Royal Games, an online games portal owned by Candy Crush maker King, has come under fire from paying customers who have been unable to cash out their funds.
The freeze on withdrawals was a consequence of King being investigated by PayPal over how Royal Games operates in specific countries.
After a lengthy investigation by Eurogamer, the site's withdrawal page has now become available again, though the site continues to no longer accept real-world money deposits.
Royal Games is a web portal which hosts browser-based versions of popular King franchises such as Candy Crush, where players can pay a fee to enter tournaments, or play head-to-head games. Entrants play games asynchronously, with the highest ranking players or top scorer then awarded a cash prize.
Years before Candy Crush was an app, when Flash gaming still ruled large, Royal Games (previously King.com) was the birthing ground for some of King's biggest franchises. Today, you can still play rounds of Candy Crush, Bubble Witch, Farm King and Pepper Panic there - and long-term members can still spend cash to play and enter tournaments for the chance at prizes.
The ability to pay into the site was switched off for new accounts in 2019, but a core community of existing fans still uses the site every day, and laments the glory days of Flash gaming via its community blog.
At the time of writing, more than 6000 players are listed as online, and the site's banner advertises a £1000 prize pot for a Pepper Panic tournament.
In January this year, Royal Games quietly paused the ability for members to make withdrawal requests, meaning their site balance could no longer be transferred back into their bank accounts. This effectively locked-in any funds paid into the site, as well as any subsequent money prizes won.
Customers were initially told the issue was temporary, and it was only later they were informed the hold up was due to a legal investigation by PayPal. Prior to the withdrawal freeze, PayPal had been only one of several methods to cash out, including a simple bank transfer. None of these remained available.
At the same time, Royal Games had been struggling with the loss of Flash support in browsers - a technology which had powered many of its games. More popular King titles had been ported to HTML5, but many were lost from the site entirely. At that point, the withdrawal issues appeared to be mixed up in the ongoing changeover, so players did not initially expect - and were not told - anything else was wrong.
Royal Games first publicly acknowledged the issues via a blog post in early February, written by site moderator The Clown Prince, which noted "a delay with withdrawals... due to an unexpected issue with our payment provider".
An update to this post later in the same month suggested a solution was imminent, "but we are awaiting on responses from them before we can finalise this and get the taps flowing again. Please rest assured that all withdrawals will be honoured as soon as we get this sorted."
Eurogamer was alerted to this issue by customers of the website who said they had hundreds of pounds' worth of winnings they cannot access, other than to continue spending them within the site.
In April, Royal Games named PayPal in a vague explanation of the issue, when it admitted the withdrawal problem had "proven more complicated than first anticipated".
"We're currently in the process of consulting with lawyers in order to provide PayPal with legal opinions on this matter," a blog posted on 30th April reads. "What we can say is that your winnings are definitely safe with us. You can count on us to figure out this issue and find a way for you to withdraw your funds again in the future."
"So where IS OUR money sat I wonder cos it's 'withdrawn' from our account but not landed with PayPal clearly..." one user commented in May.
"Folks think seriously about gambling with actual money as the site is not honouring withdrawal requests," another noted.
Up until this point - nearly four months after the ability to cash out was paused - it was still possible for veteran players to pay in more money to the site to continue playing cash games. Users continually raised this point as an issue in comments sections under community blogs, and asked why a method of spending was still being offered if there was no way to access winnings.
After Eurogamer began enquiring about the issue, deposits to the site were closed in early May. A message posted to the site's blog apologised for the continued disruption and called for further patience while the issue was solved. Today, deposits still remain closed.
Then, at the end of May, a new update to the site announced a big change to the way its games were played. It was the first mention of "skill gaming" being an issue.
"As some of you will have noticed, we have increased the minimum number of players in paid Head-to Head tournaments from two players to three players," The Clown Prince wrote last month. "We have made this change to ensure we are complying with recent changes in the legal and regulatory environment for skill gaming in certain of the locations where we operate. This is part of us being able to resolve our issues with PayPal. Thanks for your understanding."
This blog post is no longer accessible.
Today, the withdrawal page appears to be back online, though no announcement to players has been made. There is a warning funds may still take time to receive, and there are no reports yet of a successful withdrawal being completed.
"All of our players are important to us and so to avoid any further disappointment, we've suspended new deposits until this issue is resolved," a King spokesperson told Eurogamer in a statement. "For those awaiting a withdrawal, we have updated them via our site that there will be a delay. We're sorry for any inconvenience and regret that we're unable to offer an alternative process."
King did not comment further on PayPal's investigation, any future changes to the way Royal Games might operate, or mention when people waiting months for a withdrawal might receive their money.
Eurogamer understands that King has been working on a resolution over this time, although it had no firm timeline for when this would be resolved. The website is maintained by a small team within King - a fraction of a fraction of the company's overall earnings and scope.
When contacted, PayPal told Eurogamer that it could not comment on individual cases due to customer confidentiality.
"PayPal has served UK businesses, charities and consumers for almost 20 years," a PayPal spokesperson said. "We are committed to the highest levels of compliance, and our decisions on account holds, or other actions, are designed to protect both buyers and sellers. We understand the impact account holds may have and our dedicated team is always available to assist customers with questions that they have."