Thought: Do We Own Our Steam Games?

By John Walker on February 1st, 2012 at 1:18 pm.

I guess I don't own any of these.

What do you own? Looking through my possessions, I feel fairly comfortable that the food in my fridge belongs to me. And I have an odd confidence that the hardware in my PC is mine. But the books on my shelves? I seem to have very little rights over them. The CDs stacked up in a cupboard (remember CDs?) certainly aren’t my property. And the software on my computer may as well be tied to a long piece of elastic, just waiting for the publishers to give it a tug. You own a license. But a license for what? This lack of ownership becomes even more concerning when it comes to the digital space, at which point our rights to anything become extremely ambiguous. And that’s something that can bite you hard on the bum, when places like Steam seem to reserve the right to ban you from your account, and not even tell you why they did it. Below is the story of one RPS reader who says he lost access to his entire Steam collection, and thoughts from game lawyer Jas Purewal on whether we really own any game we buy.

We’ve heard some very stupid banning stories from EA, and as many as we’ve reported, we’ve heard dozens more. But the odd thing is, EA tends to tell the bannee what ridiculous reason they’ve assigned. That’s something RPS reader ‘gimperial’ alleges he discovered Valve wouldn’t, after he had his account banned. An account that had over 250 games, with well over £1000 spent.

Gimperial’s case wasn’t clear-cut. He’s in Russia, and openly admits that he’s gifted games to people in exchange for money, to help them get them cheaper. Not frequently, and it’s certainly not something Valve could have known he had done when they banned him. And he states that he mostly gifted games for free, just as a favour. He acknowledges that gifting in exchange for a financial payment is against Valve’s TOS, and doesn’t protest innocence. But the strange thing is, while Valve wouldn’t tell him what he did to receive the ban, he says they did tell him that it wasn’t because of gifting.

Instead he received a message informing him he’d violated Valve’s Steam Service Agreement (SSA). Questioning what aspect of this he’d violated, as he could find nothing he’d done that matched up, he received a response with just a copy and paste of the exact same SSA, and the news that,

“We will not be able to help you further with this issue.”

They then ignored tickets he sent, trying to get clarification. Attempts by him and his friends to contact Valve directly, including emailing Gabe Newell, also didn’t receive replies.

Oddly, gimperial had his account suspended over Christmas because Valve were concerned it had been hacked. Once he assured them it had not, and he was the one purchasing, they apologised and reopened his account, telling him – says gimperial – that they would put a note on his account to prevents its being suspended again. gimperial claims they told him,

“If you are going to make large amount of purchases again, please reply to this ticket so there are no issues with your account in the future.”

And replied,

“I will make a note of it on your account.”

You can read the full exchange here.

Because Valve cannot have known that gimperial had gifted in exchange for cash (and he insists that most of the time it was genuinely as a gift, and often just in exchange for a beer), that cannot be the reason for the ban. And if it had been their suspicion that he was doing something like this, the normal practice is to issue a warning, not to just shut off the account. And it’s especially of note that gifting for money is not mentioned in the SSA.

On Sunday I emailed Valve to ask about this case, drawing their attention to the forum thread, and to ask what their policy is for issuing bans to accounts.

“Is it Valve’s policy to refuse to explain to customers why their accounts have been banned?

Does Valve think it reasonable to permanently withhold access to a customer’s purchases without offering the appropriate refund?”

As of Tuesday lunchtime, I have still not had a reply. However, late yesterday, gimperial received an email from the Valve tech support op who had told him they wouldn’t help him any further, saying they would be looking into his case once more. And this morning, gimperial has found that his account has been restored, with access to his 250+ games returned. However, he has had his trading privileges permanently suspended.

Well, suspended until 2022, it seems. So gimperial won’t be sending out gifts any more.

So this story has a sort of happy ending, and gimperial would be the first to say that this result is fair. Clearly there’s confusion, gimperial saying that Valve previously explained that his gifting was fine. The ambiguity is unhelpful, and certainly a cause for concern from any philanthropic sorts who might take it upon themselves to do something lovely like buy a game for everyone on their friends list. The idea that just the suspicion that extensive gifting is enough to have you account banned without explanation, isn’t one that sits comfortably. And hopefully Valve will soon get back to us with answers to the questions we’ve asked.

It’s also worth noting that had Valve not chosen to get back to gimperial, which only happened after we’d contacted them (although of course this could be a pure coincidence), he’d be stuck, and have nowhere to go but lawyers. When Steam’s meagre customer support refuses to respond, there’s no phone number to call (the one that exists redirects you back to email), no manager you can reach. You’re just shut out, seemingly unless you can cause enough fuss on the internet.

Once again drives home a crucial thing to understand. You do not own your games. Whether bought through Steam, Origin, or any other digital download service that requires a live account to play them, you are at best renting those games, with no guarantee that you’ll be able to continue to do so. And those bans can be issued without a stated or proven reason – it’s in the agreements you click “Agree” to when you sign up an account, or buy a new game.

But is that legal? I asked gamer lawyer Jas Purewal about this a short while back, not specifically about Valve, and he explained that the matter is still unresolved. “In fact,” he says, “it’s never been completely resolved for software generally – at best, we have some guidance to follow.” But he explains that the commonly taken position is that when we buy a boxed game, we own the DVD, but only have a license for the software on it. “A ‘licence’,” Purewal explains, “is essentially a limited personal right to use the software on certain terms and conditions – it doesn’t give you the right to e.g. sell/transfer/copy/reproduce the software.”

Of course, when we have a physical object, we do just about have the right to sell it second hand (something publishers are of course doing their best to scupper, taking away perhaps even the vestiges of ownership that we have of the plastic). But in the world of the digital, that right is obviously absent too. And indeed this comes with the ability to cut off your access to the game, even though you paid for it. Purewal says this adds even more focus onto the licenses that come with the games, usually the EULA. And where does that leave us?

“Is a EULA subject to consumer protection law? Yes. Has that been tested in a court yet? No, although as a very broad summary it requires a company who sells to consumers to act ‘reasonably’ towards its customers. Nor have governments/regulators definitively stated their position regarding consumer protection regarding digital content yet (though that is already beginning to change, certainly within the UK/Europe). So we don’t know the exact extent of consumer protection law regarding games – although developers/publishers generally do try to comply with the law insofar as they are able.”

But when it comes to answers, there are few. Pointing out that consumers tend to want to actually own something, Purewal also points out that publishers are pushing ever harder in the other direction.

“All this could have a big impact on the ‘ownership’ question. Would gamers care about ‘owning’ a game if they had very reliable, maybe cloud-based gaming controlled by rules that they understand? Would a publisher? If a publisher gives a gamer a right to return or exchange a digital game via a fair system that the publisher controls, would it really matter to gamers that they can’t sell the game through any other means?”

Of course, in the case of Steam, or any of its counterparts, this is a somewhat different situation. Steam isn’t a publisher, it’s a shop. This is the equivalent of being suspected of shoplifting from a GAME/GameStop, and having an employee come to your house and remove your entire gaming collection from your shelves. Individual publishers of the purchased games aren’t consulted for a Steam ban. This is Valve overriding all those individual licenses with their own, and removing access to your purchased goods. And, despite there being no legal position yet known, that doesn’t seem right at all.

It’s a little frustrating to realise that the answers to every question are, at this point, “We don’t know.” Can Valve legally ban you from accessing thousands of pounds worth of games you’ve purchased? We don’t know. Can EA really stop you from playing online games because you said a swear on their forum? We don’t know. And infuriatingly, the only way we’re ever going to find out is when it happens to someone rich/supported enough to take it to court. In the meantime, it seems that publishers are taking advantage of the ambiguity to write their own laws in the form of EULAs and other agreements, whether they could survive the test of a court or not. And that’s always worth bearing in mind when you consider what you actually own.

PS. We held this story back a day to give Valve a second chance to respond to our questions, but once again replies came there none.

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289 Comments »

  1. pakoito says:

    “Did Jesus own of his sandals?”

    1 internet for whoever gets the reference.

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      dog says:

      name of the rose :)

    • DuddBudda says:

      The You Tesament right? that MDickie blasphemathon?

    • pakoito says:

      Dog gets one internet.

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      cog says:

      RPS: Come for the games coverage, stick around for the Umberto Eco references!

    • kiara says:

      Its really easy people. you dont need lawyers to take on steam.. You just need to do the obvious. Stop your gaming adiction for a year and stop buying ALL games supported by steam. This will hurt the gaming industry so badly they would have to remove themselves from steam in order to make up for the millions they have lost to create the games which nobody is buying and they wont be able to pay their staff putting them in very hot water. problem in this world is nobody will shove their greediness aside for a couple of months to stop playing any games. But thing is there are plenty of games to keep you busy with not supported by steam. Free online games. old games. new games not using steam. Click adventures…I was without internet for 2 months moving and switching to a new internet provider. I coundt play any steam game cause i dont own it.. Its funny how you all support this. Wait till you have this situation and cant use the perfect holiday to just relax and play your classic games cause you need internet or to be logged in to a monster that feeds of your ignorance and probably steals details from your computer while steam is running in the background. If google can use anylitics to find out exactly what you like and do in your free time so can Steam…who knows but I dont take part in them and so should you or else they just win everyday cause you cant take into your weakness just for a little while. and they know this… thats why they running and you are angry. so push their button again and again.. long will live steam if you dont stop buying their shit!

      • charlietusk70 says:

        Your comment is so stupid, lol, and I bet you put soooo much effort into it too! This article’s stupid too: There’s CLEARLY a reason as to why the account was suspended (and in the end, the ability to trade removed) but do you think he’s going to tell you that? No, he’s going to email every video games news site and tell them about how Steam robbed him of his games library and blow the truth out of proportion.

        Whatever…all in the name of a good story (“Innocent player robbed of games library by Video Games Giant!”)

  2. Network Crayon says:

    Should have let that Khemm guy write this article :)

    • Echo Black says:

      It would be much shorter, and simply read “Ubisoft ftw suck it valvenerdz”.

    • SuperNashwanPower says:

      I saw Gabe Newell kicking a deaf, disabled girl who was protecting a small puppy from his rage. He offered to pay her $50 to let him kick the puppy. She refused, so he kicked her (whilst wearing combat boots with pink swastikas on).
      He also said something racist and claimed he believed in conspiracy theories. Then he shouted STFU SHEEPLE and stormed off.

      This is all true and should be taken into consideration when deciding whether to use Steam. If you already have steam, you should know that Kim Swift left Valve because Gabe Newell wanted to sell all Steam user’s contact details to an Organ Harvesting Clinic for One Million Dollars. He also touched her boob.

    • KenTWOu says:

      @Echo Black
      You are wrong, in that case Khemm says something positive about GOG.com and lack of DRM.

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    The Sombrero Kid says:

    Very troubling.

    • alundra says:

      Very is an understatement, and it’s worrying in a two fold fashion:

      - How far has the software industry come in the task of eroding each and every customer right we used to have, it’s like giving a MAD button to your average maniac, with the difference you can’t strike back unless you have the cash to take them to court, they just don’t care about reasons and/if it’s a false positive or not, you get the short end of the stick and entire collection is gone.

