Chrome’s autoplay update fractures web-game history

Google Audiopocalypse

Every silver lining has a cloud. While much of the internet may be jumping for joy at Google Chrome’s latest update disabling auto-playing video and audio by default, the new feature may have a rather nasty knock-on effect on many older sites, including a multitude of art and game-related projects and many newer HTML 5 pages being left partially broken. Many sites and some games are still without music or audio layers, and the full scope of the damage done still unknown.

As nice as it would be to dismiss reports of sites breaking as just the last gasp of irritating advertisers wanting to hammer their products through our speakers one last time, a plethora of independent game developers (including VVVVVV’s Terry Cavanagh and Stephen ‘Increpare’ Lavelle of Stephen’s Sausage Roll infamy) have already chipped in after finding some earlier works either partially functional or altogether broken. While in some cases it can be relatively easily fixed with a few code or interface tweaks, many of these works will never be returned to, and will stay broken in perpetuity until Chrome changes, or the internet itself passes into obscurity.

The lovely folks over at Waypoint have already picked apart the problem in great detail. It’s a really quite unprecedented issue, and not really comparable to the death of Flash either, as that was a long, slow, planned death. Plus, you can re-enable Flash relatively easily on a per-site basis. This feels more like Google were attempting to secure a surprise PR coup by swooping in to fix a long-standing problem, but never quite thought through the repercussions.

Several developers have filed bug reports, reporting the breaking of existing sites as an unintended side-effect to be rectified. Hopefully Google are listening hard enough to at least rework the feature. An end to autoplaying videos and audio is definitely a step in the right direction, but some sort of easily accessible toggle might be a better way to go about this for the time being.

This is a good reminder as to why we have universal standards for web browsers. As well-intentioned as this change for Chrome is, it also fundamentally changes how many sites work on Chrome and Chrome alone. If they’d rolled out the feature as a per-site toggle, or done something to increase awareness of the change as implemented, much of this drama could have been averted. Instead, the all-seeing corporation’s sudden and unilateral decision has created a mess that it’s up to the little people to clean up. How very cyberpunk.

67 Comments

  1. Mags says:

    Maybe it’s time for everyone else to move away from Chrome as well? I gave up on it years ago, as it became ever more bloated and messy. People originally started using Chrome because it was light, agile and bloat-free, and these days it’s something of a poor shadow of its former self.

    (I generally use either Opera or Firefox, as a rule).

    • gou says:

      opera was sold off to the chinese a fair while back, how much you trust them is up to you but the original programmers forked a lean version calling it “vivaldi”. I swear by it, for what that is worth

      • tuoret says:

        Hey, it’s the other Vivaldi user!

        Seriously though, it’s worth a shot especially if you used and loved Opera prior to their switch to Chrome’s engine (i.e. older versions up to 12.x)

      • Frostbeard says:

        Third Vivaldi user. Vivaldi is my 2nd browser now. I had Opera as main, but the chinese sale and the Facebook containment app on FF brought me back to FF. Use Vivaldi for all media content such as streaming.

      • Blade says:

        Fourth Vivaldi user.

        gou, I had to register an username to +1 your comment. Those old Operas were awesome and I really lamented the bad course they took after 12.xx.

        I swear by Vivaldi, too.

        • Ilinx says:

          Fifth Vivaldi user here, I use it as my main browser for web dev.

          • dangermouse76 says:

            Can you get ublock and ghostery for vivaldi ?

            I haven’t used it since it’s initial beta.

          • dangermouse76 says:

            Ah yes it’s Chromium. Installed and using…..very snappy and clean.

          • Ilinx says:

            Yeah, with occasional fiddling almost all plugins that work on chrome work on Vivaldi.

      • Thomas_Burgundy says:

        Well, here’s a question about the autoplay triggering : since Vivaldi is a Chrome based browser, won’t it include this problematic feature in a near future update ?

  2. panda says:

    This is tricky. I hate all the advertising that autoplays audio and videos. How to reliably distinguish between the two?

    • Amstrad says:

      This is why you use a plugin like uBlock that maintains a blacklist of known intrusive advertisements and blocks them for you.

    • Premium User Badge

      weregamer says:

      I can understand html game developers’ frustration, but I put this down to “this is why we can’t have nice things”.

      There is one simple way to distinguish good from bad, though: If the noisy thing is actually hosted on the site the user navigated to, Chrome should still play audio by default. I suspect the problems for game developers are coming from having the game hosted elsewhere, which makes it indistinguishable at the code level from an ad.

      IIRC when the game starts muted, all you have to do is click on the “speaker” icon on the tab to un-mute it, the same as you would do mute a site that you don’t want to hear.

      I also remember something in the announcement about a place in your Chrome settings where you can whitelist sites to have the audio still play by default. (Of course, most users don’t touch their settings. (And of course of course, in Google’s passion for using ML to make things better, you can expect them to announce some sort of auto-whitelisting thing sometime soon.))

