On 28 March 2016, the Australian Federal Court announced that Valve and its online distributor Steam were in breach of Australian Consumer Law.
The issue revolved around the ability to refund and return online goods – a requirement of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
In light of the case, Steam has subsequently instituted a worldwide refund policy.
Although Valve argued they did not officially conduct business in Australia and that this does not fall under the ambit of “goods”, the court disagreed and stated that they had failed to comply with Australian Consumer Law.
What this means for South African gamers
This is an important judgement from a South African perspective, as it will question where our own Consumer Protection Act and Electronic Communications Act stand.
Typically there is “no general right of return” (S16 CPA) on goods, but the Electronic Communication Act provides the following:
- a general right to return (a ‘cooling off period’),
- for seven days after delivery,
- for any reason,
- without penalty, but
- the consumer will be liable for the costs of returning the goods.
Obviously Valve has now adjusted its refund policies to be more in line with our laws, but what about Microsoft and Sony? We reached out to both companies to better understand their stance on digital refunds.
Sony’s refund policy can be found on its website. At first glance they go beyond the Act’s requirements, allowing for a return for any reason within 14 days “provided you have not started streaming or downloading” the purchase.
What if you have already started downloading the game? The policy is then to only refund the purchase if the content is faulty.
Microsoft’s refund policy is almost identical. It provides for a 14 day “cooling-off period” and a full refund on your item – provided you haven’t already started downloading it.
Everything appears to be above board and both stores offer full refunds – which was more than Valve could say.
In the case of both companies, their policies operate from an English-law standpoint – meaning some conflicting issues will naturally arise. They aren’t the only companies that do this either – it might be interesting to see how iTunes, Origin and the Google Play Store stack up in comparison, and to check whether your right of return really extends as far as you think.
There don’t appear to be any issues at the moment, and a South African would have to take the matter to court in order for the law to develop further.