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Gabe Newell explains Steam clause forbidding class action lawsuits: It’s “really not about users”, but avoiding “shakedowns” from lawyers

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It’s rare that 4Chan press a leading industry figure on their failures to preserve user rights, but when they mood takes them they do it right. /v/ visited Valve recently to meet Gabe Newell on his 50th birthday, and followed up musings on father Valve’s beard with a grilling about the change in Steam’s terms of service that left users unable to sue via class action lawsuits.

Newell was laudably open in his reply, expanding on the statement Valve released at the time: “There are all these class action lawsuit lawyers who just pop up and… the problem is that it’s asymmetric, so they can basically file a lawsuit against you in federal court and it costs them nothing,” he said. “Then the first thing they say is, ‘Now, you have to do discovery on every single document you’ve ever created in history’. It’s a shakedown.”

“So they are effectively trying to say: ‘You can either spend, just in the first filing, $3 million,’ – because it takes a lot for lawyers to read every document, blah blah blah – And they say, ‘Or why don’t you just give us $500,000?’ So it really is a shakedown. So, arbitration – that’s really not about users.”

Instead it’s about a “classic litigation” problem, said Newell, who further pointed out that as users “you can still sue us” by other means as individuals.

Newell continued: “We’re happy you’re mad at us and you let us know because we’ll do better. There’s a relationship we have customers. We don’t have bankers, we don’t have publishers, all the decisions are ours.

“But occasionally there are these other places called courtrooms. Especially as you go around the world, the situation in Germany is different from the situation in Malaysia. And we haven’t really figured out a way to avoid letting other people interfere in the relationship that we have with customers in that domain.

“So, let’s start our own country.”

It’s reassuring to hear that Valve were moving to protect themselves from lawyers three months ago, not their own customers. But nonetheless, as Steve pointed out in our original story on Steam’s terms of service, no organisation in possession of your card details is hack-proof and there’ll be no consumer rights group with teeth to run to should the worst happen. It’s exactly the reason German consumer protection group VZBV threatened to take Valve to court.

Is consumer rights something that keeps you revolving into the wee hours? Or does Valve’s track record with their customers put you at ease?