Following an investigation by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority, Microsoft has said it will make changes to its Game Pass program that will make it easier for subscribers to cancel the service, and will stop taking payments for subscriptions that go dormant.
The CMA said that it first “identified concerns about certain features of Microsoft’s auto-renewing subscriptions” as part of a wider investigation into online gaming. Those concerns included clarity about automatic subscription renewal, ease of disabling automatic renewals, and whether customers may be unwittingly paying for old subscriptions that they were no longer using.
As a result, Microsoft has now committed to making changes to its Game Pass and Xbox Live services, including:
- Better upfront information: Microsoft will provide more transparent, upfront information to help customers understand their Xbox membership—making clear, for example, that the subscription will auto-renew unless the customer turns off auto-renewal; when the subscription will auto-renew; how much it will cost; and how the customer can receive a refund after an accidental renewal.
- Refunds: Microsoft will contact existing customers on recurring 12-month contracts and give them the option to end their contract and claim a pro-rata refund.
- Inactive memberships: Microsoft will also contact existing customers who haven’t used their memberships for a long time but are still paying. These customers will be reminded how to stop payments, and if they continue not to use their memberships, Microsoft will ultimately stop taking further payments.
- Better information about price increases: Microsoft will give clearer notifications of any future price rises, and will ensure people know how to turn off auto-renewal if they don’t want to pay the higher price.
“Gamers need to be given clear and timely information to make informed choices when signing up for auto-renewing memberships and subscriptions,” CMA executive director of enforcement Michael Grenfell said. “We are therefore pleased that Microsoft has given the CMA these formal undertakings to improve the fairness of their practices and protect consumers, and will be offering refunds to certain customers.”
Grenfell also warned that other companies offering subscriptions based services “should take note and review their practices to ensure they comply with consumer protection law.”
It’s a situation a lot of us have likely been in at least once in our lives: Paying for services we’re not using for months on end, because we’ve forgotten about them or it’s just too much of a pain in the ass to cancel on the rare occasions that they come to mind. Either way, it’s money wasted, and while the CMA announcement is short on specifics—there’s no indication as to exactly how long “a long time” is, for instance—it’s a move in the right direction.
The CMA is a UK-based agency, but a Microsoft spokesperson confirmed in an email to PC Gamer that the subscription policy changes will be applied internationally. “Changes to inactive subscriptions will initially roll out in the UK and will be available globally soon,” the representative said.
Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer recently said that he doesn’t view subscriptions as a replacement for conventional purchases, but there’s no question that Game Pass is big business for Microsoft. The service recently surpassed 25 million subscribers and that number is bound to continue going up as Microsoft adds newly-acquired Activision Blizzard games to its lineup.