      - People’s value of money is way too low nowadays, that’s why they no longer care to spend $60 on the right to use something that just does not exist, then you see them making all kinds of rationalizations about how the value is there when it isn’t, and they also agree to all kinds of limitations being imposed on them, on the steam forums you could see people actually defending Anno 2070 original DRM scheme.

      I have always said this, then intend to run things like a rental service?? Only pay them rental prices.

    • codename_bloodfist says:

      It’s a temporary thing. One good lawsuit against Valve, EA or any of the other homies resulting in even mild media exposure and the possibility of governmental sanctions, particularly within the EU, will put these fine gentlemen back in line very, very quickly. We’re dealing with very recent technology here that most people not only don’t understand, but aren’t even aware of. This will change eventually. For now we’ll have to rely on whistle-blowing, for which I’m very thankful to you, John.

    • Archonsod says:

      Don’t be so sure. There have been numerous suits over licenses within the IT industry, which is presumably what they mean by “guidance to follow”. The problem in that respect is that in all cases the court has tried it as an individual circumstance rather than attempting to set a general ruling (which to be fair is the right way to do it – making laws is what the government is for).
      So really, what you need is enough people complaining to their MP, or else sufficient numbers of cases that the government is motivated to pass legislation in order to avoid clogging up the court system.

    • newprince says:

      I suppose it’s not that troubling to me, because I know the status of copyright as it applies to software. As a studying digital librarian, I had to do extensive research into policy and copyright, and especially ebooks. But really, we’ve known for over 2 decades we don’t own any of this stuff. Even open source requires a license (but as in the case of physical media, we can for all intents and purposes act like we own stuff, and sell it… no one will come after you… yet). The reason why no one is gone after is because physical media in someone’s house is impossibly difficult to control sans some Gestappo force going house to house. Controlling digital media? Incredibly simple, and the DMCA and other existing and pending laws will ensure that anyone even blinking an eye at your terms is considered criminal.

      The problem is there’s no good way to move forward: we’ve all kind of boxed ourselves in. Many of my librarian colleagues want to get rid of copyright altogether, or simply force the First Sale Doctrine (the ability for you or I or a library to buy a book, then sell it at a later date) to apply to a library’s ebooks. The former is taking a shotgun to a fly, while the latter is something much more palatable for everyone (and is in fact a recommendation I made in my policy course).

      I initially looked at cloud computing as a potential panacea for this issue, but I’m afraid that market has already started to wall off as iCloud and Amazon have convinced the masses that they don’t need to own their stuff, they just need portals to maybe look at their stuff. Steam giving you the ability to gift your games is downright progressive compared to some of the cloud services out there.

    • Barnaby says:

      @newprince

      “Controlling digital media? Incredibly simple…”

      Yes, because we know that DRM works so well, and there is no such thing as pirates or torrents. If anything Steam is one of the few instances of a company successfully “controlling digital media” that well. Even then you can pirate almost any game available on Steam, including the Valve titles as far as I know. If you think that is control then we need to operationally define control for this discussion.

      If anything I’d say you being more aware of these issues should make you even more unsettled with the current situation. Especially considering that the likelihood that the government (especially U.S. gov) is unlikely to implement either of the solutions to copyright you suggested. If in the U.S. we claim that a corporation is a person, and the government is supposed to legislate to protect the “people”, why would the government not legislate to protect the people (corps) who fund their campaigns? While precedence in regards to copyright could be set in court that favors actual human fcking beings, I’m not so sure that it will.

      I do agree that moving forward on this is going to be incredibly difficult and there is no clear solution that will appease all parties.

    • codename_bloodfist says:

      @Archonsod:
      That’s not how Common Law works though. Civil Law, yes, but that has no influence whatsoever on the EU as a whole. I definitely agree with the idea of contacting your elected representatives as an overall plan, however, in specific instances, inviting the gentlemen controlling various online distributions to a fine day in court would settle a few issues too.

  4. HostFat says:

    My account is also banned because I bought some games from Russia.
    I can’t remember how many games I had, but many!!
    I lost everything, so much money! I still can’t believe it …

    • Gnoupi says:

      And what the Steam support told you?

    • Duffin says:

      Did you try to contact Steam? Did they say anything?

    • Shortwave says:

      Fight the system man.
      You were just robbed.

    • AshEnke says:

      Someone on one of my numerous game communities is currently living in Russia.
      He used to let us pay him the russian price for a game, and then gift it to us.

      He did this only to help, never earning any money with this.

      He did this for a couple of years, until the Payday incident.

      When Payday was released, he bought it. Then he offered to gift us 4packs.
      But, when owning a game, you can’t gift 4packs. You can gift the game, but not 4 of them.

      So we gave him our accounts, he would buy the 4pack, we would pay him the money back, then divide the 4pack between us.

      Two weeks later, all our accouts (his, the one who gave him the accounts, and every person who received one copy of the gam) were banned.

      We immediately opened support stickets with Steam. We knew why our accounts were banned, frauding taxes and whatever, so even though at first we feigned ignorance, we quickly acknowledged our faults and asked for forgiveness.

      First the individual recipients of the games were debanned. Then the accounts which received the 4pack.

      But our generous donator never got his account back.
      After many emails, he finally got the answer about why his account was banned for this particular game and not for the many, many, many other :

      Steam doesn’t care about you gifting games to people outside your country. They don’t care (much) about you using VPN. The reason they suspended all these accounts was that it was strictly forbidden to lend your account to anyone. The buying games part wasn’t the problem, it was the swapping accounts info.

      Maybe it was the same for gimperial ?

      (As of today, my friend’s account is still frozen and all his games are lost)

  5. carn1x says:

    This article just makes me want to throw even more money at the Humble Bundle

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      jezcentral says:

      Aren’t they mostly made up of Steamworks games? :)

    • MSJ says:

      All Humble Bundle games are DRM-free. But they come with Steam keys for most games.

    • ch4os1337 says:

      Don’t forget about GoG.com! You buy a game and you download it DRM free.

  6. Delusibeta says:

    Ultimately, the vast majority of (closed source) software EULAs have a clause that amounts to “you do not own this software, and we want you to erase it if you’re (for example) cracking the DRM”. It’s only with the advent of digital distribution that they can actually enforce it.

    • Gnoupi says:

      Exactly. Even most modding is actually illegal with the regular EULA, since you mess up with the initial product.

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      RaveTurned says:

      It seems to me the issue here isn’t that EULAs can now be enforced, it’s that there’s a single piece of software (Steam’s downloader / shopfront / DRM client) that acts as a gatekeeper to all other software obtained through the service, even though they have separate EULAs. I can just about see the logic in a system where if you violate the licence for a game you lose your rights to access the game. The kicker comes where you violate the licence for the gatekeeper client, and lose access to *ALL* the other software on that service – software under separate licences that are still otherwise valid.

    • Sheng-ji says:

      You huys do know that just because something is written in a EULA, doesn’t make it law right?

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      RaveTurned says:

      An EULA is an agreement. It may or may not be legally binding under contract law – EULAs have not been challenged in any court as far as I’m aware.

      Regardless, I don’t think it matters to my point whether an EULA is legally binding or not. Since the agreement with Valve regarding the use of their software is entirely separate to the agreement with the licensor of the games sold on Steam, I don’t see how Valve can reasonably justify denying access to that separately licensed software if it is apparent that the licence for that was obtained through them legally and has not been violated.

    • Archonsod says:

      “It seems to me the issue here isn’t that EULAs can now be enforced, it’s that there’s a single piece of software (Steam’s downloader / shopfront / DRM client) that acts as a gatekeeper to all other software obtained through the service, even though they have separate EULAs.”

      Steam isn’t a license. In fact it’s the problem with the article – Steam is a subscription service which merely allows you to access the software. So it’s not so much the Game employee coming around to repossess your games as it is the bus driver who takes you to the store refusing to let you on. Or something.

      In fact the interesting point is that you already own the license, so in theory at least even if Steam suspended your account you would have a right to the software via other (legitimate) methods. At least if you could prove you owned a license for it.
      One interesting thing which might be worth trying en mass – many publishers used to have a clause whereby if you lost the original media a game was shipped on you could, with proof you owned a copy, request a replacement; often for free (albeit with shipping costs). One could try utilising a similar clause to request alternative media from the publisher if you lost access to your Steam account.

      Although the way things are going I’m sure some publishers would be happy to do so. On the understanding that the ‘alternative’ media was their own digital distribution system. Swings and roundabouts …

    • Tams80 says:

      What I’m worried about is that these EULAs may hold up and that the only way we will have some form of ownership over the software we buy will be if companies change the EULAs. I don’t see this happening as too many people like the software they can get for the companies who sell it to stop take notice.

  7. Cooper says:

    I’ve said this in the forum, and it stands. Valve’s lack of response and poor custmer service is crap, yes. but fundamentally you are putting your games in the hands of a large business.

    These are large companies; Valve, Origin etc. They employ a lot of people to make these decisions. People – even people in lovely fluffy companies that we all love like Valve – people make mistakes.

    As a customer you are possibly going to flag up as a false-positive for a whole host of reasons. Sometimes even without you having done anything (i.e: somoene trying to get into your PayPal without you ever knowing)

    With companies based abroad, and providing ‘online services’ (which are usually not covered by purchase rights for consumers) you do not have easy recourse to law or consumer rights.

    So. Backup your games. Keep them backed up so that when you become that false positive for an otherwise well meaning and dutiful member of staff, you can crack the backups and play your games.

    • Gnoupi says:

      While they did not answer to the general question from John, I think that their support handled Gimperial’s case correctly, and fast enough.

      And that’s my usual experience with Steam support. I get an answer in the next working day max, and it usually goes to solve the issue. (They even actually answered me on the question “what if Steam would close?”: http://pastebin.com/w6wgBGGw )

    • terry says:

      I think the main issue with Steam support is one of inconsistency and lack of transparency. From reading Steam threads on various websites, I’ve seen people been granted one-time refund gestures for games they didn’t like but also people denied refunds for games that didn’t actually work. When your customer service experience is a coin-toss people tend to not like it.

    • diamondmx says:

      Gnoupi – that wasn’t an answer you got, it was an informationless brush-off.

      Valve really needs to add some proper customer support, given the amount of cash and property they control of ours.

    • Gnoupi says:

      My point was that they actually answered, even to a silly question (firms are not really planning their failure and what they’ll do then, so of course it’s a silly answer).

      In general, I have fast and helpful answers from Steam support.

    • Tams80 says:

      It wasn’t a silly question and it would appear it took RPS sending an email for anything to be done. That is not good customer service.

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      jrodman says:

      “If we were shutting down we would deal with it then” is basically a lie.

      If steam were shutting down it would likely mean that valve no longer existed as the same entity — either in bankruptcy or having been purchased by a different organization with other interests.

      There is no reason to believe a bankruptcy court or a new owner with competing interests would particularly care about the assets of gamer customers. And Valve certainly would not be in charge of such a decision.

    • Screamer says:

      LOL I tried to get answer out of them as to why “do not apply patches automatically” doesn’t really work, and after the same reply from them for the 1000 th time I eventually got the response that “do not apply patches automatically ” is only temporary and I quote “you cannot prevent the game from updating indefinitely” so basically the One time activation that is on every single steam retail copy is in fact a lie!

