Valve Responds To Being Sued By The ACCC

This morning the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission announced that it would be suing Valve over its refund policy, as it allegedly goes against Australian consumer law. According to Doug Lombardi of Valve, it plans to co-operate fully.

"We are making every effort to cooperate with the Australian officials on this matter," said Doug Lombardi, "while continuing to provide Steam services to our customers across the world, including Australian gamers."

Currently the refund policy at Valve is as follows.

As with most software products, unless required by local law, we do not offer refunds or exchanges on games, DLC or in-game items purchased on our website or through the Steam Client. Please review Section 3 of the Steam Subscriber Agreement for more information.

The section in bold is perhaps the most interesting, since local law does state that refunds are required if the product is faulty.

More news as we get it.


Comments

    Well that's different to what the ACCC are saying. Which one is it?

      I think it will turn out to be a little more complex than just Valve doesn't give refunds, it is most likely about how they give refunds (steam credit) and how easily the refunds can be obtained (not very)

        For a non-faulty product then store credit is acceptable. I believe that australian law requires cash refunds for faulty products.
        So if the game won't play or install then they should be refunding it to the payment method you used to purchase it.

        That said i'd be happy with steam credit, I would spend it eventually anyway.

          that said, they aren't required to give refunds on non-faulty products, and if a product is faulty, their only obligation is to provide a free repair, which would come under a patch/bug fix etc.

            This is incorrect- under Australian consumer law if the product is not fit for purpose the customer is entitled to their choice (not the seller's choice) of either a replacement OR a refund.

            Also, if the product does not meet the description provided before sale they are also entitled to a refund.

            There are many games on steam that have game breaking bugs or GFWL left in them that the dev gives 0 fucks about and will never patch. Hopefully this is the kick in the testicles they need. Especially when in 90% of cases a 3rd party bugfix is made by a random moder, it just shows lack of caring on the devs part.

            This is not entirely correct. Under consumer law if the item has a major defect you are entitled to a refund (according to the accc app the accc shopper). Repairs can be done by a shop but only in a reasonable amount of time. But a major issue still trumps that.

          You don't have to accept store credit when you're entitled to a refund. You are right that you are not always entitled to a refund though.

          If the problem is considered a "minor fault", the retailer is only required to offer a repair or replacement. Replacements are unlikely to be very helpful for digital services since any replacement is going to be bit-for-bit identical, but repair could be possible in the form of a patch for the game.

          If the problem is major though, you are entitled to a refund and can demand it in the same form you originally paid for the game.

            You're completely right, just wanted to add two more details:

            A fault is considered major if it would have prevented the customer from buying the product in the first place. That's the entire definition.

            Secondly, the customer is entitled to either a refund, replacement or repair and for a major fault it's their choice (Not the store's) which they use.

        When I asked for a refund on Towns, I was pointed to section 3 of this: http://store.steampowered.com/subscriber_agreement/

        Specifically:
        3. BILLING, PAYMENT AND OTHER SUBSCRIPTIONS
        ALL CHARGES INCURRED ON STEAM, AND ALL PURCHASES MADE WITH THE STEAM WALLET, ARE PAYABLE IN ADVANCE AND ARE NOT REFUNDABLE IN WHOLE OR IN PART, REGARDLESS OF THE PAYMENT METHOD, EXCEPT AS EXPRESSLY SET FORTH IN THIS AGREEMENT.
        IF YOU ARE AN EU SUBSCRIBER YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO WITHDRAW FROM A PURCHASE TRANSACTION FOR DIGITAL CONTENT WITHOUT CHARGE AND WITHOUT GIVING ANY REASON UNTIL DELIVERY OF SUCH CONTENT HAS STARTED OR PERFORMANCE OF THE SERVICE HAS COMMENCED. YOU DO NOT HAVE A RIGHT TO WITHDRAW FROM A TRANSACTION OR OBTAIN A REFUND ONCE DELIVERY OF THE CONTENT HAS STARTED OR THE PERFORMANCE OF THE SERVICE HAS COMMENCED, AT WHICH POINT YOUR TRANSACTION IS FINAL. YOU AGREE THAT DELIVERY OF DIGITAL CONTENT, AND THE ASSOCIATED SUBSCRIPTION, AND/OR PERFORMANCE OF THE ASSOCIATED SERVICE, COMMENCES AT THE MOMENT THE DIGITAL CONTENT IS ADDED TO YOUR ACCOUNT OR INVENTORY OR OTHERWISE MADE ACCESSIBLE TO YOU FOR DOWNLOAD OR USE.

