account termination entering into it), so I'm not really any worse off with the digital download.

I don't see why this is being downvoted. Music is the one digital good I feel the most confident purchasing because I know I'm getting a drm-unencumbered standard format like MP3 or AAC. I have all my music purchases backed up like I do my family photos. Yes, I also listen to my purchases on cloud services like YouTube Music, but if YouTube banned me tomorrow I would lose zero songs.

> But if I buy a CD from a physical store ...

This is literally the nature of physical vs digital goods.

We can, and should, do better for customers than the current systems from Steam and Amazon (among others) allow.

Which current systems?

For games on Steam and movies basically anywhere, the current system is that after I buy the game/movie, I can watch/play it for as long as I have access to the account. If I lose the account or the service shuts down, I'm fucked. That sucks.

For games on GOG or MP3s basically anywhere, the current system is that I buy it and then I can play the game/music forever as long as I don't lose the downloaded files. If I do lose the files, I can still redownload them as long as the service is still operating and I still have access to the account.

The second system seems fine to me.

> For games on Steam and movies basically anywhere, the current system is that after I buy the game/movie, I can watch/play it for as long as I have access to the account. If I lose the account or the service shuts down, I'm fucked. That sucks.

Slight pedantic nit, some games on Steam are DRM-free (though this is in no way indicated, you can find a list online, though*), those you can back up and keep using even if your account gets banned.

* https://www.pcgamingwiki.com/wiki/The_big_list_of_DRM-free_g...

Good point, I've specifically mentioned Steam and Amazon.

Yes and buying music on Amazon (which is what the comment I originally responded to was about), you get system number 2, i.e. a DRM-free MP3 download.

Buying movies on Amazon is a different matter entirely, but the comment and my reply were specifically about music.

Nah. Being able to download a digital purchase at one point, but potentially being unable to download it again later on is a crap system.

Didn't they use to let users download mp3s when they bought an album? Did that change?

Ah, you're behind the times. You may be remembering 2008 when Amazon had those big "DRM Free" messages and t-shirts and talked a lot about how music wanted to be free. It was a big part of their sales pitch. That faded away, and then some music started using DRM. However, if you purchase a music song or album, you can still mostly download MP3s, as far as I know.

On the other hand, if you use Amazon Unlimited or Amazon Music Prime, you cannot download music as MP3s. You need to use a player that supports their DRM.

> On the other hand, if you use Amazon Unlimited or Amazon Music Prime, you cannot download music as MP3s. You need to use a player that supports their DRM.

This seems entirely reasonable: No one thinks that by subscribing to Unlimited that they're actually purchasing a copy of every single song forever. It's very much known that it's a subscription.

That's still there although they emphasise it less and less (they want you on the monthly "unlimited" subscription instead). But only for music; their video offering is locked streams only, for example.

Does anybody know how to do this? I'm trying to download some albums I bought back in 2010, but I can't see anywhere to download the MP3s. It will only let me play it through the web player.

> effectively negates the protection offered by credit card networks

This behavior for smaller companies will likely result in fines from Visa, MasterCard and other cards. You really are supposed to treat charge-backs like you would losing an arbitration if you are a merchant. I've watched many a merchant do shady things around charge-backs and find out the hard way (I used to own an MSP, was enlightening). Most of the time it was trying to sue someone after losing, and then getting their case tossed because the judge treated the suit like they were reviewing an arbitration... and most of the time the merchants were actually in the wrong (as in selling defective goods, not delivering services or over-charging).

I agree, the protections is meaningful for small/medium vendors of physical goods. The problem is the balance of power shifts when you have oligopolistic "platform" vendors where the stake of the user is not just that one transaction but the sum of all previous transactions, and that is something that is really only possible in digital transactions. Wal-Mart cannot come into my house and take back the lamps off my table and the food off my shelves. Effectively, Steam and Amazon and Apple can do that - because, as others note, it's not a purchase, it's a revocable license and the ToS includes a "whenever we want" clause.

Requiring that all licenses be refunded at the face value in the event of cancellation would be one relatively equitable outcome. Or you can simply prohibit revocation - refuse to allow companies to ever invoke those terms except after a legal proceeding or similar oddball circumstances.

There is a similar effect around provision of services really. Once you reach the oligopolistic level of market consolidation (and there are services like Steam or Google where that's practically inevitable) then different rules really ought to apply. Which is a problem in a lot of areas, not just revocable licenses.

> Steam and Amazon do the same thing - get hacked and get charged for some items, if you dispute the Steam charge you lose your $5000 account, that's not a fair playing field and effectively negates the protection offered by credit card networks.

As far as I know, you won't actually lose your account if you perform a chargeback against Steam, but the account does get restricted in a number of ways, preventing further purchases, access to community features (including trading), multiplayer on VAT enabled serves, and more. The official documentation does not list the specific restrictions [0], but the (fairly old) screenshot in this thread does [1]. Moreover, the restrictions seem to temporary in some cases, even without the account holder reverting the charge-back [2]. Both sources are old, but I don't recall hearing of any changes in this regard, nor could I find anything in that vein.

[0] https://help.steampowered.com/en/faqs/view/783F-5E0F-9834-22...

[1] https://www.reddit.com/r/Steam/comments/2inknm/help_steam_re...

[2] https://www.reddit.com/r/Steam/comments/2qa7fx/visa_has_char...

I could see these being difficult logistical problems for companies but that gives them no right to socialize the problem by playing hardball and holding accounts hostage. That problem is in their domain to solve, and sorry that being a profitable business is tough but, again, solving this is not on the customer.

How is it "socializing the problem" other than being a buzzword phrase that's been thrown around lately in other contexts that feels like it fits?

Yeah that phrase doesn't really apply here. They're not pushing the solution onto any portion of the population - they're just straight up blackballing users.

I imagine the solution will simply be to charge higher prices across the board. We will all pay for the ability to charge back and not lose account access, including subsidizing the most flagrant abusers of such a policy. This could be a good trade off, but I think it's important to highlight that there is definitely no free lunch here and that legislating this problem away will have some downstream effects.

What’s the actual cost for chargebacks here? Presumably they are quite capable of revoking licenses to the purchased item. This is slightly hairier for in app purchases laundered through a game currency run by a third party, but still seems doable. Is there a reason the cost isn’t asymptotically close to 0 here?

In the worst case they stop allowing an account to make new purchases while keeping what they’ve bought. Is that an objectionable outcome?

Chargeback fees from processors are pretty steep -- $10+ per transaction. It's not simply the cost of the refund itself. The purpose of those fees is to incentivize merchants to be honest and good to their customers, although in the case of larger players those incentives can become perverse.

This assumes that current prices at all related to cost, which they are not for non-scarce goods like games and other digital content. Prices are set to maximize sales * revenue and adding a minor cost for Steam doesn't really factor into that.

They are related to cost on some level. This type of legislation would introduce some costs for merchants, even digital ones, because of chargeback fees charged by processors. That would be passed on to the customer in addition to whatever profit calculation those merchants are making.

Most use case are not hacks aren't they? If you charge back because not happy for example? Every time you charge back Steam or Epic has to pay $10 or so to the bank if I recall.

There are many acceptable (to the financial institution) reasons to perform a chargeback.

Treating them all in the same manner is a business problem on the merchant's end.

There are other reasons to use a chargeback than just fraud.

Which is?

- Deceptive advertising

- Removal of advertised features

- Broken UX / Failure to deliver purchase successfully

(I think that last one is going to be increasingly common as people spin up a bunch of thin-clients over GPT-4 and other AI tools - I've already tried buying an AI art thing and it was just completely broken and had to do a refund through googlepay).

