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Steam: Policy Primer - Warwick Janetzki NET303: Internet Politics and Power Curtin University, Australia
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Steam: Policy Primer - Warwick Janetzki NET303: Internet Politics and Power Curtin University, Australia


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Do you consider yourself a gamer? Do you own a PC? Then more than likely at some stage you will encounter Steam, the largest digital distributor, digital rights manager and communications platform for …

Do you consider yourself a gamer? Do you own a PC? Then more than likely at some stage you will encounter Steam, the largest digital distributor, digital rights manager and communications platform for PC Gamers.

Published in: Education, Technology

  • Hi Warwick,

    I enjoyed reading your policy primer as I too am a Steam user and hadn't read through their Terms of Service, it was informative to say the least.

    I found your section on ownership most interesting as the digital era has brought on a lot of debate around ‘ownership vs. access’. The physical sale of a product, where there is a complete transfer of ownership rights to a particular copy of work, has been the standard model for centuries. As stated by Davis (2001), “Copyright law explicitly anticipates the sale of intellectual property products and, by its “first-sale rule,” gives the purchaser a significant body of rights in the purchased copy. The purchaser is, for example, free to lend, rent, or resell the purchased copy”. With licensing, such as with Steam, it is merely a private agreement that provides a limited transfer of rights to use a work. As you have mentioned in your Policy Primer, the terms of this agreement do not permit users to sell, lease or trade their products.

    I also thought that the limitations on subscriber generated content to be of interest as Valve, the company behind the Steam platform, has been well known for encouraging the production of user content and ‘mods’, modifications of an original game. A successful example from Valve was their game Half-Life, in which they open up about 80 percent of the game’s content coding to the community (Arakji & Lang, 2007). Not only did they successfully stimulate the user community but they protected their revenue as ‘all mods created with the supplied toolkit can only be run on the engine of the original game’ (Arakji & Lang, 2007). Out of the mods created for Half-Life came the game Counter-Strike; created by community users Minh Lee and Jess Cliffe (Arakji & Lang, 2007) and one of Valve’s most successful products. Counter-Strike is now a commercialized game on the Steam platform with various versions created over the last decade. It makes one think about how much benefit, both in community growth and revenue, Valve makes over encouraging Steam users to create content for free to support their games while still maintaining control over everything that is made.


    Davis, R. (2001, February). The Digital Dilemma. Communications of the ACM, 44(2), 77-83. Retrieved from

    Arakji, R. & Lang, K. (2007). Digital Consumer Networks and Producer – Consumer Collaboration: Innovation and Product Development in the Video Game Industry. Journal of Management Information Systems, 24(2), 195-219.
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  • Hi Warwick
    I enjoyed reading your Policy Primer.
    I found it interesting that subscribers are encouraged to create 'fan art' but that they cannot benefit financially from the work. I do find this disappointing that most companies take licenses over user content. I feel that it is unfair because 'subscriber generated content' is so important to their sites.
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  • Hi Warwick,
    It was interesting reading about Steam, understanding its similarities with RedBubble and Second life, in that it also provides an online environment where users can share, play, explore, sell, and create content.

    Your presentation provided a clear overarching view on what a user is to expect when signing up to the Valve platform. I found the topics of digital distribution, digital rights management (DRM), ownership and architecture very informative.

    With graphic violence in video games being a major concern associated with younger age groups, it was interesting to read that Steam fails to provide a more successful filtering mechanism in their architecture (Lessig, 1998a) that monitors and ensures access restrictions to age restricted users.

    The presentation mentions authentication systems that restrict access through password and account name creation, also employed by other platforms such as RedBubble, Facebook, and Twitter to control entry into forums and community marketplaces. It is these systems incorporated into the architecture of a platform that allow the creation of monitoring and surveillance mechanisms (Lyon, 2002; Lessig, 1998b) such as policies, social norms, and rules that aid in the systems viability.

    Whilst your presentation is quite long, it seems necessary to cover in depth the issues surrounding online content distribution, especially regarding any form of online media in today’s technical environment.

    Ownership and Intellectual property rights have never played a bigger role in the marketplace as it currently does online. Peer-to Peer (P2P) platforms and innovative data copying technologies are constantly threatening the viability of a vulnerable market, circumventing restriction mechanisms such as Steam and DRM to produce pirated copies.


    Lessig, L. (1998a). The Laws of Cyberspace.

