Steam (and Valve) is joining Sony, Microsoft, Electronic Arts, and other companies hoping to block any and all class action lawsuits. When you boot up Steam this morning, you’ll have to agree to a new set of terms, and that includes agreeing to bring lawsuits against Valve in a a one-on-one capacity, not together.
Your other option? Not play your games, I guess.
“We considered this change very carefully,” said the company as part of a larger statement on the change featured on its website. “It’s clear to us that in some situations, class actions have real benefits to customers. In far too many cases however, class actions don’t provide any real benefit to users and instead impose unnecessary expense and delay, and are often designed to benefit the class action lawyers who craft and litigate these claims. Class actions like these do not benefit us or our communities. We think this new dispute resolution process is faster and better for you and Valve while avoiding unnecessary costs, and that it will therefore benefit the community as a whole.”
“Some situations” of a class action lawsuit benefiting consumers isn’t enough, apparently, and Valve is removing the tool entirely. Unlike companies like Sony, Valve isn’t offering an opt-out clause. Sony allowed consumers to continue having access to class action lawsuits by submitting a letter of intent, though that option disappeared 30 days after agreeing to the new terms. You have no such option with Steam, and must simply click okay and move on.
Valve is, however, offering to front the legal costs of its preferred option, arbitration or small claims court. The company will reimburse costs “under a certain amount” no matter the outcome, even if it goes against Valve, but it requires the arbitrator to determine the claim “is not frivolous or the costs unreasonable.”
It’s not clear these changes will ultimately be enforceable, however. They’ve never been challenged, but by introducing the idea that consumers cannot use class action lawsuits, how many will consider it an option?
“Time will tell on that one,” said Washington attorney Thomas Buscaglia to me last September, back when Sony instituted the same changes for PlayStation Network. “The US Federal Trade Commission and various state consumer protection agencies could have a problem with it. Also, some courts might not allow it to be enforced due to existing state court precedent."
Again, time will tell on this, but I’m bothered by the response by most players to just shrug at this move, as they have in the past. You should carefully scrutinize the reasons your rights are being limited, even it’s by a company who has traditionally been exceptionally consumer-friendly in the past, Valve. There may never be a point in your life where a class action lawsuit benefits you, you may be tired of getting emails about being part of class action lawsuits you didn’t realize were happening, you may not understand why you received a quarter-sized check in the mail related to a class action lawsuit from a few years ago whose email notification went in your spam folder, but you shouldn’t be okay giving up your rights. One day, you may wish that right was at your disposal, and suddenly it won’t be.
Make sure to read all of Valve's statement.