Steam subscriber agreement controversy

There was one event yesterday that changed my view of Steam quite a lot. While it wasn't personal experience, research of mine made me rethink the actual strategy that content delivery systems (largest of which is Steam at the time the article was posted) use, and my trust in Steam has dropped significantly. So let me give you some details of that event and the research.


Steam logoI'll start this by retelling what happened to one of my friends just yesterday. I won't mention names and such since they have no relevance to the article anyway. So this is what happened: he has a lot of games on Steam, and quite a lot of games outside of it as well. He had one game that came on a DVD installed, and decided to use the "Add non-Steam game" option of Steam to add it to the games list for easier access to all the games from one interface. He had done that before, too, this was after an OS reinstall. That part went well, but that's when all hell broke loose.

Some time after adding it, he received an e-mail from Valve stating that his copy of that game was illegal (an actual source was also mentioned, but my friends claims to have never seen that website anyway), and his account was suspended. Sure, it sounds like one of the unlucky times where a false-positive comes out. But this makes me wonder, about a few things.

First of all, that game is not on Steam. It's not even sold there. The only thing that was done is that a link to the game's executable was added to Steam. So what permission does Steam, and so Valve, have to tamper with executables of programs that aren't even a part of their own programme? Even more so that it was legal after all.

Secondly, there is no information about that anywhere. The Subscriber Agreement doesn't list any monitoring activities of Steam; actually, quite the opposite, since section 6 of it outright states "Valve does not screen Third Party Content available on Steam or through other sources." Does that mean that it does screen content from Valve itself, then? It seems so, since this additional layer of DRM is not mentioned anywhere.

Finally, that opens possibilities for viruses. What if someone creates a virus that emulates a pirated game and automatically adds it to Steam? It could boot any person out of Steam immediately.

Continuing the story, my friend then went to Valve's forum to try and explain that he has nothing to do with it. Guess what? His topic was locked with the same message that he got by e-mail. And since then, all his support tickets were ignored as well. It's not fair at all. Anyone should have at least an opportunity to appeal and point out false positives. Besides, if this cloaked anti-cheat of theirs has false positives, why did they include it in the first place? To ban more people for no reason?

Steam enginesAt that point, since Steam had his account locked, he couldn't access any games from Steam at all. Again, it's not fair since he bought all of them. The subscriber agreement, section 13C2, states that "In the case of a one-time purchase of a product license (e.g., purchase of a single game) from Valve, Valve may choose to terminate or cancel your Subscription in its entirety or may terminate or cancel only a portion of the Subscription (e.g., access to the software via Steam) and Valve may, but is not obligated to, provide access (for a limited period of time) to the download of a stand-alone version of the software and content associated with such one-time purchase." That essentially means that they technically could, but don't have to refund the losses.

Finally, my friend posted in another forum, where he attracted enough attention so that a Valve representative came there and noted that. After that, he was given access to Steam back shortly. So all's well that ends well, but it's very lucky that this actually happened. What if his post was unnoticed there as well?..

Anyway, I decided to check out Steam's subscriber agreement more thoroughly and found quite a lot of rather frightening things there (I'm using Steam as well, so that does concern me). For example: Section 13B - "Valve reserves the right to collect fees, surcharges or costs incurred prior to the cancellation of your Account or a particular Subscription. In addition, you are responsible for any charges incurred to third-party vendors or content providers before your cancellation.In the event that your Account or a particular subscription is terminated or canceled by you, no refund, including any Subscription fees, will be granted. " As I understand that, it means that if you decide to cancel your subscription, not only will you not get a refund for everything you bought, but you may actually need to pay Valve for it! That would mean that it's not worth cancelling at all, better to reformat your disk and not install it any more.

Another example is from their Online Conduct. A part of it states: "You will not: Use any material or information, including images or photographs, via Steam in any manner that infringes any copyright, trademark, patent, trade secret, or other proprietary right of any party." That is directly linked to the incident I described earlier I believe. If I understand it correctly, this part means that not only you re not allowed to distribute anything (and as it says, anything at all - games, images, music, text files... And even if they are of no concern to Valve at all) that goes against copyright, but you can't even have it for personal use, as long as it's connected to Steam in any way; adding a link to it in Steam client seems to be sufficient, too. But that doesn't make much sense, either. If you were, for example, to create an artistic version of the Steam logo and add a link to it on Steam's client, they would have sufficient data to suspend your account as well. Not fair, and I think it might actually go against some local laws.

One more thing to note that is also listed on Wikipedia: "According to the Steam Subscriber Agreement, Steam's availability is not guaranteed and Valve is under no legal obligation to release an update disabling the authentication system in the event that Steam becomes permanently unavailable." Again, that means that you might lose money compared to buying an actual CD of your games.

Update: Here we go, Steam just demonstrated once again why it's suboptimal. As of the last update, many people are experiencing issues after buying Deus Ex: Human Revolution. It doesn't run after download, but that's not all. Some people can't open other games on Steam either! That shows a serious flaw in the system - since it adds a DRM layer, a malfunction in a single game affects every other game. Something like that would never happen on distribution systems that do not enforce DRM.