    Lessig, L. (1998b). The Architecture of Privacy.Available:

    Lyon, D. (2002) Everyday Surveillance: Personal Data and Social Classification, Information, Communication, and Society, 5(1).
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  • 1. NET303 - Online Policy Primer prepared by Warwick Janetzki, Curtin University of Technology, Australia. October 2013 The Constitution of an Entertainment Platform This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercialShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.
  • 2. Valve Corporation advertises Steam as “the ultimate entertainment platform” that enables their subscriber base to “play, connect, create and more.” Image „Playing Games‟ shared by van der Hoek (2007) However, the „more‟ is important. Steam in actuality is a digital distributor, digital rights manager and a communications platform
  • 3. Image „Download Button Red‟ shared by Sloan (2011) “Digital Distribution is a distribution method in which content is delivered without the use of physical media, normally by downloading from the internet straight to a consumer‟s home.”
  • 4. Image „Game List – Warwick Janetzki‟ Steam enables their subscriber base to download software, mostly games, directly from their servers. This eliminates the necessity of physical media. However, most software require large downloads, so subscribers require an Internet connection with a substantial bandwidth quota.
  • 5. Image „DRM is like a keyless pad lock‟ shared by Knittel. (2007) “Digital Rights Management, or DRM, is a class of technologies that allow rights owners to set and enforce terms by which people use their intellectual property… Most often companies use DRM to curb piracy of their content by restricting subscribers‟ ability to copy it.”
  • 6. Image „Steam Valve Cap‟ shared by Fraser. (2013) Steam acts as an authentication system in their role as digital rights manager. The Steam software requires subscribers to log in via their account name and password before they can access software or games that Steam manages.
  • 7. Image „communication concept‟ shared by Lizoul. (2009) A communications platform is a Web-based technology that enables communications to take place between different people. Examples of these, aside from Steam, include Facebook, Skype, Twitter and Internet Relay Chat.
  • 8. Image „Partial Friend List – Warwick Janetzki‟ Subscribers can communicate with their friends via their friend list, contribute to groups, become active on the forums hosted on the Steam website and of course connect with people all throughout the world and play multiplayer games.
  • 9. Image „Concurrent Steam Users (most recent 48 hours)‟ Valve (2013) Over 2200 games  54 million plus active user accounts  In excess of 6.6 million concurrent players  Estimated 50-70% share of the digital distribution market for downloadable PC video games 
  • 10. Image „Yes No‟ shared by Minh-Duy Poirrier. (2007) The Steam Subscriber Agreement (SSA) are the terms of use as outlined by Valve. Subscribers must agree in order to be granted access. The agreement takes effect from the moment that a subscriber clicks the accept and submit buttons.
  • 11. Image „Lego Architecture: Tower of Babel‟ shared by Pascal (2011) “In the world of cyberspace, the selection of an architecture is as important as the choice of a constitution. For in a fundamental sense, the code of cyberspace is its constitution. It sets the terms upon which people get access; it sets its own sovereignty” (Lessig, 1998, p. 9)
  • 12. Image „Choosing The Right Key- Explored 2011-06-15 #307‟ Shared by tamahaji (2011) The agreement supports the platform‟s architecture. The agreement notifies subscribers of their rights and obligations as well as those of Valve. The policy protects Valve should illegal activities be performed by other subscribers, the transfer of viruses or other negative experiences occur.
  • 13. Image „Zebra 13th Birthday Cake‟ Shared by thecakemamas (2008) Subscribers must be at least 13 years of age. However, subscribers only need to click a box to claim that they are at least 13. Thus, there are a large number of children playing on Steam who are not yet of the appropriate age.
  • 14. Although Steam offers a reliable service to its subscriber base their Subscriber Agreement is not without a number of problems.      Potential of identity deception and subsequent scamming Lack of ownership Unable to profit from fan art or contributions Additional „hidden‟ agreements subscribers do not need to read before agreeing to the SSA The SSA can be changed at any time
  • 15. All anybody needs to create a Steam account is an e-mail address. People can claim to be somebody they are not. This creates the potential for identity deception. Scammers attempt to encourage subscribers to trade games from their inventory, purchased from Steam, without giving anything in return. Steam does not protect subscribers in the event that they are scammed. Image „Steam Trading Policy‟ Valve (2013)
