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Landmark Steam Ruling Opens Door to ‘Used’ Digital Games Market

Last Updated September 23, 2020 1:03 PM
Thomas Bardwell
Last Updated September 23, 2020 1:03 PM

French courts have delivered  a landmark ruling against video game retailer Steam that may be the first step towards turning the tide on the heavily-prohibited secondhand marketplace for “used” digital games.

A three-year-long suit mounted by French consumer advocacy group UFC-Que Choisir against Valve, the company behind the popular PC game digital storefront Steam, sought to remove several clauses in the platform’s user agreement. Much of the focus centered on those that prohibited the resale of digital games.

French Courts Rule Steam Restrictions Unlawful

The courts found that under EU law, users should be able to resell digital games, deeming the controversial Steam clauses unlawful. They argue that when a product passes on to the purchaser, the seller loses the right to restrict subsequent sales within the secondhand market.

In other words, game ownership passes on to the buyer.

Additionally, the French courts say that the description of Steam as a subscription service within the user agreement  is counter to the nature of purchases on the platform. Users spend defined monetary amounts on single products in standalone transactions that grant access to the game forever, while subscription services (like the upcoming Apple Arcade) have a defined accessibility period and don’t imply ownership.

Landmark Steam Ruling Opens Door To 2nd-Hand Digital Games Market
Could this legal ruling create a secondary market for Steam keys? | Source: Steam/Valve

According to the ruling, this means digital games are purchases which fall under standard EU consumer law and are, therefore, fit for resale.

The ruling forces Steam to remove said clauses within one month or suffer hefty daily fines to the tune of €3,000 (~$3,300) per day. More importantly, it opens up the possibility of Steam implementing a feature that allows the resale of user-purchased digital games.

The Possibility of Platform-Supported Secondhand Reselling

Strict user agreements prohibiting the sale of digital games have long been a topic of discussion for users of digital platforms, with many claiming that although there is no material product transferred to the user, digital games represent a bonafide purchase that should have the same inherent right of resale as buying a game from a local GameStop, for example.

Steam isn’t alone in enforcing these rules, with the likes of the PlayStation Store, Epic Games Store, and countless other digital platforms imposing identical restrictions. It is, of course, in their interest, as a secondhand market would reduce profits drastically.

Although the ruling only applies to Steam users within France – and possibly the broader European Union – it sets a court-mandated precedent that may have repercussions across the gaming industry.

All eyes are now on Steam, and more importantly, how it will incorporate reselling features into the French version of the platform.