Valve Is Being Sued For $656 Million Over Alleged Pricing Restrictions

Valve Is Being Sued For $656 Million Over Alleged Pricing Restrictions

People do like to try to sue Valve, most often alleging that Steam has some sort of monopoly over the PC games market. This is likely because Steam just might have some sort of monopoly over the PC games market. The latest attempt to break the Washington-based developer’s stranglehold comes from the little island that rarely can, the UK, where a suit claims the company has overcharged 14 million British customers.

The route to this claimed overcharging is somewhat convoluted. The claim, suing Valve for 656 million of His Majesty’s pounds ($1.12 billion AUD), filed to the Competition Appeal Tribunal in London, is based around an accusation that Steam requires publishers to agree to “price parity obligations.” Which is to say, they apparently cannot offer the same games on another store for a lower price.

“Companies who hold a dominant position in a market are not allowed to charge excessive or anti-competitive prices,” say the claimants. “They also cannot impose other unfair trading conditions that prevent or hinder others from competing with them.” The specific accusation reads,

Valve Corporation [is accused] of shutting out competition in the PC gaming market by forcing game publishers to sign up to pricing restrictions that dictate the lowest price games can be sold for on rival platforms.

This is being orchestrated by one Vicki Shotbolt, via the British equivalent to a class-action lawsuit which is called an “opt-out collective action claim.” Shotbolt, a campaigner for children’s digital rights, is bringing the claim via law firm Milberg London, whose lawyer Natasha Pearman explains, “We believe that Valve has used its market power in a way which is detrimental to consumers and has led to them being overcharged for games and in-game content on the Steam platform.” (We’ve reached out to Valve for comment.)

The case has a swishy website where Brits can sign up for more information. However, bizarrely, since this is an “opt-out” claim, if you’re in the UK and have bought anything on Steam since June 2018 and don’t want to be part of the case, should it get certified, you will need to visit the site to opt out! Law is weird.

The site goes on to suggest that Valve’s market dominance and “pricing restrictions” also allow it to “continue charging an excessive commission” to sell games on Steam. It’s generally a colossal 30 percent, although for some godforsaken reason the company lowers this figure for only the largest publishers.

Such claims really do seem to just bounce off Valve, courts dismissing suggestions that the only realistic store option for releasing PC games to a large audience somehow doesn’t have unfair advantages. We’ll keep an eye on this one.

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