        Which is cute and all, but no terms and conditions or other civil contract is allowed to override local law, which in Australia, entitles you to a refund.

        Valve's argument is likely to relate to another section of the agreement, which is, under section 1:

        The Steam client software and any other software, content, and updates you download or access via Steam, including but not limited to Valve or third-party video games and in-game content, and any virtual items you trade, sell or purchase in a Steam Subscription Marketplace are referred to in this Agreement as “Software”; the rights to access and/or use any services, Software and/or content accessible through Steam are referred to in this Agreement as "Subscriptions."
        (ie: You aren't buying software, you're expanding your subscription.)

        in combination with section D:
        You also understand and acknowledge that Subscriptions traded, sold or purchased in any Subscription Marketplace are license rights, that you have no ownership interest in such Subscriptions, and that Valve does not recognize any transfers of Subscriptions (including transfers by operation of law) that are made outside of Steam.

        ie: You aren't buying software, you're expanding your subscription, and since it isn't a 'product', it doesn't fall under the laws which apply to products. It's a feature of your subscription.

        THIS is where 'games as a service' instead of 'games as a product' fucks consumers.

          So what was Valves reply to your request?

            I should add. Did you go back to them and tell them you weren't satisfied with their response, and if so what did they say?

              Yeah. Their first response was to tell me that the developers of Towns were working hard to improve the game experience for players and that fixes and updates in patches were in progress.

              I replied back that I have a proven track record of making informed purchases of products in alpha and beta and that the key word is 'informed' and nothing on the Towns store page warned me that I would be getting a buggy, feature-incomplete work in progress product and as such I still wanted a refund.

              Their second response was to tell me that sales are final and refunds won't be given, and pointed me at the above link to their T&C.

              I didn't pursue it further because the game was four bucks and I've tipped that much for shitty coffee and a pretty face, but it did make me grumpy.

                Hah, last line just tied this response up perfectly ^_^

          Ever read the EULA on any software that isn't sold as a service though? You still don't own the software, you own a license to use the software. The only time anyone owns software, and has control over how they're allowed to use it, is when they pay for the development costs, not just a license.

          Effectively, this problem has existed long before Steam was around. It's just that brick and mortar stores were happy to give you a refund (even if technically, they may be wrong to do so).

          It's a good thing the ACCC doesn't get tricked by those sort of word games then, isn't it?

            Hopefully? I guess we'll see. Seems some folks are better at the word games than the ACCC. :/

      It's possible that in some instances, Valve has re-stated that policy to a customer without mention of the 'unless required...' caveat. It happens.

    About damn time too. The Australia Tax should come with a benefit or two.

    I know, one has nothing to do with the other.

      The Australia Tax should come with a benefit or two

      Universal Health Care? Low violent crime rate? Decent social services? High standard of living compared to almost any other country?

      Yep, we sure do get screwed over here!

        Nah, a benefit or two from the people who are reaping the rewards of the Australia Tax. Because it sure isn't the ATO.

          Yeah I know.

          But really I just say it more as a perspective thing. Generally life in this country is as good as it gets anywhere in the world, yet we scream bloody murder and expend so much energy into this. It's a complete non-issue in the grand scheme of things.

          Even directly addressing your reply, while the ATO doesn't *directly* get any money from increased prices on Steam et al, they DO get money by keeping physical retailers open and having profits retained within our domestic economy [FWIW, I'm not a fan of retail stores at all, and want them to die a fast death].

          Either way, I still fail to see why this issue gets so much attention. Considering inflation and the ever increasing cost of development, games are cheaper than they have ever been before, as is the constant availability of regular sales and discounts.

            Enh. It gets attention because it's of interest to us.

            Someone you care about gets cancer, you start paying attention to cancer-related charities. Doesn't make you a dick for not supporting Doctors Without Borders or Guide Dogs for the Blind instead/as well. It's normal and reasonable to focus your attentions on the issues that affect you and yours.

              While true, the main difference between these issues, is one that actually effects the quality of life of someone [ie: getting cancer], compared to one which is a luxury consumer item.

              That's sort of the point, too. People put as much effort and passion into the video game pricing issue, as what others put into cancer research.

              They are orders of magnitude apart in levels of importance to society.

                One of the benefits of being on the 'winning side' of the poverty gap. c.c

                  Also while a luxury item it also comes down to the value of intellectual property and things made in a creative environment. Australia has a very high piracy rate, and yet when customers who do actually pay for their products are not entitled to the laws of buying a product in this country which they are not importing, it makes it harder for people to support paying for things, which is not good.

