The changes will alter the services’ auto-renewal practices, and were agreed upon following an investigation into Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo’s subscription services by the UK’s Competition & Markets Authority (CMA).
The CMA said it was particularly concerned that consumers found it unclear that membership to the subscriptions would automatically roll over at the end of each month, the difficulty consumers had in turning off auto-renewal, and that some hadn't realised they were still paying for the services after their initial subscription period had ended.
As part of the agreement, Microsoft will be making changes to its refunds policy, changing the way information about auto-renewals is presented, contacting subscribers whose accounts have been dormant, and better signally price changes.
It's committed to making the following changes:
- 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,” said Michael Grenfell, executive director of enforcement at the CMA.
“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.”
Analysis: a small change makes a big difference
Auto-renewing subscriptions are one of the uglier aspects of modern gaming. If not carefully watched, they can quickly turn what should have been an affordable way of playing games into an expensive burden. There’s little worse than realizing you forgot to cancel your Xbox Game Pass subscription several months ago to find your wallet £50 lighter.
The changes Microsoft has committed to making here should go some way to alleviate those problems, especially the option to claim a refund on months you’ve mistakenly subscribed to.
There are limits to the changes, however. The pro-rata refund only applies to those who’ve taken out a 12-month subscription, so there’s nothing new to help players who signed up for less, such as a single month with which to test out the service. Equally, though Microsoft might better signal to new sign-ups that their subscription will automatically renew, there’s still no way of turning it off from the get-go. You’ll have to remember to opt-out of auto-renewal after the service is up and running.
For all its caveats, it's a step in the right direction and one that Sony, too, will also hopefully make. The CMA's original investigation concerned all three of the major gaming platforms, so it's likely Sony and Nintendo will make similar changes to their services.
It’s not just gaming that suffers from pernicious subscription practices. Amazon has long been criticized by consumer rights groups for obscuring how users can cancel their Prime subscription. That journalists have to write guides instructing consumers how to cancel their Amazon Prime membership is a sign that the process is buried too deep for the average person.
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