Steam changes cross-country gifting and gift trading

Steam has implemented several changes to how giving games as gifts works, some which are helpful and others less so. Helpful: if you send someone a gift and they decline it, you’ll receive a refund rather than a copy of the game. Less helpful: gift now must be bought for someone specific, and not as nebulous ‘gift copies’ you can sit on. There’s more too. Some changes seem intended to combat people who hoard, trade, and sell games in that weird grey market, though Valve’s explanation is simply that “we want to make it easier for you to share the games you love with friends.”

Let’s go over what Valve said in the blog post put up overnight:

Scheduling Gifts Is Even More Straightforward
Go ahead and buy a gift months in advance and have it delivered to a friend on time, every time.

Scheduling is handy. Less handy — and less clear — is that Valve have removed the ability to buy generic ‘gift’ copies of games. Now, if you want to buy a gift, it has to be for someone specific. Before, Steamers could stockpile games — typically bought cheap in sales — then gift ’em as and when they please.

Sure, some folks used this to buy games on sale then trade ’em around at higher value later, undercutting Steam a bit. But others did simply like to stock up on cheap gifts for the future. I know for a fact that my mum has a cupboard full of stockpiled generic Christmas and birthday presents bought in the January sales (in the shops, not on Steam) without any particular recipient in mind.

And if you’ve been sitting on a stash of gifts, don’t worry: existing gift copies haven’t been removed. But now those Bad Rats might not circulate endlessly.

Declined Gifts Resolve The Way They Should
In the old system, a declined gift would sneak back into the giver’s inventory and remain on their bill. Now, if a recipient already has the title, or just doesn’t want it, they can click decline and the purchase is refunded directly to the gift giver.

This is also quite handy. Though really you should know not to give gifts that won’t be accepted.

Safe Cross-Country Gifting
No more worrying if a Gift to E-mail or Gift to Inventory is going to work for a friend, gifts sent through the new system will always work on the receiver’s account. When there is a large difference in pricing between countries, gifting won’t be available and you’ll know before purchase.

Again, it’s handy that Steam will tell you if a gift would be forbidden by the existing cross-region gifting restrictions. For years, publishers have had the option to block people from buying copies in regions with low prices then gifting them into pricier regions – a cheeky way to get games on the cheap. However, Valve’s changes have also expand that system. Now it’s universal and decided on a country-by-country basis by price.

This would be fine if prices for everything on Steam were carefully calibrated for every country, making sure everyone pays a relative fair price. They are not carefully calibrated. Some countries pay, relative to their economy, far more than others. This inequality doesn’t seem malicious, simply neglectful of publishers. This has been a problem on Steam for years. Sure, some cadgers have used VPNs and gift copies and other tricks to get games on the cheap, but other folks use them to not pay a relative fortune for their games. It’s so strange that Steam still has this problem.

60 Comments

Top comments

  1. Harlequin says:

    On the "fair pricing" matter: I live in Brazil. Prey is priced at BRL 230,00, which converts to USD 73,00. Our average wage is less than a quarter of the USA's and we don't even have sales taxes on digital sales. It's like Bethesda decided to implement a "fuck the third world" tax on their games (as of Fallout 4) and I can't comprehend why, more than not offering regionally adequate pricing, they actually make it more expensive than buying the game in Europe or the USA. Half the reason I even have a decent-sized Steam library is because I don't need to pay the equivalent of my rent and utilities if I decide to get a couple of games.
  1. sosolidshoe says:

    Globalization – For Us, Not You Plebboid.

    Always been slightly mystified why people are so accepting(hell, sometimes even riding to the defence of) corporations who take full advantage of the idea of a global marketplace when it comes to generating profits through tax evasion and outsourcing, but suddenly come over all 1800’s Protectionist Mercantilism when customers try to buy cheap stuff from abroad.

    Either you can afford to sell your games at that price or not, and if you can, where the people doing the buying live shouldn’t be at issue beyond the application of appropriate taxes.

