Australian court rules Valve must pay £1.6m penalty over Steam refund policy

Valve must pay a fine of AU$3 million (about £1.6m/US$2.3m/€1.8m) for misleading Steam users in Australia by stating they were not entitled to refunds for faulty games on Steam, though Australian law guarantees rights on faulty products. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) went after Valve for this back in 2014, before Steam offered widespread refunds, and in 2016 the Federal Court agreed. Valve appealed that court’s decision but the High Court of Australia have now ruled that it stands, and that Valve must pay. They ACCC say that this “is the final decision on this issue”, the end of the line.

Though Valve aren’t based in Australia, selling products there means Australian law applies to those sales.

“This important precedent confirms the ACCC’s view that overseas-based companies selling to Australian consumers must abide by our laws,” ACCC commissioner Sarah Court said in today’s statement. “If customers buy a product online that is faulty, they are entitled to the same right to a repair, replacement or refund as if they’d walked in to a store.”

The ACCC objected to a number of terms and conditions in the Steam Subscriber Agreement and Steam Refund Policy which broadly stated that nah, you can’t have a refund for any reason.

“It is a breach of the Australian Consumer Law for businesses to state that they do not give refunds under any circumstances, including for gifts and during sales. Under the Australian Consumer Law, consumers can insist on a refund or replacement at their option if a product has a major fault,” ACCC chairman Rod Sims explained when the Commission first moved against Valve in August 2014.

“The consumer guarantees provided under the Australian Consumer Law cannot be excluded, restricted or modified.”

Valve introduced Steam refunds in June 2015, offering money back on games within fourteen days as long as they’ve been played for less than two hours. That’s a lot better than Steam’s previous policy but still a lot stricter than the consumer laws of some countries.

Many governments have been slow to react to the changing ways we buy things, online and digitally, but they’re catching on. The ACCC say the 2016 ruling was the first time that the definition of “goods” under the Australian Consumer Law was judged to include computer software.

Ta for the spot, Gama.

41 Comments

  1. Kitsunin says:

    Honestly the 2-hour rule seems plenty more than lax enough to guarantee you don’t get a product which is faulty, and in particular is much looser than the laws of any country I am aware of. Theoretically the content which shows up later than a couple hours in could break while everything before worked fine. But I’m willing to accept that as a risk (well, because it’s entirely theoretical, I’ve never heard of a game with issues sufficient to be considered literally faulty yet that only rear their head after hours of play) when the refund policy pretty much lets me try before I buy. Which is awesome and has honestly caused me to spend more money on games than I should have, because I haven’t been so cautious.

    And doesn’t the refund policy allow for exceptions to the two-hour-two-week rule with good reason?

    • geldonyetich says:

      On the merchant’s end, the problem is many people have a tendency to want to abuse refund policies to play a game until they get bored of it and then move on to the next. So Valve might begin to question whether or not it is cost effective to operate out of Australia if government intervention is preventing them from putting a stop to that.

      • HopeHubris says:

        Selling games in Australia costs them fuck all, so unless literally every person refunded every game they bought, it’d still be profitable

      • Gus the Crocodile says:

        Australian consumer law says you’re only obligated to refund people if there’s a major problem with the product. Given that Valve’s no-questions-asked (within the timeframe at least) policy goes further than that voluntarily, it’s hard to see how they’re being prevented from doing anything.

        • Hedgeclipper says:

          Not true:

          “If you have a minor problem with a product or service, the business can choose to give you a free repair instead of a replacement or refund.” – ACCC

          • Gus the Crocodile says:

            Yeah that’s what I said: they’re not obligated to refund unless it’s a major problem. For minor problems they can choose to repair the item. For major problems, if you want a refund, they have to give you a refund.

          • Raoul Duke says:

            Yeah, and how are Valve going to ‘repair’ a faulty game at the request of one customer?

            If they can’t repair it, they have to refund it.

