Steam: Valve accused of abuse of dominance to keep game prices high




Predominant in the PC games market, Valve's Steam platform is the subject of a complaint for abuse of a dominant position.

In the space of a few weeks, Valve found himself on several legal fronts. First sanctioned by the European Union for geo-blocking games, then prosecuted for violating a controller patent with its Steam Controller. This time it's about the abuse of Steam's preeminent status to keep the price of games high. The lawsuit also involves publishers such as Ubisoft, CD Projekt Red or Devolver Digital.



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Despite the competition, Steam would dictate its law on the price of games

The lawsuit against Valve Corporation as well as several publishers was filed by five players in the California Federal Court on Thursday, January 28. According to this complaint, the Steam platform is the dominant platform for developers and distribution of PC games, but it would not maintain this position through a better price than competing platforms.

On the contrary, Valve would abuse Steam's grip on the market to force developers to enter into the “Most Favored Nations” clause included in Steam's distribution agreement. This clause states that developers must agree to sell their PC game on other platforms at the same price as that displayed on Steam.

The complaint goes on to rule that the clause invoked slows down innovation by creating an artificial barrier to the arrival of games on other platforms. The complainants consider that, in such a competitive market, the entry of new competitors would be favorable to consumers because the overall price of the games could be revised downwards. But all that would be reduced to nothing because of this famous clause. The complainants therefore request that this famous clause be declared anti-competitive because it ensures an illegal monopoly position for Steam.



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An accusation of questioned relevance

The complaint also cites a statement on Twitter from Tim Sweeney, the boss of Epic, from 2019. He also believed that Steam had a 'veto power' on the price of games.




In addition to Valve, numerous publishers and development studios have also been charged. We find for example CD Projekt Red, Ubisoft or Devolver Digital. The complaint accuses them of having 'contracted illegally [with Valve] or unreasonably conspired to curb trade.'

Some of the defendants like Devolver Digital intend to defend themselves against these accusations, believing that such prosecutions are unjustified when so many other players in the video game have signed similar agreements with Steam. Stephanie Tinsley, representative for Devolver, even said, with publisher's own humor, “I know with a high authority that everyone at Devolver only entered law school today. Nobody can therefore answer this question until the end of the first semester of study ”.

It should still be noted that, among some notable Steam competitors who enjoy exclusivity, the prices of the games do not seem to be revised downwards. We can notably mention the Epic Games Store, which has a temporary exclusivity for Hitman III. This one is however well displayed at 59.99 €, while Epic's platform recovers a much lower share than that of Valve on the sale of the game.

In any event, a court will analyze the relevance of this accusation in the coming days and determine whether the complaint merits a trial.


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