    • KDR_11k says:

      At least the EU makes it illegal to block intra-EU sales due to region boundaries within the single market. Of course there’s still too much lobbying keeping up barriers on stuff like streaming, overcoming that kind of legalized bribery takes a lot of work…

    • thenevernow says:

      Regional pricing is a way (at least an attempt) to maximize profits. It’s not really about being able to *afford* selling at a certain price.

      This said, I agree 100% about the double standards on globalization and their acceptance or even endorsement by their “victims”.

    • BarneyL says:

      I sympathise with the thought but for things like games where there isn’t really a cost per copy I’m not sure treating everyone equally works out well for anyone.
      Incomes vary significantly across the world and a flat global cost basically means whole sections of the world get ruled out of buying full stop. To over simplify the maths a little, if your favourite developer needs £5 million to break even would you rather see them selling:
      a) 100k copies at £50 each in Europe and none in Africa\China
      b) 200k £10 copies in Africa\China and 100k £30 copies here (with the lower price probably meaning even more sales)

      To me b is the win\win scenario.

      • haldolium says:

        it’s a lose/lose situation rather, due to the created circumstances. It doesn’t work out, because capitalism (as it is in place) doesn’t work with equal distribution in the world, especially not with digital goods. Globalization in that regard only *can* be a double-standard, since it simply contradicts the underlying systems.

        I’d even go as far and say Valve opposed these issues much longer as other service-oriented companies did. Such as Netflix for example, where a year ago it was rather easy to use VPN to gain access to various countries movies and series. That has been targeted and is now difficult to circumvent.

      • foop says:

        It’s not just games, it’s anything where the R&D costs dwarf the production costs.

        The same applies to the pharmaceutical industry. Some drugs cost a lot to produce but the vast majority cost very little compared to the selling price. With life saving drugs, there’s more incentive for goverments to act and this is working – to an extent – in impoverished countries. I can’t see this happening to games with any urgency.

    • reiniat says:

      Im gonna have to strongly disagree on this one, people do not earn the same in different parts of the world so of course it matters where people buy, having regional prices is a huge aid to people in Eastern Europe or South America (try to afford a 60USD release on a yearly income smaller than 1000USD). If the only people the current system hurts is gamers who are in position to pay the full price and would like to pay less without waiting for a sale then hell; thats a very good system.

      • SuperTim says:

        Well, game developers/publishers also use people from cheaper countries to do their development. So according to your analogy, you also mean that they should charge us the price it costs to make their games in the cheap country and not full price? Also, they pay less taxes because they “optimize” tax payment, but it’s a good system because we can’t???

        So yes, I think you are right, you really should pay more than everyone else, because you don’t like “free market”. However, the rest of us will use legal means to do we already can, and that is, sourcing the games where we want, and how we want, just like every other gaming company.

        And if Steam can’t do it, then it will be a problem for Steam.

        It’s basically the same as we all buying things directly from companies online in other countries, instead of from the shop on the street. Steam doesn’t want to? It will soon be their problem, not ours.

      • thenevernow says:

        SuperTim preceded me, so I’ll keep it short. Ubisoft is allowed to open a studio in Shanghai, even though they’re in a position to open it in, say, Paris, but I shouldn’t be allowed to buy where it’s cheaper? I don’t think so.

        • left1000 says:

          the reason you’re not allowed to buy the digital copies from where ever you want is simple. If you are allowed, then regional pricing is over. period.

          if anyone can buy any game in any region, then those in rich countries will buy the games in poor countries. then the discounts offered to some poor countries will vanish.

          one reason bethseda, mentioned above as an example, might be “screwing” 2nd world countries is this very fact. if bethseda were more confident that no one in the united states or western europe were able to buy discounted copies in south america, they might be willing to offer south americans a better deal. that is why steam is working on the issue.

          none of this comes into play for physical goods, because there is an effort involved in moving the physical good itself.

