Back in the summer of 2014, Valve was dragged into court by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission for refusing to offer refunds on Steam. The complaint said Valve made “false or misleading representations” to Steam users in Australia, including that they were not entitled to a refund under any circumstances, and that Valve itself was not obligated to refund games in cases where “the consumer had not contacted and attempted to resolve the problem with the computer game developer.” The case has now came to an end, and not in Valve’s favor.
As reported by the Brisbane Times, an Australian federal court has declared that, despite being a US-based company that doesn’t offer physical goods in Australia, Valve’s refusal to offer refunds on goods it sells is in violation of Australian consumer law. It’s the first time an Australian court has defined digital products as “goods,” according to the ACCC, and Chairman Rod Sims warned that the decision could have major repercussions for other companies operating digitally in the country.
“There’s going to be a lot of companies we can now turn to and say look, be careful what you say about consumer guarantees because you are liable under Australian consumer law,” he said.
What’s interesting in all this is that since the complaint was filed, Valve has drastically changed its policy and now offers refunds “for nearly any purchase on Steam—for any reason.” There are some restrictions, obviously, but on the whole it’s a pretty generous policy, and one that I would think would bring Valve into line with Australian law. Whether or not that will have any mitigating impact on the fines imposed on Valve, which could run as high as $AU 1.1 million ($839,000) per breach, remains to be seen; penalties will be determined at a future hearing.