Playing online games or mobile games is becoming more and more fashionable and already the vast majority of Germans play regularly. Even if it’s just casual games like Candy Crush. However, the legal situation in many areas is largely unresolved or at least has not been decided by the highest courts. This also applies in particular to the question of what happens if an account is blocked by a provider. This starts with the question of what a game account actually is. Although the majority of legal opinions now hold the view that this is a sui generis contract, which must be largely based on the legal situation and standards of tenancy law, it is not the case that the contract has to be concluded in accordance with the law of the landlord and tenant. However, details are then decisive above all in the question of whether GTCs are effectively integrated, whether and when termination is possible, and what the consequences of termination are. For example, it has not yet been clarified by the courts what happens to purchases made for virtual items after the provider terminates an account.
Often GTCs try to regulate this, the only question is whether these regulations are effective according to German GTC law, but often enough there is no contractual regulation at all and the pure legal situation has to serve. This applies not only to alleged violations of GTCs by players, for example through the use of possibly prohibited third-party software, such as bots, but also to possible insulting offenses in the provider’s social media. Cancellations could also be problematic if a certain amount of playing time has been purchased in advance or if so-called lifetime accounts are offered, as is currently the case with some products in development. But here, too, there are differences. For example, it can be assumed that time-limited objects or bonuses (such as boosters, experience points or the like) may be used up upon termination and should certainly not lead to any compensation after termination. This might look different for items that were purchased in perpetuity. For example, we recently had to judge the legal question of how it looks with dearly purchased fishing items in a “fishing game”. There boats and much more were offered and also purchased without time limit. Here, for example, it can be assumed with a clear conscience, and if the T&Cs do not stipulate otherwise, that at least in the event of unjustified termination, compensation for damages by the provider against the player is not excluded. The only question that then arises is whether the player has to accept credit for a certain amount of use and what happens in cases of termination without notice due to misconduct on the part of the player, for example. Providers are therefore well advised to make clean adjustments to their T&Cs or to discuss their monetization strategy with a legal expert. By the way, the same also applies to processes as to whether and when notices of termination can or should be given. For example, we recently had a case where a provider closed a large number of accounts/accesses because their users did not purchase the premium currency from their home country, but through a proxy server in another country.
Here, complicated questions of international private law sometimes arise, but also such supposedly simple problems as contractual intent or offer and acceptance. However, providers should probably not reset their entire access and terminate the contract in such a case, as this could trigger claims for damages. Users of games are well advised, when making significant investments in online or mobile games, not only to keep track of what has been spent and exactly what has been purchased, but also, for example, to store information about who exactly is the contractor “offering” the game in the current case. This also raises questions about the place of jurisdiction and thus where, for example, a German player could sue a provider abroad if the provider does not respond to possibly justified claims by the player. In this case, § 29 I ZPO (German Code of Civil Procedure), confirmed by the court, could be of further help and a place of jurisdiction in Germany could be justified. However, legal issues surrounding game accounts often come down to details.
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