One of the world’s most popular gaming platforms – Steam – has landed its owner Valve in hot water with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission pinging the company $3 million for false and misleading conduct.
Online gaming is now a huge global industry worth $US91 billion, twice that of the movie industry, and Valve is one of the star players in the industry. Its Steam platform has 125 million users at the start of last year and it hosts over 10,000 games.
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And engagement is strong with typically more than 11 to 12 million concurrent users at any given time. And all of them paying subscription revenues, which is where the trouble starts.
Late last year the Australian Federal Court ordered Valve Corporation (Valve) to pay penalties totaling $3 million for breaching the Australian Consumer Law.
This followed an earlier finding in March 2016, that Valve had made false or misleading representations to consumers in relation to its online gaming platform, Steam. “The Court held that the terms and conditions in the Steam subscriber agreements, and Steam’s refund policies, included false or misleading representations about consumers’ rights to obtain a refund for games if they were not of acceptable quality.”
When deciding what penalty to impose on the company Justice Edelman noted that “even if a very small percentage of Valve’s consumers had read the misrepresentations then this might have involved hundreds, possibly thousands, of consumers being affected”.
According to Justice Edelman “Valve’s culture of compliance [which] was, and is, very poor”. Valve’s evidence was ‘disturbing’ to the Court because Valve ‘formed a view …that it was not subject to Australian law…and with the view that even if advice had been obtained that Valve was required to comply with the Australian law the advice might have been ignored”. He also noted that Valve had “contested liability on almost every imaginable point.”