  8. Kaira- says:

    And this is why I generally avoid Steam/Origin/whathaveyou. Obviously when some deal comes along with a superb price (less than 5€ usually) I might pick it up, but it’s nothing but a indefinite rent.

    • Greg Wild says:

      As is every other games purchase you’ve ever made. The only difference between a DVD and a Steam game is that the only way to enforce revoking the license on a physical game is that sending in the bailiffs would be prohibitively expensive.

    • Warskull says:

      There is a second major difference between Steam and EULA’s. In steam you effectively sign two EULAs, one for Steam and one for the game. The game companies have to cancel your licenses individually, Steam (or Origin) can just cancel access to all your games at once.

      As digital distribution becomes more popular, the companies gain more power. Steam has a ridiculous amount of power over its consumers, the only caveat is that it generally tends to be a consumer friendly company.

    • Mattressi says:

      Yep, this is why I will only ever buy very cheap games from Steam – I think of it as a rental service and pay as if it is. This way, I will hopefully avoid being consumed with rage if/when my games are inaccessible (like when offline mode doesn’t work or if Steam ever decides to ban me for no reason).

      Greg: the main difference, really, is that Steam can instantly stop you accessing your account and your games, requiring you to take them to court to force them to let you have your games back; however, with physical copies (that don’t have online-DRM like Steam), the games company would have to actually prove you guilty of something before being allowed to take your games from you – and as soon as a case like that is taken to court, it would likely turn into case law which shows that EULAs are a load of crap and won’t fly in court. That’s why I won’t buy games >$5 on Steam or similar store; I’m not going to pay a bunch of bastards who will take away what you’ve purchased from them without them bringing the issue before a court.

    • Urthman says:

      Yeah, I only buy a Steam game is the price is so low that I’m willing to think of it as a long-term rental.

      On the other hand, most games you buy on Steam can be “jailbroken” so that you can keep them on your hard drive and run them without Steam. You have to keep your own copy of the data, but that would be true if you bought the game on a disc.

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      JiminyJickers says:

      The problem for me is. I buy most my games on DVD but most of them are still tied to Steam. All the disk does is save you some bandwidth. Therefore, if steam had a problem with me they can take away things I bought from a physical shop.

      This all is pretty scary. Hopefully nothing I ever do will upset them.

  9. deejayem says:

    With books, of course, you own the physical material – the paper and ink – but not the words themselves. You’re free to cut up, drop-kick, sellotape or incinerate the pages, but you can’t copy the words from them to distribute to others.

    As Purewal says above, the same is true of software – you may own the physical medium on which it’s sold (assuming it’s sold physically) but you don’t own the data. As I understand it, this hasn’t changed, it’s just that publishers are becoming more aggressive about establishing and maintaining their control over the data.

    • Deano2099 says:

      Which is why the law needs to change.

      Those sort of agreements were fine when they couldn’t physical be enforced. Because they may as well not have existed. The argument that ‘nothing has changed’ now that the methods for implementing these restrictions exists is ridiculous. Everything has changed. The only thing that hasn’t are some words in a contract.

    • Squirrelfanatic says:

      Words. Words never change.

    • deejayem says:

      Deano, not sure I agree with your logic there, but it’s absolutely true that the law as it stands is inadequate. In recent years we’ve seen abuse of the system by pretty much all of the major publishers, who’ve used the principle of licensed data as an excuse to impose their own restrictions on how that data can be used. It can’t be right that licences bought in good faith can be taken away at the whim of the publisher.

      Going back to the books analogy, it’s a bit like a publisher threatening to erase all the ink from your copy of War and Peace if you lend it to a friend, or try to sell it second hand.

      I’d love to see greater legal clarity on what a software licence means and how it is protected. The interesting question is how to balance that with protecting the rights of the creator to profit from their work. Both have to be protected if the industry is going to flourish.

    • Eich says:

      But you do realise that nobody can enter your house and ban your access to your bookshelf for no reason? And this is where the problem lies not wether they own the data or not.

    • deejayem says:

      Eich, that’s more or less what I just said, isn’t it?

    • Emeraude says:

      With books, of course, you own the physical material – the paper and ink – but not the words themselves.

      A common misunderstanding – but one that has a creepy influence on the whole thought process on the subject matter, I find… NO ONE owns the words themselves. Some people are given a temporary exclusive right to making copies of a given execution of words/ideas. They never own said ideas.

      The problem is that access to the product used to be guaranteed for the customer as long as its medium of propagation (Book, cassette, CD) allowed it. Modern ways of transmission are reliant on the making of copies to propagate, and Publishers are trying to use that to renegotiate conditions of access in their favor. Which is fair enough – though I believe shouldn’t be allowed to come to pass.

      The trouble of course, comes when they tries to artificially link two different media (CDs and DDs via Steamworks) to limit access where they should have no business doing so – and this is where the “but they own the idea” fallacy hurts the debate most.

    • The Colonel says:

      The issue is really that the publishers and distributors have given themselves the right to remove their IP from your use/possession if you have breached copyright (or they think you have). This is very different to the book example where you must be prosecuted for it through the legal system. That’s part of why copyright exists. The law, not the owners resolve copyright violation. The fact that it requires no effort, money, lawyers or time for Valve to remove IP from you is a very scary thing. At the end of the day the creative world is enhanced by a little fluidity between paid for and copied product, enabled by the protection of numbers – it was never previously possible or viable to go after every individual “criminal”.

  10. Premium User Badge

    oceanclub says:

    “And infuriatingly, the only way we’re ever going to find out is when it happens to someone rich/supported enough to take it to court.”

    I for one would be willing to chip into a fund that takes such a case – as long as the case is by someone clear-cut. This law needs to be tested in the EU.

    P.

    • Mark says:

      It would not surprise me if we saw a class action suit in the US within the near future that addresses this. Until that time, however, Valve has no reason to care. That have a stranglehold on the DD marketplace, and they have a legion of fanboys ready to defend them from the bad PR.

    • Furtled says:

      @Ocean club
      I’d be happy to do the same but realistically you’d need someone like the EFF or Which? behind you to make any kind of impact along with either a lot of people chipping in a bit or someone with a lot of money and time on their hands.

    • Pete says:

      In the UK you could try this sort of thing in the Small Claims Court:
      http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/working_lunch/1435585.stm

      It’s _very_ cheap and you can get costs awarded to you if you win.

  11. Ethyls says:

    Whose Steam account is that ? There’s Flatout 3 on it. It’s like having a perfectly fine library with a few Twilight books in it.

    • westyfield says:

      It’s probably John’s press account.

    • Premium User Badge

      Joshua says:

      I once entertained the notion of buying a twilight book when I had only heard of the name…

    • YourMessageHere says:

      I recall seeing one of them (with chess pieces on the cover) in a WHSmiths at a station while changing trains, just before they got really popular, and thinking “Nice cover art! Wonder if that’s any good…” Then a few weeks later I found out what it was. By the cover is, I therefore conclude, not a good way to judge a book.

  12. iARDAs says:

    If ones account is susspended, he sould be suspended for purchasing new games or redeeming codes. He can NOT BE SUSPENDED from the games he purchased. So screw any kind of TOS in this case. They are just choosing the easy road.

    I dont feel like owning any of my steam games but at the same time I know I DO own them. But its the best way to go for me at this point.

    I am sure there are people abusing steam a lot but banning extremely is a bit harsh.

    People should also learn to just purchase games from their own regions and than play with it. Never trade with other regions is a must.

    • goldrunout says:

      Wait a second, It’s a digital thing, how can you really own it? you have to change the definition of ownership. When do people own something? When they can do everything with it? When It’s written on a piece of paper? It’s natural that you don’t “own” steam games! You are licensed to use them! Do we really need something outdated like “propriety” to live?

    • dnch says:

      the thing is, you bought it under steam TOS, so you dont really own it the same way as you own retail/physical copy (even if it costs the same, or sometimes more on steam), so when you dont obey steam TOS, they have all the right to take the games away from you

      what fracks up customer is buying physical copy of the game, and be forced to steam and steam TOS because there is no other way and you were not avare of that

    • Emeraude says:

      Do we really need something outdated like “propriety” to live?

      I’ll be perfectly fine letting an outdated concept such as property go when every company in the world do the same. They don’t seem too keen on me stealing their products in stores thus far. As long as *they* get the legal protection property entails, I don’t see why *we* should abandon it.

    • Emeraude says:

      People should also learn to just purchase games from their own regions and than play with it. Never trade with other regions is a must.

      I love how companies are allowed – expected – to game the global market to minimize their expenses, with little to no laws preventing it effectively, but when customers try to do the same, it can suddenly become illegal and bad.

    • Premium User Badge

      jrodman says:

      @Emeraude: too true.

      Re: The general topic, it seems like this could legitimately be worked more than one way. If Valve wants to be able to unilaterally ban my account, okay fine, so long as all of the money I’ve paid for the software through steam is returned to me. It’s *also* okay to kill my account and return nothing, if they allow the software I’ve paid for to continue to operate indefinitely.

      Essentially they’re double dipping. They’re taking money for goods, then cancelling access to those goods and keeping the funds. This is pretty clearly going to be decided to be a civil infraction if it comes to a court case. Valve needs to figure this out before a court case ends up figuring it out for them. It’s a lot cheaper to do on their own.

  13. Duffin says:

    “He’s in Russia, and openly admits that he’s gifted games to people in exchange for money, to help them get them cheaper. Not frequently, and it’s certainly not something Valve could have known he had done when they banned him.”

    ‘Not frequently’ seems a bit of a stretch as gimperial himself estimates the number of games traded at 70 or more within a few weeks. That seems pretty bloody frequently to me!

    • Caddrel says:

      It sounds as if he was running a business buying and selling games while collecting a margin.

    • John Walker says:

      No, he makes it very clear that the vast majority of those 70 games were not gifted for money.

      Caddrel – you’re quite seriously libeling gimperial there. His statements have made it clear that the few he exchanged for money were generally breaking even or at a loss. Please avoid accusations without any basis.

    • Duffin says:

      I don’t think that was the case. But he wasn’t exactly just buying a few friends a couple of gifts either.

    • Deano2099 says:

      During the Steam Christmas “hey, check out our new gifting and trading system” Sale.

      God knows I sent about 20 gifts in that time, mostly stuff that cost less than £2 or from 4-packs.

    • Deano2099 says:

      You know putting “allegedly” or similar in front of something doesn’t actually protect you from accusations of libel right?

      Unless you’d be okay if your local paper ran an article saying you “sounded like someone that touches kids”.

    • Jimbo says:

      Right, but if your defence amounted to “Hey! I only touched one or two kids!”, you probably wouldn’t get much sympathy.

    • Belsameth says:

      Even if he *did* run a gifting racket, banning him from using all his own games seems fairly dubious, especially without reason given. The new ban, just his gifting priveliges, seems to far better suite the “crime”

    • BioSnark says:

      It’s irrelevant. He could be funding a violent separatist movement in Russia or raping kittens and that would be just as irrelevant to what is presented in the story.

