Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Valve Changes it's TOS - No More Class Action for You

It's not a surprising decision, it's not even too hard to understand the reasoning behind it. However, that doesn't make it any easier to swallow.

Another piece of news that dropped last week was something that I'm definitely not as keen on as I am the whole EA vs. Zynga thing. On August the first Valve issued changes to its Steam subscriber agreement that basically mirror some of the decisions that got Sony into major shit from gamers a year ago. Basically, the changes outline that anyone who agrees to the terms of service cannot take place in a class action lawsuit against Valve, and will instead allow Valve to hire an arbitrator or go to small claims court to settle any potential disputes. The most pertinent parts of the announcement are as follows:

"We’re also introducing a new dispute resolution process that will benefit you and Valve. Recently, a number of companies have created similar provisions which have generated lots of discussion from customers and communities, and we’ve been following these discussions closely. On Steam, whenever a customer is unhappy with any transaction, our first goal is to resolve things as quickly as possible through the normal customer support process. However in those instances in which we can't resolve a dispute, we've outlined a new required process whereby we agree to use arbitration or small claims court to resolve the dispute. In the arbitration process, Valve will reimburse your costs of the arbitration for claims under a certain amount. Reimbursement by Valve is provided regardless of the arbitrator’s decision, provided that the arbitrator does not determine the claim to be frivolous or the costs unreasonable.

"Most significant to the new dispute resolution terms is that customers may now only bring individual claims, not class action claims. We considered this change very carefully. It’s clear to us that in some situations, class actions have real benefits to customers. In far too many cases however, class actions don’t provide any real benefit to users and instead impose unnecessary expense and delay, and are often designed to benefit the class action lawyers who craft and litigate these claims. Class actions like these do not benefit us or our communities. We think this new dispute resolution process is faster and better for you and Valve while avoiding unnecessary costs, and that it will therefore benefit the community as a whole.

While I would say that this move reeks a little less than Sony's did (after all Sony attempted to change the TOS after the whole debacle with the PSN service, when a class action suit could have easily been seen on the horizon) I still don't agree with Valve doing this anymore than I agreed with Sony doing it.

There are two sides to any decision, and I can see both. Valve is considering that since some people can and do sue at the drop of a hat, that by voiding the option to easily make a class action suit would prevent wasteful and ultimately costly litigation that would only cost everyone sans the lawyers money in the long run. On the other hand though, should a situation ever arise where a person has a valid legal case against Valve, then settlement by arbitrator has to be the worst possible condition for any potential individual to go into. Remember that in cases of arbitration that said arbitrator would be hired by Valve and thus would probably be at least a little biased in their favour. Also, some of the downsides of arbitration are that once the decision is reached there can be literally no justification given for why it was, and no opportunity to pursue other means of settlement.

Am I going to stop using Steam because of this? Not by a longshot. But it is something that I see as worrying, even if as Valve says they're only doing it for the most benevolent of reasons. Covering your ass is still covering your ass, regardless of whether you're a company that treats its users well or not.

One thing I am wondering is if this will see the same backlash that the Sony changes did, up to and including a letter that would allow someone to keep using Steam while retaining the right to become involved in a class action suit. Things have been quiet thus far, but it's hard to say if any action will be taken by sites like Giantbomb, who provided the generic Sony opt-out letter during that incident. Only time will tell I suppose. I'm honestly a lot more torn about this decision then I was over the Sony one. I still like Valve, but I really hope that this isn't the start of a trend.

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