French Consumer Group Sues Valve Over Lack Of Steam Resale Options

French Consumer Group Sues Valve Over Lack Of Steam Resale Options

Valve has come under fire from a French consumer association called UFC Que Choisir (slightly different from that other UFC). The organisation litigates on behalf of the public, and they feel that Steam is letting customers down.

UFC Que Choisir believes that 12 clauses in Steam's much-scrutinised Subscriber Agreement constitute breaches of French consumer law. Their main points of contention, translated by Silencement, break down as follows:

-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

Sounds pretty damning, huh? If UFC Que Choisir got Valve to concede these points, odds are they wouldn't be able to just flip a few local switches. Steam would be looking at some systematic changes. Problem is, most of UFC Que Choisir's points don't really hold water. Let's break this down.

The first point — that people can't resell their games — is a complex issue that hasn't been solved in other mediums, and Valve already won in court against a German consumer group that filed a similar complaint pertaining to games specifically. At its most basic level, the issue is that physical goods are finite and digital goods can be as numerous as the stars in the sky, as manifold as Donald Trump's selection of weird neck/jowl configurations. On top of that, in the current system we buy licences to specific games under a larger Steam subscription — as opposed to individual copies of games themselves. This allows us to, among other things, download and re-download games to our heart's content. It also means, however, that we don't technically own the games we buy on Steam. We subscribe to them. As a result, our games are part of a service — not products we own.

Introducing the ability to resell would likely turn the current system on its head. Even if Valve implemented a feature that would, say, scrub a game from your account/machine and turn it back into a code you could sell, we'd be looking at a more or less infinite secondhand market. Because digital games don't expire with use — like, say, keys you can sell on the Steam market — a relatively large number of people could pass around a few keys quickly and easily. The convenience is the biggest factor here. It might not seem all that different from the way a few friends might pass around a copy of a physical game, but the ramifications could be much greater because it's all so easy and the potential audience is so much larger. On top of that, what happens when big Steam Sales enter the picture? It wouldn't be difficult for people to buy up games on the cheap from developers/publishers, wait for prices to go back up, and then sell for a high price. I imagine that, in time, that would cause publishers to raise the initial price of games, and Valve would likely need to cease Steam sales altogether. It'd be a big hit to folks making games, is what I'm saying.

That said, it might not be so bad. Microtransactions already help a lot of publishers deal with dual monetary damages caused by the brick-and-mortar secondhand market and piracy. If Steam were forced to implement some kind of resale system, we might just see more microtransactions and similar online features — a direction the industry's already trending toward anyway. But, as more games go free and rely almost entirely on microtransactions, digital resale of games themselves becomes less and less relevant. Valve, meanwhile, already allows for the sale of some digital goods on the Steam marketplace.

French Consumer Group Sues Valve Over Lack Of Steam Resale Options

Still, laws in certain countries (like France) stipulate that the transfer of digital software licences is legal, despite what any single company might (try to) say. A EU law to that effect has been in place since 2012. However, Valve won the aforementioned case against a German consumer group in 2014. Games, as it turns out, may not be mere "software," given that they can contain all sorts of music and art that fall under various copyright laws. On top of that, Valve has recently implemented game sharing and refund features that mitigate some of the inconveniences that emerge when people can't resell games.

The short version? UFC Que Choisir's chances aren't looking great here.

UFC Que Choisir might actually have something with their second point, though. Valve declines responsibility pertaining to hacks when users bungle their own way into compromising situations — that is to say, when they get scammed by other users or duped by third-party trading sites. If an account is hijacked, however, Valve will sometimes make exceptions:

"Inventory restorations are granted on a case by case basis. In order for Steam Support to restore items, technicians will need to verify, using Steam's internal data, that the account was hijacked."

But what about personal information, specifically? Well, a major Steam hack actually did happen back in 2011, and Valve's report card there is... mixed. They waited four days to initially report what happened, but they tried to investigate the ramifications of the hack and informed users that they'd seen no evidence of credit card compromise. Unfortunately, it took them months to follow-up after that, and they found that hackers probably had gotten ahold of a lot of personal info, some of it encrypted. Ultimately, they advised users to stay on guard and use tools like Valve's own Steam Guard security functions. It's not clear what sort of steps they took to try and secure said data in the aftermath of the hack. So, in short, Valve responded to a hack by trying to clean up the mess, but they were slower about it than they probably could've been, and they left users in a frightening limbo. Classic shitty Valve communication. The whole episode wasn't great. Since then, Valve's implemented tighter security measures, but UFC Que Choisir isn't entirely off the mark on this one.

When it comes to user-created content, Valve actually claims a non-exclusive right to your stuff, so you can still post or reproduce it elsewhere. Given that user-created content is often made within games Valve or their publishing partners own, that actually doesn't seem like a terrible deal — especially since Valve gives mod makers a cut of the profit if they end up selling said items. A handful of particularly successful creators are even able to make a living off it.

