Australia said “No” as of a few days ago regarding Steam’s no-refund policy. A government organization, The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) which oversees Australian consumer protection laws has taken issue with Valve and launched legal proceedings. Valve’s refund policy seems to be a point of contention, with the Australian government claiming the well-known American based software development and distribution company has put forward false statements about the use of their consumer guarantees under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL).
Section 18 of the Australian Consumer Law prohibits a person in trade or commerce from engaging in misleading or deceptive conduct. This prohibition is not limited to the supply of goods or services and creates a broad, economy-wide norm. This statement is directly from the document in question and it is under this decree that the ACCC is going after Valve’s refund policy. Valves policy states that “consumers were not entitled to a refund for any games sold by Valve via Steam under any circumstances” and that “Valve excluded, restricted or modified statutory guarantees and/or warranties that goods would be of acceptable quality”. It also stated that “Valve was not under any obligation to repair, replace or provide a refund for a game where the consumer had not contacted and attempted to resolve the problem with the game developer” directly, also going so far as to say the statutory consumer guarantees did not apply to them.
The Chairman of the ACCC, Rodney Sims stated “The Australian Consumer Law applies to any business providing goods or services within the country. Valve may be an American based company with no physical presence in Australia, but it is carrying on business there by selling to Australian consumers, who are protected by the Australian Consumer Law”. He also went on to state “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.” “The consumer guarantees provided under the Australian Consumer Law cannot be excluded, restricted or modified”. The ACCC then filed for disclosure orders, financial penalties and a mess of other demands last Friday with the Federal Court. The first directional hearing was set for 7th of October 2014 at the Federal Court to be held under Justice Jayne Jagot.
Valve’s vice president of marketing, Doug Lombardi stated “We are in talks with Australian officials in order to resolve this issue and plan to continue to provide access to the Steam service in all countries of the world, including for Australian consumers” according to Kotaku Australia. In regards to their Valve’s dedication it is definitely worth noting that in Section 3 of the Steam subscriber agreement it says in some cases subscribers in the EU region have the right to withdraw from a purchase transaction for digital content without charge. According to Valve EU customers don’t need to give a reason until delivery of said content has started or performance of the service has commenced. This existing policy may foreshadow a possible change to the Subscriber agreement regarding Valve’s operation within Australia
This statement does provide a lot of credibility towards Lombardi’s response, however the steam community is still debating the ramifications of this new precedent. This new development allows people of the community to acquire a refund as long as they haven’t played the game on steam. This is good news for anyone who has ever bought the wrong game for a friend (as I have), or for anyone who has accidentally bought a game from Steam that they didn’t mean to.
This also reflects an interesting issue in international law as Australian consumers want to be protected by Australian consumer laws rather than the laws of the country the company is from, however they also wish to receive the same level of services and quality in other significantly larger English speaking countries such as the UK or the US. This is rather difficult, as when a country regulates differently to another in terms of consumer protection and assurances, such as warranties and the like, it means the company while regionalising a computer product to another country must undertake the burden of running their whole service model past their lawyers to modify it for local law. International legal advisors for that company then need to alter the services and products to comply with that country’s laws. For a smaller country like Australia, the number of sales may not be high enough for the effort and resources required in order to comply, whereas in a larger country like the UK it is enough to warrant the burden of altering it to fit with their standards. They will likely eventually be willing to make the changes to the smaller country, but only after they have received the profits from the much larger country. Most countries including Australia want the benefit of their own control over consumer protection, however being a smaller country means they receive inferior, delayed or sometimes no service at all.
Australians often lament that they get such inferior service, so the question at hand is would they rather sacrifice autonomy in consumer protection laws, in turn deferring to a host country’s law when importing electronic goods and software or would they rather get services later, or possibly not at all at a higher price? The Australian market seems to fetch a higher price due to international price discrimination. When a business has different prices for the same product in both locations, in order to maximise profit they will often sell the item based on a mark up of what price they consider the market can bear as opposed to a mark up of what it costs to produce. This is colloquially referred to as the Australia Tax. It would appear both instances can not be achieved simultaneously and my money would be on Australians willing to forego protections occasionally for a company with such importance such as Valve not refunding their money, rather than deciding Australia is just simply not worth the hassle.