What just happened? A group of consumers and game developers filed a lawsuit against Valve last year, accusing the company of using Steam’s dominance in PC game distribution to control pricing. This week, a federal judge allowed part of the case to move forward.
On Monday, Seattle Judge John C. Coughenour rejected Valve’s bid to end an antitrust case over Steam. Coughenour said it is plausible that Valve is abusing Steam’s top position in the market to stop developers from lowering their prices elsewhere.
The core of this case concerns why games tend to have the same price on Steam and other stores despite some of them, like the Epic Games Store, taking smaller cuts. Publishers like Microsoft and EA sell games on Steam and their storefronts for the same price, despite not needing to pay anyone a commission on the stores they own.
A year ago, one of the main plaintiffs, Wolfire Games, claimed this is because Valve threatens developers with removal from Steam.
The plaintiffs assert that the Steamworks documentation contains a clause that enforces price parity between Steam and other storefronts. Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney agrees. However, only the section on selling Steam keys outside of Steam suggests price equality. “We ask you to treat Steam customers no worse than customers buying Steam keys outside of Steam,” it reads. Anonymous sources told Ars Technica the same.
The case against Valve seems to lose some weight when examining PC games that aren’t on Steam. Ars found that such games almost always sold for the same price on Epic’s store and consoles despite Epic charging a lower commission than the console manufacturers.
A similar case is seen with Ubisoft, which didn’t lower its prices when it stopped selling new games on Steam. Free of Valve’s sales cut, Ubisoft seems to have simply pocketed the difference when selling games like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and Far Cry 6 on its store and Epic’s.
Nonetheless, Coughenour has allowed the plaintiffs’ price-parity accusations to proceed. “These allegations are sufficient to plausibly allege unlawful conduct,” he said.