    • Duffin says:

      Why is it irrelevant? He broke the rules, he got banned. Yeh Steam’s communication is terrible and the initial punishment was out of proportion – which all needs addressing. But if you don’t want your account banned you have to do the things that you control to prevent that, which means not abusing regional pricing in developing countries on a large scale. Why Steam initially told him this wasn’t an issue is ridiculous, because it is in their draconian rules and they did ban him for it.

    • Caddrel says:

      It’s possible there was nothing going on at all, but what I got from the article was that he was trading a large number of games with other Steam users, some of which he admits were in return for cash. He traded enough games to flag it up to Valve’s attention, who have stopped him trading games in the future.

      It’s possible he’s done nothing wrong, and Valve have made a mistake in stopping him from trading games (though you don’t make that assertion in your article). It’s also possible Valve had legitimate grounds for banning him from trading games for ten years, in which case it is possible he was trading games to help people get past Steam’s regional pricing.

      I’m probably just too suspicious, having been deluged over the years by stories about innocent people who have their Youtube accounts banned, only to find out they were making huge amounts of money through click fraud.

      If you’re worried about getting sued I’m happy for the original comment to be deleted :)

    • Caddrel says:

      Also, the article doesn’t mention the potential disparity between his statement’s and what Valve says.

      Him: “As for numbers, I’d estimate I gifted about 70 games. About 50 of them I gave away for free (stuff like Limbo for $0.5, I’d just buy like 10 copies and give them away)…”

      Valve support guy: “According to our records, you have made a large amount of gift purchases on the Russian Storefront. Additionally, these purchases of high value items…”

      Also, I’m surprised you put in the article that Valve initially ignored him, as in the forum thread you linked he also stated that you ignored him :)

      According to gimperial, Valve sent this to him as well after reinstating his account access:

      “Due to excessive fraud, your [credit card/paypal/whatever] has been banned from our system. If you are caught engaging in such activities again, any accounts in your possession will be permanently locked.”

    • Snargelfargen says:

      Steam has instituted the gifting and trading system for a reason. They want people to use it, otherwise they wouldn’t have encouraged the mini economy that emerged during this year’s christmas sale.
      I know a number of people on steam who trade games for fun and profit, and that number is only going to grow.

      I guess what I’m saying is that gimperial’s issues are going to become a lot more common in the future. He seems to have done most of his trading altruistically, but I’m sure there are people out there who are taking full advantage of the pricing disparities.

      This is happening because steam allows it in the current trading system. They need to restrict trading between countries or change their policies to allow for-profit trading. Doing anything less would be hypocritical. A crude comparison could be drawn between selling steam games and gold-mining in mmo’s. It’s going to happen no matter what, but they can either allow it or take concrete steps to prevent it that don’t involve haphazardly banning people after the fact.

    • Stickman says:

      Gimperial has clearly admitted his violation of Steam’s TOS, but that violation is beside the point of the article. The point of the article is that his account was banned without any communication as to why that ban occurred. Gimperial had repeatedly stated that he would accept the ban – he just wanted Valve to clarify why he was banned. It (apparently) took communication from RPS and the threat of publicity to motivate Valve into a reply, which is the frightening part of this incident (not the fact that Gimperial was banned).

      vvvv That’s also besides the point of the story vvvv

    • Joshua Northey says:

      “No, he makes it very clear that the vast majority of those 70 games were not gifted for money.”

      Why on earth would you believe him? In my experience people caught breaking the rules lie as much as they need to to get out of it. Have you ever spent time with criminals?

    • Tams80 says:

      @ Joshua Northey

      Why shouldn’t I believe him? For as many reasons as I shouldn’t. Therefore I’m on the fence and don’t know for this particular case.

      What is important is it brings up an important point. I paid for these games; do [service here] have the right to take them away?

  14. Halbarad says:

    I have to admit the system Valve has is unfair but even knowing that my games collection on steam (standing at over £3000) is on a knifes edge, i just can’t seem to hold back. The convenience is so nice.
    Not only that, it’s just always there and you can always access it without a lot of hassle.

    That did come to a stop one time when I had my account locked due to Paypal dicking around. I bought Evil Genius for £1.99. Now My account had a lot in excess of that but for that occassion Paypal decided to try take it out of the 2nd, the backup, account. Needless to say they put through a recharge or whatever to steam which in turn meant they banned my account. It took me around 2 weeks of constant back and forth actually saying the same damn thing to both paypal and steam around 15 times each.

    Eventually steam just removed Evil Genius from my account and unlocked it again. The length of time it took was unreasonable since paypal errors like that have been occuring time immemorial and that it took me around 15 times of repeating things in even simpler terms that even a toddler could understand for them to do something as basic as say “we’ll unlock your account, you will however need to buy Evil Genius at the current price if you want that game still”. And I did, and I like the game.

    My point? I lost it in story time. Probably was something about how Valve should hire more employees and some that can follow basic logic.

    • Kaira- says:

      Yeah, apparently Steam just decides to ignore all the email coming from PayPal (if this story is to be believed).

      When Paypal decided to investigate my account, they had sent an email to Steam also. Paypal had told Steam on June 29th that my payment was on hold, and they asked Steam if they had “shipped the goods” (generic email sent to all sellers in such cases, I assume). Lastly, Paypal had told Steam in this same email that if Steam did not reply to Paypal’s email, Paypal policy was to automatically reverse the transaction. The date Steam was told to reply by was the 10th of July. With other words, the reason Paypal reversed the transaction is because Steam failed to reply to Paypal’s email in a timely manner.

    • Deano2099 says:

      I have a similar value of games on Steam. I was bothered for a few minutes once, then remembered piracy existed.

      Note: I don’t pirate, or condone piracy. But if one day Steam suddenly banned my account, you really think I’d buy all those games again?

    • Velvetmeds says:

      @Deano, that’s all fine and dandy and i “agree” with you, however the problem still remains with online games

    • Deano2099 says:

      I’d still buy games. Piracy is a pain on the 360.

      But yeah, it doesn’t make it okay, but I genuinely would buy a lot less on Steam if I didn’t have a ‘backup’ option for if something went wrong. I can’t be the only one. Which I just find interesting. The existence of piracy makes me more likely to buy more games, even though I don’t actually pirate anything.

    • Halbarad says:

      Well I know the thing i’d do is just download a crack of steam that lets me play my installed games again (I have a 2tb HDD just for steam).

      Granted, if my account was locked over something trivial like that and my HDD failed I would pirate the hell out of those games and feel no remorse over it at all. I class my 1000+ games on steam as me being a pretty good customer and somebody they should at least pay attention to if I have an issue.

      I will be honest, I condone piracy in only one situation, to demo a game. My idea of pirating a game is in lieu of a demo because game devs nowdays don’t seem to have the confidence in their title to put a demo out and that doesn’t exactly scream at me into investing money into the game prior to actually testing it.
      Trailers are misleading as hell lately (I just spent an hour looking at Vita titles. I am not joking in saying that 80% of that time was spent either watching live action rubbish or menu’s. Annoying as hell) and I doubt any game dev is going to come out and say “oh yeah, well this game could be a lot better”

    • mlstrum says:

      I too have a huge library I wish I wouldn’t lose. Most of them are of games I used to pirate when I was a teenager and couldn’t resist giving them my vote now that I have the resources to do so.

      I willingly comply to their ToS and SSA but if I at some point lose confidence in their system thus losing all value in their products, with no current viable alternatives I’ll simply have to revert to less legit alternatives.

      I want to give them my money! But in return I expect to be treated decently… which they currently do wonderfully (for me at least).

  15. netizensmith says:

    It’s not just games bought on Steam. As I’ve no doubted mentioned before I bought Skyrim on a disc from a shop yet Valve have the power to stop me from ever being able to play that game if they want because they are in charge of activation and patching etc. The game cannot be installed from Disc without a valid Steam account and you must be online when you install it.

  16. CMaster says:

    Honestly, I find it hard to believe any respectable legal system would say that Valve are justified in removing access to games somebody had paid for over some peripheral matter. Yes, the ridiculously unfair Steam Subscriber agreement says that you should consider yourself lucky if Valve ever even speak to you. But at the same time, they take money in exchange for giving you a game, that’s the core transaction – and the only possible excuse for removing said game would be if the account was being shared between many people.

    Of course, it’s another matter to be so determined to get your games back to go to court over it. But if you really had sunk thousands, you might consider it.

    • WMain00 says:

      Ahh but you don’t. You give money for the exchange of a license that allows you access to play the content within the game. You do not physically own the game, nor have any rights over it. By giving money toward the game you agree to abide to the license. If you fail to do so then the license is rescinded with legal rights toward the company rather than the consumer.

    • CMaster says:

      See, I’m really not convinced. The consumer has paid for that license, and can reasonably expect the supplier to abide by that. The supplier can’t simply take that away on a whim, not even if that whim is provided for in some probably illegal term in a non-binding agreement like a EULA.

    • WMain00 says:

      Yes, the consumer can rely on the provider to abide by the license, but the same is expected of the consumer in return. It’s why reading the EULA is a fairly important exercise that’s never done (because let’s face it, it goes on for pages, is full of legal jargon and is very boring).

      The urban myth of EULA’s and binding agreements is that Microsoft once placed a clause in one of their licenses that usage of the software in question meant that Microsoft owned 20% of your soul.

      In realistic terms, there are binding agreements out there that give the corporation in question the full right to access your computer as they see fit.

      It isn’t right, but sadly it is a natural aspect of law and one that won’t change readily.

    • CMaster says:

      EULAs have two issues with them. The first is that most containing almost certainly illegal stipulations. Whether this invalidates the whole document or just the article in question is a legally untested issue, and would probably vary significantly depending on jurisdiction. The much more important issue with respect to EULAs that undermines any legal standing they might have is that they are not made available to the consumer until after the purchase. Nor is it stated anywhere, at any time prior to purchase that use of the software is dependent upon agreeing to a further contract.

      Now in the case of the Steam Subscriber Agreement, you do see it before making the purchase, so that point isn’t valid. However, there is still a question of what’s an acceptable reason to revoke the license. I don’t think providing additional licenses to others counts as a reason to revoke those being used personally. I think you’d have trouble making the argument that even those sold on could be legitimately revoked.

    • Sheng-ji says:

      CMaster is pretty much correct here, steam are on thin ice whenever they ban someone permanently if they cannot provide evidence that to deny the user access to their games collection is proportionate.

      2 examples to make my point clearer – in both, the steam user has traded a single game for cash saving the person he traded with £10

      In the first example, the user has one game in their library worth £2.50

      In the second the user has an extensive collection worth over £1000

      In the first example, steam would have the backing of any judge to shut down an account (though most would be annoyed that steam did not issue a warning or explain the reason to the user and may award the user compensation for that), in the second I can’t imagine any court official believing that steam had a valid reason to shut down the account.

      This is here in the UK, other countries may differ.

    • diamondmx says:

      There is a third and fourth issue.
      3) They are long, very dry, and often befuddlingly worded novellas of legalese – that noone in their right mind would read prior to installing EVERY piece of software, every game, every app-store purchase, every music download, every video purchase, every forum you join, every service you subscribe to, everything you do anywhere on the internet. How much of your life would you genuinely waste if you read the entirety of each EULA presented that you must agree to. How much more would you waste if you had to actually do the research to understand it all?