Other examples would be the goods or services paid for never being actually delivered or being significantly differently that what was promised.

You purchased _access_ to the media for as long as the company decides to host it. You don't physically own the media. Think of it as renting or a lease.

That may be true, but the EU can simply outlaw those types of contractual arrangements going forward, and require that prior purchases be either defaulted into the new purchase arrangement or refunded.

Welcome to governments that are actually responsive to protecting their citizens. It doesn't have to be the way it is in the US with corporations holding all the cards, that's just regulatory capture in action.

That's how the EU works in general, the balance is shifted way towards consumer protections - even if companies don't like it, tough. You get a default 2 year warranty on everything, no questions asked, and if the items fails past that due to an inherent defect in design or manufacture, they have to replace it even if it's outside the warranty window. And that's just normal, that's how everything is expected to run. USB cables, charges, all that crap, the EU does what it thinks is best for its citizens' lives, and while specific things sometimes do go wrong, on net it's a massive benefit to everyone's quality of life.

Companies exist to serve us, folks, not the other way around. It doesn't have to be this way. "Oh we put something in the terms of service"? Yeah bullshit. Mandatory binding arbitration in your contract of adhesion? Arbitrate on deez nuts.

The US is completely obscene by the standards of the rest of the developed world.

Consumer protection is similar in Australia, we have the ACL and it's great. I got my 4 year old, out of warranty macbook pro replaced for free because the screen backlight was having problems and the keyboard was not working properly.

It would be interesting to see the EU try and force a company to host something in perpetuity. Interesting thought exercise.

They could just actually sell things instead. As in, sell for real, not some at-our-discretion lease. Nobody's forcing companies to gate access and add DRM and all that. Such a change probably wouldn't result in perpetual hosting, but in actually selling things. Or, in only providing rentals. Either way, the situation would be clearer to the end user.

What are you talking about? Do you mean send out games on DVD?

There are these thingswe wused to put on DVDs, we call them install files. You can find them on like every torrent tracker these days.

In the case of games, anything that doesn't mean losing access to an account stops you from being able to play games you already bought. So, GOG wouldn't need to change much, but Steam might. Wouldn't have to mean shipping physical media.

Or they can just stop using terms like "buy" and otherwise implying ownership, instead making it clear you're just leasing the game.

I forced a book publisher to re-host videos on a particular CDN using the exact same URL’s because they advertised that the book came with videos, but the QR codes stopped working. Can’t imagine that was fun or cheap to fix.

I made a complaint to the advertising standards authority in the UK. They agreed with my complaint and forced the publisher to get the URL’s working again. I’m not sure how long they will keep working, but I imagine they have to at least for as long as the book is in print.

Not the EU, but I imagine the EU has a lot more clout than the ASA does.


I've often been off put by books that advertise that they link to some sort of digital content because I can't trust that said content will be around when I want to actually access it. It never occurred to me they could be forced to host it, and I'm glad someone did that to at least one publisher once

That's actually really good, I am sure I came across a similar problem but never thought of where to make a proper complaint

This experience taught me that sometimes making a complaint to the correct organisation is worth the minor effort. Most people (and me in the past too) would probably just be annoyed but ignore it.

It also emboldened me to make complaints about other things, for example I complained that a local internet provider was advertising having the fastest internet in my country, even though I had internet from another provider that was 3x the speed. They did eventually change their advertising and the funny thing is that I received update letters from my local advertising authority for about two years, addressed to sone bigwig executives at Sky (who had also complained) and… me, a random nobody.

I had zero skin in that one, but felt that advertisements should have to be accurate.

As for not knowing where to send the complaints, yeah, I get it, it was something I wondered about for a while too before I decided the advertising standards authority. My reasoning was: the book was still listed on their website and on Amazon, and the blurb clearly stated that it comes with videos, so it’s part of the purchasing decision. So since it was advertised that way, it’s clearly false advertising. I took a chance and it turned out correct.

Of course not all agencies are quite so receptive or active regarding complaints so it’s hit and miss, but since you can usually do it online in a few minutes I felt it was worth five minutes of my time to try anyway. If I’d had to send a physics letter, for example, I wouldn’t have done it. My experience dealing with the advertising standards authority from the UK, though, was a very good one. They were quick and communicative.

It doesn't have to be quite as simplistic. You can give them choices. There could be IP escrow companies you could pay. You can give them the choice of hosting in perpetuity or releasing something on some date. You can tie all these choices to a tax structure, progressive charges, etc. You could make the cheapest thing to simply sell the product outright. In theory you could even tie these additional protections to the a condition of making the release public at some point as a way of incentivizing companies not to use copyright protection on something that is not likely to be that valuable in 95 years, though that's unrealistically utopian of me to suggest.

My main point is that it doesn't have to be that simplistic.

Companies going out of business is a different thing but Amazon, Google, and Epic are not in any risk of going out of business.

If you're worried about shell-company games, well, that can be legislated against too. So far the EU hasn't, as far as I'm aware, let any companies out of any previously-mandated penalties for violating consumer protection with "That was google, this is ABC" bullshit. They are, as I stated, much much less interested in playing games than the US is.

Easy- revoke copyright protection.

Your "software X" is not worth hosting any more? Fine, then someone else can host it, maybe they will find it profitable.

Maybe even it could be a former employee.

EU isn’t that unfair for companies, it is more likely that they would allow revoking of access rights, but require companies to compensate for thr damages (e.g. issue a refund for the full or partial purchase amount)

Just keeping it online wouldn't be hard for most companies and most items sold.

If something is under pretty active use, that should have been in the original budget, but also you can put it on cloudflare R2.

For the long tail of perpetuity, you can pay Hetzner $1200 a year for a server with 45TB (plus parity) and a gigabit port.

But they don't advertise our relationship in that way.

They say, "Buy for kindle" or "Buy in iTunes"

The contract they advertise doesn't match the fine-print in their clickwrap contract

> Think of it as renting or a lease.

> as long as the company decides to host it

If you put a clause like that into a rental agreement for a house, and try to collect, it would be thrown out as soon the judge stops laughing.

If I rent a house, and have already paid a year of rent, my landlord can't just wake up one day and kick me out in the middle of the year. These companies can just remove you on a whim.

Furthermore, landlord has obligations towards me: he must fix the house if it is leaking, and if the house is rendered unlivable (i.e. the roof caves in) and it's his fault, he has to provide me with alternative accomodation.

For a contract to be valid, it must have duraton. If it's a lease that says '9999 years', then the landlord/freeholder can't just sneak in at night and demolish the building.

Having it physically isn't relevant. Plenty of people still buy games as physical media, and those games, including single player, all stop functioning the moment the company turns off the DRM - errr, "advanced feature" -- servers.

Having something physical is meaningless when every piece of software comes with T&Cs that say it's dependent on server support.

What happens legally if I buy a CD/DVD in a store, without signing a contract, with software, but the software doesn't work because servers don't?

If you buy a modern game on CD or DVD, then yes most modern software will not work. If you buy a modern DRM'd piece of software, the DRM approach that has been unified on is online activation (if not online-all-the-time).

Ostensibly you could return it, but then I've seen many things that say "opening this container means you have accepted the terms", but even if not subsequent installation comes with mandatory T&Cs to use the product. You're meant to be able to return the product for a refund if you don't agree to the terms, but my recollection is that companies are terrible and fight you on it.

> Think of it as renting or a lease.

Then they should be forced to clearly explain that and not be allowed to put words like "buy" and "purchase" in their advertising because those words have very specific meanings. That they've been allowed to basically get around deceptive advertising laws by inserting some legalese into their TOS, which are deliberately written in the most inaccessible way as possible, is repugnant.

