PC gaming behemoth Valve has been fined $3 million AUD (2.2 million USD) by the Australian federal court for lack of an appropriate refund policy for its digital gaming storefront Steam between 2011 and 2014.
This ruling follows the May 2016 judgment that Valve’s Steam marketplace had breached Australian Consumer Law by ignoring both minimum quality guarantees and entitlement to refunds guaranteed to Australian citizens.
The penalty represents the maximum requested by Australia’s competition regulator. It’s also twelve times what Valve had suggested it pay for ignoring over 21,000 submitted tickets from Australian consumers regarding product refunds, according to Justice James Edelman. He thought that the proposed $250,000 AUD was “not even a real cost of doing business,” and would therefore “barely be noticed.” He wanted to ensure that what he cited as Valve’s willful disregard or Australian law, has a bit of a sting.
According to Valve’s own representation, Valve did not seek legal advice for operating within Australia until the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission forced their hand in 2014. The company operated under the assumption that because they were not based in Australia, they would not be subjected to the full extent of Australian consumer law. They did, however, offer more than 15,000 refunds based on technical issues — inability to install or play a purchased game — or if a customer had purchased the wrong version of a title.
In 2015, Steam’s refund policy was broadened to a “two-week/two-hour” return, with mixed reactions from those who sell their products through the service. In March, Rod Sims, Chairman of the ACCC, found that “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.”
Now, Justice Edelman has cemented the cost of doing business down under without considering their comprehensive consumer protections. In his judgment, he concluded:
[Valve] had a culture by which it formed a view without Australian legal advice that it was not subject to Australian law, and it was content to proceed to trade with Australian consumers without that advice and with the view that even if advice had been obtained that Valve was required to comply with Australian law the advice might have been ignored.
According to The Sydney Morning Herald, “Steam must now introduce a compliance program and place an notice in size 14 type on its Australia website informing consumers about their rights.”
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