      4a) Each game has a sort of micromonopoly on the software it offers, it’s not enough to be a case of power abuse, so I don’t think the word fully applies. But as far as the customer is concerned, if they want to play Half Life 3, and they very much do, they must agree to the EULA, even if they fully understood it and disagreed with 1/3 of that EULA – otherwise they must deprive themselves of the item they want. Yes, the item is not necessary, and yes there are other FPSes out there, but there is no realistic equivalent that fulfils the same niche. How many people would say that there is a game out there that, if you like genre X, you really should have played game Y. The consumer’s choice is harshly limited.

      4b) Even if the above gave you no sympathy – Half Life 3 is just one of many available games, you say – and you think the consumer should choose to avoid those companies with unreasonable EULAs, you come to another problem. Which companies have the reasonable EULAs? I do not think there are many that do not have some term in the contract that they put in there because their lawyers told them to CYA. That’s why valve has the term “we can close your account for any reason” – it’s because they feel they have to, to avoid exposing themselves should they need to close an account for a reason they did not expect. This is why there is a similar term in similar services. This is why most EULAs have a few terms that a customer would not agree to, were it possible to seperate it from the other terms.

      tl;dr. There are not enough hours in the day to read every EULA you’re supposed to, and gamers have little choice but to agree or give up the hobby.

  17. Cryptoshrimp says:

    Of course you don’t own anything, don’t be silly.

    • djbriandamage says:

      This was going to be my reply. Read the Steam EULA – the first fact it establishes is that you, the customer, are a “Subscriber” and not an owner, and your subscription can be terminated at any time at Valve’s discretion. This phrasing is weighted very heavily in their favour and we put our trust in Valve that they will be responsible and respectful.

    • Deano2099 says:

      Weighted so heavily in their favour that it might not even be legal, in fact – you give Steam money, they give you? what? they don’t have to give you anything – contracts where one party agrees to provide something for zero consideration from the other side are questionable to say the least.

    • Premium User Badge

      AmateurScience says:

      Are there any hard and fast rules as to *how* one gets banned. Is it possible for someone engaging it – let’s call it normal – behaviour can ‘accidentally’ get banned. Even the chap in the article admits he was in breach of the TOS. The fact that he was told it was nothing to do with the ban is more of a customer service issue than a TOS one.

      This all kind of boils down to what valve considers to be breaking the rules and whether as a userbase we consider that fair.

      AND

      what valve considers to be an appropriate response to that rule breaking and whether we consider *that* fair.

      Notwithstanding that ‘fair’ is many things to many people.

    • Deano2099 says:

      It’s against the rules to buy games and sell them on. It’s not if you give them away.

      The question is, how could Valve possibly know if he was selling them or giving them away, short of an elaborate sting operation?

    • Belsameth says:

      Depending on which country you’re in, EULA’s aren’t legally binding when they disproportionally favour one party, Valve in this case. Even Valve is aware of this judging by the exceptions and aditional clauses for the EU.

      The problem with this, however, that this has to be tested in court and untill that’s the case, and a judge says otherwise, Valve (or any company for that matter) will act as if it’s legally binding.

  18. Soulstrider says:

    Ok this sucks a lot for me since I have a friend to tends to gift me a lot of games

  19. nobody says:

    My guess is this: that credit card fraud has likely increased on Steam now that Steam trading has been implemented, that there are significant numbers of fraudulent purchases being subsequently traded to (unsuspecting?) users at a discount in exchange for cash, but that Valve does not yet have a PR tactic for discussing this in public. (The official policy, I believe, is to remove the game from the gift-receiver’s account once the fraud has been discovered, meaning an unhappy customer if the gift-receiver had, in fact, paid (out of Steam) for the game).

    So this user’s large volume of buying/gifting set off their fraud-protection heuristics (which may be tuned extra strictly in regions like Russia?). Fine. They shut down the account until they could verify that the account had not been itself stolen.

    Lastly, upon investigating further, I’d guess that they do, in the end, believe that there was fraudulent activity on the account, or at least that the activity is suspicious enough to warrant action. But since they don’t have proof (and, a month later, the credit card charges haven’t been charged-back), they’ve reinstated the account but deactivated trading/gifting.

  20. jhng says:

    Thanks for the article — there are some really deep issues here about the nature of ownership and the slightly weird status of IP as a crossbreed of property rights, contractual rights, and tortious rights. It has enlivened my lunch break.

  21. Velvetmeds says:

    Preaching to the choir. But valve f-boys are never going to open their eyes

    • John Walker says:

      Bearing in mind we, and most our readers, are incessantly being told we’re Valve fanboys by the mad-angries, it seems there are those who would disagree this is to the choir.

      Also, can this discussion not be reduced to a strange two-sided war? I like Steam because it’s a great system and keeps my games tidy. I don’t like Steam because it has ludicrous rules and is horribly clunky. It’s possible for people to like and dislike something without being a “fanboy”.

    • Velvetmeds says:

      By choir i meant me :3

      edit: sure, i like it and dislike it too, or i wouldn’t have over 100 games there. But that’s kinda the point, there is no need to be a loving fanboy nor a raging hater, which to many seem to be the only alternatives whenever either something positive or negative is mentioned. And i didn’t say anything about steam being the “suxor”

      On a side note, this is why retail is still my favorite source, with Steam coming 2nd (and probably will never, ever go up unless retail simply disappears)

    • diamondmx says:

      It is really disturbing how the internet often polarises issues into Fanboy and Hater camps, who are usually both rabid and wrong. It makes any real discussion very difficult.

  22. bwion says:

    Oh sure, but if it were Steam doing this, we wouldn’t hear Word One about it…

    Er…

    Wait.

  23. ItalianPodge says:

    As someone who lives in Italy I do get frustrated with the Euro price of games. I have tried to buy from steam in Sterling using proxies but that doesn’t work without a UK credit card, I have not tried buying from Russian sites as I’m not looking to gain an unfair price – just have parity with other EU countries.

    Not sure the £ sterling price of Ball to Foot manager 2012 on steam but on GetGames it is £22, on Steam EU price it is €49.99. I was thinking this morning that in a free market like the EU is it legally possible for a publisher to be able to specify what currency I use to purchase a game and specify a different price than the exchange rate? Why should my country define the price of a digital product?

    • John Walker says:

      Valve always maintains that prices are set by publishers, and so yes, it would seem that publishers choose to charge a lot more to some regions. If Valve would ever actually talk to us about this, it’s something else we want to discuss.

    • Velvetmeds says:

      The most outrageous problem about that subject is lowering prices on certain regions and not on others. Look at Rage and Bulletstorm, for instance.

    • NathanH says:

      I feel like I ought to be able to sit in one EU country and buy a game as though I was in any other EU country that I choose. What’s the point in the EU if I can’t do this? Region-specific pricing makes sense in general terms, but in the EU it seems wrong to me.

    • terry says:

      Agree strongly, this is precisely why regional pricing is nothing but asinine. I actually got into buying games off Steam because – at that time – exchange rates were such that I could get very good deals on new games in dollars comparative to the prices brick and mortar stores were gouging in GBP. When regional currencies were introduced there was a rise in prices overall, with certain publishers applying absurd regional markups for no reason. This has dwindled slightly over time in the UK (partially thanks to the constant sales and partially due to the increasing dominance of DD methods in general) but prices in Europe seem to be higher still, and in Australia/NZ they are borderline insanity (pun not intended).

    • ItalianPodge says:

      While the dollar price does make me jealous it doesn’t infuriate me like the difference between £ and €. The UK is part of the European Single Market and other countries should be able to purchase from the UK in Sterling if they please (in my view, I don’t think this is covered in any policies but I am now reading up on it and it could possibly be covered in the Unfair Commercial Practices policy). I can understand if the Italian-only version costs more because there are costs in producing multiple language versions but if I just want to purchase the same version as people in England can for the same price I think I should be able to.

      Steam and other digital content providers are not the only ones to do this though, Play.com also enforce Euro prices for shipments to non-UK European countries.

      Anyway… their loss I just ordered football manager for £13.99 from Amazon.co.uk with free shipping to Italy. €33 cheaper than the Steam price.

  24. Premium User Badge

    sonofsanta says:

    Isn’t this the sort of thing that the EFF should be jumping all over? They seem the most likely people to Fight This Fight, anyway. And I warrant their coffers are swelling from Humble Bundles as well, so we’ve certainly paid for our defence as a community.

  25. TheEn4cer says:

    EULAS are pacts with DEVILS beware….

  26. Premium User Badge

    Colthor says:

    Yeah, the very idea of EULAs should have been kicked to death the first time anybody thought of them.

  27. Furtled says:

    There’s a fundamental problem when content creators/publishers feel free to make up their own rules and no one can challenge them without the benefit of seriously deep pockets – like you say it’s an infuriating situation for gamers (and many other customers) to be in.

    Games are the first place this is happening, but as more television and film services move online this is going to start being an issue for more and more people outside gamer/tech circles. Even now if you replaced games with movies and Steam with say Netflix, then I have a feeling there’d be much more of an uproar.

  28. SurprisedMan says:

    I honestly don’t understand why gamers continue to find this a difficult concept. For the longest time they’ve installed games where the EULA comes up as part of the installation or packaged with a manual, and while technical limitations meant that the EULA was very difficult to enforce back then, we should never have been under the illusion that we owned our games rather than a license to play them. Nor should we complain about companies having the ability to enforce them when previously all they could do was say ‘look, don’t do this stuff, okay?’

    I think the whole discussion of ownership is a massive distraction from the questions that are really worth asking, which are, for example: does the game license offer good value for money (i.e. is it more restrictive than it’s worth)? Are the publishers being up-front about the terms of the EULA? Are there systems in place to ensure we will continue to have legal access to the games even if the publisher can’t keep up their end of the EULA (you know, the Steam Doomsday scenario and all that)?

    Publishers, especially large ones, are never going to accept that you ‘own’ the games. It has always been their position that they are licensed to you, and we accepted that right up until they started being able to enforce restrictions. They will not listen to a discussion about ownership, because it’s nonsense to them. They always have owned the games and always will. But what they might listen to is sensible debate about the terms of the license, how it is enforced, how flexible it is and consumer-friendly ideas to let us play our games in all the ways that we would ordinarily expect to.

    • John Walker says:

      Your argument begins in capitulation to gross abuse of consumer rights, simply because it’s happened for ages. That’s not a position I’m willing to start from.

    • SurprisedMan says:

      I don’t agree that it does start that way, John, though I can see why you’d say that. I think that you’ve slightly misconstrued my point. The reason is that I think that nobody who read those installation EULAs back in those days would have had much to argue with. The vast majority of them pretty much laid out that you shouldn’t make loads of copies and give them to all your friends or sell them, and you shouldn’t take the software apart in ways that they wouldn’t approve of. And I think most people would say ‘fair enough, it’s wrong to pirate games and you have a right to keep your code-secrets to yourself.’

      It’s only now that publishers can enforce things like limiting the number of installs, which is a bit like using a mallet where a more precision tool is needed, that people start to notice the EULA more. But that’s not a problem with the concept of ownership, it’s a problem with the license making the product less useful for the customer, and them potentially getting screwed because of it.

