Google have reverted a recent change to their Chrome browser which was intended to block annoying auto-playing sound and video on websites but had the knock-on effect of silencing many browser games. After outcry from developers, players, conservationists, and the ol’ paper-shaking press, Google have temporarily undone the damage – but only temporarily. Google plan to reimplement the change later this year, saying the problem isn’t that they are breaking things, rather that they didn’t give enough notice before breaking things – so now devs have a few months to update their games before Google break ’em. Given that about half the Internet uses Chrome, this matters.
“We’ve updated Chrome 66 to temporarily remove the autoplay policy for the Web Audio API,” a Google fella said in a complaint/bug report thread yesterday. However, it will return in October’s Chrome update.
“We’re doing this to give Web Audio API developers (e.g. gaming, audio applications, some RTC features) more time to update their code. The team here is working hard to improve things for users and developers, but in this case we didn’t do a good job of communicating the impact of the new autoplay policy to developers using the Web Audio API.”
“Unfortunately, the great majority of existing work will not be updated by October, or ever, and so we still face the effective cultural erasure of those works in October,” Foddy wrote. “You guys definitely have the power to break everyone’s work, should you wish to exercise that power, but you do not have the power to make people add workarounds to code that they are not able to alter (for all the various reasons that have been given here). Nobody has that power.”
Google’s approach seems very short-sighted, one concerned with current and ongoing projects with no eye for history. Unfortunately, that’s a fairly typical mindset for platformholders, which Google effectively are given how widely their browser is used.
Foddy concluded, “If you are sincere in your claim that the side effects of the policy were unintended and unwanted, you should commit – in clear, straightforward language – to finding other alternatives which do not break vast swathes of cultural work that was developed and distributed on the open web.”
It’s important to note that Google aren’t fixing an exploit, closing a loophole, they’re actively making an active change to how their browser works–and only their browser–to fit their aims.
“Fundamentally, delay or no, Chrome has decided they’re going to implement AudioContext in a nonstandard way, and is now requiring developers to contort their architecture in order to get any sound at all,” Andi McClure, co-creator of the wonderful Become A Great Artist In Just 10 Seconds, noted. “That is still not reasonable.”
She also claims that Google’s documentation for what developers should do differently is unclear and not entirely correct. So not only would devs need to update games to have their sound work, they’ll also have to divine quite how Google wants them to do that.
Hopefully, now Google have rolled back and delayed the change, they’ll use this time to rethink it entirely.