      • sergiocornaga says:

        I admit I’m no expert on this matter, but I believe some of your assumptions here are wrong.

        Countless existing websites use media hosted off-site for various reasons. Embedded YouTube videos are a good example, because Google would obviously never stop these from working, but might not give similar competing websites the same exemption. Large websites (mostly social networks) often host images/video/audio etc. on a different shorter URL, perhaps to reduce load time infinitesimally or for infrastructural reasons. People like me who don’t want to pay for hosting might need to load audio from a different site because the free webspace they’re using blocks the upload of audio files. I also suspect your proposed method could be circumvented just by having advertising hosted on the same site that is displaying it, which is something I see from time to time.

        In any case, whether files are hosted on the same that’s website displaying them does not factor into this Chrome update. Rather, it just mutes pages that lack specific code that there was no prior reason to use (click handler calls resume on AudioContext, whatever that means). Even if functionally a game only plays sound after it has been clicked on, it will often still be broken unless it was implemented in this specific way. And I’m afraid no speaker icon appears. In every instance I have seen, Chrome simply plays no sound without indicating anywhere that it has muted anything, nor offering any accessible option to unmute.

        But you’re right about a whitelist being available, and that many users won’t bother/manage to use it. It didn’t seem very user-friendly from my cursory glances.

      • Don Reba says:

        There is a white list, but the user has no control over it.

  3. emily riposte says:

    To be fair, autoplay video/audio is the worst and shouldn’t be in any kind of browser standard without a specific opt-in.

    Half the time I run into some horrible autoplay video it isn’t even malicious, I just clicked on something I thought was text news, and was trash instead. But that’s not the way the net should work.

  4. Shadrach says:

    It’s getting to the point now, with Chrome over 60% market share, approaching the bad old days of an ubiquitous IE and Microsoft breaking every web-standard there was, to force even more users onto their dumbed-down and broken browser.

    And web developers not bothering to test with anything else, because that’s what “everyone” uses, so why care about the spec anyway, right?

    • Stardog says:

      Since when was auto playing video/audio any kind of web standard?

      All good web designers know that auto playing video/audio on any website is bad form. It has always been against recommendations, just like using tables for layout.

      • Kitsunin says:

        But there are entirely legitimate reasons to do it. If it’s a webpage that exists just for you to play a game or watch a video, of course you would automatically play the game or video upon loading the page. It’s just plain inconvenient if your page doesn’t autoplay the entire reason it exists.

        • sosolidshoe says:

          Nothing should ever autoplay by default, for any reason, regardless of what the content is or what the purpose of the page is. It’s my browser, not the website author’s, and given all the myriad ways to obfuscate links and insert popups and redirects there is no kind of default autoplay that can guarantee it doesn’t ever autoplay content I don’t want it to. Even something as basic as initial volume of things I do want to watch/listen to can be taken out of my control with autoplay.

          • Kitsunin says:

            YouTube vids should have you click before they start every time, even though you showed you wanted to watch by opening the page in the first place?

          • mac4 says:

            YouTube vids should have you click before they start every time, even though you showed you wanted to watch by opening the page in the first place?

            Most certainly, yes. If only so you can adjust the volume before they start blaring away.

      • RaveTurned says:

        > Since when was auto playing video/audio any kind of web standard?

        The HTML5 standard includes video and audio elements with autoplay attributes. The HTML5 standard was declared complete by the W3C in late 2014.

        It’s certainly debatable whether using those features is or has ever been considered good web design, but it’s there in the HTML spec.

        • Cederic says:

          The thing is, I can choose not to support the spec. For example, I exercise that choice by preventing any site from autoplaying video or sound. Not just the ones Google blocks, any site, including Youtube.

          If that breaks your site, so be it. I guess I’ll have to use one of the several hundred million others then.

          I do expect websites to be standards compliant. I also expect them to respect their users, and autoplaying sound and video has never been good practice.

  5. mac4 says:

    many of these works will never be returned to, and will stay broken in perpetuity until Chrome changes, or the internet itself passes into obscurity.

    Pretty much all of my online work is broken because of @googlechrome ‘s update

    Um, small distinction and as some above have already hinted at: only if visited using Chrome. Right?

    That doesn’t make it not a PITA, I’m sure.

    • Don Reba says:

      It could be addressed by putting up a message reading along the lines of “This site is best viewed in a standards-compliant browser, such as Firefox.” and a troubleshooting guide for Chrome users.

      • M0dusPwnens says:

        Firefox isn’t entirely standards-compliant either. It’s a lot more technical than blocking autoplay videos and less obvious to users, but they’ve refused to implement a major feature of the javascript standard (tail call optimization) for years now, just like Chrome.