    • SaintAn says:

      The two hour rule is not nearly enough time to know if most large games are bad or broken. And with games being changed after we buy them without our permission (Stellaris, GTA, Fallout 4) there needs to be new refund policies in place to change that, or rules to prevent games we bought from being changed if we don’t want them changed.

      • BigB says:

        How many hours you would need ? 5 hours, 10 hours ?
        Why by a game, make them all free, it´s easier that way ;)

        • Inkano says:

          Games that can be completed under 2 hours are already can be “free”. Doesn’t mean that refund policy needs to be shorter.

        • Raoul Duke says:

          Why should there be a time limit on use before a fault is found?

          If there’s a major fault, under Australian law you have rights. It’s a pro consumer bit of law which makes perfect sense and stops people from selling faulty products, full stop.

      • Shadow says:

        Games are extensively reviewed by fellow players and all sorts of gaming sites. Properly researched purchases wouldn’t even need a refund in most cases, and two hours is long enough for those fringe cases in which you realize that well-received game wasn’t your thing after all. It should also be enough for the impulse buyers, but still they should also do more research.

        And yeah, games change, but never in my gaming history have I experienced such a change that killed a game for me. And even then, is that reasonable grounds for a refund if you had already received many hours of entertainment from it? I don’t think it is, any more than refunding a book because the twist in chapter 12 wasn’t to your liking, or a movie ticket because the second half of the film had poor pacing.

        • napoleonic says:

          I guess you’ve never played Stellaris, then.

          • DatonKallandor says:

            Stellaris is a hilariously bad example because it literally lets you play any previous patch version by just reverting back to it through Steam. No matter what changes the devs make to the game, you will never lose access to the version you liked.

          • Someoldguy says:

            But the bugs in the version you liked will never be fixed, because they get tied to significant game changes.

          • DatonKallandor says:

            “I don’t like how the game gets developed post-launch” is an entirely different matter to “the version of the game I like more is gone forever”. If you prefer pre-2.0 Stellaris, you can still play it. You are not entitled to holding back the development process for everyone else (free of charge, extra dev time) just because you paid for the game once (you already got that product, and you still have it).

        • MajorLag says:

          “And yeah, games change, but never in my gaming history have I experienced such a change that killed a game for me. ”

          Fortunate. I have, it was called TF2 (to name but one example). That said, can’t say I didn’t get my money’s worth before then, so you have a fair point there.

        • Raoul Duke says:

          This isn’t about things that ‘aren’t your thing’, it’s about faults.

          You talk about ‘properly researched’ purchases – the point is, vendors have a positive obligation to ‘properly research’ what they are selling. If they choose to sell faulty stuff, they have an obligation to give refunds for it.

      • Daemoroth says:

        “Bad” games aren’t covered for refunds by consumer rights.

    • Someoldguy says:

      Two hours sounds reasonable if you’re playing for all that time and basically getting a free demo, but it runs out fast if you’re trawling the internet for fixes to your problems, trying repeatedly to get it working before hitting the refund button. Two weeks can go by fast if the developers are promising rapid updates and you want to wait for a patch expecting it to fix things. A few times I’ve been rushed into hitting the refund button when a more relaxed policy would have let me hang on longer.

      • Kitsunin says:

        I do feel your pain. I’ve certainly refunded games I’d rather play because I couldn’t get them to work right. But 2 hours is more than enough to figure out whether there are problems, and if they exist it’s still more than enough to figure out if you can fix them (if it takes over an hour with the game running to fix the bug, either it won’t work or it’s the devs’ problem). And if you think a patch might fix the bug, there’s nothing stopping you refunding it and then purchasing again in a couple weeks or months (then refunding again if it’s still not fixed) as long as you don’t accumulate 2 hours of playtime.

        It’s already exploitable. They’d have to manually review cases to make it any more than it is. And it’s Valve. They won’t let a person interact directly interac with Steam if it kills them.

    • australopithecus says:

      This court case was brought against Valve in 2014, BEFORE they introduced any kind of refund in 2015.

      • Kitsunin says:

        Yup, I know this court result is because of their prior actions, and it’s still an open question whether Australia would accept their current policy. I still feel this is relevant to say.