      That’s why I say talking about ownership is a distraction. People were fine with not owning as long as they could continue to use the games in all the legal ways that they would want to. And I don’t think there’s a good argument that they shouldn’t have been fine with it unless we want to get into a grand discussion about the future of intellectual property (which is a discussion worth having, mind you).

      Now with overly restrictive licenses and the ability for companies to enforce them and pull the plug there are lots of legitimate consumer-protecty reasons for licensing to be debated, and debated they very well should be. I think it’s a mistake to frame the discussion in the context of ownership.

    • Premium User Badge

      RaveTurned says:

      Games have EULAs. Steam also has an EULA.

      If you violate Steam’s EULA, you lose access to Steam. As a consequence you lose access to all the games you’ve bought on Steam.

      This happens even though you have not violated any of the individual EULAs for those games. You still technically have a valid licence to use those games, but are denied by the Steam client.

      Wat?

    • John Walker says:

      So my original reply stands, really. I don’t think it’s okay that people tolerate licenses/EULAs, and I have always been against them for as long as I can remember. It is very much a matter of the basics of IP and so forth, and as I said before, skipping that part and saying, “how can we work with what we have?” is a disastrous starting point.

    • SurprisedMan says:

      After some more thought, I remember that there are examples of old EULAs that tell you how many computers you’re allowed to install the game on and so on. Which is a fair point – the only difference there is enforceability.

      But I think that’s a key difference. The only reason companies want something in the license saying ‘you can only install this on one/three/five PCs’ is basically to say ‘don’t give out copies of this game to everyone’. I don’t think they ever did mind and I still think they don’t mind if gamers install the game on as many of their own computers as they like, so it’s a case of where there’s some tension between the spirit of the EULA and the letter of the EULA.

      When it’s unenforceable, players can just use their common sense, say to themselves ‘yes, of course I can play this game on my laptop and netbook as well as my two desktop PCs, that’s totally in the spirit of what I’m allowed to do even if the letter of the EULA says I can install on three machines only’. But when it’s enforced in a dumb, human-free sort of way that can’t account for edge cases or exceptions, that’s when it runs into problems, and we need to start challenging the letter of the EULA.

    • Premium User Badge

      jrodman says:

      For my part, I tell independent publishers every single clause of their license that’s unreasonable. L

      Luckily there are mighty few these days. The only one that tends to be everywhere is the injunction against “reverse engineering”. Which tries to claim that somehow we shouldn’t try to figure out how things work. Tinkering is totally legitimate, and attempts to marginalize and illegalize it are unconscionable as well as typically extra-legal.

      Note that allowing reverse engineering, decompiling, and so on, do not mean you have to tolerate people distributing cracks, or lifting components of the implementation into your own products. There’s plenty of law to disallow that sort of activity by now on its own.

    • SurprisedMan says:

      Well, let me try this another way, John, and look at an actual EULA. Activision’s EULA in the original Grim Fandango circa 1998 has a short blurb about how the software belongs to them, and then states the following things you are not allowed to do. I -am- going somewhere with this.

      *Exploit this Program or any of its parts
      commercially, including but not limited to
      use at a cyber cafe, computer gaming centre
      or any other location-based site. Activision
      may offer a separate Site License
      Agreement to permit you to make this
      Product available for commercial use; see
      the contact information below.
      *Sell, rent, lease, license, distribute or
      otherwise transfer this Product, or any
      copies of this Product, without the express
      prior written consent of Activision.
      *Reverse engineer, derive source code,
      modify, decompile, disassemble, or create
      derivative works of this Product, in whole or
      in part.
      *Remove, disable or circumvent any
      proprietary notices or labels contained on
      or within the Product.
      *Export or re-export this Product or any
      copy or adaptation in violation of any
      applicable laws or regulations.

      So taking that apart, there are definitely a few things to take legitimate issue with, I’ll grant you. But a lot of it makes sense.

      The bit about not letting people charge money to use your thing seems to make some sense, for example. Let’s say my game, The Wager, for some reason became massive in Brazil, or something, and someone decided what they’d do is make an event where they charge everyone to get in a big room and play The Wager on a projector. Unlikely, I know, but it’s just a silly example from the top of my head, and when it’s not The Wager but Starcraft, it suddenly becomes more plausible.

      Now, I’d probably let them do that. Sounds fun, and good for them for setting it up; I’m flattered. But if it started going global, I might start getting understandably pissed off that everyone is making money off my work, and I’m not getting any direct benefit. I think I should be able to at least have the option to say: look, if you’re going to make money by using my work, talk it out with me first.

      The bits about re-selling, transferring, whatever is a bit trickier. People want to feel like they can do what they like with their copy of the game except for making illegal copies for all their friends, so I’ve always felt this part of licensing has just been unrealistic. I think it should die, but I don’t see that the whole concept of licensing has to die with it.

      The bit about reverse engineering is a bit of a grey area I think. On one hand I love it when people tinker with stuff, on the other hand I do feel that if we wanted to keep how The Wager was coded a secret for some reason, then we should have some sort of right to that. (In fact, our agreement says something like: hey, tinker with it how you like, but tell us because that sounds cool!) On the other other hand, without some tinkering, people wouldn’t have been able to take apart Grim Fandango and make it run on modern systems. So I’m not sure it’s a completely bad concept, but it seems to require a little more finesse to account for legitimate cases.

      And so on and so forth. In summary, there are parts of EULAs that I do feel are rights that the people who made (or hold the copyrights in) the software ought to be able to enforce, and not all of these things are enshrined in the law, so there does seem to be this need for an extra layer of agreement in place. But it also seems there have always been parts of EULAs that are definitely on the anti-consumer side, and they should absolutely be challenged.

      If you’re talking about a fundamental shake up of IP, as you seem to be (which I agree is needed, and probably inevitable in the long term), I suppose my questions would be as follows. What would it look like, and how would it ensure the creators of stuff have some protections as well as the people that buy stuff, in some of the same ways that the above EULA already attempts to do (and slightly over-do)? After all, not every rights holder is a big, hungry company looking to exploit people’s desire to play their games. Some people are just small-time guys who just want some kind of recourse if someone is using their stuff in a way that may be legitimately objectionable, or making money out of their hard work – and the law alone doesn’t cover all of these cases, as it stands.

  29. einholt says:

    Surely even if they have a right to ban you you still have a right to the CD-key for all of your games, that is essentially what you are buying from steam and any other digital distributor.

    • johnpeat says:

      Where did you get that stupid idea from???

      You are buying the right to play a game through Steam – nothing more and nothing less.

      and what use would a ‘key’ be to someone who has no media to install the game from anyway??

    • einholt says:

      Stupid idea???
      Valve buy the rights to sell the game to you from outside publishers / developers, thats essentially the CD-key, a means to use that software, not a right of ownership but still, so if steam are banning you you should be given these as thats what you payed for and in a lot of cases CD-keys will be usable with other digital distributers.

    • dahools says:

      @johnpeat

      (march 2010 ish) I went to my local Game store and bought supreme commander 2. it came in a nice shiny dvd case and i gave the spotty teenager behind the counter 30 pounds of my own. In side was the DVD with the software to install and on the back of the manual was the CD Key.
      Loading up the installer I found out you must install Steam to use this product (at the time never heard of steam) made an account played for a month or two then forgot about it/ uninstalled/ formatted/ upgraded PC yarda ya. . .

      Later on last year I bought a new graphics card and it came with Shogun 2 bundled in. Bargain I thought ! Found out that on registering the card I got an email with a steam code saying you must have steam to play this game. No Media just a CD key in an email. Not such of a bargain me thinks now so created an account and played it a bit. I found there were a few extras in there like counter strike and half life, basically a few old valve games. Over Xmas I bought some games (seerious sam 3), realised a few of my friends used this “steam” and thought its not too bad. noticed a couple of friends playing supreme commander 2. light bulb goes ping and off I trot to rummage through some old boxes. go to install and our survey says ET… ER… Duplicate Key.

      Hang on that’s mine, that’s my licence. Er no according to steam support a licence is tied to an account not a person (That money I gave to the spotty teenager in the Game store?). So now if I want to play supreme commander with my friends I have to add them as friends to a different account, and then say we want to smash some Kamikaze bombers on serious sam 3 they don’t play shogun:( I have to log out log into a second account and start again.

      So as an added ache People have friends lists with the same friend in there more than once depending what games are on that account! I’ll be honest I fucking hate it!

      So no person even has ownership of a licence to use software! A steam account does which you may or may not know the password for.

      I spoke with steam support they don’t transfer keys between accounts, or delete then reissue keys or even accounts.

      (1) I should be able to use that licence on what ever account I want if it is only on one account at a time and I am the only user.

      and on a differernt note but still relevant to steam:

      (2) I should be able to have any account under my name deleted under data protection act unless doing so will interfere with possibile legal proceedings!

      I’m not much a fan of this steam however I have put a bit of money into it to be able to play some of the games I want so I am not going to just cut it off. But something needs sorting out!

  30. Premium User Badge

    samsharp99 says:

    A couple of things from me on this:

    The first one is that this wouldn’t have been a problem if the steam prices were fair for all regions and games weren’t region locked. It probably raised their attention because it circumnavigated their unfair pricing policies for different currencies/regions (while I know this is set by the publisher it’s still an issue). I have had friends ask me to buy games for them in the past because either they were cheaper in the UK or they wanted the non-censored version of the game (e.g. germany).

    The second is that I too have had my account access removed before because of PayPal and a game worth £3.74. Something happened with the PayPal transaction and I was charged for a game I didn’t receive and because Steam were unwilling to help me I raised a dispute with PayPal and this leads to having your Steam account disabled. Had I not pursued it further I would have lost access to 150+ games (and the associated money spent on those games). After much fighting and waving distance selling regulations about I eventually got my account back – but my PayPal account is permanently blocked from Steam.

    The main difference between what happened here and what happened to me (I think I even emailed RPS about it….) was that in my case, I hadn’t broken the TOS. I was a consumer who had paid for something I didn’t receive and the seller was unwilling to assist me.

    The similarity is that we both lost access to our accounts without any warning or explanation and probably had to fight tooth & nail to get our games back. Valve’s customer support are very good at saying something can’t be done and then making it happen once you fight it enough.

  31. dmastri says:

    My buddy lost his entire Steam library for choosing to pirate Fallout 3 back when that was the hot thing to do. What a terrible reason to lose access to ~100 purchased games. However, I don’t see that Valve has any other choice when it comes to piracy. Pretty cut and dry. What other recourse for punishment would they have?

    This, though, is entirely more grey and therefore infuriating in most of our minds, particularly because we hold Valve, and by association Steam, to some “do no evil’ Google standard…a standard Google hasn’t really entirely lived up to lately (China, that Kenyan Google listing scam, the seemingly “compulsory” Google+ signups, etc).

    There is an argument to be made for and against region locking. I’m on the side that sees the value in pricing according to region. The Australians will often bitch about how overpriced their games are, but if you take it in the grand scheme of things (their minimum wage is $15 and $1 AU = $1.07 US = £0.67) games priced at $80-90 AU make sense. It’s not just games — their entire cost of living is jacked up proportionally.

