Australian consumer group asks Valve to pay $3million

Remember how Valve was sued by the Australian consumer watchdog – and found to have mislead the public? Remember how the company suddenly started offering refunds to gamers? Apparently, it wasn’t enough: The ACCC has now politely asked Valve to pay more than AU$3 million by way of apology.

Valve's offices in Bellevue

Valve’s offices in Bellevue

It’s taken nearly three years to get to this point. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission took offense at Valve’s lack of an advertised refunds policy (both on the company’s website and within the Steam Subscriber Agreement), and took the Seattle organisation to court. Seems the concept of “Valve time” applies to court cases as well, with this one plagued by depositions, delays and multiple hearings.

The latest one, last Tuesday, followed on from Justice Edelman in the Federal Court finding that Valve had made a mistake. Now, the ACCC put forward an appropriate penalty, stating that AU$3m was appropriate due to the “serious nature of the conduct”, and would also act as both a “specific and general deterrent” to other potential offenders.

Presiding counsel for the ACCC, Naomi Sharp, argued that Valve violated Australian consumer law, and that the company’s senior management was “involved in the misconduct”.

Valve’s general counsel, Karl Quackenbush, testified that “We think of ourselves as an American company doing business in America which has customers all over the world,” so any transactions that took place on Steam were actually happening in the US, but the courts were not convinced. Valve’s attorneys argued that as there was no malice involved, and there was “no finding that Valve’s conduct was intended to mislead or deceive consumers”, the fine should be a much lower AU$250,000.

However, Judge Edelman – again – disagreed:

Your proposed penalty of $250,000 isn’t even the price of doing business, it’s next to nothing is it?

After these findings were handed down, the ACCC acknowledged that it has changed its demands of Valve. The Seattle company will no longer be requested to establish an Australian telephone hotline to help local gamers deal with refund queries. Instead, as Valve had argued, all inquiries will be handled through the Steam ticketing system, whether the customer is Australian or not.

This is not the end of the road for Valve and the ACCC, however: The ACCC has filed for an injunction against Valve to double-check whether the new refund policy is actually compliant with Australian Consumer Law.

Judge Edelman is hoping to hand down his ruling, covering the penalties and the potential injunction, before the end of the year, or in early January 2017.

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