  2. tslog says:

    2 hours is not even close to fair, for most games .
    Shocking but not surprising that so many would defend Valves arbitrary and Lazy 2 hour number in clear, and ongoing for years violation of consumer rights.

    It’s a disgusting policy where I refuse to buy any games on valve for less than five dollars due to do that being my version of a “rental” price.

    There’s a lot Games I really liked, that I would’ve bought sooner and wanted to support the developer buy paying more, but valves anti-consumer policies make sure that didn’t happen.

    • Kitsunin says:

      What games would you say turn out to be faulty after 2 hours in?

      • castle says:

        I had problems with Nier:Automata. The prologue ran fine, but on hard difficulty the prologue boss kills you in a single hit and there are (unbelievably) no checkpoints. After finishing the prologue I couldn’t get a smooth frame rate on the main game, even with FAR fix. It was already past 2h, so my refund request was denied.

        I believe the refund system needs human operators to run properly. If I request a refund for a $20 purchase on Amazon or ebay I know I’ll get my money back, with no questions asked and no return needed, because I’m a regular customer who rarely ask for a refund. On Steam, even though I’ve bought hundreds of games and have only submitted a single refund request, that request was denied.

        Simply having human operators decide whether or not to give refunds would be sufficient to stop abuse (e.g.: First refund request in the last few months, with 100 games owned? Granted. Third refund request this month, with only 2 games owned? Denied.)

        Valve doesn’t want to provide customer service, but their operating profit is almost certainly above $100 million per year. They can afford to pay people to review refund requests, but they choose not to. They get away with this because they’re in a position of power: most of us have game libraries in the tens or hundreds that are locked to Steam, with no option to take our purchases to another platform. With the kind of money they’re making, and the power they hold over their users by locking purchases to their platform, we need to hold Valve to a higher standard, and I applaud Australia for doing so.

    • Martel says:

      Why are you buying games from them then? Plenty of games are on places like GoG.

    • Sin Vega says:

      If only there were some way, in the year 2018, to learn who made a game and find a way to contact them to send them the support you so desperately want to give, but tragically, very truly, cannot.

      I’m sure they’ll rest easy knowing that you’re sticking it to the oppressor Steam by… giving Steam more money.

      (script flipping sounds)
      (more script flipping sounds)
      (awkard cough from back of room)

      • Caiman says:

        I don’t often have issues with games, but I always communicate with the devs via forum or directly and it’s usually sorted pretty fast. I understand not everyone is so lucky, and perhaps this is because I nearly always just buy indie games, but in my experience devs want their game to succeed and want to help you out if you’re civil and cooperative. Posting “This game sucks, REFUND!!!, F you devs, you suck too because the title screen runs at a locked 60 fps!” (not dissimilar to a comment I saw recently, which to the devs’ credit they addressed within a day) is the kind of shit that wears you down.

        Basically, reach out to the devs and see if they can fix your issue first before going mental about missing out on a refund. It’s not going to fix every possible refund situation, but it helps.

      • Raoul Duke says:

        The price Steam pays for gaining control over a big chunk of the PC gaming ecosystem is that they, and not the publisher or developer, are selling you the game and they have primary responsibility to you as a purchaser.

        If shit’s broken, Steam is legally responsible for it.

    • mitrovarr says:

      I mean, what system would you recommend that would be fair but not allow too much user abuse? People will cheerfully advocate playing short games all the way through and then refunding on the Steam forums, so even the 2 hr system gets abused.

      • sosolidshoe says:

        How long is a piece of string?

        If my washing machine or oven break due to a manufacturing defect then the company have to repair or replace it at their expense up until *five years* after the date of purchase, and the only reason the limit stops there is after five years it’s basically impossible to tell if any given failure actually was due to a defect or just general wear & tear, a qualifier that doesn’t apply to digital goods.