We shouldn't think of it as renting or a lease, companies should call it renting or leasing. Otherwise, they're pissing on my leg and telling me that it's raining.

Well after _years_ of getting pissed on most people move their leg instead of complaining about it. :)

Do they? Seems to me most people just put up with the piss because the spot is convenient.

Right, most consumers accept it because it's complicated for the average person to set up a NAS box with sonarr/radarr/automagic torrenting. They don't move their leg because they don't really have other options.

The button needs to say "rent" or "lease". A "buy" button should not result in a rental.

You're not doing that either. You're buying a revocable license to access. That's actually worse than renting or leasing.

In the case of Amazon Music, if you haven't fallen for the subscription nonsense, you actually are buying the MP3 files. You can download them and then it's on you to move them around as you need. Amazon will also "keep a copy in the cloud for you, and let you play it wherever." You lose that when you lose your account, but if you went to the trouble to download your MP3, that's yours.

Then the button should say ‘license’. Lying to buyers is simply not right.

There is the business side of this to consider. Disputes are expensive--companies are forced to pay significant fees whether they win or lose the dispute. A dishonest customer lying to their bank about your product/service should be able to be banned from using your product/service. Otherwise, what's to stop them from maliciously charging then filing disputes over and over again?

To be clear, I'm talking about a different case, where the customer doesn't reach out for help, and doesn't give you an opportunity to correct the problem (which most banks ask them to do first but they just lie about it). With my business, this is the case for 9 out of every 10 disputes (and I have a very low dispute rate). The other 1 time is they just mistakingly reported it as a dispute because they didn't recognize it, but after you reach out they correct it with their bank (but guess what, you still have to pay the dispute fee when that happens).

When your SAAS product costs $5 / month, and the dispute fees are $15 / dispute or more, and customers go back and file disputes on the previous X months of charges, and they never give you a chance to make it right, it becomes a problem worth banning them over.

One simple answer to this is they could disable all new purchases without disabling the entire account. If you can no longer spend money there's nothing to charge back.

> Otherwise, what's to stop them from maliciously charging then filing disputes over and over again?

You stop selling to them. You don’t need to ban their account to do that.

> Otherwise, what's to stop them from maliciously charging then filing disputes over and over again?

Their bank?

From the bank/issuer's perspective, if the customer pays for payment protection, their matrix becomes:

- they side with the merchant and penalize the customer: they risk losing the customer, their purchases and other recurring fees. The merchant does nothing more for them.

- they side with the customer and hit the merchant: the merchant has no recourse outside of providing proof of wrongdoing on the customer side.

If they have these proofs, the issuer hits the customer, who would need to get back to the merchant to further fight the charges (the bank is now out of the picture).

If the merchant doesn't have any proof, their only possible action would be to cut off the issuer, but then they're potentially cutting off a whole slice of their customer base, so it's pretty unlikely.

All in all, the bank has very little incentive to side with the merchant from the start.

The bank profits from it... no incentive on the banks part to stop it.

What part of a chargeback do you think is profitable for the bank?

My understanding is the dispute fee goes mostly to the bank.

This order doesn't broadly apply beyond Epic. It seems to me that they're blocking Epic from locking accounts specifically because of the dark patterns they used to get users to accidentally spend money.

I doubt this would be applied to other companies unless they also found those companies used confusing UIs to get people to pay. Which is still good news nonetheless, as the main issue for me is all these dark patterns in the first place.

You could be right, but at least it start to set some sort of tone to this practice, even if it's not the final nail in the coffin for ending it.

This is just common in general. Nobody that you chargeback is going to want your business again. It's just that tech companies usually hold something you want (your account) effectively hostage, whereas a restaurant or whatever you can just stop going to. This does make it worse.

We could regulate that: if you want to close the account (and thus withdraw all the bought items), refund all the money they paid for it.

That won't work for something like Steam. It would mean you got unlimited games for free.

That's why it's a great deterrent against punitive account closures. Right now, you pay 100% and get 0%. In that case, you'd get 100% of what you currently have on your PC, but pay 0%.

There's a compromise: they stop accepting any new business from you, but keep everything you've bought available: you pay 100%, you get 100%. It's what they should do, but they don't want to, because the current situation gives them a lot of power.

Hence a new regulation that tips the scales in the other direction to make Steam & co adopt a reasonable stance. The alternative would be to flat out force them to provide access indefinitely, but why not give them a chance to buy you out of your account if they really don't want to do business with you?

How so?

> This is just common in general. Nobody that you chargeback is going to want your business again.

Similarly, no company that I chargeback against do I want to do business with anymore. A chargeback is a "burn the bridges" moment. You have tried everything reasonable, and the company is now defrauding you. Why on earth do you want to continue doing business with them?

The problem is that your accounts with these businesses can accrue innate value over time. If you have spent 4 figures on buying video games on steam, and then want to dispute a fraudulent charge, access to all previously purchased items can be suddenly and permanently revoked. No to mention data like friends lists, game saves, etc.

Even worse, for XL companies who force one account across multiple products, the two things can be completely unrelated. If Google is refusing to RMA my pixel 7 phone which arrived defective, I can't issue a chargeback on that phone purchase because they'll remove my access to the last 10 years of family photos, my email, my domains, and my GCP servers.

Sure you could argue that this is the exact reason you should diversify these things across different companies, but in some cases the tight integration between these products is a compelling feature. The price for that feature shouldn't include removing consumer purchase protections.

This may be true for honest people, but I’ve been dealing with people recently abusing the chargeback system because they just don’t want to pay. (It’s mostly young users in Brazil)

Very frustrating as a seller.

In the case of companies like Steam the answer is: Because some products are not available elsewhere. So it's not that you want to do business with them but that not doing business with them also cuts you off from a large number of other companies. Similarily, if your water company overcharges you then you still want to be able to get water even if you need to charge back or take them to court over the dispute. In some way, Steam has taken over the role of infrastructure for Game delivery and I don't think its unreasonable to recognize that by applying different rules to them in the same way your local power and water companies get different rules from a mom&pop store.

That’s fine for a hotel, but it’s not fine for services where you also loose access to your inventory.

It's common, but not universal. I once charged back gift cards that had been purchased through my hacked Zune store account (which tied into my main Microsoft account). I had some email back and forth with support and informed them that that's what I had done and why and they unlocked my account. That said, I wouldn't rely on that today.

No restaurant is going to remember my face forever over a simple payment dispute.

I'd love to see this formalized as a rule/right. I essentially can't file a chargeback against Amazon or Steam, ever, because of the likely repercussions to the rest of my libraries there.

> my libraries

You may have curated but you do not own your library. You purchased _access_ to said library.

My understanding of that semantic distinction (one virtually everyone on HN holds, I'd wager) is quite clear from context, I think, or I wouldn't be worried about the scenario.

“You purchased access to your house, you do not own it. Move along citizen.”

> if you do a chargeback, you often get blacklisted on their service.

Although, to be honest, if a problem has deteriorated to the point where I need to do a chargeback, I've already written off doing any further business with that company anyway.

Yes and no. Sometimes it's more grey than that in services like Uber or Doordash where it could be at the fault of one bad apple and not the company at a whole. Or as others said, sometimes you are at the mercy of losing a massive library of content if you get blacklisted like on Steam or Amazon, for example.

> it's more grey than that in services like Uber or Doordash

I understand this perspective, but my opinion is that the company running things is responsible for the people working under their banner. If the company doesn't make something right, that's on the company in the end regardless of who specifically did something wrong. So it doesn't look gray to me.

