I’ve been a Steam user for a while now. In the beginning it was an on-off love affair, peppered by sporadic internet connectivity and a lack of more than one game that I owned featuring on the platform. I now have around four but it’s still a service that I like to use daily, if only to see which new demos and free-to-play titles are out (I”m cheap like that, but that’s the way a gamer gets through the hard money times in life).
When my client updated recently there was a new license agreement to subscribe to. I’m not a fan of skipping through these because there’s always some manner in which you have to tie your hands behind your back and willingly gag yourself if you’re not happy with the game or service you’re subscribing to. And while I’ve never seen Valve as a company eager to look out for its own interests first (it’s always professed to be about making games for gamers to enjoy), the new agreement shows that for some reason the company is trying to protect itself.
The company has now joined in the ranks with other top-tier software marketers that ask customers to waiver their rights to sue the publishers in a class action lawsuit. Class actions are particularly useful if there’s a large group of individuals that band together to afford legal representation and bring a company to court for a massive sum of money equal to their perceived losses that the company created. Hardware manufacturers like Apple have been brought to a class action lawsuit before for defects and other issues with their hardware, while some game companies have also found themselves in court for class action suits by gamers who felt they had been hard-done by.
Said Valve in their blog post about the update: “We considered this change very carefully. It’s clear to us that in some situations, class actions have real benefits to customers. In far too many cases however, class actions don’t provide any real benefit to users and instead impose unnecessary expense and delay, and are often designed to benefit the class action lawyers who craft and litigate these claims. Class actions like these do not benefit us or our communities.”
Instead, Valve now offers an arbitration process using an independent legal arbitrator or the small claims court to handle individual customers looking to get their money back. “In the arbitration process, Valve will reimburse your costs of the arbitration for claims under a certain amount. Reimbursement by Valve is provided regardless of the arbitrator’s decision, provided that the arbitrator does not determine the claim to be frivolous or the costs unreasonable,” the company wrote.
So if you take Valve to an arbitrator because you are seeking damages under a certain value, the company will pay your costs to bring the arbitrator into the matter if, and only if, you are found to be in the right and Valve is in the wrong. You can only take Valve to the small claims court if your claim falls under that “certain” amount. How much that is obviously applies differently for the various legal systems around the globe, with our one here maxing out at R12, 000 for an individual claim.
So what does this mean for you, loyal NAGlings? If you and a thousand other people are hard-done by Valve by removing your hats from Team Fortress 2 without your permission, you can’t band together, get good legal support and win. You’ll instead have to deal with the justice system as an individual, deal with an overworked legal system to have your claim looked at and there’s a much greater chance of you loosing the fight because Valve expects those people who face them in the small claims court to not have the right material present.
Who’s not in support of this move and why? Let me know in the comments and forums!