Joining the likes of Microsoft, Sony and Electronic Arts, developers and online retailers Valve have announced changes to Steam's subscriber agreement that seek to prohibit users from filing lawsuits against the company.
Saying that they "considered this change very carefully", a Valve statement explains that "It's clear to us that in some situations, class actions have real benefits to customers. In far too many cases however, class actions don't provide any real benefit to users and instead impose unnecessary expense and delay, and are often designed to benefit the class action lawyers who craft and litigate these claims."
"Class actions like these do not benefit us or our communities. We think this new dispute resolution process is faster and better for you and Valve while avoiding unnecessary costs, and that it will therefore benefit the community as a whole."
On the one hand, they have a point! Many class action lawsuits are a waste of everyone's time and a pain in the ass. But what happens if something terrible happens to Steam one day, and there are actually grounds to instigate such a case? As the statement reads, in some situations, class action lawsuits do benefit customers. By removing that option, they're essentially depriving you, as a consumer, of a valid means of protecting your rights and gaining compensation should Valve one day mess something up.
In addition to the attempted block on class-action suits - remember, some American states are questioning the legality of these kind of clauses - Valve is also trying to put a stop to users launching individual lawsuits against the company, instead introducing "a new required process whereby we agree to use arbitration or small claims court to resolve the dispute."
This sucks. Why? You normally can't appeal the findings of a private arbitration hearing, nor is there an independent or public means of reviewing an arbitrator's decisions. Such hearings are also designed to be conducted privately, out of the public eye.
The move ensures that even if Valve screws something up, or something terrible happens to Steam and/or your games collection, any compensation or dispute will be handled on their terms, not those of a court and jury.
Should you actually need to resolve a dispute via such a hearing, "Valve will reimburse your costs of the arbitration for claims under a certain amount". Also, "Reimbursement by Valve is provided regardless of the arbitrator's decision, provided that the arbitrator does not determine the claim to be frivolous or the costs unreasonable."
You can read the new agreement in its entirety here. Importantly, it appears that, much like Microsoft's changes, there is no "opt-out" clause.
The new agreement is part of a Steam update that has already gone live.