        They argued against the feature while it was under consideration, lost the argument, and have since crossed their arms and steadfastly refused to conform to the standard (along with Chrome).

        Safari is probably the most standards-compliant browser right now.

      • Zetetic says:

        The standard doesn’t require browsers to autoplay something just because the web page asks it to.

    • Tendentieus says:

      Nope, the developer Cabbibo hardcoded his website on Google Chrome. I’m not shitting you: He’s an asshat who intentionally chooses to only cater to one browser. I have the most recent Firefox Developer Edition here and the site just doesn’t want to serve me the webpage.

      As a developer (who should get back to work), I can tell you that this is a very immature and not very future-proof way of dealing with browser compatibility.

  6. malkav11 says:

    Like with Flash, this has me torn. On the one hand, universal browser standards are a good thing and Google taking unilateral action isn’t. On the other hand, nobody should have been using Flash or autoplaying audio/video for this stuff in the first place because ew.

    • Don Reba says:

      Keep in mind that Google is whitelisting its own sites and “over 1,000 sites where the highest percentage of visitors play media with sound”. It is not guided by that principle that no one should have been autoplaying audio in the first place.

      • malkav11 says:

        I’m not saying they were. I’m saying I have trouble sympathizing with people whose stuff they broke because autoplaying media is a bad foundation for their work.

  7. DeepFried says:

    Autoplay audio and video is the worst, i’m happy for it to die.

  8. Thomas Foolery says:

    I hope they’re able to fix whatever bugs exist for the small number of sites affected by them, but I hear people complain about auto-playing videos virtually every day. They’re awful and no one likes them. In the grand scheme of things this seems like a big win to me.

    Firefox has the ability to block auto-playing videos, but it’s hidden in a config parameter that most users are never going to find. They should enable it by default too.

    [Edit: Apparently they’re only blocking audio, not the autoplaying videos themselves, so that’s disappointing.]

  9. racccoon says:

    Chrome is just a copy of firefox as google and others sourced the code from the free firefox community.
    You are all way better off with Firefox. Its has no entrapments and you can help edited it if your inclined as its a community and not a franchise.
    If you want to be safe searching and not be watched all day by googles eyes, try using duckduckgo for a search engine.

  10. Neurotic says:

    I wish Flash would finally die. Cisco, Caitlin, Harry and Joe are all consistently more interesting and entertaining than ol’ cry-baby Barry.

  11. M0dusPwnens says:

    Chrome does not have a great track record with universal standards.

    It’s been several years now and they still refuse the implement parts of the JavaScript standard (they even built support, then took it OUT). They are very much of the opinion that they know better and are large enough to do what they want and damn the standards.

  12. bill says:

    If this affects animated background images then they probably just broke half the internet. They’ve been kind of a standard for many web sites for the past 5 years.
    (I can’t check, as I’m on an older version at work).

    Hopefully they were smart enough to limit it to particular types of web video/audio.

    That said, this isn’t really about web standards.

  13. SaintAn says:

    I’m surprised people actually use Chrome. I thought Firefox was the big browser everyone uses.

    • aepervius says:

      60% roughly of people use chrome… link to gs.statcounter.com but I wonder about this statistic. I know only 1 person which intentionally installed chrome on their PC, from all family, friends, colleague and so forth. One. All other either use what’s there installed, or use firefox with add ons , many distrusting chrome due to the google link and the suspicion they are getting their data gathered.

      • Nolenthar says:

        The logical explanation to this is not that statistics are wrong but that your social environment is atypical. It’s akin to a Mormont saying he doesn’t believe the statistics than 30% of the population have children without being married.
        Let it be said i don’t mean that being datasensitive has anything to do with being a Mormon though :)

        • Thankmar says:

          In my experience, when average Joe and his uncle (aka my family) finally get around using a computer, they just click the browser thats preinstalled without giving as much as one thought while calling it “opening the internet” (as it is called on Tablets anyway, tbf).

  14. Quickly says:

    Chromium has made some questionable decisions wrt standards support. They tried to pull the plug on native SVG animation, a baffling move given its increased flexibility and performance, seemingly only because some handful on their team didn’t see enough using it or something. There was enough pushback they ‘relented’ but it shows how fickle they can be with supporting standards.

  15. Zhiroc says:

    I haven’t agreed with many Chrome changes, but I’m all in on this one. And it’s not just ads or games, it’s a bunch of sites that think that playing music or a video automatically is cute. It’s not–it’s damned annoying. I don’t even like that I have to pause a YouTube video after visiting a page to read some comments… every time.

    Everything, games included need a “play” button. You know, every game I start on my PS4 has a “Press X to start” screen, and there’s not even an expectation of silence there… And any page that doesn’t already have a way to pause/restart audio is fundamentally broken in my book. But I’d be willing to put another one of those content exceptions in the location bar “This site wants to play something automatically and was blocked” with the ability to add another exception. And yes, opt in, not opt out.

