The ACCC Is Still Pursuing Legal Action Against Valve

In September 2014 the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) announced it was pursuing legal action against Valve concerning its lack of a refund policy on Steam. As of this month Steam now has a refund policy, but that hasn't stopped the ACCC from taking Valve to court.

The ACCC's issue was this: Valve's lack of a refund policy went directly against Australian consumer law, which demands that sellers be responsible for refunding consumers if they were sold a faulty product.

Back in September we uncovered the ACCC's specific demands:

• Provide an email address that specifically deals with refunds as per Australian Consumer law. • Provide a 1800 number to help consumers address any refund issues. • Provide a PO Box address for consumers to deal with refunds. • Appoint representatives (the ACCC refer to this person as a contact officer) to reply to consumers regarding refunds.

We contacted the ACCC to ask whether or not Valve's refund policy adequately addressed their concerns. The declined to comment officially, but did inform us that legal action is ongoing. A number of preliminary hearings have taken place since the ACCC announced its legal action, but very little has moved forward. The ACCC informed us another hearing is set to take place on July 28 in the Australian Federal Court.

Why continue to pursue legal action? Well it's complicated. It's extremely possible that Valve's refund policy, however generous, still doesn't meet the expectations of Australian consumer law on some level. It's also possible that Valve's refund policy doesn't fully acquiesce to the ACCC's demands.

It'll be interesting to see where this heads in the wake of Steam's new policy. Hopefully we'll learn more after the upcoming hearing.


Comments

    Has anyone from Valve actually showed up to any of this?

    Valve has been operating in Australia for a long time, with, what i'm aware of, a case by case basis for refunds on products. Why are we even pursuing this? I dont think it's really Valve's fault at this stage if they havent been approached before concerning this. Or is this just another thing that the government has finally noticed to add to the net tax money grab?

      ACCC is completely independent of the tax grabs. They're out there fighting for us to have sensible dealings with companies, which in this case is to let us have the same rights with digital goods that we do with physical goods. As outlined in the story, Steam's changes still don't go far enough.

        Exactly. My guess is, though, that it would be *extremely* difficult and costly for Valve to determine whether goods are "faulty" when a refund is requested. If a game crashes, is it "faulty"? If there are Ass Creed Unity-style bugs, is that "faulty"? If I were Valve I would be shitting myself and offering all sorts of deals (like the recently introduced policy) to try and get the ACCC off my back!

    Do the ACCC really expect Valve to set up a 1800 number and P.O. Box here?

      What's particularly scary about that demand is if it gets through court, it will set a legal precedent that will isolate us from just about every online retailer, big or small. If that becomes a requirement to sell online products to Australians, nobody is going to bother with it, they'll just either sell to us illegally, meaning they'll also have no obligation to honour refunds, or they'll stop selling to us at all. Very few will opt to actually set up contact details.

      Those two demands are just fucking stupid and I sincerely hope they get dropped.

      Edit: Since people seem to be vote happy, I'll clarify that I'm all for Valve offering refunds that comply with Australian law. None of the ACCC's four demands listed above are required by law though, and the two I specifically pointed out are ridiculous. Foreign companies should not have to have a registered Australian business to be able to sell to Australian consumers. It has nothing to do with complying with Australian consumer law and will only increase the cost of items sold to us online, or make companies just choose to not sell online to us at all to avoid having to jump through these hoops. I have a hard time believing people think that's a reasonable outcome.

      Last edited 11/06/15 8:07 pm

        Surely the income generated from Australians for Valve far outweighs the costs of setting up a 1800 and PO box though?

          The precedent wouldn't only affect Valve, it would affect all online retailers looking to sell products to Australian customers. Additionally, you can't open an Australian PO box unless you're an Australian resident or have an ABN, meaning they'd have to set up a full legal presence in the country.

          Last edited 11/06/15 10:45 am

            Which in turn allow australia to force australia tax on steam, as if it is not regionally priced already. With the Netflix tax coming soon, it is inevitable that people will not buy shit in australia anymore which further decrease the value of our dollar. Thanks abbott.

      I think that's intended to be more of a punitive measure, rather than the expected requirements for everyone. Basically they're saying, "you've been fucking over Aussies for so long, your punishment is to provide a kick ass service".

    The author is correct, Valves' 'generous' refunds policy does not measure up to Australian consumer protection laws. Know your rights people, and laugh and smile when someone offers you an extended warranty for extra money, because offering that warranty at all makes it the one the retailer is obliged to honour, even if you don't accept. (Offering an extended warranty means the manufacturer has a reasonable expectation all units will last that long.)

      Very true, although one wonders to what extent Australian consumer protection laws contribute to the 'Australia tax' that we as consumers tend to pay...

      ACCC may want to finish the court case to force Valve to fix those refunds which were incorrectly refused before they put their refund policy in place?

    They've made up a set of terms (the basics of which are 14 days from point of purchase and 2 hours of gameplay) as a refund policy. This contradicts parts of the ACL.. Valve can't just come up with some arbitrary policy and expect the ACCC to accept it on face value.

      From what I understand, their policy would be fine (in fact, above and beyond ACL requirements) if it related to "change of mind" but they can't apply those same restrictions to "defetctive", "not as described", etc.

        Which is exactly the problem, to this day Deus Ex 2 still won't play on 99% of computers with ATI cards....... wheres my refund

    Swiggty swooty, there coming for gaben's booty.

    I bought two copies of Space Hulk when it first dropped. Game was buggy, slow, un-optimised and kind of rubbish.
    I played for 20 minutes (which was enough to see that the game was broken) then sent of a refund form to Steam. The reply came back around 2 weeks later that my reason of "Purchasing an incomplete and unplayable game" was not good enough to warrant a refund of my $60 purchase. The game has been updated since then but I've no interest in playing it.

    Maybe I should've contacted the ACCC instead of Steam support?

      Was it still in "Early access?" If so you essentially purchased a game while knowing full well it was still in the "Alpha/beta" stage and you're complaining about it being buggy?

      The issues that a lot of people experience with games are quite often usually in fact a fault/issue with their system and not the actual software itself. If the game was a 100% "complete" shipped copy then that may be a different case, as you would expect that a complete piece of software should have been tested on a wide variety of systems and then optimized to ensure that it would work on the average persons computer without faults.

      Last edited 11/06/15 12:01 pm

    The fact that they actively alter their prices and content for the Australian market implies they already consider themselves to have a "legal presence" in the country. They wouldn't necessarily have to own any PO Box they use. Many foreign companies contract mail agents in countries they operate in but don't have a physical presence.

    Steams new refund policy still doesn't reflect Australian law, there is no 2 hour limit under Australian law. Movies aren't cover in the refund policy, etc.

    ACCC may be asking for guarantees on the recent policy, or making sure it aligns with Australia Law... yes they now have a policy, but is it still legal ?

    The big thing will be the fourth point about "appointed representatives", Steams record on just getting a human response is bloody terrible. ACCC couldnt even reach Valve to get a response to their initial inquiries that they basically had start formal proceedings before Valve even said "Hello".

    Also may just be going after the terrible definitions Valve lawyers and marketing put on their terms of service, like they are service and NOT "selling you a game" when they are in fact selling you a game.

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