    As for releasing at different times in different regions…well, in today’s digital age, it’s hard to see any compelling reason that this should ever happen, unless games require additional time to be adapted to specific markets, i.e. Korea’s ban on gambling, Germany’s ban on blood and swatsikas and all things that may hint that there’s some history there involving a guy named Hitler (really Germany, get the fuck over it already Christ), and Australia’s ban on anything that doesn’t fall within their age rating guidelines which cap out at 15 years old, though I think that’s finally changing.

    Bottom line, I want to hear the big man himself weigh in. Perhaps he could take a break from Half Life 3 to fill us in.

    • Velvetmeds says:

      How did pirating F3 lead to him losing his steam account? That doesn’t make sense

    • Lobotomist says:

      What are you talking about?

    • johnpeat says:

      Lobotomist has a massive double-negative issue – tho it could be Freudian I suppose…

      Banning someone from a service for something they did outside the service is a bit iffy tho surely?

      It’s like being banned from Tescos because you stole from ASDA? :)

    • alundra says:

      My best bet is that he added the game to steam and/or used steam to launch the game. I’ve had a few scares with this but as long as you don’t add the games to steam and don’t use any of the steam features in the games you are “testing”, specially if you have steam running in the background, you are safe.

      Then again maybe they track you to see if you purchase the games later on…once read they issue a warning before banning you for this kind of reason, don’t know myself and expect to never be in that position.

    • Lobotomist says:

      @johnpeat

      I didnt know that having cracked version of the game you own is illegal in any way ?

    • Premium User Badge

      jrodman says:

      Well considering that copyright doesn’t control posession, it’s not having the game that’s a problem. It’s called copyright, because it says the right to copy, or duplicate is restricted to certain entities for a limited time. So you (theoretically, mind) violated copyright when you downloaded the pirated version of the game, even though you already had a copy.

      Imagine owning a copy of War and Peace, then going to your friend’s house and taking his copy of War and Peace to the xerox machine, and making a full copy. Which you take home with you. Now you have two copies.

      In this physical realm, it’s pretty clear, you’re not allowed to do this duplication act for things still under copyright (war and peace is old.. so it’s a bad example, but whatever).

      In the digital realm, some of this stuff is still settling, but it’s fairly clear that when you downloaded the game off the torrent site, that someone violated the copyright restrictions. So that means you have no rights to have/use that pirated copy.

      Now in a sane world, where copyright infringement was still a minor civil infraction, the copyright owners would say to you “Hey, you, that one copy you have is an infringement and you need to destroy that copy and stop infringing our works in the future.” You would probably say “oh, okay.” And then that would be the end of it! The only way it would become a large legal problem (for you) is if you were clearly deliberately mass duplicating for sale, which would bring about other legal principles.

      But unfortunately we’ve done some bad things lately, trying to turn copyright infringement into a major crime, including branding it “piracy”. And meanwhile we’ve decided to lock up all the content in weird magic enclosures that are remotely controlled. So in this brave new world, you don’t have the right to duplicate the data you already have (EVEN THOUGH IT IS JUST DATA.. so that duplication is not really the problem, but transmission) but you also have access to it remotely controlled, and you also get crucified if you do so. The obvious problem here is that the laws are defending against situations that no particularly sane person would consider a problem. It is a pernicious thing.

  32. Premium User Badge

    dangermouse76 says:

    I see publishers moving to off site model over the next 10 – 20 years. They have been devoloping a software rental policy for years and I can see why they would do it. If people buy into it, the benfits for them are very high.

    Although just because some people choose this path that does not mean the end of game ownership in what ever sense it currently exists – if any.

    There is a growth market in indie, and small production games. Coupled with easier and wider access to game engines such as unity, UE, etc you can expect a rise in the amount and quality of games from this sector. With varying models in reaction to this issue.

    People will always fill a gap in the market, a gap created by triple AAA companies strangling the consumer out of owning the IO’s of their game.

    So I dont see ( non ownership ) as the only path games will take, it will actually diversify the market even more and encourage the consumer to look at games and smaller devs they had not thought to before.

    I think this is an exciting time, watching the birth of an art form in the modern high tech age, watching it fragment and eat it’s self, and change. It’s not the end game at all, it’s just the start really.

  33. Cinnamon says:

    Look on my game collection, ye Mighty, and despair!

  34. Hoaxfish says:

    Okay…

    They apparently mentioned something about making a lot of purchases around Christmas… which would roughly put it right when they have their Steam-sales right? Which are commonly know to be a massive drain on everyone’s wallets?

  35. drakkenson says:

    So the pirates own their ill-gotten games more than the legit people. Just saying.

  36. johnpeat says:

    At risk of posting this for the 1000th time, but you don’t OWN any piece of software, you simple have a right to use it with restrictions (some physical some legal). This applies to Steam, boxed copies, cassette tapes for ZX81s and back from there…

    If your 360 DVD gets scratched or your SNES cart fails then you have no game – if you are somehow unable to access Steam (either due to being banned, moving to a place with no Internet or Valve disappearing up it’s own arse) then you similarly have no game.

    Steam being a US-based service means people in the UK/EU have no consumer rights in relation to their purchases which should, perhaps, worry us more than it does!?

    End of the day I think the chances of Steam going boom are somewhat lower than the chances of me losing a DVD or whatever tho!

    • johnpeat says:

      To extend the thing about consumer protection (from an EU/UK point-of-view) the answer isn’t “we don’t know” it’s “if the transaction took place outside the EU/UK then you have NOTHING to fall back on, whatsoever”.

      I’m 100% certain EU/UK consumer law won’t cover transactions with entities outside the UK/EU – and I’m 90% (and closing) certain the US consumer law won’t protect people outside the US (and it’s territories) either.

      Credit Cards are your only possible route of recourse (if you used one to buy stuff) and they’ll only help with relatively recent transactions I’d imagine. They’ll refund a game you bought recently but not the ones you bought months or years ago.

      What you can do about this is “not much” – the EU/UK could insist that Steam (or anyone else) have an EU/UK based operation so that customer therein will be protected but that’s going to be hard to enforce.

      The good news is that UK consumer law covers online purchases as-well or better than bricks-and-mortar ones – so the legislation is there but we need to corrall our former colonial cousins a bit.

    • Furtled says:

      There’s a big difference between physically owning something and owning something in a legal sense though and people will generally think of the former when they’re asked to purchase something. You can argue ’til you’re blue in the face that people don’t own their games etc. but the vast majority will point at the box or wave a CD about as proof that something is ‘theirs’.

      Granted it’s a bit more nebulous when you’re talking about digital purchases but again, most people will point to things like their MP3 collection being covered by most insurance policies these days as proof that they own something, no matter how ethereal it is or what the letter of the law says.

      And when it comes to something like losing a disc or a console breaking, that’s a familiar thing to people, it’s easy to understand; like losing your glasses or dropping your favourite mug, there’s an element of personal responsibility and control there. Digital services that take things away the way Valve did in this case, or EA did with people whose Origin accounts were banned, are removing any sense of control from that person and they will react badly no matter how well either company’s backside is covered by their ToS or dubious EULA, because there’s something fundamentally unfair at play there.

      If companies want to market games as services they need to reposition them as such and I would argue price them that way too; for example it’d be interesting to know what (if any) sense of ownership people who have/play f2p games feel.

    • dahools says:

      As I said earlier You do not even own the right on steam.

      A steam account owns the right.

      You can always sell this on if you have a different account for each game. And trust me you cant merge mutiple accounts. Or have a game play on more than one account, but you can create as many as you like!

    • Premium User Badge

      jrodman says:

      Being a doormat to the pieces of paper attached to software purchases which are in legal doubt helps no one. Declaring their veracity in the face of uneven case law does no one a service.

      The sofware makers claim we don’t own the software that we purchase. Some purchasers claim that they do. Some law suits have suggested different things in different cases.

  37. AMonkey says:

    Valve’s terrible customer support does put a dent in my faith. Ideally I buy games physically simply because if I ever were to be banned from Steam I would lose access to hundreds of pounds worth of games, without being told why. I don’t have any cause to believe I would be legitimately banned but the fact that Valve reverses bans if the gaming media catches wind of them, makes it likely that Valve makes banning mistakes.

    • Premium User Badge

      JiminyJickers says:

      I buy 90% of my games physically. But most of them are still tied to steam. You don’t have a choice.

      The latest games I bought on DVD, Skyrim, Saints Row 3 etc are all tied to steam even though I bought the disc version.

      It is frightening that they could potentially take away the use of a product I didn’t buy from them.

    • Emeraude says:

      It is frightening that they could potentially take away the use of a product I didn’t buy from them.

      Agreed. Which is why I’ve been boycotting any and all online activation scheme DRM. Call me old fashioned, but I think my relationship to a publisher/retailer/distributor should end the moment I gave them my money. The idea that I can depend on the goodwill of a third party to access products I have already paid is at best ludicrous.

      It bears repeating, but had people boycotted those services from the start the way they’re avoiding Ubisoft, we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in right now.

  38. wccrawford says:

    If Valve banned my account for any reason, even if I was at fault, I’d have absolutely no guilt about pirating everything on my account, and everything I might have bought from them in the future.

    Does that screw the game devs? Yes, but only the ones that were in bed with Valve. If one of them got my account unbanned, I’d be glad to purchase their goods again.

    But that’s all hypothetical, and I don’t have to deal with it yet. I just know that I have a plan for the worst case scenario.

    • RegisteredUser says:

      It is also no solution for online play/multiplayer only games or well supported games with constant updates that the scene for some reason snubs/overlooks/does not continue to support.

      (All also reasons to be buying well supported, non-DRM, non-dickhead publisher games in the first place)

    • Premium User Badge

      The Sombrero Kid says:

      This is the reaction of any sane person and is the reason Valve must be compelled to change this practice as fast as possible, it’s bad for Valve, it’s bad for gamers and most importantly it’s bad for developers (me).

    • MichaelPalin says:

      @The Sombrero Kid

      I’m aware many small studios tend towards Steam for being the easiest way to distribute their games, but you seriously need to give DRM-free alternatives if you want to build a loyal fan-base eventually. Personally, I don’t buy DRMed games, and I try to contact every developer that I can whose game I wont buy because of this, and, for what I see in many forums, an important part of the gaming community is DRM-aware. Unluckily, most DD retailers are following the Steam route and forcing a client, but there are still some alternatives.

      D2D used to not use a client, although I think they do know as GameFly, I haven’t tried Green Man Gaming yet, and then you have dotEmu and GoodOldGames (they are entering the market of new games this year). And if that all fails, you can always set up your own virtual store like the guys from Frictional Games, Positech Games, the Indie Humble Bundle, Indie Royale and many others.

      Please, take this into consideration, I’m getting less and less DRM-free alternatives every year.

  39. RegisteredUser says:

    Quite frankly, about my only hope in this regard is that if Valve really does become this evil, dickish, account killing overlord, that people just give them the finger and move to customer friendlier competition, i.e. that the market itself will help regulate this to a level that if it really were to become prevalent, we’d balance it out again.

    Then again customers(voters, moviegoers, etc) HAVE repeatedly shown that they can make some dumb ass decisions and keep on doing so, even in the face of them clearly being bad(oh, also: facebook).