        If I buy some HUEG 100-hour RPG and encounter a genuinely game-breaking bug at 80 hours in which as no fix except “start again from the beginning and hope it doesn’t happen again” – a not unheard of scenario – why should I be stuck with my faulty product while someone who encountered a game-breaking bug immediately after booting the game gets a full refund? I’m still not getting what I paid for due to the product being defective, through no fault of mine.

        Games are products, consumers should have as much protection when buying them as they would with any other product. And if games companies think that level of consumer rights would cause them serious issues, I have a foolproof solution for them – stop releasing buggy piles of garbage with a “we’ll patch it later, maybe” attitude. Or keep doing that, and accept that it will cost them money, just as if a washing machine company repeatedly sold people machines with a defective part in them.

        • Chrithu says:

          “Games are products, consumers should have as much protection when buying them as they would with any other product.”

          Yep, that is why big players like EA are advocating “Games as a Service” so much. To “protect” them selves from consumer protection.

        • Martel says:

          Is this an Australian thing? It’s not how it works in the US, so I’m genuinely curious considering we have pretty terrible consumer protections here.

          “If my washing machine or oven break due to a manufacturing defect then the company have to repair or replace it at their expense up until *five years* after the date of purchase, and the only reason the limit stops there is after five years it’s basically impossible to tell if any given failure actually was due to a defect or just general wear & tear, a qualifier that doesn’t apply to digital goods.”

          • Gus the Crocodile says:

            In order to apply to everything, Australian statutory guarantees intentionally don’t specify time limitations, rather it’s about what’s considered reasonable for each kind of product or service. So over time, through the accumulation of individual cases, I guess some general expectations have developed about particular kinds of goods. Ultimately if there’s a sustained dispute, everything is case-by-case, but general advice is still useful as guidance, and to remind everyone that things like ovens, fridges, TVs etc, that customers expect to last for years, are actually expected to last for years.

      • Someoldguy says:

        Games that short should probably be pay what you want. They may even get more money that way. Many a time have RPS railed at the industry for overpricing their goods when they sell far more units when the prices come down.

        It’s awkward blurring genres but back when I was young all the youth bought albums and recorded tapes of the music to swap with their mates. Everyone had racks full of copied music. The industry didn’t like it much but they still made vast fortunes from album sales. Guess what? When we started working and earning, most of us went and bought our favourite albums on CD and the industry got more money. Albums we would never have listened to properly had we not freely swapped them as kids. Likewise my GoG and Steam accounts are full of nostalgia purchases of classics, pure, remastered or both, that I’ll probably never play properly again.

        If steam had a longer return period, I’m sure some would seek to abuse it, but I’m confident they would be a small minority of the whole.

        • Kitsunin says:

          Yeah, and movies that are less than 2 hours long should be pay what you want…wtf.

          That being said I totally agree with you otherwise. As a kid I used to be a total pirate. Now I buy everything because hey, I can afford to (except where it’s highly inconvenient like with anime, as I live in Taiwan and there are no streaming services to use).

          But I still don’t think it’s reasonable to allow people to play a game longer than 2 hours and get a refund from an automated system. Hey Valve, try doing some stuff manually sometimes, for goodness sake.

      • Raoul Duke says:

        “User abuse” is not relevant, though.

        That’s like saying that a car maker should be entitled to sell faulty cars because a few customers make incorrect warranty claims.

        It’s not about time, or motivation. If a product is faulty when sold, the consumer should have a right to a refund no matter what.

  3. Cloak says:

    I have 7 days to return a game in any retail store despite the amount of hours I’ve played it. They should have made them pay more! Screw Steam and it’s advocates.

  4. FredSaberhagen says:

    I think valve will be okay, 3 million Australian dollars is like… 12 gallons or something in us units

    • Premium User Badge

      ooshp says:

      We generally settle disputes in Cartons of Beer. These “dollars” might be the official currency, but they’re rarely used. For some idea of an exchange rate, it’s currently about 0.42 cartons of beer to refuel a kangaroo.

      In all seriousness, Rod Sims is a living Australian legend. There aren’t too many aspects of Australia I’d encourage other countries to emulate, but the ACCC is at the top of the list.

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