Steam’s recent update to its terms of service added a new clause that some interpreted as EU residents having the ability to receive refunds within 14 days of purchase. Upon further reading, this does not seem to be the case at all.
This morning, it was discovered that Steam’s ToS have been updated with a new clause that gives subscribers in the European Union 14 days to “return” their games and get a refund, no questions asked.
Let’s take a look at what Valve wrote in its ToS:
“If you are an EU subscriber, you have the right to withdraw from a purchase transaction for digital content without charge and without giving any reason for a duration of fourteen days.” So far so good. Until we reach this bit: “or until Valve’s performance of its obligations has begun with your prior express consent and your acknowledgement that you thereby lose your right of withdrawal, whichever happens sooner. Therefore, you will be informed during the checkout process when our performance starts and asked to provide your prior express content to the purchase being final.”
As a result, Valve now asks all users in the region for their express consent before they can proceed to checkout and buy anything.
This is the dialogue users now get when they try to purchase something from Steam:
Clicking that check box means you agree to waive your right of a refund and only then will Steam let you purchase that product. The idea here is that you won’t have to wait 14 days to receive said product – something which a seller could exploit to get around the withdrawal period. At the same time, you won’t be getting any refunds for your digital purchase, at least not ones covered by this specific directive, faulty products are not the discussion here.
For comparison, let’s look at Apple’s terms and conditions for iTunes. Apple uses similar legalese, “Exception to the right of cancellation: You cannot cancel your order for the supply of digital content if the delivery has started upon your request and acknowledgement that you thereby lose your cancellation right.”
This is all in accordance with the EU’s Directive on Consumer Rights (2011/83/EC) [PDF].
Here’s what section 19 states, “… For such contracts [referring to digital content not supplied on tangible mediums], the consumer should have a right of withdrawal unless he has consented to the beginning of the performance of the contract during the withdrawal period and has acknowledged that he will consequently lose the right to withdraw from the contract.”
So what the hell does all of this mean? Well, to my understanding, it means that Steam’s refund policy remains unchanged. Valve just plugged a loophole that lets it work in accordance with the EU consumer laws and not have to issue refunds, as shown above. They’re not the only one doing it.
It’s worth stressing that I am not legally trained and have only done my best to reference the law as well as both companys’ ToS. How you define a “service starting” could be up for debate. Whether it should start when you install the game or when you buy it is a discussion I am not equipped to have, but one that will surely happen at some point in our digital future.