> sometimes you are at the mercy of losing a massive library of content

True, and that's a tough spot. Personally, that risk is why I never use a service that can put me in that sort of position. But I do understand that others may be willing to take this risk. It's still a risk, though, and I expect that the people who choose these sorts of services are aware of that and accept that they might lose.

> I understand this perspective, but my opinion is that the company running things is responsible for the people working under their banner.

Companies like Uber claim that the people are self employed when it suits them, and that they are not when it doesn't.

True, but I'm saying that the employment status of them isn't relevant. It's a "buck stops here" situation.

If people are working under their banner, regardless of whether those people are contractors, employees, volunteers, whatever, then in the end the company is responsible for what they do.

For many, that depends entirely on the availability of alternatives. With duopolies like Uber/Lyft, you survive after one kill and then you're done. Amazon hardly has a direct competitor. For merchants with plenty of direct competitors, I agree with you.

I understand. I prefer to minimize risk, though, so I don't use services like Uber/Lyft, and I stopped using Amazon and eBay entirely.

Interestingly, I stopped using eBay precisely because they left me stuck with a fraudulent charge. The process of trying to dispute it using their system was so drawn out, though, that by the time eBay told me to go pound sand, it was too late to do a chargeback. But even so, I'm certainly not willing to risk trusting them again.

Amazon would be the one with the most competitors. Many Amazon sellers have their own websites, not to mention Aliexpress, Walmart, Target, HomeDepot, Bestbuy, Monoprice, Staples, Costco, etc.

I'm referring to competitors of the overall Amazon experience, not really the individual products, in which the main value proposition for me is the extremely fast shipping. Those other stores typically don't offer it at a reasonable price, because they don't have warehouses a stone's throw from most customers.

Yes, but the problem is when you have already purchased a bunch of other things that can only be accessed through that service.

They should be required to refund every purchase on an account that they close.

> They should be required to refund every purchase on an account that they close.

I could not agree more.

I wonder if CC companies have a way of punishing companies for this. At least in my circles, the sense of security from having charge-backs is a huge reason a lot of people even use CCs. If Visa told Uber/Epic/etc "you can't use our network if you're going to undermine our features".

Though it would smell a bit like a giant squashing ants... anti-trust and all that. :/ So maybe government getting a handle on Dark Patterns is the best way to do things.

> I wonder if CC companies have a way of punishing companies for this.

Yes, if they get enough people doing chargebacks. The challenge is most of these big co's seem to be in the "too big to punish" camp. This is both you need a large amount of chargebacks and perhaps they may not want to fire the companies (though this is speculative).

> At least in my circles, the sense of security from having charge-backs is a huge reason a lot of people even use CCs.

I'm with you that this is still important and valuable because many companies don't blacklist you. Furthermore I'd rather have that protection and testing a service which could be no service than no service at all.

I wouldn't expect them to drop the company as a client; I don't think that really serves anyone.

My suggestion would be to levy higher transaction fees on the business, and provide refunds to customers out of that. If a company is going to ban users for filing chargebacks, raise their transaction fees by 0.5% or 1% and have the CC company issue refunds themselves out of that pool.

At the end of the day, it's really a problem for the government to solve, though. Companies being able to get away with such blatantly anti-consumer policies is indicative of a substantial distortion in the market. I don't think this is something that would happen if there were robust competition in the market.

Note that chargebacks are mostly a US thing. In Europe you basically can't charge back and last time I enquired about even blocking a company from making new charges I was told that doing this required me to block the entire card and get a new one issued.

It'd really very odd to see Americans insist that they should have the right to take a service, get the money back for it from the business i.e. get the service for free, and then go back and get service again! That's pretty unfair towards the business.

There's no problem with making chargebacks in Europe. Maybe you should move to another bank?

Maybe, but I've never heard anyone I know in Europe ever refer to making a chargeback or even raising the possibility of doing one. It certainly isn't common. Perhaps it depends on what country you're in.

Chargebacks are mandated by law on credit-cards in Europe, and they have saved the ass of many people, and stopped a lot of fraud.

When covid hapepned, many airplane companies were not refunding cancelled flights, everyone who bought tickets with a credit card could do a chargeback, and buy another ticket. Everyone else was stuck in disputes for months, some for years, some never got money back.

When you pay with a debit card, you are paying with your money. So you could lose all the money you have, that's bad.

But the credit-card is the Bank's money. You could loose all the money you don't have. You could lose unlimited amount of money - after all, the bank decides if to accept a transaction. That's Much Much Worse.

So let's say you bought something for $500 on the credit card, then the bank has to collect this money from you.

So the Chargeback is really you telling the bank that someone stole from them, it was the bank's money after all, and that they cannot collect from you. It is then between the bank and the merchant to fight it out.

Basically the bank is providing you credit, they decide how much credit to provide, and they are also in charge of security -> making sure it was you and not someone stealing your credit card. So they hold the buck.

Can you help me make sure I follow this right. You do a charge back in cases where you can't reach an agreeable resolution with the company, right.

Presumably that's the end of the relationship - you claw your money back via the CC and say good bye to the company.

What's the argument for being able to charge back but then wanting to (and the company being forced to, as I think you are suggesting) doing business with each other?

I suspect I am missing something.

The lack of any other viable means of customer support seems to be the issue. The only way to manage these problems is the use of the app, and these companies can definitely make usage of the app and the ability to hail a ride separate. Or they can provide better customer service, or an alternative mechanism for people to resolve any ongoing issues they've created.

I don't think this concept will fly broadly in America, it violates the way the American constitution sets up private vs public. Forcing private businesses to do businesses with the public without discrimination is only allowed in certain cases. Are you open to the public, providing an important service? (Like taxi, hotel, etc?) Then you cannot discriminate. Are you not-essential, with limited rules based membership? Then you can discriminate.

In this case, telling a private business they are forced to entertain customers who have robbed them, it's outrageous. And while I understand that chargebacks CAN be legitimate, they also CAN and often are illegitimate. When I worked in small business computer repair, we literally got out of the business of selling expensive machines because more than half of all orders were fraudulent and were charge backed with zero recourse -- we lose the machine, we lose the money. We lost an incredible sum of money to thieves this way, and so being told we are forced to do business with them would have destroyed our business.

If you wanted to create a new class of online public service like Twitter and Google and increase regulation on them as one might do hotels, that's one thing. But a blanket requirement that all businesses must entertain customers who chargeback is a nonstarter, imo.

The problem is that the businesses have made customer's ability to access their previous purchases dependent upon continuing to have a business relationship with the account. If, when closing the account, the business paid back full value for everything they were removing access to, the ruling might be different. But they aren't doing that.

If you are a business doing more normal business, selling something with no sort of required subscription, something the customer does not depend upon you for, then you are still free to stop doing business with them (minus a few cases related to protected classes).

It might be even easier than being paid back full value (which is difficult). How about you still have your account but you can no longer purchase anything else?

This would be a just way to do it. Making a dispute over $20 cost the complainer $2000 in digital goods seems like a good way to create hate and discontent... and lawsuits.

> The problem is that the businesses have made customer's ability to access their previous purchases dependent upon continuing to have a business relationship with the account

That's not a problem really. Think of country clubs. Your investment is completely lost the second you stop paying.

I understand that folks may dislike the subscription model, but it's not illegal.

I don't think the problem is the subscription model exactly. If I'm paying $15 / mo for netflix, it's very clear that my $15 gets me one month of access, to whatever's available in their library at the time. Similarly, if I pay $10/mo for Gym access and the Gym decides it no longer wants to do business with me, that's fine because A) there's more Gyms for me to go to, and B) I never had any expectation that anything from that Gym would be 'mine' forever, it was always an ephemeral access to the service conditional on my recurring payments.

