Google temporarily undo game-busting Chrome change

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.”

This is still a problem because, as QWOP and Getting Over It developer Bennett Foddy pointed out in reply, most games (and other things) won’t be updated.

“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.

43 Comments

  1. wwarnick says:

    I’m totally cool with the change as long as users can override it when they want to. I think it should work like the popup blocker, where it shows a little alert icon at the top and you can click it and allow it to work on that particular site.

    • SecondSince says:

      It’s Google. They won’t give you a choice even if their life depended on it.

      • Babymech says:

        “It’s Google. They won’t give you a choice even if their life depended on it.” The post you were just replying to gave an example of Google giving users a choice. You’re like a 14-year old posting about Micro$uck Windon’t.

        • TechnicalBen says:

          Google do give a choice… it just might be hidden in an ini file somewhere.

          But they do put the text editor in the software… so… even easier access?

  2. Premium User Badge

    Malarious says:

    Still not really seeing the problem here. Blocking autoplaying sound is a very reasonable default. If there’s a UI toggle to whitelist a particular site that needs it, then there shouldn’t be any issue. My *bank* was having its login popups blocked in Chrome for a while, but Chrome notifies you in the address bar and it’s a simple click or two to re-enable them for that site. (And it was fixed eventually.)

    I don’t see many people arguing that disabling popups by default is some horrible mistake. Surely not anyone who used the internet 15 years ago, anyway.

    • Sir_Deimos says:

      The problem is that they *didn’t* make it a toggle, just a new blanket rule. If it was like Flash where you could manually enable it, I agree that would be a fine work-around.

      • Blastaz says:

        If someone cares enough that they want a manual work around, one already exists. It’s called using a different browser.

        • Sir_Deimos says:

          That doesn’t at all address the fact that Google is throwing web standards in the garbage in pursuit of what they arbitrarily decide. The internet is only as great as it is because of these standards that everyone agrees to follow. Left unchecked, we’ll end up with a fractured web where everyone follows their own rules and who knows what kind of privacy/security flaws that could open.

          • sosolidshoe says:

            Those would be the same web standards that allow popups, autoplaying AV content, full script execution, browser fingerprinting, and a whole host of other garbage things by default?

            Google are Google, but maybe instead of deciding “we must preserve one of the most annoying things about the internet because of some ancient browser games that nobody plays anymore!” is the hill to die on, ‘net activists should be devoting that energy to actually improving the standards so sodding *Google* aren’t the ones who’re managing to look like the ones making reasonable, user-focused changes.

          • durrbluh says:

            The internet is only as great as it is because of these standards that everyone agrees to follow.

            Can’t we just give up and start calling it The Googlenet already? Why resist the inevitable?

          • Landiss says:

            There was no time in the history when all browsers properly implemented all web standards. I would even say “any browser”, but I guess there must have been that exotic one no one ever heard of, that did.

          • Blastaz says:

            Maybe so, but Google no longer supporting something isn’t “cultural erasure” either…

          • Zetetic says:

            The standard (HTML LS) makes it clear that browsers are free to ignore autoplay.

  3. Landiss says:

    It will be fun when the flash is really finally killed (that is, not just a warning and a need to enable it, but complete lack of support for playing flash content). I think Chrome and Firefox are planning for 2020. Still a lot of websites are actively using flash. I guess quite some games will then suddenly become practically impossible to play.

    • MajorLag says:

      Flash can actually be played offline, so fortunately there is some kind of path to preservation. I expect one day people might even be running old flash games in a community maintained compatibility sandbox. Like DOSBox, but for flash stuff.

  4. Babymech says:

    “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”.

    This is such an insane thing to say. Google aren’t allowed to update their product as they see fit because they have to keep providing a browser for free, forever, for these games that nobody cares about? If the developers cared they would make work-arounds; if the gamers cared they would use alternate browsers – the only problem is with the games nobody cares much about, but Google somehow has to care? Why are people giving this crazy man quote-space, he’s being ridiculous.

    • anon459 says:

      Seems like a lot of history to erase for the sake of silent videos to me. Why not just make it optional? I don’t think that’s so crazy.

      • woodsey says:

        Erasing history would be deleting them from the internet, not one browser becoming incompatible.

        I mean, I appreciate the sentiment and Google could have handled things better (and I don’t think a simple delay is enough), but unless EVERYONE does this is in the exact same way, it’s a little hard to sympathise.

    • ersetzen says:

      Literally the sentence before says that google has this power. But not giving users the option to play sound anyway if googles non-standard implementation decides it isn’t necessary through some half undocumented heuristic seems crazy.

      Users complaining about problematic decisions doesn’t seem like a bad thing?

