Update November 21, 2016: Following Valve being found guilty of breaching Australian Consumer Law earlier this year, the Australian Federal Court has decided that the Washington-based company should pay a $3 million fine.
The fine is over how Steam operated before introducing a refund policy. During that period, between 2011-2014, it's argued that Valve made misleading claims about their policy on refunds.
You wouldn't need to get a refund on the titles in our list of the best free Steam games.
Last week, the Australian Federal Court said Valve should be fined $3 million, “in order to achieve both specific and general deterrents, and also because of the serious nature of the conduct”.
Valve’s lawyers, on the other hand, argued in favour of a $250,000 fine and said there was “no finding that Valve’s conduct was intended to mislead or deceive consumers”.
The amount is due to be settled on by the end of January.
Original Story March 29, 2015: It's been going on for over a year, but Valve have just been found guilty of breaching Australian Consumer Law in a high profile case.
We reported on the case when it started way back, with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission taking Valve to court over their lack of refund policy. They've obviously implemented one since, but that doesn't erase the many years where getting a refund on Steam simply wasn't an option.
Valve tried to defend themselves by pointing out that their business is online, therefore they don't physically conduct business in Australia. Valve also pointed to the Steam Subscriber Agreement, which is based on the law of the State of Washington, USA, not Australia.
In the UK, games retailers have been enjoying this being a bit of a grey area. Even in actual shops, you're likely to be refused if trying to return a physical game because you didn't like it, or it was riddled with bugs. Perhaps this sort of thing will make retailers think twice.
Either way, the Australian Federal Court pointed to misleading statements in Steam's terms and conditions and the Steam Refund Policy. Ultimately, it was ruled that Valve were doing business in Australia, and were therefore bound by Australian Consumer Law.
“The Federal Court’s decision reinforces that foreign based businesses selling goods and/or services to Australian consumers can be subject to Australian Consumer Law obligations, including the consumer guarantees,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said, via Kotaku.
“In this case, Valve is a US company operating mainly outside Australia, but, in making representations to Australian consumers, the Federal Court has found that Valve engaged in conduct in Australia. It is also significant that the Court held that, in any case, based on the facts, Valve was carrying on business in Australia.
“This is also the first time Courts have applied the extended definition of ‘goods’ to include “computer software” in the ACL. It will provide greater certainty where digital goods are supplied to consumers through online platforms.
“Consumer issues in the online marketplace are a priority for the ACCC and we will continue to take appropriate enforcement action to hold businesses accountable for breaches of the ACL.”
No amount was decided in terms of liability at the judgement, but Valve may have to pay up to 75% of the ACCC’s legal costs on top of whatever is decided. There will be a hearing on April 15 to discuss potential relief.