A Google Chrome update breaks the audio in numerous web-based games

Google Chrome was recently updated to block auto-playing videos on websites by default. It quickly came to light that the way the change was implemented has a pretty big downside, as a number of game developers including "Getting Over It With" Bennett Foddy and VVVVVV creator Terry Cavanagh, hit up Twitter to say that the change had killed the audio in their games, and potentially thousands of others.

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The cause of the trouble was explained in a detailed breakdown by @mcclure111, but essentially what's happening is that Chrome now requires user interaction before enabling audio. "This is not ideal," they wrote. "A videogame will typically open with an intro or 'attract mode' where sound is probably played while the user chooses their first interaction, and requiring 'Press Start' screens to be soundless would make HTML5 games second-class citizens compared to desktop games." 

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Foddy was somewhat more apocalyptic in his assessment, calling the change "a disaster for games and audio art on the web" and "a colossal cultural crime." 

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Developers can incorporate re-enabled audio in a "click to play" button, which he said most web games have, but that won't be of much use for most existing games because there was no need to include that functionality until now. Foddy told the Daily Dot that making the required changes isn't difficult, but it does require access to the servers the game is hosted on, the source code, and the time required to update everything.

"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 said.

The audio issue appears to be hit-or-miss: Cabbi.bo, for instance, still produces audio for some users on Chrome (myself included), but not all. The bigger issue is that Chrome doesn't provide any indication that the audio is being muted: Impacted pages are simply silent, so users generally won't even be aware that things aren't working properly.

Despite the trouble, it doesn't sound like Google intends to undo the change anytime soon. "With Chrome’s new autoplay policies, developers shouldn’t assume that audio can be played before a user gesture," a Google rep 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."

Foddy disputed that claim, however, saying that the policy was updated "silently" in February. 

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Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.