The fourth point — the inability to get money on your Steam Wallet back if your account is closed/deleted/banned — sucks, but it's also kinda a "them's the breaks" situation. You turned that money over to Steam, same as you do when you buy a game or what have you. It makes a kind of sense that it'd vanish with all your games as punishment for breaking Steam's rules in a way significant enough to get you banned. Admittedly, there are cases where account hijackers get people banned, and Valve's notoriously shitty customer service takes weeks or months to respond. Until Valve convincingly clears that up, they're not spotless here. All in all, though, the policy in itself isn't super damning.

French Consumer Group Sues Valve Over Lack Of Steam Resale Options

The last point — the bit about Luxembourg law — is flat-out wrong. In Steam's Subscriber Agreement, Valve writes: "However, where the laws of Luxembourg provide a lower degree of consumer protection than the laws of your country of residence, the consumer protection laws of your country shall prevail."

I'm glad to see this organisation trying to fight for the rights of Steam users, but I feel like they're barking up the wrong series of trees — or "forest", as the kids are calling them these days. They have got one solid point and a bunch of weak/misinformed ones. Meanwhile, Valve has legal precedent (albeit in another country) on their side.

All that said, would you like the ability to resell your digital games? What would need to happen to make such a system functional?


Comments

    It wouldn’t be difficult for people to buy up games on the cheap from developers/publishers, wait for prices to go back up, and then sell for a high price. I imagine that, in time, that would cause publishers to raise the initial price of games, and Valve would likely need to cease Steam sales altogether. It’d be a big hit to folks making games, is what I’m saying.

    The article was pretty alright except this point. This is exactly like a brick and mortar store sale with someone going into a store or two, buying a whole lot of cheap goods and selling the goods at a higher price when the sales are over. We have not seen an end of sales as a result of these. It seems we have actually seen a decrease in pricing as a result of more "competition". why buy something shady off eBay for $10 less and wait for it to arrive when I could have it today. A global marketplace wouldn't even affect this. People want the game on release day and will still buy it. A smaller group will wait for it to go on sale anyway. The in between crowd who will pay more but don't want to pay release prices would benefit the most. If a used price was set by the developer with a portion of the funds going back to them it would benefit them the most.
    For example I want to sell Left 4 Dead 3 2 days after release. RRP is $99.95, I want to get $60.00 out of it and the used price is set to $80.95. User buys it, Steam takes their cut, I get my $60.00 and the rest goes to the developer, win win for all involved.

      For some reason, the video game industry acts like second-hand sales are a thing of pure evil, spoken of with the same contempt as they have for piracy. This is despite the fact you can freely resell pretty much anything else you own; your house, car, tv, furniture, books, etc. If you buy a guitar, and then later sell it, you don't hear Fender complaining. However, we always seem to get apologists for large corporations like Valve screwing consumers over, people who buy up the bullshit argument that "you don't own the game, just a temporary license that can be revoked at any time, without notice and without compensation for your loss."

        Ah, but you aren't selling the second hand Fender on their website/service though are you?
        This is a very different beast than selling a physical item, I can't even think of a service that lets you sell digital content like music, films and software.

        I'm not against the idea of a resale feature on Steam, but from a business standpoint it's fairly easy to see why it doesn't sound appealing.

          There's nothing stopping them from being able to have a digital marketplace for games; especially when they already have a digital marketplace for superfluous shit like hats for Team Fortress 2. How is selling a digital game on the used market any different from selling a digital hat on the used market?

            1. It's an item within a game and not a game itself.
            2. It's 100% their own property where as the majority of games are not.

            I know what you're saying man, but it really is uncharted and sketchy waters.

              1. It's all data. The only difference between a hat and a game is the amount of data. It's all digital information, and there is absolutely no technological reason it can't be done.
              2. EBay and Gumtree have no problem letting people sell their stuff. In this case, it's merely the sale of a digital license. Besides, they could implement an approval system where publishers decide whether or not their games should be available for resale.

              And being uncharted waters isn't very good justification for not doing something. Imagine telling NASA not to go to the moon in the 60s, or telling Steve Jobs not to give the iPhone a touchscreen because no-one else was doing it. Or telling Nintendo not to make a dual-screened handheld, or invest in motion controls because it was uncharted waters. Imagine telling the first people to write comics, do stand-up comedy, make movies, sell food from a van on the street, create search engines, or the Internet itself, not to do it because it was uncharted waters. The great success stories of our time don't come from people who followed the beaten path, but the ones who forged their own.

              Last edited 21/12/15 10:30 pm

                At risk of perpetuating that strawmans paradise, Steam is already a revolutionary bloody service.

                I already said I agree that a resell system could work but let's keep this grounded in reality man.
                You asked for a difference, I gave it and reducing it doesn't help the argument.

                Yes, having developers and publishers agree is central to allowing a resell system to work, but what is the incentive for them? You already recognise that second hand dealing is a sore point for them and we all know how splitting the money went with the Skyrim modding debacle.