      • Babymech says:

        He says that Google has that power the same way that I say you have the power to go slap babies – you could but it would be monstrous. I’m all for people complaining – I’m complaining about him – but I’m not all that hot on people being ridiculous.

    • MajorLag says:

      If you insist on being a platform, and ask developers to target your platform, then developers have every right to tell when you’re making their lives needlessly difficult. If you don’t want anyone to target your platform, then by all means ignore their complaints and do whatever you want. Like Linux Desktops.

      • Babymech says:

        Not every customer is the same. In this case they’re providing a quality of life upgrade to a broad range of users and making life slightly harder for a very niche group of users (game developers that are no longer interested in updating their games). If you are providing a platform you don’t automatically have to support every whim of every user, especially not when user desires conflict.

        If we go by the quotes in the article, Chrome isn’t making the life of developers difficult, but the life of historians and former developers.

  5. Nolenthar says:

    Without kbowing all the technicalities, I have to admit that I do not understand why they can’t simply make it an option (activated by default if they so wish) or simply inform the user that a sound has been blocked.
    I’m however convinced a very small minority of users shall be bothered by this change and I’m pretty sure Google knows that damn well.
    They wouldn’t annoy a large portion of their userbase so it’s likely we are talking of less than 1% users

  6. crazyd says:

    I love how the tone of this article is all “Google fucked up” while the tone of all the comments is, “I love this change, good job Google.” Alice, you just might be out of touch on the public perception on this. Auto-play is cancer, I’ve had it blocked in my Firefox forever now, and it’s only made my web browsing better. Sucks if it breaks a few poorly designed things that people don’t want to update, but the positives WAY outweigh the negatives.

    • 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.

    • airmikee99 says:

      Yeah, all of those devs whose games broke and all of those gamers who couldn’t play their favored game because of the change are absolutely represented in every comment section of every article about the topic, right?

      Autoplayed videos are annoying, but a tech company breaking things because of a forced change in software is absolutely the definition of ‘a fuck up.’ Especially considering there are literally hundreds of extensions for Chrome that already block autoplay in one form or another.

      I didn’t notice the autoplay change in Chrome, or the pop blocker change. The only reason I use Chrome is because of the extensions that let me shut down the stupid shit that most of the worlds web designers implement into their designs.

      And if it wasn’t a ‘fuck up’ on Google’s part, why did they undo the change?

      • Phantom_Renegade says:

        If it really is their favourite game… they can just use another browser. Plenty of people don’t use Chrome. I don’t, Firefox rules! It’s not on Google to make sure every bs game works. If people care, they’ll make it work. If they don’t? Then it didn’t matter.

      • Babymech says:

        “And if it wasn’t a ‘fuck up’ on Google’s part, why did they undo the change?” Because people complained and it got picked up by a bunch of media outlets? That doesn’t make it a fuck-up, just like not rolling it back wouldn’t make it a smart choice. You can’t say that it’s automatically a fuck-up because they rolled it back – the roll-back might just as well be the fuck-up.

  7. napoleonic says:

    Alice, Goddess of Bants. Right up there with Venus and Frigg.

  8. grimdanfango says:

    I’m absolutely no fan of Google, I think they’re largely a plague on society at this point to a greater degree than even Facebook.

    But… I can’t see that blame for this can reasonably be attributed to them.
    The auto-playing-video well has been entirely poisoned for a long time now. Creators need to adapt their sites/games to not rely on it… maybe they shouldn’t have to, but they do, and it’s because of advertisers being their usual obnoxious, exploitative selves, not because of anything Google has done.

    Autoplaying video needs to go the way of Flash. It is polluting the internet far more than it’s enhancing it… and people will just have to adapt.

    • Megatron says:

      If you want to retain Chrome’s excellent library of extensions Vivaldi is a great choice. Not so sure I trust Mozilla fully these days.

      But yes, very much Foogle.

  9. Stevostin says:

    I’d happily trade the whole browser game scene for a www that doesn’t make unsollicited noise.

  10. racccoon says:

    I use firefox and am a coder I know how hard it is changing tactics Html5 css and JavaScript is tough enough, we really don’t need stupid corps messing about just because they can.
    It really good to see that normal internet has a voice now and it works.

    • Babymech says:

      What is this ‘normal internet’? Is it people who are using Firefox and know how to code? I could have sworn that none of those traits were even remotely normal, from a statistical standpoint.

    • mac4 says:

      That would be an autoplaying voice? ;)

      Kidding, carry on please.

  11. n0s says:

    Google should tell the webgames “tough”, blocking moving and loud shitty ads is way more important than your incredibly bad webgames.

    This is like car production being stopped because ants are getting hurt.

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