The problem is for services where I pay a la carte to build a "personal" library of things, like steam games, Google Play movies, Amazon Kindle books, etc. I've paid a one-off price for the digital content with the expectation that I will have access to that content indefinitely. If I am abusing the platform, causing issues for others, or generally and blatantly violating ToS in a major way, then I think that's a different story. But if I need to dispute one transaction, then the ability to immediately remove all access to previously purchased content immediately, indefinitely, and frequently without review or appeals - is very anti-consumer.

It effectively nullifies existing consumer protection laws. I will never issue a chargeback or complaint against Valve (Steam) or Google, even if I have a perfectly legitimate reason to do so - as loss of those accounts after all of these years would likely be more costly to me than most erroneous charges I'm likely to see.

> Think of country clubs. Your investment is completely lost the second you stop paying

By steam sells games for $60 a piece, they are not a subscribtion service. You can't have it both ways.

Banning users who charge back is standard practice on all video game stores. They equate it to fraud in their terms of service. Imagine having an account worth thousands of dollars and losing everything because you decided to exercise your rights.

I'm so happy to see authorities are finally doing something about this abuse.

Does Apple App Store do this?

Absolutely. Check out this document for example:


> All Transactions are final.

Purchased something by mistake? Tough.

> If technical problems prevent or unreasonably delay delivery of Content, your exclusive and sole remedy is either replacement of the Content or refund of the price paid, as determined by Apple.

Unhappy? Your only recourse is to beg Apple for your money back. They may say no.

> From time to time, Apple may suspend or cancel payment or refuse a refund request if we find evidence of fraud, abuse, or unlawful or other manipulative behavior that entitles Apple to a corresponding counterclaim.

These corporations think charge backs are evidence of abuse and fraud, so yeah.

> c. Termination. This Standard EULA is effective until terminated by you or Licensor. Your rights under this Standard EULA will terminate automatically if you fail to comply with any of its terms.

Your fraudulent chargebacks are reason enough for them to kill your account, invalidating every dime you ever spent on it.

There's no point in even reading these silly documents. They're all the same, everywhere. Always assume they do this.

I run an ecommerce business, and pretty much always always block customers who file a chargeback or dispute.

They're completely draining to deal with, usually fraudulent, and the only way to win one is to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the buyer is lying.

We do this too, but also, if someone asks for a refund, pretty much regardless of circumstances, we issue a refund. So the only excuse turns into "I felt like being a dick" or it was actual fraud anyways.

I think it is reasonable.

On other side the companies should then be able to sue you and you need to prove that charge was fraudulent. If you fail, you will carry full costs of both sides. Thus cutting down the fraud by chargebacks.

> On other side the companies should then be able to sue you

Companies can sue you for false, damaging claims you make, or failure to complete your end of a contractual arrangement.

> and you need to prove that charge was fraudulent

Well, no, the initial burden of proof should remain on the entity seeking a remedy, but civil standard of proof (preponderance of the evidence) means that that initial burden is not hard to meet.

This is really how the system works in most places. If a chargeback result is unjust, the merchant can sue. In most places court costs and attorney fees are awarded to the winner. Most of the time, merchants just assign the account to a collection agency after 90 days and hope for something.

Note of course that these are the terms of a settlement, and I don't think this has any legal implications on digital licensing and identity management.

I wonder how they manage that on countries that have proper consumer rights government agencies.

Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft/XBox and Google do this.

It's not relevant to Netflix.

Does Apple also do this?

Why would you chargeback in Fortnite instead of just refunding? The only reasons I can think of are fraudulent ones.

I take it you have never tried to use the support system of many of these services? Yeah, you may sometimes get a good rep that will actually help you and refund you. More often times than not you are forced to jump through massive hoops, auto replies, no help, etc. to the point that you have to do a chargeback. Also, chargebacks are not always a guarantee, VISA (or whoever) does their own investigation to make sure you're in the right, so you would only likely go that route when you're confident that the service is in the wrong.

I refund routinely on Steam. The only times it doesn't work is if I've played more than 2 hours which seems fair. I don't see why I would be entitled to making a chargeback after I've played the game for that long. That would be like renting a movie, watch it and then make a chargeback.

> Why would you chargeback in Fortnite instead of just refunding?

It's really cool that Steam has a working refund system but I'm not sure it helps with the explanation of why refunding on Epic is an insurmountable challenge.

You're missing the point. The point being there is plenty of use cases that are not fraudulent ones.

Steam will even still give you refunds after 2 hours if you have a reason that convinces the customer service rep (e.g. performance or compatibility issues that you spent 3 hours running the game trying to fix)

I hope you are not trying to suggest that something Steam should be commended for rather than just the bare minimum. If the product being defective only becomes apparent after two hours then the product is still defective.

So if you don't like a movie you should have the right to a refund?

While it is the bare minimum, it's more than many companies will do.

They weren't getting refunded because kids were genuinely using their parents' credit cards. Parents are alleging fraud to the cc companies, but not reporting this as fraud legally.

> Parents are alleging fraud to the cc companies, but not reporting this as fraud legally.

Just so we are on the same page, is the issue that they are not calling the police and saying "my kid has used my creditcard, could you prosecute them for fraud?"

That's what's really happening, right? Parents have handed over their credit cards and are having some misgivings about the purchases their children are making. Have you met children? They don't need dark patterns to make bad decisions.

> The company also made it easy for children to make purchases while playing Fortnite without requiring any parental consent.

So the kids had their parent's credit card on file for a free to play game and this is Epic's fault? Wouldn't having their credit card on file to buy anything they want be consent at some level? The same level of consent as any other online shop?

The only reason for the settlement is that this is one of those "cost of doing business" fines for Epic. They are out of this for a relatively small amount of money, and the FTC gets a "win" out of it.

Oh, so yes to your question.

> Have you met children? They don't need dark patterns to make bad decisions

Exactly, thats why you are not allowed to sell them alcohol, drugs and worst of all, financial products like loans.

> That's what's really happening, right? Parents have handed over their credit cards and are having some misgivings about the purchases their children are making

Children below age of criminal responsibility can't be prosecuted. What exactly are you trying to accomplish?

I'm not familiar with the Fortnite cash shop, but do they refund hard currency or just "points"/ fun bucks?

If you purchased something in-game with "v-bucks" then you can get your v-bucks back if you still haven't actually used the item in a game yet, or if it was purchased in the last 30 days (up to 3 times). They don't usually refund actual money, as far as I can tell.

So effectively they don't provide refunds at all? Non-withdrawable store credit should probably be illegal too.

V-bucks aren't really store credit though. They're non-refundable and it makes sense because you can also get them through in-game actions.

Maybe an 'Oops! I didn't mean to do that.' undo button immediately after buying some. But it would be better just to make the checkout process explicit like they do on PC.

I'm sure they can manage to track which fakebux you paid for and which ones they gifted you. The is zero consumer benefit to having intermediate currrencies that cannot be be changed back into real money. It's entirely a dark pattern used to make you spend more by obscuring costs and generating leftover amounts that you can't really use without inserting more cash.

This is also why I never pursued any GDPR complaints out of fear that I will be locked out of my account.

When I told about my issue to ICO, they basically gave advice to use different service... that's it.

There should be some sort of legal protection that if you want to exercise your rights, company shouldn't be allowed to cut you out for doing so.

> In Spring 2018, Epic executives and managers discussed adding a confirm purchase button to prevent accidental purchases. Though employees were concerned that “it is a bit of a dark UX pattern to not have confirmation on ‘destructive’ actions,” Epic feared that adding a confirmation button would add “friction,” “result in a decent number of people second guessing their purchase,” and reduce the number of “impulse purchases.”

