Steam’s recent change in its Terms of Service mirrors a move made by Sony, Microsoft, and EA: they have changed its wording to ensure that a customer could bring no class-action lawsuit against the company. A customer disgruntled by some poor service would have to bring it to Steam in a smaller court, which ultimately saves Steam money and blame if it turns out they are at fault. The problem with this is that class-action lawsuits exist to protect customers, and revoking this bit of the customer’s rights has grave implications—especially for a company like Steam.
When the other major companies did this, the gamer community blew up—but it’s not so easy to talk about Steam. Not because customers aren’t upset—because, browsing through any forum, you can tell they are—but because Steam has a huge advantage over the other companies. They don’t sell games, they license them. If you decline the user agreements for the other systems, you still retain the ability to play your games—you are just limited to playing in offline mode.
However, if you refuse to comply with Steam’s user agreement, you are permanently banned, and no longer have access to the games you bought, even in offline mode. This is because Steam licenses games instead of selling them, and these licenses can be revoked at any given time, according to their whim. Even if you don’t intend to use Steam to purchase a new game, to keep playing your old games, you’re required to agree with their terms of service at any moment in time. This is the real reason fewer gamers are grabbing their pitchforks and lambasting the Steam service.
The worst part about this is that Steam has a reputation for being such a good and convenient service. Overlooking the part about game licenses is easy when you know a company can be trusted, and Steam is one of the few companies that can—or could—be trusted not to shut down on a whim. This change in the Terms of Service, combined with the stolen credit card incident last year, shows that Steam is just as susceptible to this kind of behavior as any other company, regardless of their track record.
Perhaps there is a way to justify this kind of activity—Steam has plenty of competition, and seeing other large companies put this into their terms of service and get away with it might have pressured them into doing the same for their own company. However, having a reason isn’t the same thing as having an excuse. Steam is known for taking the high route, and that is what has garnered them so much support (admittedly along with their sales). At a time like this, holding true to their reputation should be worth more than securing their company—after all, it’s their good reputation that built up their fanbase. Falling into what is most advantageous for them as a company, rather than a fair contract between a consumer and company, just shows that the Steam service is starting to resemble Microsoft and EA ad drift away from what made it so good in the first place.