It has been savaged by gamers as “mediocre”, “trash”, and “one of the biggest jokes of the entire [genre]” – but online game Fallout 76 has become poster child for poor customer service after retailer EB Games agreed to offer disillusioned customers refunds for the game until the end of July.

Staff at the major retailer repeatedly misled consumers about their rights to refunds under Australian Consumer Law (ACL), the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) said as EB Games accepted a court-enforceable undertaking forcing it to refund the purchase price of the game to disgruntled customers.

The game – a massively multiplayer online game set in the world of the hugely popular Fallout games that preceded it – has sold millions of copies worldwide since its November 2018 release despite dismal reviews like one that described it as a “soulless husk of an experience”.

However uninspiring the plot, the game has suffered from server, performance, and graphical issues – not to mention frustrating cheats and expensive subscription rates – that make it unplayable for many.

Despite the problems, many Australian consumers were told by EB Games staff that they were unable to get a refund despite widespread problems with the games’ supporting servers and extensive bugs.

Staff were effectively parroting the guidance of customer-support staff at ZeniMax – the parent company of Fallout 76 producer Bethesda Softworks – that had, incorrectly, told Australian customers they were not entitled to refunds for the game despite its issues.

Last November, those claims led the ACCC to hit ZeniMax with a separate court-enforceable undertaking, in which the company similarly admitted ACL violations after telling consumers they couldn’t get their money back despite server problems, lagging performance, and graphic and visual problems.

ACL regulations allow consumers to ask for a repair, replacement, or refund “when they have purchased a product that has a fault which amounts to a major failure”, ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said in announcing that undertaking, and again in announcing the EB Games settlement.

To be eligible for a refund, customers must have contacted EB Games to complain about the game between its 14 November 2018 launch and 31 October 2019, and have been denied a refund despite requesting one.

Eligible customers should email EB Games before 1 August.

Retailers take note

While the ACCC decision is a vindication for consumers who have been complaining about Fallout 76 since its early days, Court also noted that it is a reminder for retailers that they must train staff about the rights that the ACL grants to Australian consumers.

ZeniMax customer support representatives and support documentation had “conveyed false or misleading representations” about consumers’ rights to a refund, with statements made including the suggestion that ZeniMax “had modified or restricted statutory consumer guarantees/ warranties” for games purchased through third-party retailers.

With EB Games now attracting the ire of the ACCC on similar grounds, the Court’s message for retailers was a clear warning to game producers that want to take consumers’ money and run.

“Retailers must ensure that they train their staff so they do not misrepresent to consumers their consumer guarantee rights under the Australian Consumer Law,” she noted, “including the right to obtain a refund in certain circumstances.”

Those circumstances are laid out in great detail by the ACL, which offers guidance about the durability of products purchased by consumers – which must be of “acceptable quality” – as well as defining rules that describe when goods can be said to have had a “major failure”.

Such a failure has occurred when the goods are “substantially unfit for their normal purpose”, the ACL says, or “are significantly different” from the way they were represented.