The ACCC Is Suing Valve [Updated]

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has just announced that it's taking legal action against Steam creator Valve over its refund policy.

The ACCC today indicated that it would initiate legal proceedings against Valve in the Federal Court of Australia, alleging that the company "made false or misleading representations regarding the application of consumer guarantees under the Australian Consumer Law".

The consumer watchdog will allege that Valve, via its Steam platform, breached the Australian Consumer Law by allegedly telling customers that they weren't entitled to refunds for games bought via the Steam platform, while also allegedly asserting that it was not under any obligation to refund a game before the consumer had contacted the game's developer.

The ACCC is also alleging that Valve "had excluded, restricted or modified statutory guarantees and/or warranties that goods would be of acceptable quality".

The ACCC wants Valve to pay for its mistakes, and will -- among other things -- seek declarations (an admission of guilt from Valve), adverse publicity orders (a public mea culpa), financial penalties, costs and a compliance program order (a plan not to do it again).

Update: Valve responded to a request for comment regarding the lawsuit to our sister site, Kotaku Australia.

The case will go before the Federal Court on 7 October.

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    I asked Valve Support for a refund for a game that was unplayable, they said they didn't issue refunds normally, but they did it in this instance as a show of good faith.

    I found this to be puzzling as it's at-odds with consumer law here.

    Edit: Screenshot of email I received:

    Last edited 29/08/14 9:53 am

      @markserrels just posted this on twitter. asking anyone who'd managed to get a refund through steam if they'd be willing to talk to him for a thing. just if you're interested.

      You know, I did the exact same thing for an unplayable game however my response was the opposite.. They said they don't do refunds and referenced a section of the policy. :( A bit of consistency would be great..

        I guess it depends who responded to your email - they may also give preferential treatment for different sorts of customers, i.e. those who spend a lot/are long-time users etc.

    as much as I like Steam as a store & as a service, if they're being dodgy with refunds, I'm 100% behind the ACCC in this.

    Good news - we pay more for games than most of the world so we should have the right to return games that don't meet expectations.

    Wow, I guess my complaint that I filed was one of the many that eventually caused this.

      You filed a complaint against Gaben?

      You are condemned to Peasantry for this act, you infidel!

      Last edited 30/08/14 1:31 pm

    Is Valve following US consumer laws on this?
    My understanding is that Australian consumer law is a bit unique around its approach to return policies.

      doesn't matter really. if Steam operate in Australia, they're subject to Australian consumer law.

        i would just like to inform you that Steam has no physical presence in Australia and we should count ourselves lucky that Steam has lower extra charge than nearly every other Store (both online and offline) for games.

          Yet Valve have deals which allows Australian ISPs to run Steam content servers.
          They also have complied with Australian Content Ratings in the past, either restricting availability of specific games or providing modified/censored versions of those games to Australian customers.

          While Valve may not have an office on Australian soil, they're still dealing directly with Australian companies, complying with some Australian regulations. They're also selling content licenses directly to people living in Australia, which they acknowledge and support.

          If they didn't want to trade in Australia they would add some geoblocking.

          That they provide better prices than the local competition shouldn't make them exempt from certain laws

          Last edited 01/09/14 4:10 pm

        That's just it - they aren't operating here. Australian laws have no control over Valve - they're a US-based company, operating from the US.

      I figure if they support region-based pricing and content availability, they could just as easily support region-specific policies and terms of service

      Last edited 29/08/14 10:13 am

        pretty much this. If an Australian's experience with the store (prices, releases dates, availability and even sometimes names of the games) was exactly the same as someone from the US, the ACCC might have a harder time (but even then, without some sort of geolocking, the ACCC would still claim that they offer to Australian consumers), but as there are several region specific things that an Australian customer experiences, Valve probably won't be able to argue that they aren't subject to Australian law when selling to a customer in Australia.

    Valve do offer one time only refunds. They do this to stop people from downloading a game and keeping it on a PC with Steam in Offline mode. It makes sense from that perspective.
    That said, there are several games on here which crash constantly for me and I cannot play them at all. Due to their "one time only" refund, I haven't said anything, whereas if I had bought the product from a store, I would have claimed it faulty and returned it, no questions asked (EB Games has a great, fair return policy).

      With how easy it is to just pirate a game for single player, I don't understand why you would bother going through some elaborate steam client/refund process instead. I suspect it's just a cynical policy by Valve because of their online PC sales dominance and to minimise support staff time.

      That goes above and beyond ACCC requirements though, if EB Games grabbed that game and installed into onto there PC and it worked they would be completely within there rights to refuse your refund, they don't however because of competition, but not due to ACCC

        EB's return policy was (not sure if the same today) you could return it within 7 days even if you just didn't enjoy it.
        No defect required.

          Just saying that that does not describe ACCC requirements

    If the 'shop' plays fair then the consumer plays fair - Steam is assuming we are all out to cheat it out of a few dollars and thus its going to pay far more harshly for that behaviour. Good !