  • 16. Image „Responsibility‟ Shared by Helen K (2009) When you agree to the SSA you are agreeing that you will be personally responsible for your account. This includes “all activity on your Account and for the security of your computer system.”
  • 17. Image „Untitled‟ Shared by Malkoff. (2012) Before high speed Internet became widely available software publishers were forced to distribute their goods via physical means only. This included cassette tape, cartridge, floppy disc, CD, DVD and ultimately BluRay. When you bought a physical copy you the game.
  • 18. Image „Yes Uncle Steve, we know…‟ Shared by Eddie (2009) With Steam subscribers no longer own the games that they buy. When subscribers agree to the SSA they acknowledge to buying a license. Licenses confer no title or ownership to the software. It simply allows subscribers the right to use the software for personal, non-commercial purposes via the Steam software.
  • 19. Image „nothing‟ Shared by Lopez. (2009) You may think that as long as you get access to your game now that there is no harm. This is wrong! The problem is if Steam were to be shut down or you lost access to your account or you were banned from the service you would no longer own anything!
  • 20. Image „Copyright Locked‟ Shared by Irish Typepad (2010) The ownership of the game and its software belongs to Valve and/or its affiliate‟s licensors (usually the developers and/or the publishing company producing the game). This ownership protects copyright laws, conventions and other treaties.
  • 21. Image „Not For Sale‟ Shared by Towe My (2008) Subscribers are not allowed to sell or lease their accounts. Further, you cannot trade games that are already on your “games list” (not in inventory). Thus, unlike console gaming (Playstation, Xbox and Nintendo) there is no pre-owned gaming.
  • 22. Image „Create‟ Shared by Peck (2010) Valve encourages subscribers to create fan art. These artistic pieces can take a number of forms including posters, t-shirts, models and replicas to name just a few creative ideas. However, under the SSA you cannot benefit financially from your work as this breaks copyrights held by the licensers.
  • 23. Subscribers agreeing to the SSA must be mindful that they are also agreeing to additional terms not outlined in the SSA itself. These terms include: Rules of Use  Steam‟s Online Conduct  Valve‟s Privacy Policy 
  • 24. Image „hiding‟ Shared by Neilson (2010) These additional terms are not included in the SSA. Steam does not require Subscribers to read them before agreeing to the SSA. As such, subscribers may not be aware of vital rules and conditions when subscribing.
  • 25. Image „#245 Pay Attention‟ Shared by Miettinen (2009) The SSA makes continual reference of a “Rules of Use” agreement. However, this appears to be a vague reference. Ultimately, what is implied by “Rules of Use” is that it is a combination of all of the different rule sets Steam has including online conduct, privacy and the SSA itself.
  • 26. Image „For good behaviour‟ Shared by Wright (2011) Subscribers must agree to having complete responsibility for the use of their account. This includes online conduct, cheating and illegal behaviour. Should Steam find that subscribers are guilty of misconduct they face the risk of having their account or game subscriptions terminated.
  • 27. Just what constitutes naughty behaviour on Steam?        Uploading offensive or illegal material Infringing copyright Uploading viruses Threatening or abusive behaviour Harvesting information from other subscribers Creating a false identity Violating laws or regulations
  • 28. Image „privacy‟ Shared by MacEntee (2009) The Privacy Policy details Valve‟s rights in regards to the acquisition and use of personal identification, privacy conditions on their forums and the storage of information
  • 29. Image „Information‟ Shared by Magliery (2009) Subscribers grant Valve the right to collect personally identifiable information. This includes information such as name, address and even a credit card number.
  • 30. Image „Going up‟ Shared by Nix (2010) Valve uses the subscriber information in order to improve their service. Third parties are granted use of this information as far as to process subscriber approved purchases. Valve never uses this information for marketing purposes.
  • 31. Image „Concert Crowd (Osheaga 2009) – 30000 waiting for Coldplay‟ Shared by Koul (2009) Valve urges their subscribers to understand that any information that they publish on gaming forums and in chat rooms is public information. As such Valve recommends that subscribers use caution when posting personal information.
