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A new ruling by a French court has the potential to radically alter the way people buy, sell, and play video games. For years French consumer rights group UFC Que Choisir have been embroiled in a legal battle with Valve Corporation over several clauses in the company’s Steam user agreement, particularly the one that states you don’t actually own games purchased on the popular digital storefront – you’re merely subscribing to the games in your library. This clause means Steam users don’t have certain basic consumer rights, like the ability to resell the games they buy.
Well, the District Court of Paris has struck down the notion that Steam sells subscriptions. According to the court, Steam sells game licenses, and consumers ought to have the right to do what they want with them. Yup, even though Steam games are purely digital, users should be able to resell them. The court also took Valve to task for other practices, such as holding onto Steam Wallet funds when players leave the platform, unclear moderation policies, and not accepting responsibility if users’ computers are harmed by software (even betas) sold on their platform.
This legal battle isn’t over yet, as Valve is certain to appeal, but this ruling could set off a series of similar challenges across the EU, and possibly elsewhere in the world. Meanwhile, UFC Que Choisir has said they plan to directly challenge other digital products and platforms.
If the ability to resell digital games becomes a legal requirement in the EU and elsewhere, it will be interesting to see what kind of ripple effects it may have on games. The industry is already embracing a subscription-based model with services like Microsoft’s (NASDAQ:MSFT) Xbox Game Pass and Electronic Arts’ (NASDAQ:EA) Origin, a move largely motivated by a desire to cut off game reselling via GameStop (NASDAQ:GME) and other physical retailers. You have to believe users also being able to sell their digital games would only hasten the move to the subscription model.
It will also be interesting to see how this may effect the biggest new player on the block, Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL). Their new Stadia game steaming service is actually more like Steam than Game Pass – while Stadia Pro subscribers will get access to a limited library of “free” games, most new titles have to be purchased separately. What you’re mainly paying for with a Stadia subscription is access to Google’s servers. This is a new business model, one major cloud gaming competitors like Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) and Microsoft are looking to follow, and digital game resales would throw it into disarray.
Of course, the move to the subscription model will have major implications for games themselves. Major offline single-player games may be an endangered species. The current “live service” model heavily pushed by Ubisoft and other big publishers where a game is sold for $60 and then supported with free add-on content might go away with digital resales undercutting profits. The day when certain major multiplayer games launch only as subscriptions, with no option to purchase the game outright, is probably coming sooner rather than later.
But perhaps it’s not all doom and gloom. Maybe Steam, Epic Games Store, GOG, and other digital storefronts can find a way to make digital game reselling work. GameStop certainly made a killing off used games until the industry intentionally kneecapped them. If Valve can find a way to make money off digital game reselling and cut publishers in on the action, perhaps it can be a mutually beneficial thing – good for consumers, good for digital storefronts, good for publishers.
Regardless of how all this shakes out, it’s clear the video game industry, and digital distribution of entertainment in general, is due for some major changes. What do you think the future holds? Are you excited about the possibility of being able to resell your Steam games or do you think it will cause more trouble than it’s worth?