Once again, Valve, makers of Steam, are being sued over their licensing agreement; this time by French consumer watchdog group UFC Que Choisir. According to a report from PC Gamer, the group is suing Valve over five different points in the agreement, which they argue are not in line with French consumer law and the most significant being that Steam users cannot resell their digital goods, something explicitly allowed by French law.
According to Kotaku, the original complaint (which is, obviously, in French) states that 12 different clauses in the Steam Subscriber Agreement breach consumer law. Their main points of contention, translated from French by Reddit user Silencement, are the following:
- “Steam’s Subscriber Agreement explicitly forbids users to sell their games, despite the transfer of ownership of digital products/licenses being legal”
- “Valve declines any responsibility in case they get hacked and users’ personal info gets stolen”
- “Valve claims ownership on the rights of any user-created content uploaded on Steam”
- “It is impossible to get the money on your Steam Wallet back if your account is closed/deleted/banned”
- “Valve applies Luxembourg’s consumer law regardless of the user’s country”
As Kotaku notes, if the lawsuit is successful, Valve and Steam will probably have to change their entire operation, as they already have recently with their refund policy after being taken to court in multiple countries.
It’s worth examining that change, made in June this year. Prior to the policy change, Valve offered refunds under almost no circumstances, stating that issuing refunds was on the developer, and developers rarely offered refunds, either. Steam faced legal challenges over this policy; depending on how one defines Valve’s position in the sales process, it breaks consumer law in many countries.
The most notable case was in Australia at the end of August, 2014, when (as per Gamespot) the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission began proceedings to sue Valve over an alleged violation of Australia’s “right to refund” law. That case was never reported further, but less than a year later, Valve completely rewrote the Steam refund policy; presumably, the case was settled out of court.
The Australian case wasn’t the only one; per Eurogamer, a German consumer group filed a complaint similar to that filed by UFC Que Choisir back in 2013, alleging similar violations of consumer law owing to end-users being unable to resell their digital content and that was the second time the group had made the attempt. Both cases were lost, and set the tone for Steam’s operations over the next two years.
Why would this time be any different? Aside from being tried in French courts, the UFCQC complaint is much more comprehensive. Valve’s points about why the resale of digital titles should be disallowed remain strong: digital goods are infinite, much cheaper (especially with regular Steam sales), easy to transfer and don’t degrade over time. A law allowing for their resale would do serious harm to Steam’s business model.
However, the UFCQC complaint calls out some valid, anti-consumer practices, and that gives them a considerable shot at success. In particular, Valve’s disavowal of responsibility in the event of a hack and policy of forfeiture of assets on closed accounts is much easier to argue from a legal standpoint. Riding the coattails of the other points, the digital resale policy will likely be getting a closer look.
In the long run, although it’s counter-intuitive, being able to resell game licenses will probably do far more harm than good to the consumer. Valve and the developers who sell their games on Steam are unlikely to offer deep discounts on games if resale becomes prevalent; in fact, many developers may pull out of Steam entirely.
What do you think? Is the UFCQC really looking out for consumers in this case?
[Image via Valve/Steam]