We hate the FTC, right? Those jerks are trying to kill Net Neutrality, after all. That’s going to make everything difficult for everyone on the Internet. The FTC also has a history of making things difficult for artists who want to push boundaries, and generally seem to make things difficult for other creative people as well. But wait! Can the FTC do anything good? Is there a beneficial side to the FTC at all? Well yes, actually. The FTC is, generally, supposed to be in place to protect consumer rights and all that jazz. In fact, there’s a big story going on right now that explicitly involves some long-running BS in the video game world, that might finally be seeing some real regulatory resistance.
Anyone who buys tech or hardware of any sort is familiar with dealing with warranty policies. Usually because companies will do everything they can to weasel out of serving said warranties, by adding tons of “ifs” and “buts” that put the onus on the consumer to follow a strict set of guidelines, or be totally screwed when something happens to their expensive equipment. A years-long battle has been fought over the “right to repair,” and devices such as cell phones and especially video game consoles have been right in the thick of it.
You probably know what I’m talking about by now. I am referring to the stickers, the seals, and the tamper detection. If you look at the warranty policy for your PlayStation, Xbox, or Nintendo platform, you’ll always see something about how if you open your console up, that’s a one-way ticket to voiding the warranty. And repairing these things can get expensive… mostly because of that policy! And usually paired with those policies is something that can rat you out. Sometimes it’s a sticker, sometimes it’s a seal, or a little, breakable piece of plastic. Regardless of what it is, it’s a way for official repair sites to tell if you’ve done anything yourself, and per company policy, that means you pay full price.
The reason for this of course is to stamp out competition. If the customer is scared to void their warranty, they’ll come directly to the source to get it fixed, and allow the company to do things like sell refurbished units and whatnot. Third-parties do exist, and often offer repairs for specific issues at a much lower price. This is the last thing a Nintendo or Microsoft want you to do, so they drop those stickers where you can’t see them, and sneak the language in.
Of course, that’s actually illegal! A federal law is in place that states that, if a company makes a product that costs more than five bucks, adding an anti-repair clause to a warranty (if offered) is not allowed. Like, there’s no grey area, it’s black and white, not allowed, prohibited, illegal. And that law exists precisely to prevent all the garbage I outlined above. How have they gotten away with it for so long? Who knows! But in 2018, the gauntlet has been thrown down.
On April 9, 2018, the FTC sent letters to six companies, including our three favorite video game corporations. The letter says, “hey, this is illegal, cut that ish out. You have 30 days.” Well, that’s not verbatim, but you get the idea. It continues to say that if those 30 days go by and someone finds a sticker in their Xbox One, that’s grounds for legal action. The ball, of course, is now in the tech industry’s court. We’ll see what happens; will Nintendo weasel its way out? Will Sony’s lobbying budget increase? Will Microsoft engineer an invisible sticker? Or will everyone cave and open the door for independent repair shops to boom? Who knows.
The point here is that, sometimes government regulation is a good thing, even for stupid video game stuff. Regulation, especially from arenas like the FTC, is often introduced and solidified to protect you (yes, YOU) from the vulnerable parts of you that money-hungry corporate entities are more than happy to latch onto and suck until there’s nothing left. Sure, there’s also politics that leads to stuff like net neutrality being threatened, but nuking the FTC from orbit isn’t the answer to that. We, as people who enjoy media, need to gain a better understanding of what organizations like the FTC are and do, and figure out how to use that knowledge to our advantage. This warranty issue is a prime, tangible, and relevant example. Down with the stickers.