          • SuperTim says:

            “Regional pricing” as you described it, is an artificial construct (mostly) designed by monopolies and cartels. Usually, in a real, globalised economy, there are only 3 solutions.

            1) You keep using different prices, and expect to lose some money but you sell more; or
            2) Stop doing it and lose money because you won’t sell much in poor countries.

            If a company wants to profit from globalisation then it can’t go back and say globalisation is not for their customers. Remember all those shops on the streets that bought stuff from cheap countries and then sell it here? A lot have gone now, and any artificial rules trying to stop them won’t work, because it’s part of the economy.

            It’s basically like politicians are trying to lie to you and claim that watching “illegal” video streams is not part of the Digital Economy. No, that kind of stuff is part of a Digital Monopoly but they will lie to you because people are easily indoctrinated.

      • Caiman says:

        The argument that “people earn more in your country so your prices should be higher” neglects to consider that cost of living is usually proportionally higher in those countries, and furthermore that not everyone earns the same salary. High paying city jobs may push up the average, but that doesn’t help people who earn significantly less than that and who are more likely an audience for games anyway. Besides, in my case many of our clients are international, who baulk at paying the kind of prices normally charged, so we have to reduce our income further to remain competitive. It’s not a black and white situation.

        Anyway, this whole change on Steam will definitely disadvantage me. I’ve finally reached the threshold, I think, of those people who don’t like the way Valve does business and controls how you consume the products they distribute. I’ve never been a “Steam sucks!!!11!” proponent, but I will be launching Galaxy more often from now on.

        • yosoyines says:

          Emm, nope. Cost of living isn’t higher on first world countries, it’s cheaper or the same level, but wages are way lower in third world countries.

          Either way, I still would like to be able to pay for the difference if the price is higher on the recipient’s country, but that would mean that is possible to level out globally the prices and thus we reach the beginning of this argument again.

    • geldonyetich says:

      I betcha the reason they are trying to crack down on Steam key sales is mostly because it causes a customer support nightmare.

      They probably get inundated by complaints from people who bought keys from third parties and either the third party cheated them or they were unsatisfied with their purchase. Rather than take the complaint to the seller (who probably had no contact information) they took it to Steam Support. That translates to manhours and manhours translate to money down the drain.

      Of course, I could see other problems too with resellers of games from Steam sales. It ultimately has less to do with wanting to monopolize their own sales and more to do with a bunch of unintended markets causing headaches.

      • AngoraFish says:

        Except that if you buy a game to gift on Steam you never actually get a key, just a gift link.

        The changes are clearly in response to publisher pressure to crack down on cross-region gifting that has been undermining regional pricing.

        • SuperTim says:

          You must be making this up. Publisher pressure??? Name _one_ publisher who wants it then.

          Because I know many people will boycott this publisher for the next few years.

          So I can assure you no publisher wants this.

          • left1000 says:

            huh? how do you boycott the publisher who “did” this, when in fact, none of them were involved? valve itself doesn’t make or publish games anymore.

          • SuperTim says:

            Not sure what you’re talking about because neither me or the person before me were talking about Valve. Valve, as Steam’s owner doesn’t need to *pressure* Steam to change. So when we’re talking about “Publisher Pressure”, it’s not about Valve.

            You don’t need to boycott Steam either. In fact, it’s already much better to buy stuff from Humble, GOG, itch.io, to name some better online shops.

    • LexW1 says:

      Yeah I’m really “looking forward” to Steam “helping” me to gift stuff to my brother in Australia by saying “LOL NO its 2 expensive there u cant gift it!”. I mean, maybe they’ll be smart enough to avoid that, but this is Valve, so, there’s a decent chance they won’t.

      Also, how the fuck is not being able to stockpile going to work with “4-packs” and the like? If I have to send off all four games when I buy a 4-pack, well, I’d buy a lot less 4-packs – as in probably none, because I very often find that one of the people I was originally thinking of giving it to isn’t around for a few months or the like.