  16. Nolenthar says:

    I’d agree it needs to be improved somewhat but I love the idea. Autoplaying audio / video is something I’m very happy to see disappear.

  17. Lobotomist says:

    Total control of only search engine, only video service , only web browser , only navigational tool and only email service ( …that everyone uses ) – puts them in a spot to influence things from elections to personal lives, not to mention the ammount of information they hold on every single person. The ammount of money they generate is insane as well. They can almost become a corporation state if this continues.

    And to think they put Microsoft on trail for monopoly … it was a joke compared to this.

  18. Zetetic says:

    This is a good reminder as to why we have universal standards for web browsers

    Indeed, and the HTML LS makes it clear that autoplay should be considered a hint that might not be respected by all browsers and suggest specifically that browsers do not need to support it.

    Developers need to pay attention to web standards too. (And, perhaps, the standards simply don’t really deal well with this use case.)

  19. Kefren says:

    Another browser option is Brave
    link to brave.com
    Supposed to be good for privacy (though my main one is still Firefox with uBlock and Privacy Badger).

    • mac4 says:

      Browsing by private session in Firefox, offers tracker protection as well.

      I’m not saying that’s the end of it, but it would seem to eliminate or at least lessen the need for a bunch of add-ons.

      • Kefren says:

        You’re right, of course. The only downside is that there are quite a few sites I use many times a day, and want to remain logged in to save having to reenter all the authentication stuff (even with Lastpass).

        • mac4 says:

          Ah, indeed, that would be an issue. Eternal question of security vs. user-friendliness, right ;)

          (I must say on my previous potato of a machine, it also offered a solution to turning your browser into a christmas tree crawling along at snail’s pace. With the average gaming PC of course this shouldn’t be much of an issue.)

  20. sagredo1632 says:

    This relies on the assumption that browsing is done primarily by PC. My guess is that a vast quantity of browsing is now done via smartphone, i.e. Android/Chrome.

    • sagredo1632 says:

      Meant to reply to SaintAn above, but RPS login to comment was being idiotic, as usual.

      • mac4 says:

        You’re obviously right though, phones tablets and whatnot, had completely overlooked since avoid like the plague, to any extent I can (it’s a pretty great extent).

        More sign if any were needed I’m getting old. I rest my case.

  21. crazyd says:

    Absolutely, 100% worth it in my mind. If your shitty design relies on that, then, well, fix your shitty design. I use Firefox, and have had it configured to block auto-play for a long time, and I have never once regretted that decision. In Chrome, I also have long since used an extension to stop auto-play. As a web developer myself, I’d fully support dropping auto-play as a standard. It just sucks.

  22. Kefren says:

    I’d be up for over-riding other web standards that are a pain.
    – Disable the curse that is website requests asking to allow notifications.
    – Block modal overlay popups asking us to subscribe to shitty newsletter #2015.
    (There are probably others.)

  23. frogmanalien says:

    Am I missing something – it’s not complex to add a un-mute function – (link to developers.google.com – “Best Practices for Web Developers” includes a script that literally prompts the user to allow audio from the site) and whilst it’s probably a pain to update games (especially for a large back catalogue) it’s not an impossibility from my quick scan of the Google article on this very subject?

    I think I’m with the majority here – autoplaying video ads are very annoying, and Google’s move here is user friendly, even if it’s slightly developer unfriendly. I’m sure it’s frustrating when something breaks outside of your control as is the case here, but I don’t think we should stop adding functionality that the majority of people consider beneficial because it may stop something working, especially since it’s possible to fix the thing that got broke as a result AND then get the best of both worlds?

  24. madve2 says:

    1. The problem is not with the intent, but with the execution. They could have done this without requiring code changes to existing stuff, like simply muting every tab by default and maybe showing a popup similar to location or desktop notification requests e.g. “This page wants to play audio [Allow] [Deny] [Always deny for this site]”

    2. Please bear in mind that a huge chunk of the games / experiments in question have been created with tools that generate JavaScript – GameMaker, PICO8, emscripten you name it – meaning that the author possibly don’t have the expertise or even the technical possibility to fix it, even if there are some supposedly magically working “drop-in” fixes floating around the web right now. (I.e. if you made like 15 projects in Game Maker 1 years ago, and now have only GM 2 installed, you definitely won’t reinstall GM 1 to rework all your free games one by one.) Also, from what I’ve heard, the DevTools support for debugging this feature is terrible, so even those wanting to implement the fix have been struggling with it. Google really rushed this one.

    3. I honestly think that autoplaying audio is only annoying if it isn’t my intent to participate in a multimedia experience. Sure, I hate audio on news sites, Facebook etc. because I went there to read. But on Itch or Newsgrounds, I think it’s fair to expect to hear audio, yes.

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