As a lawyer with a history in the gaming sector, I often come across cases involving blocked gaming accounts. These inquiries come both from players whose accounts have been blocked and from providers who want to know how they can structure their General Terms and Conditions (GTC) in order to be able to block accounts effectively and legally. An exciting ruling from last year sheds new light on this issue and shows the balance that needs to be struck between the rights of players and the obligations of providers.
The challenge of opaque account blocks
In the world of online games, from mobile games to large platforms such as Blizzard, blocking player accounts is a common but often opaque practice. The reasons for such blocks are often not clearly communicated to those affected, which leads to confusion and frustration. This practice raises important legal questions, particularly with regard to the Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG) and the requirements for a fair procedure.
The challenge here lies in striking a balance between maintaining the integrity of the game and safeguarding the rights of the players. Many online gaming platforms use automated systems to identify and sanction cheating, cheating or toxic behavior. While these systems can be efficient in detecting rule violations, they often lack transparency and traceability in their decisions. Players whose accounts have been blocked are often faced with the problem that they neither know the exact reasons for the blocking nor have any effective means of appealing against it.
Although the NetzDG is primarily aimed at social networks, its principles of transparency and fair procedure could also be transferable to the online gaming industry. This would mean that gaming operators would be obliged to establish clear guidelines and procedures for blocking accounts and to communicate these clearly to players. In addition, an effective complaints and review procedure would have to be implemented to give players the opportunity to take action against a ban that is perceived as unjust.
The current practice of account blocking in the online gaming industry could therefore be considered problematic from a legal perspective. Stronger regulation and clear guidelines may be needed to protect players’ rights and at the same time safeguard the integrity of the games. This would require an adjustment of the moderation strategies in order to ensure a balanced and legally compliant handling of player accounts.
Insight into two exciting rulings
Decisions of the OLG Dresden and OLG Karlsruhe
The Higher Regional Court of Dresden and the Higher Regional Court of Karlsruhe have made important rulings in similar cases that strengthen the rights of users of digital platforms and raise new questions, particularly with regard to the application of these principles to gaming accounts. OLG Dresden: Warning before account blocking The OLG Dresden ruled on March 8, 2022 (Ref. 4 U 1050/21) that the permanent deactivation of a user account in a social network is only permissible after a prior warning. This applies even if several posts by the user have already been deleted. The court emphasized the importance of the warning as a means of declaring a breach of contract and warning of the consequences of continuing the objectionable conduct.
OLG Karlsruhe: Similar decision
The Higher Regional Court of Karlsruhe followed this line in a ruling (case reference: 10 U 172), in which it stated that Facebook may only terminate a user account without prior warning in exceptional cases. The Senate stated that a prior warning is only dispensable in very limited exceptional cases, for example in the case of particularly serious breaches of contract or if the warning is obviously pointless. Significance for users and providers
These rulings make it clear that both the Higher Regional Court of Dresden and the Higher Regional Court of Karlsruhe emphasize the necessity of a warning before permanently blocking a user account. They therefore represent an important step towards safeguarding the rights of users and ensuring a fair procedure. For providers of social networks and gaming platforms, this means that they must design their terms and conditions and practices in accordance with these legal requirements in order to respect the rights of their users and avoid legal conflicts.
Relevance for banned players
The question of whether and how these rulings can be applied to the practice of blocking gaming accounts is particularly interesting. While the judgments clearly stipulate the necessity of a warning before an account is permanently blocked on social networks, the extent to which these principles can be applied to gaming platforms remains open. It could be argued that players, like social network users, should have a right to a fair warning and the opportunity to comment before their account is permanently banned. This would require greater transparency and fairness in the procedures of gaming providers and could lead to a reassessment of current practices. However, the specific circumstances and regulations of the gaming platforms must be taken into account, which makes a direct transfer of the judgments complex. It remains to be seen how case law will develop in this area and what impact this will have on the gaming community.
The judgments of the Higher Regional Court of Dresden and the Higher Regional Court of Karlsruhe impressively illustrate how important it is for providers of gaming platforms to adapt their general terms and conditions (GTCs) and practices for blocking user accounts to the legal requirements. These decisions emphasize the need for transparency and fairness in dealing with user accounts. For users whose accounts have been blocked, these rulings provide a legal basis for taking action against unfounded or non-transparent blocks.
An important aspect to consider is the international nature of many gaming platforms. Many gaming providers are based abroad and are therefore not directly subject to the rulings of German courts. As a result, these providers may be less receptive to claims from users or requests from lawyers, especially if they do not comply with the legal norms of their own country. For affected players, this may mean that they may have to consider international legal action to challenge the blocking of their account.
The current legal situation, shaped by the rulings of various courts, shows that there is a trend towards more user rights and fairer procedures. In the long term, this could mean that international providers will also have to rethink and adapt their practices in order to meet the requirements in different jurisdictions. It is a dynamic field in which developments in case law and their influence on the practices of the gaming industry should continue to be closely monitored.