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Valve sued over Steam's inability to sell pre-owned games

1:00 PM on 02.03.2013 // Jim Sterling
  @JimSterling

German consumer group takes secondhand games seriously

The Federation of German Consumer Organizations (VZVB) doesn't entertain the long-standing idea of digital games remaining bound to the customer. The consumer group is taking a stand and suing Valve over Steam's refusal to let users re-sell their games, something it believes should be a customer's right.

Carola Elbrecht of the group believes Steam users only "partially" own their games, with Valve's terms of service slapping restrictions on purchasers after they've forked the money over. Valve has ignored the VZVB's complaint for a few months, leading it to initiate a legal complaint. It's also tried this before, failing in 2010 to get Valve punished for blocking the ability to transfer user accounts. 

This new case, however, may hold a bit more water. Last year, the European Supreme Court ruled in favor of the used game market, declaring consumers must be able to re-sell any software purchased, no matter what the product's TOS may be. Digital storefronts still cling to the belief that downloaded games don't belong to the downloaders, so it'll be interesting to see what, if anything, happens here.

The VZBV has, in the past, also threatened Activision Blizzard over Diablo III's DRM. They don't take PC game tomfoolery lightly over there!

"We are aware of the press release about the lawsuit filed by the VZBV, but we have not yet seen the actual complaint," Valve's Doug Lombardi told Gamasutra"That said, we understand the complaint is somehow regarding the transferability of Steam accounts, despite the fact that this issue has already been ruled upon favorably to Valve in a prior case between Valve and the VZBV by the German supreme court. For now, we are continuing to extend the Steam services to gamers in Germany and around the world."

Elbrecht's argument is a lot more simple and, in the mind of an idealist, hard to refute: "If I pay the full price for a game, then why am I not allowed to do with it what I want?"

Fair statement. Very fair statement indeed. Unfortunately, it is an idealistic one. The reality, and the answer, is that publishers can basically do whatever they like in the Wild West of digital distribution. They continue to charge as much as physical media, because they can, and they continue to enforce shitty restrictions on their customers, because they can.

Companies have dreamed of being able to still claim ownership over the games they sell for years, and with their dream so close to reality, one expects they'll fight tooth and nail to keep it. The ability to dominate every point of a game's sale, extending far beyond the actual transaction of cash and product, is a power few shall be willing to give up.

Valve sued in Germany over game ownership [PC Advisor]



Jim Sterling, Former Reviews Editor
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