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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.

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Dominic Tarason

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