Changes to the Steam subscriber agreement have left a lot of people anxious or wary about using Steam for some reason. Most rational people are unlikely to give a damn, but nobody likes changes. Even Notch is upset, and that guy tried to settle a court cause with a match of Quake 3. The changes are undoubtedly in part due to recent EU law allowing you to resell your software. What changed exactly? You can’t take a class-action lawsuit against Valve. Not much else has changed, but it’s also drawn more attention to the fact that Steam is DRM and you license your games instead of own them.
On Steam, whenever a customer is unhappy with any transaction, our first goal is to resolve things as quickly as possible through the normal customer support process. However in those instances in which we can’t resolve a dispute, we’ve outlined a new required process whereby we agree to use arbitration or small claims court to resolve the dispute. 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.
Most significant to the new dispute resolution terms is that customers may now only bring individual claims, not class action claims. 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. We think this new dispute resolution process is faster and better for you and Valve while avoiding unnecessary costs, and that it will therefore benefit the community as a whole.
Why would Valve change their subscriber agreement? With the recent changes in EU law, Valve likely anticipates a massive lawsuit for the right to sell games that people have already activated. They can’t make money and allow people to do that. Meanwhile, people on seedy forums already buy games in bulk, Russian keys, and hacked accounts. Why exactly should Valve be the first company in history that allows you to resell activated CD keys? We don’t expect that out of any other software company.
Now, let’s imagine for a moment that Valve royally screws up. Valve screws up so hard with Steam that someone will actually want to waste time with class action lawsuit over video games. They’ll be able to do it. Not only would something affecting the millions of Steam subscribers be bad business for Valve, a EULA is not a legally binding document. You haven’t sold your soul just because you clicked ‘accept’. Yet, if we ever reached a point where we needed a class action lawsuit against Valve, we probably wouldn’t win. Large companies can hire lawyers that are excellent at defending bad businesses. Not only would we lose, but we’d probably be wasting our time too.
So yes, you can still sue Valve, just only as an individual. They’ll even pay for the court costs according to the agreement, but of course they will decide on who arbitrates the case. The experience that I’ve had with Steam for refunds has been positive, so if I know a game is bad or I’ve been cheated out of something, I’ve gotten my money back in a reasonable amount of time.
The thing that pisses me off the most about this non-controversy is that Steam has legitimate problems that we could talking about. When will we get an offline mode that works when we least expect it? Or stopping developers from forcing internet connections for single player RPGs? The people who constantly moan about something that they would have never done anyway make it hard for the rest of us that want real improvements to Steam. I say that we get a universal software bill of rights so we can end the controversy once and for all.