        We pay for those with regular taxes; the Federal kind.

        The Australia Tax only benefits offshore companies, but at least we get to enjoy our better beaches.

        I think we live in a very different Australia,

          If you think otherwise, I would perhaps suggest that you gather a little bit more perspective on the world we live in.

            Low crime rate? just this week I had to call the cops because my neighbour was chasing his wife with a chainsaw, which isn't even the worst crime I have seen this week.

            Universal healthcare? If you need a card to prove your eligibility its not universal, when I was in NZ for a while you didn't even need ID to see a GP for free, here you need a public health insurance card and still need to pay the 7 dollar abbot tax.

            High standard of living? Tell me again about how the highest house prices in the western world allow people on low income to not become rent slaves to the rich.

            Last edited 29/08/14 3:13 pm

              You live in an area with high crime, no doubt inversely proportional to the average income. No judgements, I grew up in a similar area and know exactly how it goes.
              The world you live in is not representative of the rest of the country, however.

              The country we live in is FAR from perfect, and I am of the belief that the gap between rich and poor is growing ever greater, and seriously needs to be addressed by our governments.

              That being said, if you are sick, or develop a life threatening disease, you [and your family] can rest easy knowing that you will get treatment. You won't have to worry about going into crippling debt, or losing your house, or dying from no treatment at all.

              And for what it's worth, I do agree that our housing is grossly over-inflated. Further salt in the wounds is that the entire investor fueled price bubble is tax-payer subsidised with negative gearing. If it's any consolation, it's actually cheaper to rent in many areas of metropolitan cities in Australia. I personally don't have a problem with this as a personal philosophy, but to each their own.

              Even with all of this, my wife [who is from North-East US] and I choose to live here, and can tell you without question that the standard of living here, even in the shitty outter suburbs, is an order of magnitude better than anywhere in the US.

              The US is great, if you are rich..... You think Australia is bad for the little guys? You haven't seen anything.......

              This isn't judgemental at all, and I sincerely share most [all] of your concerns. I just like to share a little perspective to help appreciate what we DO have here in this country, and why it's worth protecting.

              Last edited 01/09/14 10:56 am

                Thing is, the world he is describing actually is a universal issue for the average renting working class Australians.

                Each time I get sick or am in need of seeing a doctor it costs money because there are only 3 doctors in my CITY who bulk bill and an entire city trying to visit them means the wait times are astoundingly delayed so you have to see doctors that charge money. It's just not appropriate to take the like of... living in Australia is so good compared to other countries when we really don't get the benefits you listed.

                Low crime... I've lived in places where the rent was over $300 per week which for the city I live in is rather mid to high range rent. We were experiencing at least 1 to 2 crimes every 14 days where police intervention was or should have been requested.

                If the combination of those 2 issues means high standard of living.. what exactly is a low standard of living for a supposedly first world country to you? To me it seems that when the living expenses overshadow income potential (increased over priced electricity bills for those renting in homes without solar panels) etc.. it is a genuine concern.

                Sadly, from my perspective, the average Australia might have that luxury lifestyle you are speaking of...I'm just yet to meet one of them that isn't a Business Owner or in a high ladder corporate position.

        Universal Health Care? for the low price of only 1% of your annual income ontop of other taxes, plus GST on all your purchases, plus a 15%+ premium on all globally available goods you buy and a soon to be $7 to see the doctor everytime

        Last edited 30/08/14 1:35 pm

          Yeah? What is wrong with this?
          Nothing is free, and health care is expensive. But I'd prefer that everyone pay a proportionate amount of their income to ensure that everyone has access to a guaranteed level of service.

          Take a look at gofundme.com...... which is comprised mostly of americans begging for money so that they don't die of very treatable diseases. It's disgusting how many people just have to sit at home and die because the cannot afford medical treatment. Or end up losing their house to cover expenses.

    No matter who wins, Australia loses.

      Unless the ACCC wins, then I'd say that Australia wins. Seeing as they're representative of our government and acting on behalf of our consumers.

      Last edited 29/08/14 10:30 am

        Unless of course if Valve pulled steam from Australia. I doubt that would happen though...

        Eh, we're still paying double for games.

          Doesn't matter, Team Australia!

            Isn't that the attitude some people have over Football? Doesn't matter if their team loses the Grand Final so long as we beat up some fans of the opposition?