> Epic has never allowed users to cancel or undo charges for Battle Passes or Llamas and did not begin allowing users to cancel Cosmetics charges until June 2019. Even then, Epic uses design tricks, sometimes referred to as “dark patterns,” to deter consumers from cancelling or requesting refunds for unauthorized V-Bucks charges.

> On July 20, 2018, an Epic Community Coordinator asked if there were any plans to add a confirmation step for in-game purchases, noting: “This is actually a huge complaints on our side and could remove most of the ‘excuses’ about accidental purchase: ‘I wanted to press Replay, my PS4 was in sleep mode’, etc. This is something I wanted to push forward but didn’t have time to build a real case around, has this already been discussed in the past?”

> In addition, Epic deliberately requires consumers to find and navigate a difficult and lengthy path to request a refund through the Fortnite app. To start, Epic hid the link to submit a refund request under the “Settings” tab on the Fortnite app menu, far removed from the purchase screen, even though requesting a refund is not a game or device setting. The Epic user experience (“UX”) designer who helped design the refund request path reported that he put the link there in an “attempt to obfuscate the existence of the feature” and that “not a single player found this option in the most recent round of UX testing.” When the designer asked whether he should make the feature easier to find, he was told by a superior, “it is perfect where it is at.”

Many more examples in this complaint doc: https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/ftc_gov/pdf/1923203EpicGame...

And despite Epic having great games, this is why I have not installed it or paid for any of their product so far.

Also why steam is still the leader despite having a terrible UI: they have been very good to their customers.

Is Steam UI terrible? It seems a little slower than I'd like, particularly initial load but otherwise it seems fine to me. And most software I use is so slow now it certainly doesn't stand out and has probably moved to the upper grade just by not getting worse over the years.

Yes, it's absolutely horrible. It's just a browser and it's not well done. It takes seconds sometimes for clicks to register. Often I get blank screens and have to go back to reload the page I want. Everything about this browser-based UI is slow and cumbersome and brittle.

Yes, it is. It has all the problems of a web page plus all the problems of a native app. It's the worst of both worlds.

It's a Web-based UI which doesn't allow font size control or zoom, which deserves an achievement or something since nearly all of them allow this rather easily (either in UI or by editing CSS). Maybe a magnifier glass to help with the tiny font size.

What web engine is steam using? Has it always been a Web UI? I only started gaming on steam back in 2014, and it was a webui already back then so I'm curious!

> What web engine is steam using?

Chrome, not quite an electron app but as sluggish as one. It's not always been however the installer has always been known to be notorious.

These gifs was well known during the golden days, classics. NSFW-ish

[1] https://i.imgur.com/0qtsE.gif

[2] https://i.imgur.com/QuJNQ4K.gif

It's a batty Mac citizen, with slow startup, weird fonts, the exact same UI as on Windows, and the shortcuts are all wrong. It's probably the same on Linux, where it's a Windows app on the OS as well.

Valve doesn't have enough taste to see a problem.

> Also why steam is still the leader despite having a terrible UI: they have been very good to their customers.

Steams core customer is the game developers/publishers, who they take a ~30% (last time I checked) cut from the profits from.

The people who buy games are simply users of Steam, and Steam has to treat them well, otherwise their actual customers (developers/publishers) won't get as much profits, and indirectly Steam.

Developers don't pay that 30 percent, users do.

You could even say that steam is a customer of the developers (I buy your game at x to sell for y), and the average person is a customer of steam and the devs.

I don't really see the customers or the developers as the core. Both groups tie into each other in a big network effect.

Developers do. It comes out of their margins.

If game developers and publishers could get the same audience without steam and the 30% tax, they would in a heartbeat.

They'd probably cut the price a little to expand sales and enjoy the wider margin. Margin that could be spent on salaries and growth.

Thankfully Valve is investing its proceeds in developing competitive products that enrich the industry and not just skimming.

That is a pointless distinction.

30% of the price is distributed to Valve instead of developers.

Whether that results in developers obtaining lower profits or users paying higher prices is entirely subjective; that depends on what would happen otherwise, which is categorically unprovable.

It's not pointless at all, the fact that all the money comes out of my pocket is really signific ant it comes to determining who the real customer of valve is.

If it's a point of issue between me, Valve, and the game developers, at the end of the day it's my decision that matters because I have the money and if I choose not to spend it the whole thing stops working.

Take away valve and then I go straight to the source and purchase games from the developers directly, it's going to be inconvenient, but it'll be fine.

Take away the developers and valve will fund game development and start making their own stuff like Netflix has with all the media companies.

Take away the customers? Game over.

Of logic works all right when you're talking about Google and the fact that the advertisers are the real customers, because of the end of the day the advertisers have the money and when it is advertisers versus users the advertisers always win.

It's important to be the guy funding the system at the end of the day, otherwise you get screwed.

They are neither buyers nor sellers, they have a marketplace business model. https://www.bluecart.com/blog/marketplace-business-model#:~:....

> Developers don't pay that 30 percent, users do.

No really, the developers have 30% removed from a sale which goes to Steam. People who buy games don't see a price + 30%, it's the developer who sees the fee when they look at the sales. Otherwise all receipts from Steam would be $GAME_PRICE + $STEAM_FEE, but it's simply $GAME_PRICE and then the developer when looking through their sales, that see $GAME_PRICE - $STEAM_FEE.

So I pay $X and 30% of that goes to steam.

This is not me as the user paying. Gotcha.

The customer pays for /everything/ /always/ under /all/ circumstances. It's not cost plus pricing, vendors will charge as much as the customer will part with. Customers are willing to part with less when competition pushes prices down. That 30% is definitely keeping prices higher to the customer in any remotely competitive market. (I say nothing about whether that is a good thing or bad, whether that is cheap or expensive - it's just nuts not to know the customer is paying it, that's whose pocket the money comes out of).

If you buy a game directly from the publisher you don't get a discount for that 30% cut on Steam. For publishers with over $50 million in sales, they take 20%. But it costs the same price to buy Assassin's Creed on Steam as it does on the Ubisoft store.

Steam is not "very good" to their customers unless you mean in comparison to the abysmal competition. Remember they only started doing refunds after being taken to court by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. Even now their refuns are extremely restrictive compared to what a retail store would offer.

When you unlock an item in a battle-pass, you have to hold down the button for about a second to unlock it (and there's a little progress bar animation as it unlocks). This is great! it makes it much harder to accidentally unlock the wrong thing with a single button press. The downside to a wrong click is pretty negligible though, you're probably going to unlock everything in the battle-pass eventually anyway.

But in the "store" part of the app, where you're purchasing things with the "v-bucks" in-game currency (which you've paid actual money for), the purchase was just a single button press. It was very easy to accidentally purchase when instead you meant to press the "back" or "preview item" button. Only recently did they change this to use the same "hold for 1 second" pattern already used in the battle-pass.

Somewhat ironic. Remember Epic's attack on Apple's game store? At least Apple does not apply that many controversial patterns to their customer experience.

> Epic feared that adding a confirmation button would add “friction,” “result in a decent number of people second guessing their purchase,” and reduce the number of “impulse purchases.”

yeah, it would have absolutely done that.

Is this the company that craves to install its Store on the most profitable mobile platform? I will try to keep that in mind

>Under the FTC’s order, Epic must pay $245 million, which will be used to provide refunds to consumers. The order also prohibits Epic from charging consumers through the use of dark patterns or from otherwise charging consumers without obtaining their affirmative consent. Additionally, the order bars Epic from blocking consumers from accessing their accounts for disputing unauthorized charges.

Too bad there aren’t punitive damages. Hopefully this action by the FTC chills other businesses that use dark patterns or ban users for charge backs. Not offering competent customer service is a liability not a cost savings.

