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Valve being sued for £656m in UK amid accusations of Steam market rigging

Valve is being sued for £656m by a UK digital rights campaigner, who claims the company is rigging the PC games market and deliberately “shutting out” competition through Steam.

The accusations have been made in a collective action claim filed with the UK’s Competition Appeal Tribunal by digital rights activist Vicki Shotbolt. As per an accompanying website encouraging people to join the claim, the suit alleges Valve’s conduct “amounts to an abuse of its dominant position which is in breach of UK competition law”. It also argues 14m people in the UK have been overcharged for PC games as a result, and is seeking compensation of between £22 and £44 for each one.

Three issues are central to the suit, beginning with the claim Valve “imposes” price parity clauses on publishers and developers preventing them from selling titles at cheaper prices on rival platforms. The suit argues this limits consumer choice and harms competition, adding that Valve’s decision prohibits consumers from purchasing DLC for their Steam games on rival platforms also “restricts competition in the market”. This, combined with an “excessive commission of up to 30 percent” – said to have resulted in “inflated prices on its Steam” – means, according to the suit, UK consumers are paying too much for purchasing PC games and DLC.

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“Valve is rigging the market and taking advantage of UK gamers”, says Shobolt, and the lawsuit an attempt “to stop this unlawful conduct and help people get back what they are owed.”

Shobolt’s lawsuit is being handled by legal firm Milberg London LLP, which specialises in group action cases against large companies. Notably, it’s the same firm behind a 2022 filing against Sony, which similarly accused the company of abusing its market power – by imposing unfair terms and conditions on developers and publishers, and by charging a 30 percent commission – forcing prices up for consumers. In November, a tribunal ruled the suit could continue, despite objections from Sony, which called the claim “flawed from start to finish”.

This isn’t the first time Valve has faced legal action alleging it demands price parity with rival stores. The accusation previously appeared in a California antitrust class action lawsuit filed by five gamers in 2021, then resurfaced in a filing by Wolfire Games later that same year. However, Valve’s publicly available partner documentation only explicitly references price parity in relation to generated Steam Keys, telling developers and publishers, “It is important that you don’t give Steam customers a worse deal than Steam Key purchasers”.

Instead, it’s another stipulation of Valve’s documentation – that while developers and publishers are responsible for setting and managing pricing for their products, “initial pricing as well as proposed pricing adjustments will be reviewed by Valve” – that has drawn criticism. Back in 2019, shortly after launching the Epic Games Store, Epic CEO Tim Sweeney took to social media to rail against the lack of transparency regarding Steam’s price parity expectations. “What each private Steam agreement with developers require is not generally known,” he wrote. “We have been told by multiple developers that Valve has approval over price and that long-term price parity (excluding temporary sales) is expected.”

As for the current UK claim against Valve, it could be some time before the story progresses meaningfully. As the FAQ notes, “It can take several years to resolve disputes of this scale.”

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