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When Google updated Chrome to automatically block autoplay videos last week, it was seen as a victory for internet-goers who long endured annoying advertisements. But what most people didn’t consider is how the changes would affect other content. It now appears the Chrome 66 update has had some unintended consequences that threaten web-based games.
Prior to the update, game audio would either start when a webpage loaded, or more commonly, after the user pressed “play.” With the latest version of Chrome, games created using any HTML5 engine—Pico-8, GameMaker, Unity, or Phaser—don’t play sound. In many cases, audio won’t even play even when a game requires users to “click to play.”
Foddy told the Daily Dot the updates required aren’t difficult, but he suspects most developers don’t have the components needed to make them.
He explained updating the code won’t take much work, provided that, “one, you have access to all the servers the game is hosted on; two, you still have your source code; three, you made the game either using raw JS/HTML or an engine that has been recently updated to respect this new policy (and the updates didn’t break your game in some other way; and four, you have time to go through all your projects and update them.”
“Naturally, this means only a tiny minority of existing games will be updated, even if it is not much of an issue for developers of future games on contemporary engines and libraries,” he added.
While we don’t know how many games are affected, Foddy says it’s “probably millions.” His immensely popular and undoubtedly frustrating ragdoll game QWOP was affected by the update. But Foddy was lucky. He built the title on his own server and was able to fix it with little effort. Others aren’t so fortunate.
Several prominent video game developers took to Twitter to voice their frustrations about the new Chrome update. Among those is Terry Cavanagh, who has created more than two dozen games including the hit titles VVVVVV and Super Hexagon. He says Chrome 66 “broke” his in-browser creations.
The creator of the critically acclaimed title Stephen’s Sausage Roll, Stephen Lavelle, also noted his games had been affected by the update.
Indie video game hosting site itch.io was forced to post instructions on how to enable its “click to play” feature so audio would play on its titles.
Even specific video game accounts are being forced to address concerns from gamers.
Influential blogger and former Kickstarter Chief Technology Officer Andy Baio hit out at Google and urged the company to reconsider how it blocks autoplay audio.
The developers affected by the update aren’t necessarily opposed to Google preventing autoplay videos from blaring audio—they just want the tech giant to come up with another solution. Foddy suggests a mute button in tabs that is enabled by default (you can already manually mute individual tabs on Chrome) or by adjusting code to make it more friendly for games that already have a “click to play” button.
“Or they could allow annoying ads to be blacklisted, the way actual adblockers work,” Foddy said. “I’m sure there are dozens of options that would preserve our cultural heritage while muting annoying ads.”
“The reason this change is objectionable is that when we make games for the web, which is built on international open standards, we expect them to remain playable for a long time (if not forever),” he continued. “All this work exists on independently-run servers and complies with open web standards, and Google does not have the moral right to unilaterally kill it… Especially not when the only reason for it is that there are some annoying ads out there.”
It’s unclear when Google first warned developers about how the changes would impact games on its browser. Video game developer Andi McClure pointed out on Twitter that information about WebAudio API was not originally included in the company’s post about blocking autoplay videos. It appears those details were added later with code to make the necessary changes.
It’s important to note that Chrome doesn’t block autoplay videos on all websites. The company said it allows autoplay for “over 1,000 sites where we see that the highest percentage of visitors play media with sound.” This exception will likely have little impact on indie game developers.
Google does say it will start enabling sound by learning people’s preferences. So if someone enables audio on an autoplay video from the same site multiple times, Chrome will enable audio on that site by default. Of course, developers will still need to make adjustments to their code to benefit.
Update 6:26pm CT, May 7: A Google spokesperson confirmed in a statement to the Daily Dot that the most recent version of Chrome can present problems for game developers.
“With Chrome’s new autoplay policies, developers shouldn’t assume that audio can be played before a user gesture,” the statement said. “With gaming in Chrome, this may affect Web Audio. We have shared details on how developers can do to address this, and the design for the policy was published last year.”
Phillip Tracy is a former technology staff writer at the Daily Dot. He's an expert on smartphones, social media trends, and gadgets. He previously reported on IoT and telecom for RCR Wireless News and contributed to NewBay Media magazine. He now writes for Laptop magazine.