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Due to Steam having been found to have breached Australian Consumer Laws, Valve Corporation has been hit with a $3 million fine by Australia’s Federal Court.

The fine, which was requested by the ACCC, was the maximum which could be enforced on Valve, with the reason cited due to Valve’s “disregard for Australian law and lack of contrition.”

“Valve is a United States company with 2.2 million Australian accounts which received 21,124 tickets in the relevant period containing the word “refund” from consumers with Australian IP addresses,” Justice Edelman stated in his judgment.

“Yet it had a culture by which it formed a view without Australian legal advice that it was not subject to Australian law, and it was content to proceed to trade with Australian consumers without that advice and with the view that even if advice had been obtained that Valve was required to comply with Australian law the advice might have been ignored.”

During proceedings, Karl Quackenbush, Valve’s general counsel, told the court that the company did not obtain legal advice when it set up in Australia, and did not check its obligations until the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission involved itself in April 2014. Instead, Valve only provided its staff with verbal instructions.

Due to this lack of cooperation and overall lack of interest in Australian laws, Justice James Edelman imposed a penalty twelve times more than Valve’s suggested fine, which would have been $250,000.

Justice Edelman noted that the penalty proposed by Valve was “not even a real cost of doing business. It would barely be noticed”. Due to Valve being a private company its profits are unknown, but the court noted that its worldwide income and revenue was “massive”.

In May, it was found that Steam’s website breached Australian Consumer Law because consumers did not have access to minimum quality guarantees (likely due to Steam’s Early Access titles) and were not entitled to a refund.

Due to the ruling, Steam must now introduce a compliance program and place a notice in size 14 font on its Australian website, which is to be used to inform consumers about their rights.

For more information, be sure to read The Sydney Morning Herald’s excellent write-up.

What do you think of this ruling? Sound off in the comments below!

Patrick Perrault

Staff Writer

Writer for TechRaptor, who hopes to gain valuable experience in a constantly changing industry.

  • gud, more refunds are always better for consumers

  • Casey

    That’s what they get for waiting so long to do the right thing.

  • Jason Miller

    Refundability is a good thing, although it’s worth noting that Valve is already ahead of the slowly grinding wheels of Australian justice on that front. “Minimum quality guarantees” sound like something that could spell the death of Early Access availability in Australia, reducing consumer choice in the name of “protection”.

  • To be fair early access is already anti-consumer.

  • Jason Miller

    Yes, god forbid people should have the choice to support development of titles they might find interesting, and might struggle to find funding otherwise. It’s totally anti-consumer the way they hold a gun to your head and force you to buy early access games, isn’t it?

  • Consti2tion

    Those same consumers bitch about these Early Access games being broken as well as many other complaints. There are other ways to support development with out throwing away money on Early access to their shitty game.

  • Jason Miller

    Between the Steam forums and a gazillion YouTubers, it’s easier than ever to tell which games are the shitty ones, and avoid them while supporting the quality Early Access developers that are making good use of the program. But I guess some people would rather complain after the fact instead of doing 10 minutes research to make an informed buying decision.

  • BurntToShreds

    “Consumer choice” shouldn’t mean “Allowing a digital storefront to be utterly flooded with flash games and games that flipped assets from the Unity store to produce low-quality Early Access titles that will never be finished”.

    Steam needs some basic quality control people working on their end. Adding a couple of content curation tools every so often and acting like the problem’s solved doesn’t cut it; it’s like putting a band-aid on a bullet wound.

  • Jason Miller

    Yes, *Steam* should do those things. My point was that if governments take it upon themselves to start deciding what “minimum quality” is, it could easily be read as disallowing *all* transactions in which a developer accepts money for an unfinished product, and we (or at least Australians) could be deprived of the next Kerbal Space Program.

  • d0x360

    We all deserve this not just Australia. Early access is often abused and it’s us losing money while valve makes billions per year.

    For an early access title they should either keep the money in escrow or a percentage in escrow to help cover refunds if the project is either abandoned or is subpar when “finished”

    Most people forget so it’s not like valve will suddenly lose tons of money.

  • Elijah Wyatt

    i’ve never supported an early access game and had any complaints. Clustertruck, Bunny Hop League, Battlerite, all EA games i supported and got my money’s worth.

    I’d rather EA games exist than not. It’s not the same as pre-ordering (which IS! anti-consumer) because you get a working copy of the game, just not with all the “full” features and with some bugs.

    It’s basically just an open beta.

  • It’s anti-consumer because their is no way to guarantee the game will be complete. Most Early access games are scams that are never completed.

  • Chino Gambino

    Hooray, finally the ACCC bared some teeth to a corporation. They really need a bigger stick to keep our businesses in line.

  • Chino Gambino

    I wouldn’t worry about that too much, its unenforceable. The Australian government is meant to rate all of the content we consume but it can’t, every now an again something high profile like L4D2 might get censored but then we just buy American keys.

    If ‘Minimum quality guarantees’ were interpreted ruling out offering unfinished or incomplete/pending services crowd funding would be illegal. If you look at the criteria for consumer guarantees in Australia its pretty reasonable, you can buy poor quality goods and services but they must work at purchase or you have to agree to purchase in face of knowing its faults. This is not a system where the government can actually assess each product or service before sale.

  • Reptile

    Valve will not pay $3 million, they will pay “$2 million: Episode 2” instead.

  • Reptile

    Apparently to those kids think not buying on impulse is “anti-consumer”.

  • Jason Miller

    Most Early Access games are scams? You have some data to back up that assertion? I’m sure *some* are scams. Many more will fail due to lack of funds, poor management, or overambitious developers who can’t deliver what they promise. Buying an Early Access title is *risky*, which is different from being a scam. And no one is forcing you risk your money on any given title. I don’t buy a lot of early access games, but I do put them on my Steam wishlist so I can remember them and wait and see how they come out before I make a decision.

  • c4ptchunk

    I hope that this causes a cascade effect to other countries on early access titles due to promised features getting removed. Developers should be required to issue refunds on products that you have not actually received the finished product and only a beta.

  • noavailableusername

    What ever happened to the concept of caveat emptor? Simply because people can’t just throw their money at anything without consequence doesn’t mean something is “anti consumer.”

    With purchases that are early access, it’s the same as crowd-funding. It’s a pre-order at best and a gamble at worst, and you can’t ever be sure. If you’re not satisfied with that risk, don’t buy it.

    Then again, gaming consumers can be anything but logical sometimes based on how often we see people outright refusing to not pre-order or wait until reviews before buying a game because they just NEED to have it on day one, and then whine about a broken product or one that didn’t meet their own subjective expectations.