Following the lead of EA, Microsoft, Sony and other gaming outfits, Valve updated its Steam Subscriber Agreement (SSA) Tuesday to forbid users from filing class action lawsuits. The change comes as a surprise to many gamers, who generally regard Valve as one of the industry's "good guys," especially when it comes to PC gaming.
"We considered this change very carefully," the company said. "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."
Although it has banned class actions, the company isn't necessarily looking to dodge disputes. The updated SSA outlines a new resolution process that should make it easier for individuals to seek remedy. Class actions are often appealing because people can't afford to file and pursue individual claims against large corporations. However, Valve pledges to cover the cost of resolving complaints, which mostly nullifies the point of joint filings and isn't something we've seen in other arbitration provisions.
In the event that its standard customer support can't resolve a problem, the company has "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 [$10,000]. 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."
While there is a positive angle to the change, many feel like they're being strong-armed into the binding arbitration clause. Steam users must agree to the new terms before accessing their games. In other words, disagreeing with the change means forfeiting your Steam library -- a sacrifice few would make. Some folks are especially disappointed, suggesting that Valve purposefully waited until after its annual Steam summer sale to introduce the update so it didn't discourage purchases.
Minecraft creator Markus "Notch" Persson quickly criticized Valve's decision in a series of messages on Twitter, including one that reads in part: "Uhh.. http://store.steampowered.com/news/8523/ .. You can CHOOSE which lawsuits you allow? Ok then, mojang doesn't allow any lawsuits at all any more." And another: "Dear Valve: As a game developer, I understand the temptation to 'rent games' instead of 'sell games', but please don't do this. It is evil." He went on to note that Valve is still the "least evil publisher."
Some users have gone as far as threatening to boycott Steam unless they can opt out of the new terms -- an option Sony briefly provided after updating its PlayStation ToS if users were willing to send a written letter. We wouldn't expect anything significant to come of a boycott. If nothing else, Valve's move is yet another reminder that you don't truly own digital content when it's locked into a DRMed ecosystem and even if the company in charge has a proven track record, you may not always agree with its policies.