> Additionally, the order bars Epic from blocking consumers from accessing their accounts for disputing unauthorized charges.

I really wish more companies were required to still allow account access after disputing a credit card charge.

I'd like something that broadly prohibited any company that 1) acts as a gatekeeper for any third party services, or 2) offers digital "purchases" from blocking user access to their account without having to first prove overt nefarious actions that disrupt the service. And not some hand-wavy TOS violation, but it should be impossible to block someone more than temporarily without going through some kind of arbitration process.

If a company doesn't want to deal with this hassle, don't offer up "Sign in with Google/Apple/Facebook/whatever" (I'm talking about Google/Apple/FB/whatever in this scenario), and don't "sell" digital goods that are hosted online.

Yeah, I would like to see where you at least maintain access to your existing (previous) purchases in the case of a dispute.

I can understand cutting off a bad actor from making more purchases, but reclaiming their already paid for stuff feels pretty evil.

That's because it is evil. Specifically, greed.

The FTC’s order can be reasonably interpreted as a warning shot to other US companies, but I’d still like to see “chargebacks may only reverse access to that which the purchase paid for, not to the right to access past and future purchases” enshrined in law.

My comment is going to get downvoted (or worse, ignored), but here I go again:

We, as software engineers (or working in the field), have the power to not implement these features when our employer asks us to do it.

Everyday we read about organisations using dark patterns in their (software) products and then we come to HN to complain about it.

How did these features get built? By whom?

Yes, I realise not everyone has the privilege to say "NO", but at least some of us can and should push back.

> software engineers (or working in the field), have the power to not implement these features when our employer asks us to do it.

Realize that you're statment is a euphemism. What you really mean is we have the choice between implementing a dark pattern or finding another job and letting someone else implement it. Stated this way it's a lot easier to understand people's behavior.

Here's a software engineer at twitter who was asked to implement granular per user location tracking and the feature got scrapped because the entire team just refused to implement it https://mobile.twitter.com/stevekrenzel/status/1589700721121...

> What you really mean is we have the choice between implementing a dark pattern or finding another job and letting someone else implement it.

You incorrectly reduced the available options.

Here are a couple more options:

- convince your peers and supervisors why using dark patterns is trash

- just don't implement dark patterns and rather focus on useful features and bugfixes

- be loud about your distain of such request for dark pattern implementation and tweet, blog, write about it.

- ...

These are all valid options and one could (and should) attempt them before resigning.

(Though, realistically speaking, either one will probably get you fired, sooner or later.)

Maybe what we need are unions. I realize it's hard to do with H1Bs, contractors, remote work, and offshoring. But maybe we should try anyway?

One could be tempted to think we're overpaid or have it too good as is, but we're basically lightning wizards making rocks think for us from sometimes thousands of miles away from where we physically are. When put that way it doesn't seem so farfetched to pay us a lot of money for our works.

Ah yes, the banality of evil.

s/implementing a dark pattern/performing any immoral or unethical act/g

In capitalism, you're always free to starve. In Nazi Germany, you're always free to be executed or imprisoned for refusing orders.

That has always been a massive copout.

What makes it a copout? I've had friends choose the resign option. I've been fortunate enough that my resignations didn't involve ultimatums.

Was it effective -> did whatever they were resigning in protest of, get removed?

GPT-4 def wont care

Never mind dark patterns. If engineers had that kind of moral fibre to choose doing the right thing over getting paid, social media as we know it today wouldn't exist, and adtech giants wouldn't rule the web.

The reality is that most of us think we're making the world a better place, when truthfully we're just trying to make a decent living, while making the unscrupulous shot callers rich. And that's the percentage that does actually want to make an honest living. Others will happily apply their knowledge to deceive and exploit, and then go on to make successful companies of their own. The circle of tech.

> We, as software engineers (or working in the field), have the power to not implement these features when our employer asks us to do it.

You don't, but, doctors and structural engineers do.

I was saying for years that a licensing proffeshional body, like the one other proffesions have, would improve things in our industry.

When was the last time a bridge fell down because someone boss bullied a structural engineer into suigning it off? They know you know that any engineer that agrees to do doggy shit is risking their licence, and it's not worth if for them.

This industry would improve significantly if it had a proffeshional body with teeth, and for that you need licensing like doctors and other proffeshions have.

> When was the last time a bridge fell down because someone boss bullied a structural engineer into suigning it off?

Not necessarily that scenario, but this happens all the time. See the recent catastrophe in Turkey.

But I do agree that a tech license to uphold ethics makes sense. The problem is that the negative effects of tech aren't as clear-cut as from a bridge falling down. We still don't know what the long-term effects of social media are. Advertising rules all media, yet it's one of the most manipulative and harmful industries to have ever existed. These are not going anywhere because they have made many people very rich, and now these people have enormous influence over legislators and governments.

Speaking of legislators, they're hopelessly tech illiterate, and unprepared to regulate tech in any way. It took them decades to regulate industries that were literally killing people. How long do you think it will take for them to catch up to Big Tech?

> Yes, I realise not everyone has the privilege to say "NO", but at least some of us can and should push back.

I agree wholeheartedly. I would (and have) quit jobs where I was required to do things I considered unethical. Having to do that can suck and be a financial blow, but I think being able to keep my soul is worth it.

I think a lot of us do push back on the product owners and designers when something seems obviously bad. But I don't think it's good advice to encourage people to unilaterally declare themselves the gatekeeper just because they write the code.

> encourage people to unilaterally declare themselves the gatekeeper just because they write the code.

That's not the call to action. The call to action is to refuse to participate in unethical behavior.

Articulating why a certain function is bad design or is actively harmful is not the same as gatekeeping. I have lost opportunities because I chose to follow my ethics over my bank account. I do not regret those decisions.

Software developers should have a professional code of ethics. Other professions have them, why not computer scientists, computer engineers, and software developers? There is the ACM/IEEE-CS Software Engineering Code, but I don't know any professionals outside academia that remain ACM members, IEEE membership might remain relevant for computer engineers, so I may well be wrong in that regard.

When I studied (industrial) engineering, we had a creed and naïve me still believes in that.


We're young as a profession, once ML automates away a lot of the low hanging fruit I'd imagine we'll go a similar path.

Cogs can't push back; experts can, and should.

You seem to have started with the premise that getting management to behave ethically is hopeless, but that maybe engineers could refuse.

Management can always find someone willing to behave un-ethically if they look.

Regulation and criminal liability tends to be the only way to eliminate shady business practices.

> Management can always find someone willing to behave un-ethically if they look.

True, but that doesn't mean you should participate.

I think there are two things here -- refusing to participate in bad behavior is about maintaining your own humanity and holding true to your own ethical code. That it may not correct the company's behavior is irrelevant to this. The point is to not let the company corrupt you.

The other thing is how to correct the behavior of misbehaving companies. This is what you're addressing, and I think your conclusion is largely correct.

These are not mutually exclusive. Both are very important.

I was "management" in an infamous bank.

When I realised that I had a choice, I resigned.

Again, I do realise that I'm privileged and not everyone can afford to simply resign, but a lot of us can and we, the ones who can, have no excuse.

We are the "new" crack dealers

2Pac - Changes

    You gotta operate the easy way

    - I made a G today

    but you made it in a sleazy way

    Sellin' crack to the kids

    - I gotta get paid

    Well hey, well, that's the way it is


That's the second time now I read about Epic Games paying a fine for doing something obviously shady and illegal. I slowly get the impression that Epic Games might be a bit more scammy than your average company.

