While scouring the gaming news headlines recently, I was surprised to see a few reports that Valve had begun offering refunds to customers in the European Union within 14 days of purchasing a digital game on Steam. That would be big news indeed, as getting refunds or any resale value for a Steam purchase is usually next to impossible, save for some one-time exceptions to the policy. After sifting through the legalese, it seems that Valve’s refund policy hasn’t really changed, despite reports to the contrary.
The rumor of a new refund program for European Steam users seems to have started on reddit, where user punikun noticed that the following language had been added to the Steam subscriber agreement:
IF YOU ARE AN EU SUBSCRIBER, YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO ANY PURCHASE TRANSACTION FOR DIGITAL CONTENT WITHOUT CHARGE AND WITHOUT REASON FOR A DURATION OF FOURTEEN DAYS OR UNTIL VALVE BEGINS PERFORMANCE OF ITS OBLIGATIONS WITH YOUR EXPRESS CONSENT AND ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF YOUR CONFIRMATION THAT YOU THEREFORE LOS YOUR RIGHT OF WITHDRAWAL, WHATEVER HAPPEN SOONER. THEREFORE YOU WILL BE NOTIFIED DURING CHECKOUT WHEN OUR PERFORMANCE STARTS AND ASKED TO GIVE YOUR PRIOR EXPRESS CONSENT THAT THE PURCHASE IS FINAL.
It’s easy to read that “right to withdraw” at the beginning of that clause and jump to the conclusion that EU law forces Valve to adhere to a 14-day return period. Indeed, the EU Consumer Rights Directive generally provides for a 14-day “right of withdrawal” for the sale of “goods at a distance” and the performance of some service contracts.
But section 19 of that EU directive explicitly allows sellers of digital goods to ask users to waive that right before making the purchase, provided the digital goods are delivered immediately. As VG247 points out, European users now tick a box agreeing to just that kind of exemption when they buy a new game on Steam:
By clicking “buy” you agree that Valve will give you immediate access to digital content as soon as you complete your purchase, without waiting for the 14-day withdrawal period. Therefore, you expressly waive your right to cancel this purchase.
“Basically, you get a 14-day return period unless you agree not to have one,” Law of the Game blog author and Dallas attorney Mark Methenitis told Ars Technica. “Both Valve and Apple make sure you agree not to have one… and they actually have a good reason for doing so. Without that waiver, both the Steam Store and the App Store become a means of renting content for 14 days and never pay for it… Think of it as requiring most software, movies and music to be returned without being opened; otherwise Target/Walmart/Best Buy becomes a rental system for physical goods returned after use.
So while it would be nice if Valve decided to follow the lead of EA’s Origin and Android’s Google Play Store by offering some sort of time-limited refund on purchases, Steam’s official refund policy remains that “unless required by the local law, we do not offer refunds or exchanges for games, DLC or in-game items purchased on our website or through the Steam client.” And despite what you may have heard, EU “local law” still doesn’t require the company to implement such a digital refund program, not to mention the rest of the world.
Valve did not respond to a request for comment for this story.