      • ColonelFlanders says:

        It’s Australia’s and the publisher’s fault that games are expensive, not Valve’s. Do you think that Valve just consists of an evil man dressed as gaben with a pricing gun?

        Games are expensive in Australia because of parallel import restrictions, which gives publishers little motivation to price their games competitively, and Valve are likely under a great deal of pressure to make their system so that people can’t take advantage of this little loophole.

        If you want to get all mad about it then it is of course your right but try and actually inform yourself of the issues so you can direct your anger toward making changes, as opposed to impotently ranting.

        • asmodemus says:

          Actually, one of the main reasons games are more expensive in Australia is simple “price tolerance.” We’ve always been too far away to just be able to just hop over the boarder and buy something at a lower price and that has carried over to digital sales.

          We’re simply used to paying more so companies charge us more. Adobe for example has traditionally charged Australians two or three times what they charge Americans. We’ve even had government enquiries where companies turn up and essentially admit they over charge Oz customers. Never stopped companies evading their tax obligations here.

          • ColonelFlanders says:

            That’s sort of the point I was making. The reason the prices are so high to begin with are because of the import laws, but the reason they’ve stayed that way is because people remain prepared to pay for it/don’t have another option, which is what the “publishers have little motivation to change” is stabbing at

          • Malarious says:

            Don’t forget that the Australian dollar is quite weak, *and* Australia’s minimum wage is much, much higher than anywhere in North America. Australian prices aren’t much more than Canadian prices (~10%) despite the Australian minimum wage being 40% higher.

        • AngoraFish says:

          Pretty much everything in your comments is just wrong.

          For example, there are no parallel import restrictions on games in Australia (see link to gamespot.com )

          Try and actually inform yourself of the issues before commenting please.

      • PiiSmith says:

        Those multi packs are interesting. Do want me know to list all the people I am giving them to, right when I buy the pack? Also I still have some unredeemed extra copies on my steam account. I guess they will still stay there?

      • Menthalion says:

        Have there been any 4 packs lately ? Seems they vanished from Steam EU months if not a year ago.

        • Cederic says:

          Nope, on Saturday I bought an on-sale four-pack of Tabletop Simulator.

          Now I just need to get the sods all online at the same time..

  2. KDR_11k says:

    I have a bunch of random games that came from a sale event (remember when you could actually win games in those gamified events?) or games deciding to give you a copy for a second player. I doubt those will turn into refunds…

    • Jalan says:

      Seems unlikely, given a glaring bit of info in Valve’s statement:

      “Note: Pre-existing gifts will be unaffected by this change.”

      • Rich says:

        Shame. I still have a gift copy of Half-Life 2 that I wouldn’t have minded turning into Steam-pennies. Now it’ll probably remain in my Steam-cupboard for ever.

        • Jalan says:

          Unrelated to that, yet tangential to it all the same, I’ve often wondered if people who took advantage of Valve’s pack deals sale (from ages upon ages ago) actually still have gift copies of games like Half-Life 2/etc. that they could never figure out what to do with.

  3. Shuck says:

    Buying games for specific people well in advance sounds like a great way of increasing the number of unwanted duplicate – and unreturnable – copies that are sold. I can see why they added that feature.

    • Author X says:

      “unwanted duplicate – and unreturnable”

      They also said that declined gifts will be refunded instead of dumped in your inventory as unreturnable copies.

  4. Premium User Badge

    tigerfort says:

    How is this going to work with multi-packs? If I buy a 4-pack of a game, do I have to immediately specify three other people to recieve copies? (Or are multi-copy packs of MP games going to simply vanish from Steam?)

    I’m also guessing that this doesn’t apply to keys acquired from third parties, so you’ll still be able to get a key from (eg) Humble without specifying a Steam account to tie it to.

    • Menthalion says:

      Haven’t seen 4 packs for months if not a year for any of the coop / MP games I usually distribute among friends..

