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Toys and Tabletop Games

Valve to pay AU$3 million fine for misleading Australian gamers

At issue was Valve not adhering to local consumer law, which required it to have a refund policy on its Steam platform. Until 2015, it didn't.

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Valve

The Valve vs Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) saga has been long and drawn out, but today the High Court of Australia has upheld a December 2017 ruling, meaning that Valve will have to pay a AU$3 million fine for engaging in "misleading or deceptive conduct."

It's a decision years in the making. In 2014 the ACCC launched legal action against Valve. The crux of the argument: The ACCC believed that Valve (owners of Steam, the world's largest PC games online marketplace) was in breach of Australian Consumer Law. 

The major issue was Valve's lack of a refund policy. Any business that sells product in Australia, digital or otherwise, is subject to Australian consumer law, and Australian consumer law demands that all companies must provide refunds on faulty goods. 

Valve introduced an official refunds policy in June 2015, but in 2014 Valve explicitly did not offer refunds. There were occasions where Valve provided refunds on a case-by-case basis, but Valve's official policy was no refunds.

"As with most software products," read the policy, "unless required by local law, we do not offer refunds or exchanges on games, DLC or in-game items purchased on our website or through the Steam Client."

"Unless required by local law" was the sticking point, because in Australia Valve was required by local law to provide refunds, but didn't.

Valve's response to the lawsuit was interesting. First, it argued it technically didn't conduct business in Australia, therefore Australian Consumer Law did not apply to Valve and the games it sold through the Steam client. Secondly, Valve argued the games being sold through the Steam client didn't fit underneath the definition of "goods" as per Australian Consumer Law.  

The Federal Court of Australia did not agree with those claims. 

Back in March 2016, Justice Edelman stated that Valve had "established game servers in Australia, it had content delivery networks in Australia and it knew it had approximately 2.2 million subscribers in Australia." 

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In short: Valve does business in Australia and everyone knows it.

In December 2017, Justice Edelman fined Valve AU$3 million for misleading Australian consumers with regards to their refund rights. Valve almost immediately filed a special leave to appeal the decision. On Friday the ACCC announced that request was denied, which means that Valve has no option but to make good on the AU$3 million fine.

This is the final decision on the matter, according to the courts.

"This important precedent confirms the ACCC's view that overseas-based companies selling to Australian consumers must abide by our laws," said ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court. "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."   

Valve did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

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