    But the bottom line here is: unless you can get RPS to leverage publicity for you, you _are_ actually very likely just plain fucked if you get “banned”.

    • Premium User Badge

      AmateurScience says:

      The problem there is that uniquely, digital distribution systems not only control the manner in which you purchase things, but how you access them *after the fact*. It’s like having to ask HMV for permission to play the DVD you bought with your Christmas money.

      For a LOT of consumers the hassle of having multiple clients/platforms is more of a perceived negative than the *possibility* that they might lose access to their games if they break some rules that they’re probably never going to break.

    • Emeraude says:

      The problem with that, is that the more invested people are in the service, the less likely they are to abandon it. People who paid thousands of dollars for games via Steam are much likely to accept, indeed justify, most small dickish moves- as long as they’re not victims of it themselves – or end up resorting to all out piracy.

  40. Lobotomist says:

    Here is what I will do to contribute :

    I will not buy any game on steam , until RPS does get official response from Valve.

    • johnpeat says:

      Read that back…

    • Premium User Badge

      Harlander says:

      Wait, so you’ll keep buying games until Valve responds to this?

    • Lobotomist says:

      Jeez…fixed that.

      But you guys could join the good cause, instead smartassing over there :P

  41. olemars says:

    This is why I’m pretty strict on maintaining my “either >=75% off or <=$7.50" rule when shopping on Steam, but adding it all up it's still a lot of money invested.

    With Steam and steam-alikes, activation limits, online activation requirements and whatever else they put in the games these days, you're completely given over to hoping the publisher doesn't shut you out or itself down. As long as you're trying to be a law-abiding customer anyway.

    This case also highlights that developers and publishers shop around the world to lower costs (e.g. chinese modellers and animators), but the consumer isn't allowed to choose the lowest price available.

    • johnpeat says:

      With games being more and more “online”, it’s inevitable that games will break/stop working at some point in the future – when the servers and the support and the other stuff is gone.

      So the sooner people buy a game, play it and get their moneysworth – move on, the better?

    • olemars says:

      Planned obsolescence in practice I guess. Although that makes more sense with consumables than the “artwork” that games technically are.

  42. Premium User Badge

    MonkeyMonster says:

    So either games distributors need to change the obvious wording so that we aren’t buying games but merely the licence to play them or they have to change their entire stance on what we own.

    Don’t forget the majority rule folks and I know that RPS often help the minority as shown here and long may they continue to do so.

    For the four squillion billion steam users – how many of them have issues like this and therefore how what is the ROI to steam to implement massive changes for those who get caught – whether for the right or wrong reasons.

  43. InternetBatman says:

    No, we don’t own our Steam games. But we should. And if Valve goes under without a backup system, I’ll begin the careful process of pirating my Steam games I can and cracking them.

  44. Premium User Badge

    AmateurScience says:

    This is the difficulty with anything that can be duplicated non-destructively: Books, Music, Films, Games, DNA. And in particular things that can be reproduced and propagated quickly.

    I understand that the particular arrangement of words in a book/any piece of writing don’t belong to me, they belong to the author. Same way the particular arrangement of 1s and 0s on my HDD that make up say Skyrim don’t belong to me they belong to Zenimax. I have paid for access to them with some pre-defined limitations.

    The question is more if those predefined limitations are fair, and if they are enforced sensibly.

    Frankly I’m not sure. People abusing the system are doing so in ways that are considered fair game in more traditional systems (being paid for gifting a game is like me sending some cash to a friend [or a stranger] in the states for a book that’s available there but not in the UK).

    A lot of this is a symptom of the relative youth of the platform. Hopefully there will be clarification one way or another. Although I suspect that it will be in favour of behaviours like we’ve seen from Valve in this piece. Fact is that publishers have been thinking about the legal implications of this stuff for a lot longer than consumers.

  45. Premium User Badge

    Craymen Edge says:

    I feel acutely aware of the lack of ownership of my pc games. I can’t sell on retail games I’m finished with, and my digital library is at the whim if the service provider.

    It’s the reason I won’t pay the asking price for games on the system. I put up with steam because of the frequency of sales, I’m willing to live with the restrictions in return for saving 75%. I rarely pay more than 8 or 9 pounds for anything on PC.

  46. jon_hill987 says:

    Worth mentioning that you never owned software so this isn’t exactly new. Look at the original EULA for Doom and I think you will find it says you don’t own it. The only difference now is they can enforce it.

    • Premium User Badge

      RaveTurned says:

      It is worth mentioning. Which is why it was discussed at length in the second half of the article. :P

  47. Alexander Norris says:

    This is the equivalent of being suspected of shoplifting from a GAME/GameStop, and having an employee come to your house and remove your entire gaming collection from your shelves.

    It’s more like if GAME had a policy against wearing yellow shoes, and being suspected of having once worn yellow shoes, so a GAME employee comes round your house and takes all of your games.

    Since shoplifting is an actual crime and all that.

  48. Greg Wild says:

    As far as The Law goes, no, no we do not. Ownership implies the sole right of possession, and to profit from that which is produced by an object (sometimes requiring additional labour).

    But the reality is, any state of property law with regards information based product is basically limited by the ability of the owner to physically prevent access (impossible, under the current internet infrastructure, hence why many businesses want more of SOPA and its ilk). Failing that, it’s the ability of the property owner to convince the state to bring on the hammer of justice against someone who has infringed on an arbitrary legal title to something. That is, property is an utterly arbitrary and artificial social limitation completely at odds with the Internet as a piece of infrastructure.

    All we are paying for is Steam as a service of provision. Which I’m fine with. It’s convenient and well built. You could eliminate all intellectual property laws today, and I’d probably still pick Steam over torrenting. But to talk of property is essentially madness when you’re talking a product which can be reproduced on a post-scarce scale. We should be rejecting our own rights of ownership when we buy a game – or any other information based product – as much as that of publishing firms.

    • Blackcompany says:

      Solid argument. I think what people tend to forget when they talk of “owning” a game, is the time it takes to create one. We have to protect that investment of time and man-hours even more so than we must protect the IP itself. If developers spend years to make a game, only to have it ripped off and pirated, they have literally lost years worth of income. Few developers can afford such a loss due to our “ownership.”
      ….
      On the other hand…when gamers speak of owning games I think what we all seek is assurance that, at the end of the day, nothing can take away our right to play a game we purchased. We don’t want to own rights to the IP, to redistribute or make money off of the IP. Just to know we cannot be locked out of own purchase on a strange whim, or for some perceived violation of a vague TOS.

      There are two sides to consider. And both make valid points. But we don’t want distribution rights. Just rights to play those games for which we have exchanged money.

    • Furtled says:

      @Greg
      It’s a valid point, but if I’m handing over money for something I expect to be able to use it as and when I like (within reason – as Blackcompany says, it really boils down to people wanting to feel sure they can play a game they paid for when they want to and maybe sell it on/give it to a friend when they’re done), and not be confined by the whims of any content rights holder or forced into using that rights holder’s distribution/management channel.

      Something like you’re proposing would boil down to who blinked first; customers are unlikely to because past actions show if you give most (big) modern content rights holders an inch, they’ll take a mile.

      And this isn’t really something you can expect people to apply legal definitions of words (like ownership) to – no matter how much easier that would make the discussion.

    • Greg Wild says:

      Totally agreed.

      The problem is there’s so many degrees of separation between the gamer and the developer. What we need to move towards is a relationship whereby the gamer pays – as directly as possible – the developer to make the game they would like to see. Rather than the current setup which has all manner of third-party rentiers – publishers, lawyers, retailers, DRM developers etc. – all cashing in on the limitations of old generation technology.

      The sooner we face up to the fact we’re living in The Future, with all its possibilities and radically new economic conditions generated by our wonderful technological revolution, the better.

    • MellowKrogoth says:

      The article asks the wrong question, I think. It’s a question of basic consumer rights. Steam offers a service for which you payed, and they shouldn’t be able to interrupt it on a whim.

      Now if you really wanna speak about game “ownership”, here’s what I think. IP is a dirty word that people need to stop using, it’s already biased. The only thoughts and ideas you own are those you keep inside your head without communicating them. Beyond that, ideas belong to the public sphere. The same principle applies to digital information.

      *Everybody* owns every game, literally. If some countries want to pass laws to give authors exclusivity to their ideas and the product of their work for a very limited time, fine, as long as they don’t turn into a police state in the process. (ACTA is not giving much hope in this area for the moment.)

      In the end, though, in the age of post-scarcity, to use the OP’s words, whatever digital goods you produce only have as much value as fans are prepared to freely pay for them. If not enough people are willing to shell out cash to support the development of “AAA” (BBB? ZZZ?) titles, let them die. It’s not worth wiretapping entire nations to support that industry, especially since studies like that of the Swiss government that show that the economy as a whole is unaffected.

      TL;DR: If you want to own what you buy in the traditional physical sense, buy tomatoes. If you want to have control over who gets your products, sell tomatoes.

    • Greg Wild says:

      @MellowKrogoth

      Yep, agreed, utterly.

      We need to stop living in the last-generation. The fact is, economic reality has moved on. It’s funny how the powers that be extol the virtues of a free market, but when the free market damages their profits, suddenly they need to install all kinds of rights, laws and enforcement mechanisms to regulate economic dynamism out of the picture.

      The people who make games need to be paid, that cannot be disputed, but we shouldn’t resort to turning back the technological and economic clock, and instead looking towards the possibilities of ingenuity.

    • Emeraude says:

      We need to stop living in the last-generation.

      I am amused, re-reading them, of how far more aware of the implications of what it is exactly they were doing people who first devised copyright laws happened to be when compared to the current generation.

      It’s actually refreshing to read them in the light of actual technological development , and to realize that, though they hadn’t foreseen them, they had actually already thought about they entailed.

    • Premium User Badge

      jrodman says:

      I can certainly dispute that the people who make games *need* to be paid. I know many people who do it because they want to. There is also the fact that games do not need to be made. But I don’t think that was the spirit of the assertion.

      That said, I personally think that we should arrange to pay people to entertain us. It’s a nice trade. I prefer as direct as possible. Steam is a step up from K-Mart, but I prefer buying an indie game off an indie game maker’s web site.

  49. mmalove says:

    I think the long and short of it is you don’t own jack in the digital distribution world.
    1. They can revoke your steam account anytime they want, and or go out of business. You have next to no chance of any reprissal or compensation in such a case.
    2. You can’t redistribute the games on your account, other than as the entire package of your account. Back in the day before crap console DLC, you could finish a game and then loan it to a friend. You can’t do that with a PC game on your steam account short of literally swapping steam accounts with your buddy for a week or some such.

  50. Squirrelfanatic says:

    Good to see this on the frontpage, as it is likely to catch a lot of attention.

    In theory, one could significantly reduce the risk of such bannings by generating a new account for every bought game, but that would mean to abolish one of the few reasons that make Steam tolerable.

    • dahools says:

      Unfortunately your friends list gets a bit intolerable then, I have ten accounts, who has ten fiends who have ten accounts. . . . . .

      you can only log in to one at a time (on one machine) to chat or join a game a friend is playing.