      • Nelyeth says:

        They still exist though, and I’ve seen a fair number of them. Rocket League comes to mind.

  5. Lintire says:

    I thought keys were the main driving force of the grey market, gifting was so trackable it died immediately out of the gate.

    My reckoning was that most of the non-immediate gifting now is just people sending each other joke games and the odd giveaway by a dude who bought 15 copies of the same couple of games for this exact purpose.

    • epeternally says:

      Couple of things. One is just that some people are selling gift copies and encouraging activation over a VPN (which apparently some people are foolish enough to do). Another is that users can buy many copies of a game during a price mistake and then sell or trade them, although this is a rare occurrence. Still seems unlikely to make a big dent in the grey market.

    • LexW1 says:

      I dunno. I’ve never done either of those things but have done a lot of non-immediate gifting. Particularly with 4-packs, I often have one or two people I can immediately send the other copies to, but that still leaves me with one or two copies which I’ll hold onto until I find that so-and-so is actually around this weekend and then I send it to them and we all get to play and the like.

      I also do some non-immediate gifting just like my mother does with real presents, which is to buy a bunch of cheap-but-good games and dole them out to people later.

      So I think for me, Steam will lose money on this, certainly if 4-packs have to be sent immediately, there are just games I wouldn’t even buy at all.

      But maybe my use-case is rare enough that they don’t care.

  6. Premium User Badge

    Neurotic says:

    Well I’m just glad I got my Darksiders II remaster for a 1/4 of my local currency last week. The good times are over, my non-USD-EUR-GBP friends!

  7. April March says:

    What about games that sell multi-player-packs? I bought a 4-pack of Castle Crashers once, but only had two friends to gift them two. It took literally years until I had someone to gift it to. And many coop-focused games rely on one big fan buying a pack for their friends. How will those work? If they won’t anymore, Steam is really putting a cap in those devs’ knees.

  8. AngoraFish says:

    At least when I was VPNing gift purchases to avoid the Australia Tax I was still spending my money through Valve.

    Sounds like now I’m going to be much more likely to use the grey market and risk Valve(and the devs) not getting a cent.

    Nice one suits.

    • epeternally says:

      You don’t need to use the grey market, lots of perfectly legit retailers (isthereanydeal.com = life) will sell you a game for US MSRP or less. Not to mention that at the rate regional lockdown is going there will not be a grey market for AAA games by 2020. Publishers are now fully aware of the grey market and they absolutely can not let us get used to paying $40 for new games. Bad enough the price hasn’t gone up at all in almost two decades.

      • TheMightyEthan says:

        they absolutely can not let us get used to paying $40 for new games.

        Too late.

      • Harlequin says:

        Games have changed in price in twenty years. Twenty years ago, DLC was virtually unheard of – there were some games with expansion packs, but it was far from the norm. Look at any AAA game now, though, and it’s common for them to have DLC that adds up to between half and more than the game’s base price.

  9. SuperTim says:

    So, only gifting games to countries where the same game is cheaper is allowed? If you can’t give games to friends where it’s more expensive, then I can assume I get partial refunds if the game in my country costs more, right?

  10. Laurentius says:

    What has to happen for RPS to start being hard on Valve/Steam?
    If new ownership can’t change that, probably it can’t be done. Valve/Steam is not a “friend” of PC gaming now (if it ever was). Stop riding that fanboy/fangirl bike ffs, it’s not 2010 anymore.

    • Premium User Badge

      MajorLag says:

      Horseshit. Are you too young to remember what it was like before Valve and Steam pretty much single handedly caused an indie game revolution? They’re not perfect, but it seems to me they still generally have the best interests of gamers at heart.

    • thenevernow says:

      As long as devs/publishers are able to generate infinite Steam keys at will (and give them away/sell them on GMG, Humble, G2A…), which is the case as of today, I’d say Valve is a friend of PC Gaming. One can say they’re becoming a monopoly as an infrastructure, but they’re far from it as a marketplace. Literally nothing forces you to buy on Steam, even (especially) if you’re buying a Steam key.