              Yeah, but have you met any Port Power fans?? They're like rabid youtube comments in human form!

                I have! At the 2004 Grand Final and I didn't punch a single one of them!

              No.

              Mostly, I was pointing out how inane your argument was by being equally inane. I don't see how more consumer rights is a loss. Just because it doesn't address one issues doesn't mean that solving another is a bad thing.

                I'd rather pay less every time than getting a refund every 10 years.

                  @transientmind Yeah, paying more for games is exclusive to Australia. We should feel proud they're giving an entire continent their own exclusive bundles :)

          If you only buy during sales its pretty close!

            Yeah, it's nice during a sale I can pay full price for a game :)

          but how else will we afford those shiny useful F15s?

        Ha! Our government acts on behalf of consumers! Good one.

          What, you have a problem paying over 100 bucks for each episode of Game of Thrones? The Lannisters always pay their debt.

      In reality it 'may' cost them a sale and not a whole lot more. They've already presumably got support staff.

    I thought the issue was with their later statements in the fine print that all problems must go to the publisher first (illegal) and several other comments later int he policy which are illegal to state.

    Sweet. Maybe I can finally unload some of the turds in my Steam library, like The War Z-- something I bought, tried, hated, and only then only found out the background story later on.

      Far as I recall, they WERE offering refunds on that particular turd after the massive internet outrage. Prior to the re-branding/re-releasing.

        Yeah, I didn't discover this until after they'd issued the refunds. But it was a good couple of hours reading the the shitstorm surrounding War-Z. Alas, I suspect if they're required to offer refunds for games after this proceeding, it'll be only for items just purchased, which is in line with the current laws on returns/refunds.

        I just wish there was an option for removing the game from my account altogether. Like a delete option.

      Valve refunded a few games for me but this is well long ago.

      The only time I ever had any issue with valve was when I put $50 instead of $5 into my account and they wouldnt reverse the charge even though I emailed them 2 minutes after I did it.

    Apparently the ACCC are suing valve..

    http://imgur.com/Os0UQaL

    Uh, but when I walk into Eb Games, by a Pc game, come back the next day to return it I can't as I would of used the CD Key. Steam is the same, I buy it, they apply the cd key and now I can't return it.

    It's a good idea of being able to get a refund, as i've bought some games that i'd like my money back for, but how does this differ to a physical store?

      That's probably something that should be taken up with the ACCC as well.

      Were you returning because of 'Change of Mind' or because it was faulty? Because that's very relevant.

    About goddamn time. Valve has been screwing us over for way too long in terms of not meeting their legal obligations here.

    The up-side to being denied a refund for 'Towns' was that it gave me access to write a very negative review, steering friends clear of making the mistake of purchasing it.

      Holy shit that's a brilliant idea! Maybe we should look into that, paying people to play games before consumers so that they can inform them of what the game is like and to help them get a general idea about the game to decide if it's worth purchasing.

      Hey look, my sarcasm detector is going off the charts.

        That'd be a fantastic idea! Although, I certainly hope that they'd be able to both get access to games before they're released so that there's time to warn people first, AND not have to pay for that access in the way of forsaking impartiality. But that wouldn't happen, would it? It'd result in inconsistent reviews that couldn't be trusted! That would be terrible.

        Sarcasm meters everywhere, exploding.

    I have more than 1100 games on Steam, and I don't recall any instance where I was seriously disappointed with a game or wanted to get a refund. If the ACCC wants to do something useful they should break up Coles and Woolworths. I like and respect Valve a whole lot more than our government here in Australia, including the ACCC.

    Last edited 29/08/14 11:54 am

      Yeah, but that falls into the trap of, "I don't have a problem, so no-one else must have a problem either, they must just be stupid," type thinking that makes you want to punch the entire internet anytime you try to get tech support.

      If it's a simple case, easy to prove, and provably affecting people, it deserves a look into.

    Guys, let's note: Valve's pricing policy ISN'T ILLEGAL in Australia. Sure, it sucks, but it's not illegal. However, under Australian law, you are entitled to a refund on products or services purchased in Australia if they don't work. Valve's stance on refunds IS ILLEGAL in Australia and personally, I'm glad to see that the ACCC are doing something about it.

    Valve are terrible to try and get any support from about games that don't work. I've got GTA: Vice City on my computer and it SHOULD run (it's recommended specs are easily handled by my PC), but, for whatever reason, the game is broken and Valve tried to palm me off to the developer and refused to give me a refund. For a product they sold which doesn't work.