                Last edited 21/12/15 10:54 pm

                  What's the incentive, you ask? The same as for every other second-hand market; people sell their old stuff so they can buy new stuff. I sold my car, and bought a brand new one off the showroom floor (well, I actually had to wait a couple weeks for delivery, but you get the idea). I've sold old Bass guitars and then gone and bought brand new ones. At the moment, I'm thinking about getting rid of my lounge so I can buy a brand new one. And look at trade-ins at stores such as EB or JB hifi. Sure, they won't give you much money for your old games, but if it helps knock the price off some new games by trading in stuff you don't play anymore, don't you think that'll help entice people to make a purchase they otherwise wouldn't have?
                  You tell me to keep this grounded in reality, and I have. The ONLY thing stopping this digital resale market from happening is that some people simply don't want it to.

      That doesn't really seem like a win for the developer - they won't get anything from that $80 on the second hand sale. And if the recipient resells it again, they won't see any of that money either. A system like that will not only promote, but ensure, that any new release inevitably has more second hand sales than "first hand" sales - because really, when the digital second hand copy is 100% the same as a new digital copy, who would want to pay full price on steam when they conveniently (and immediately) don't have to?

      I get where you're coming from this, but the truth of the matter is that second hand sales of physical copies is not an identical situation to what will occur in digital form.

      If this second hand system was to be implemented on steam, certain conditions would undoubtedly be added to mitigate the potential losses. For example, much like gifts, a game would most likely need to have been in the users library for over 30 days before it can be resold. A finite limit on the amount of times a title can be resold would also not be surprising.

        Developers get paid for their work, and in some cases, let go after completion. Publishers are the ones who get the percentage of sales, and they very rarely pass it on (which was why the devs from Infinity Ward left Activision, even though they literally had an agreement for profit-sharing, Activision wouldn't pay up, so they left and formed a new studio). But if devs did get a percentage of sales, then why don't the people who claim to support the devs pay full price for their games? How much money would they get when you buy a game in a Steam sale at 60 or 75% off?
        And how many other industries let a producer profit twice from a single sale? If I sell my car, should Mazda get some money? And if so, how much? If I sell my TV, do Samsung get a cut?

        Last edited 21/12/15 10:32 pm

        and the rest goes to the developer, win win for all involved.

        Since Steam's cut is something like 30% let's assume that comes out of the difference between the price and the user's price (so $20.95 in my scenario). $6.28 goes to Steam and the remaining $14.67 goes to the developer. That's not nothing, in fact that's more than if I bought a physical version and traded it in at EB, of which the developer receives exactly $0.00 regardless of the price. This is also based on the current system where people feel they are entitled to trade their games in, just giving the developer a cut of the action.

        You're right, second hand sales of digital goods is not identical to physical goods. Physical goods degrade over time, digital goods do not. Selling a physical item second hand is at a lower price because of that, we could have people buying second hand digital goods at the exact same price. So rather than set a lower price point, as my first example, have an option to "sell" your right back to the developer and they re-sell the right to another consumer (trading in, some might say).

        Of course actual terms and conditions would need to be built, we can't even buy something online without agreeing to pages and pages of Terms and Conditions.

    I'm far too sentimental to part with my games, even if it is just a digital copy with no physical component to it.

    It never really made sense to me why people would want to trade a new ~$80 game back to EB games for a measly ~$10 in return. Even if their economic situation was dire, surely the replayability of the game (and the hassle of obtaining the full rrp in the first place) would outweigh the benefits of the $10 from selling it.

    In regards to digital resales, as the author touched on, it has it's own unique problems that pretty much make the concept unfeasible, due in large part to the speed and efficiency of communication with an enormous community.

    With some indie games having a length of 4hrs, I could easily see a single copy of a game changing through many hands quite rapidly. In a single day, a single used copy could potentially pass through 5 people, assuming they sold it immediately after finishing the title. Obviously such a system would have a huge impact on the developers profits, especially for indie devs.

    I think the current steam system is fine. New games are often on sale for comparable pricing to second hand, but with the benefit of supporting the devs. Plus, it seems you can share a game with up to 5 people anyway, though I'm not entirely sure what the limitations are on this (it seems to be geared for letting family members access a game using separate accounts on a communal computer).

      Even if their economic situation was dire, surely the replayability of the game (and the hassle of obtaining the full rrp in the first place) would outweigh the benefits of the $10 from selling it. I guess you never played Homefront. ;) (Bad example, I returned that one over the weekend for full refund.)

    That said, it might not be so bad. Microtransactions already help a lot of publishers deal with dual monetary damages caused by the brick-and-mortar secondhand market and piracy. If Steam were forced to implement some kind of resale system, we might just see more microtransactions and similar online features — a direction the industry’s already trending toward anyway.

    Are you saying that it's not bad because we might get even MORE microtransactions in games?

    Microtransactions already help a lot of publishers deal with dual monetary damages caused by the brick-and-mortar secondhand market and piracy.

    Really? You're lumping brick-and-mortar second game sales in the same basket as piracy? Has Valve paid you to take their side, or something?

    It makes far, far more sense to decry the fact that we don't even own the copies of the games that we buy anymore because of the legal fiction that these massive corporate entities have cooked up, than it does to defend and justify their tactics.

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