As an adult who’s partner plays Fortnite with her cousins and occasionally gets dragged in, I haven’t seen this. I’ve spent maybe 25, and it seemed pretty obvious what was going on. Maybe I just haven’t found the dark pattern path. It should be clear what’s going on before charging.

I don’t love the “v bucks” vs real dollars they charge for things. though I get that the reward for those who grind isn’t actual dollars.

As someone who let a younger person play on my laptop, I will note my balance was quickly brought down to 0 though I had some new “emotes”.. lesson learned.

I’d rather just pay once for games, though that seems to be on its way out.

>I’d rather just pay once for games, though that seems to be on its way out.

Unfortunately the only way to fight that is to not pay for anything else, but companies also know that's where the money's at.

I paid $40 for Overwatch. ActiBlizzard replaced what I paid for with F2P "Overwatch 2" and added "battle passes" and overpriced skins, and they seem to be going that way permanently now.

That is, I don't have access to Overwatch, the product I paid full price for, anymore. And the PvE content they marketed Overwatch 2 as still hasn't materialized either.

As an adult who plays Fortnite (and has since the relatively early days of Battle Royale mode), I agree.

I didn't even enter a credit card at all for a few years, and once I did decide to buy in, there was a full checkout process. Even after they had my card info, there was no ambiguity when I was buying something.

I do understand that might be different on consoles though, since consoles have such a constrained and clunky UI compared to a PC. That seemed to be what the main complaint was getting at - apparently on consoles the 'view skin from your locker' button that you use to take a look at it is the same button used to one-click buy one from the shop? That certainly does sound like a dark pattern!

As for 'v-bucks', which aren't real money, I don't mind them. If you do stuff in-game you get tons of free v-bucks. I bought the battle pass once a couple years ago and it's been free ever since then, because doing the quests gives you enough v-bucks to buy the next one and, over time, enough free v-bucks for some skins too. Again if you get the battle pass once and play it, you'll end up with tons of free skins too. And they're all just cosmetic.

And sure, I'd generally rather just pay once for many games, but I think Fortnite actually does quite a good job when it comes to justifying paying more than once.

Every season there are new maps, new characters, new mechanics, sometimes whole new game modes. It really does keep the game fresh and fun. And keeps the player base coming back for years so there are always people to match against.

The "pay once and then that's all there will ever be" model very often sees a quick short life for online activity. Before long only a few die-hards are still around trying to find others to play with. And then the company shuts down the servers. Being able to self-host servers can help a small game live longer. But a game that requires 100 players per match? It would probably be a wasteland in a few months once the initial mass got bored.

I play Civ VI on my tablet to wind down, and I’m not happy about owning the whole thing on Steam and only half on iOS. They need a license transference process.

If memory serves Klei might have a solution for this but I haven’t bought anything on steam in some time so I may be thinking of some other game.

It would be nice to get a discount on already owned games when purchasing on another platform, but I disagree that it should just be free (if I understood what you mean about license transference). Porting a game to another platform is non-trivial - I think a fair compromise would be a discount. Otherwise the cost of games in general would have to go up to subsidize the labor to bring content to all platforms.

I'm honestly more upset about how shitty it is to download DLCs and mods on iOS. The whole thing is botched beyond belief

Yeah, it makes their kerfuffle with Apple look a bit different.

Because Apple charges 30%. And Apple can keep that if there is a refund.

In this case, Epic is returning money. They would ideally be net zero on this whole debacle. You mistakenly bought $10 worth of skins, Epic collected that $10. Then you get refunded $10, Epic returns that $10. In the App Store scenario. You mistakenly bought $10 worth of skins, Apple collected that $10, gave $7 to Epic. Then you get refunded $10, Apple returns that $10, and then collects that $10 from Epic. Epic loses $3 on the exchange.

And if this is just refunding the purchases, it's kind of a good deal for Epic. As they essentially got an interest free loan from their customers.

> And if this is just refunding the purchases, it's kind of a good deal for Epic. As they essentially got an interest free loan from their customers.

Just a minor note: I believe credit card transaction fees are not refunded to the vendor, so there is still a non-zero cost to refunding customers which likely doesn't make it a "good deal".

(Disclaimer: It's been over a decade since I did anything related to payments, so this may be out of date, or I may be misremembering it.)

No, that sounds if not outright correct, at the very least in the ballpark of close enough.

And I'm not totally up on the transaction fees, but they're typically in the low single digit percentages. And you only get hit once. So even on the higher side, you're looking at making up 3%. Which is way more likely than making up 30% in the same timeframe.

This is completely false. Apple doesn't chargeback more than it paid out.

What you said, and what I'm retorting with requires data, lots of it. But my understanding is that given unchecked power in a domain, almost all of them do the same.

Yeah, I appreciate Valve more and more. Epic has the gall to present themselves as underdogs fighting for consumers against Valve, Apple, etc. Meanwhile Valve quietly hums along making gaming better for everyone.

It’s sure a good thing we let them run their own App Store for Apple products then.

Definitely a win for the little guy. /s

The crApp Store is full of dark patterns. All Apple ever cared about was getting its 30% cut of those dark patterns, including from Epic.

If we wanted to 'fix' both the price overhead on the App Store and the Freemium problem there then the best way to do that would be for Apple to reduce their cut on initial purchases but keep in-game purchases at 30%.

Right now they're doing nothing to discourage these patterns.

I cut Apple some slack because I worked in mobile when the iPhone was still a product demo. If you think Apple are assholes, you don't remember what carriers were like. Some of them were in the middle of figuring out how to white label phones so they could completely control the wireless space instead of share control with Moto, Nokia, Ericcson, etc. AT&T wanted you to buy an AT&T branded phone, not a Nokia. If memory serves, HTC was one of those white label manufacturers at the time.

The introduction of the Razr and the iPhone kept us from being in the worst timeline. And the App Store broke open an entire industry.

> I cut Apple some slack because I worked in mobile when the iPhone was still a product demo. If you think Apple are assholes, you don't remember what carriers were like.

I don't cut Apple any slack because I worked in desktop when the iPhone was still a product demo. If you don't think Apple are assholes, you don't remember what freedom was like.

Apple definitely cares about that (they actually make way more money from their app store than google despite the much smaller userbase).

But they're also better at keeping out malware than google's app store I feel.

I could be wrong.

I think I agree with you, but to play devil's advocate, the video game industry is struggling to monetize their work.

No one wants to pay for games anymore, no one wants a pay to win system in a game, and cosmetic items seem like a waste of money to most. The result is the gaming industry pulling out all the tricks to try to separate the consume from his or her wallet to pay for content.

> the video game industry is struggling to monetize their work.

The video game industry is exceedingly profitable. It makes more money than the movie industry, at nearly $100 billion per year.

I don't think it's struggling to monetize. It seems quite successful at that.

> No one wants to pay for games anymore

Is that true, or are games so broken that nobody is willing to pay for them anymore. I've completely stopped buying almost any game that isn't on Apple Arcade because I know those games will be free of pay-to-win mechanics and nickel-and-diming you with more charges and dark patterns. On Apple's service, they all have to ask if they want to steal my data and resell it. I always say "No." I have a Steam account for playing older games I bought a while ago, but I buy maybe 1 game per year on it, if even, and only because it's not available anywhere else I'm willing to spend money. I'm playing more games than ever before now, too!

It had no problem monetizing their work BEFORE the microtransaction hellscape we have now, which has made these companies insanely profitable.

Exactly - it's not that there aren't people that want to buy games, it's that giving games away for free and then selling microtransactions is more profitable.

It’s always great to have companies like FromSoft who still make great and complete games which empirically deny claims like “people don’t want to pay for games “. The statement feels like it came from a board room that was discussing the latest digital-cosmetic store dark pattern.

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