    If I did that at work (retail electronics), I'd have the ACCC all over me.

    My experience with exactly this:

    http://www.reddit.com/r/Steam/comments/27v0qg/gabe_stole_my_six_bucks/

    Gee this brings back some less than fond memories.
    I was onto the ACCC's back years ago about issues with certain aspects of steam.
    inc the EULA update which to me is not legally enforceable.
    The refund policy and the breach of the Aus-US FTA agreement (article 63) which entails there will be no price discrimination on digital goods.
    As valve do not have any local presence in australia, They should be charging us all US prices regardless.
    Makes me rage abit as i was back and forth with the ACCC and told time and time again there is nothing they can do as it is outside their scope and because they were an international company with no local presence.

    Am I the only one that has had absolutely no issues AT ALL with Steam refunds and returns? They have bent over backwards for me at every turn if I have had issues. Sure, I can be incredibly unreasonable with help desk people (former IT support), but there's no way I am scary enough to be the only person in Australia that has received refunds.

    This is especially needed where a game is buggy but it shows to Valve as though you've played it. I love the 'Shogun' series of games but have not been able to play them in years despite multiple different computers. I don't want a refund on them, but there have been games where that would be annoying. I recall one of them started a background process, but never launched. I didn't care because it was cheap and on sale..but didn't realise until a friend asked me why I'm always in "that game". So I had 70+ hour logged against a game I never played. In this area their policy needs a big update.

    There are a few interesting aspects here. Legally, the ACCC are on very fragile ground because the transaction for any sale actually takes place overseas, and this is an attempt to affect a foreign business. Because Valve do NOT have a physical presence here in Australia. This makes the delivery of any court orders or sanctions very problematical. However, the worst case scenario for Valve is they simply stop selling any third party software through their shop to Australians or stop selling to Australians at all. Should a rigged court rule in favour of the ACCC I can only see the outcome as being a reduction in the service Valve offers to Australians.

    Attention all you people complaining about the prices being higher - are you talking about the price for an electronic download or a Disc in a nice package? Also, those with game performance issues, are they Valve made games or made by others? I ask as my son buys a LOT of games he plays through his Steam account and in discussion we just had he made the following points:

    1. Games he has bought as electronic downloads from Steam or Valve have all been in US$ and at the same price as sold to the US clients. So no issue there, from his experiences.

    2. Games he has bought through local stores like EB World have been a lot dearer than the electronic games, part of that being the cost of making the fancy package, shipping it over, but the majority being the profit margin of the local store. Again no issue with Valve as there's nothing they can do about the price going up due to higher costs to provide a physical product locally, and that's standard world wide.

    3. The only games he's had performance issues with, or heard of people having major play issues are those made by another company and sold via Valve as a retail agent. Thus not an issue for Valve because the Australian law puts the first requirement to make good on warranty issues on the manufacturer, not the retailer.

    These all make a difference to who is at fault and responsible for fixing. However, whichever way this ends up going, I can't see it being an improvement for the Australian clients at all.

      Just wanted to clarify a few things...

      1. That's a very limited experience then because that is absolutely not the case with most AAA titles. Yes all pricing is in $USD, but most big titles are 40-70% higher priced than the US steam store. It's been that way for almost a decade.

      2. Actually the local store's profit margin is one of the smallest parts of the price (with the exception of EB games.. they are rip off merchants and conduct illegal practices every day, shopping for games there is not wise; buy from JB Hi Fi or Dick Smith instead). Most of the added cost is from the publisher shipping the physical goods to Australian distributors.

      3. This is sadly correct and the ACCC may end up seeing it that way also.

        Dick Smith is all good and fine, if you want to pay the full retail price from a games launch even though it has been out for years. I've seen games like Halo Reach cost $80 when everywhere else (incl. EB) sells it for around $20.

    Doesn't surprise me. Their system glitched out and didn't award me several dollars worth of summer sale cards. I contacted them, they delayed the response until after the sale and replied with "Well it's too late to give them to you now". I replied and they've yet to contact me back again.

    Yep, and I've been trying for 3 days to get a refund on a game that was removed from sale.

    It isn't as advertised, doesn't work and likely a scam.

    I keep getting a denied email quoting their 14 days or 2 hours of play. And that's got nothing to do with the reasons I'm requesting the refund. They obviously are not reading my email, or don't give a shit.

    Eitherway, I'm done with steam... a decade of using and purchasing games from them, and they don't give a shit about their customers.

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