  11. Squirrelfanatic says:

    Guess it was only a matter of time until something like this happened. Being a patient sale lurker myself, I probably won’t be too affected by it but then again, I rarely by games on Steam these days anymore if it can be avoided.

  12. ZippyLemon says:

    Games are too expensive.

  13. Unclepauly says:

    “It’s about a sad dad rescuing his adopted son from Skeletor” – SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT

  14. Premium User Badge

    MajorLag says:

    I don’t suppose they’re going to give me a simple way to buy, say, 10 copies of a game for gifting all at once finally, are they? For christmas I like to give away copies of whatever game I think deserved more attention that year. Having to go through the checkout process over and over is pretty tedious though.

  15. Harlequin says:

    On the “fair pricing” matter: I live in Brazil. Prey is priced at BRL 230,00, which converts to USD 73,00. Our average wage is less than a quarter of the USA’s and we don’t even have sales taxes on digital sales. It’s like Bethesda decided to implement a “fuck the third world” tax on their games (as of Fallout 4) and I can’t comprehend why, more than not offering regionally adequate pricing, they actually make it more expensive than buying the game in Europe or the USA. Half the reason I even have a decent-sized Steam library is because I don’t need to pay the equivalent of my rent and utilities if I decide to get a couple of games.

    • thenevernow says:

      Isn’t there a specific gaming tax in Brazil? Maybe just on hardware?

    • Jayblanc says:

      “Imported” Video Games have a tax tariff of 72.18% applied by the Brazilian government. Some major Video Game producers, including Nintendo, don’t distribute games in Brazil at all because of this.

    • Salsa says:

      Just a sidenote on Bethesda. It’s also 1080partners fault. That’s the name of the company that handles Bethesda (and other publishers) pricing in Brazil. So yeah, these Brazilians, who KNOW about such unfairness, are actually charging those absurd prices because “people are paying” and that happens with lots of commodities in Brazil. People pay overprice for sneakers, for clothing, for cars, and nobody does anything about it.

      And guess what? One of the higher ups in 1080partners is actually Moacyr Alves, the former politician who tried to run a campaign in order to “LOWER VIDEOGAME PRICING”. Hahaha… the nerve.

      P.S. that tax you mentioned is ONLY for console gaming, PC games are considered software by our government standards and therefore not subject to those taxes.

  16. The Bitcher III says:

    I hope this is the preliminary move towards much tighter control over grey market key sales, which do hurt devs.

    A 24 char random string was a suitable product key 20 years ago. It’s surely time for something much, much more secure – and there are plenty of solutions with the scope for features extremely useful in tackling the fraudsters. Which would protect the consumers.

    Not that I’m a fanboy. Steam are permanently walking on thin ice w/r/t consumer legislation.

  17. icemann says:

    It’s all greed. Pure and simple.

  18. davec1 says:

    I am sure there are countries that have unwarranted prices. But on the whole, I think regional pricing can be a good thing for everybody.

    About the selective globalisation thing: a handful of really large companies may be able to snap their fingers and build up a studio in Bangladesh or outsource asset creation to India, but lots of game developers have to deal with whatever the cost of living is where they happen to live! Are you guys willing to pay more for my game simply because I live in Switzerland? Didn’t think so…

    Finally, people complaining about games being too expensive in general; Oh man, I don’t even…I’d really love to see the metric on which that claim is founded. Unless you live in one of the countries that do get screwed (apparently Brazil, Australia), my recommendation would be to grow up and develop some patience skills. If you can wait 6 months, you’ll find most games at 50% discount, and prices only go lower from there. It’s not like there is a scarcity of 6-months old or older good games. Not to mention the first-class library you can build for a handful of bucks in a few months of getting humble bundles.