    Maybe they can discuss the fact that Digital games via Steam are arbitrarily more expensive for Australia than other countries.

    Civilization Beyond Earth has a $40 mark up just for being in Australia...

      ACCC should take the oppotunity to ask them about Australian Tax, but Valve which just turn around and say that publishers using their services set their own prices... but given how the senate inquiry went, I doubt they get anywhere.

      Valve will submit to ACCC in short order, Apple, Microsoft, Apple and Google have all had to face similar cases both in USA, Canada and Europe over such consumer issues... its an issue with running online stores that sell other peoples software. Found it a bit silly that its gotten to the part that ACCC has to take them to court considering Valve says they comply with local laws.

      It probably wasnt an issue to Valve or ACCC a few years ago when Steam only sold AAA game published titles, but now that their is greenlights, indies, alphas and shovelware populating Steam, I am not surprised its gotten this far.

    I agree that steam should not be aloud to do this, but I think taking them to court is a bad idea. valve is under no obligation to provide steam to Australia and if the think its no longer financially viable they may stop, or increase their prices and tighten the rules on content they provide here. meaning because where in Australia we wouldn't get the same content as everywhere else because our government might sue them. Half the appeal of steam is it doesn't care who you are or what you want to buy/sell it just supplies it to the people.

    this is a bad move in my opinion it may leave us no other option then to go back to hard copy games at a premium price+ Australia tax, and i know steam has region tracking Australia tax to, but not to the same extent as brick and mortar stores/origin.

      I agree and if Valve decides it is more hassle then it is worth and does what you say they will or worse (lock Steam out of Australia) there will be huge repercussions from the gamer community. ranging from e-partitions to in an extreme case a riot

    I hope steam doesn't punish Australian consumers over this.

      ME TOO!! ACCC can get screwed as far as im concerned. The games are still 10x cheaper than the EB games stores here!

    I am curious as to how they have the ability to sue a business that has no offices here in Australia? As far as I know I don't pay GST on my purchases, its my choice to deal with an overseas company and play by their native rules. I support the right to a refund for dodgy games, but the US is not another Australian state/territory.

    Is there something in the FTA or similar that covers this sort of thing? Genuinely interested in the legal background to this.

      Section five of the Competition and Consumer act states that the Australian Consumer Law applies overseas. Of course there is still the problem of imposing law in other people's countries. It has been done before though. The Productivity Commission did a report on it a while back: Basicly says it does require a bit of cooperation. Also, if I can recall my corporate crime classes correctly, I think we also have an extradition arrangement with America. Doubt the arrangement will apply to civil cases though.

    I think a lot of people have the wrong idea about this. Court is expensive. Court is even more expensive when it is over the other side of the planet. Court is crazy expensive when you somehow win against the ACCC and they push an appeal through the full federal court and then onto the high court as they often do. The cost of a court case will exceed the cost of editing the subscription agreement for Australians. Section 3 of the Steam Subscriber Agreement is is clear violation of the Australian Consumer Law implied terms of contract. This does not look like malice on Valve's part but a lack of knowledge of Australian law. The most likely outcome is that Valve will insert a clause which acknowledges Australian law for Australian customers, just like they have for the EU. Valve will not enter an Australian court. Australians will not be charged more. Nothing will change. My bet is that the ACCC knows this. They have far better things to be doing.

      Well said.

      The bottom line is the bottom line here. Australia is a lucrative market for gamer developers everywhere. Our tech usage is amongst the highest in the world. Steam provides an easy supply chain to those developers, and Australia provides Valve significant consumption, making both Valve and those developers a lot of money, easily.

      This is unlikely to get as far as court judgement. Valve don't want it to, their lawyers don't want it to and truth be told, the ACCC doesn't want it to either. They want Valve to acknowledge their mistakes, acknowledge Australian consumer law applies when you're selling to Australian consumers and then to be able to use those acknowledgments in the future.

    This is a joke, how do you violate Aus law when you operate overseas? they sell in USD, operates in US, and my card get charged at USD. Do I get same protection as Aus when I order "anything" from US now?
    ACCC surely got too much "time" on their hands, instead chasing "Australian" companies, they now chase US company... wow ACCC wow..

      Huh? Not chasing Australian companies? Too much time on their hands? come on man. A quick bit of research ( shows that they have 12 cases at the moment. All against Australian entities. And for serious issues of anti-competitive behaviour.

    truth is though if you did buy a game and it didn't work you should have known that before you purchased the game, ACCC refunds only apply to items which did not, or no longer work within a 1 year time frame. If I purchase farcry 3 for my P4 Windows XP Machine I shouldnt be offered a refund. Thats like buying a car seat and then wanting to return it when it didnt fit.

    How to fix; F2P uncensored L4D2 for all Australians, plz.

    (Still haven't bought that game)

    I bought Antichamber and the next morning on Steam they were advertising a humble bundle including Antichamber for the same price. When I complained they didn't even answer, just an automated reply.

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