Google: We're having to hit pause on Chrome's audio autoplay block

Google's autoplay restrictions have played havoc with web game audio, so it's dialing them back for a few months.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

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Google has tweaked a new autoplay policy in Chrome 66 that was aimed at silencing most unwanted noisy video ads but also broke sound in a bunch of web games.

The new autoplay policy was considered a win for users who felt ambushed by noisy video ads and content.

However, the unintended consequence of silencing web games has prompted Google to temporarily remove the autoplay policy for the Web Audio API, which is used by many web games. The block is still in place for HTML5 video.

The aim is to give game and audio application developers more time to update their code before reintroducing the policy for the Web Audio API in Chrome 70, due out in mid-October.

Google product manager John Pallett yesterday responded to a long list of complaints from frustrated web game developers on a Chromium bug report page.

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Some developers have pointed out that sound is broken even on sites that are silent until the user hits a play button. Users and developers have listed dozens of web games and audio sites that were broken after Chrome 66.

WebRTC applications are also affected by a range of issues caused by Chrome 66's autoplay policy, including no longer playing an incoming call sound, broken audio visualizers, and no sound coming from remote peers.

Pallett admitted the company could have done a better job of explaining the impact that the change would have on developers who use the Web Audio API.

"We've updated Chrome 66 to temporarily remove the autoplay policy for the Web Audio API. This change does not affect most media playback on the web, as the autoplay policy will remain in effect for <video> and <audio>," he wrote.

"We're doing this to give Web Audio API developers (eg, 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."

Pallett urged developers to prepare for Chrome 70 by following its autoplay instructions for the Web Audio API.

However, while Google is planning to bring back the policy in October, Pallett noted that Google has yet to solve a "non-trivial user interface challenge with a lot of nuances".

These challenges relate to how to obtain a gesture from users from different types of web applications.

"We are still exploring options to enable great audio experiences for users, and we will post more detailed thoughts on that topic here later," he noted.

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