  • 32. Image „change‟ Shared by MacEntee (2010) Valve holds the right to change the terms of the SSA at their discretion. If subscribers do not agree with the changes their only remedy is to cancel their account.
  • 33. Image „e-commerce_credit-cards‟ Shared by StormKatt (2013) Subscribers must confirm that they are the primary account holder of the payment source Valve is charging. However, due to the Steam‟s architecture no checks are made until after somebody forces a chargeback to their account after falling victim to theft.
  • 34. Image „My wallet (slimmed)‟ Shared by Chay (2007) Subscribers are encouraged to transfer funds for purchasing software to their Steam Wallet. This is Steam‟s digital „bank balance.‟ Subscribers can also make purchases by using bank cards, PayPal, WebMoney, iDeal, PaySafeCard, Moneybrokers and directEbanking.
  • 35. Image „2000 pictures on flickr!‟ Shared by McDonnell (2007) To safeguard against potential fraud the maximum any individual subscriber can have in their Steam wallet at anyone time is US$2000.
  • 36. Image „Marketplace‟ Shared by Jespersen (2009) Steam hosts a marketplace where subscribers can trade, buy and sell trading cards and existing, non-subscriber created, in game items. This is the only way subscribers can make money from Steam. This money can only be used to purchase products through Steam. Steam and game developers earn their share of the pie.
  • 37. Image „Programmer‟ Shared by Thompson (2011) Subscribers grant Valve and its affiliates complete control over subscriber generated content. Subscribers cannot profit financially from their contributions but may gain recognition. Before submission subscribers must confirm it does not violate any contract, law or regulation.
  • 38. Image „Dispute‟ Shared by Purviance (2005) For subscribers outside of the EU, there is an agreement made to resolve all civil disputes and claims against Valve in individual binding arbitration rather than in court. Subscribers also agree to reach a resolution with Valve prior to the case being heard by an arbitrator.
  • 39. BBC News. 2007. BBC NEWS | Technology | Q&A: What is DRM?. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Oct 2013]. 2013. Digital Distribution Law & Legal Definition. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 19 Oct 2013]. Eddie (2009). Yes Uncle Steve, we know… [Image] Retrieved from Fraser, S. (2013). Steam Valve Cap. [Image] Retrieved from 2013. Steam (Concept) - Giant Bomb. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 19 Oct 2013]. Graft, K. 2013. Stardock Reveals Impulse, Steam Market Share Estimates. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 19 Oct 2013]. Helen K. (2009). Responsibility. [Image] Retrieved from Irish Typepad (2010). Copyright Locked. [Image] Retrieved from Knittel, K. (2007). DRM is like a keyless padlock. [Image] Retrieved from Koul, A. (2009). Concert Crowd (Osheaga 2009) – 3000 Waiting for Coldplay. [Image] Retrieved from
  • 40. Lessig, L. 1998. "The Laws of Cyberspace", paper presented at Taiwan Net '98, Taipei, Taiwan, March. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, p. 9. Lizoul, A. (2009). communication concept. [Image] Retrieved from Lopez , C.R. (2008). nothing [image] Retrieved from MacEntee, S. (2010). change [image] Retrieved from MacEntee, S. (2010). privacy [image] Retrieved from Magliery, T. (2008). Information [Image] Retrieved from Malkoff, D. (2012). Untitled. [Image] Retrieved from McDonnell, K. (2007). 2000 pictures on flickr! [Image] Retrieved from Miettinen, M. (2009). #245 Pay Attention [Image] Retrieved from Minh-Duy Poirrier, J. (2007). Yes No. [Image] Retrieved from Neilson, L. (2010). hiding [Image] Retrieved from Nix, J. (2010). Going up [Image] Retrieved from
  • 41. Pascal. (2011). Lego Architecture: The Tower of Babel [Image] Retrieved from Peck, W. (2010). Create [Image] Retrieved from Purviance, A. (2005). Dispute [Image] Retrieved from Savage, P. 2013. Steam concurrent users growing 300% faster than start of 2012, Dota 2 players rising steadily | News | PC Gamer. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 19 Oct 2013]. Sloan, T. (2011). Download Button Red. [Image] Retrieved from 2013. Steam Search. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 19 Oct 2013]. StormKatt. (2013). e-commerce_credit-cards. [Image] Retrieved from tamahaji (2011). Choosing The Right Key-Explored 2011-06-15 #307. [Image] Retrieved from 2013. What is a Social Platform? - Definition from Techopedia. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 19 Oct 2013]. thecakemamas (2008). Zebra 13th Birthday Cake. [Image] Retrieved from
  • 42. Thompson, C. (2011). Programmer. [Image] Retrieved from Towe My (2008). Not For Sale. [Image] Retrieved from Valve (2013). Concurrent Steam Users (most recent 48 hours). [Image] Retrieved from Valve. 2013. Privacy Policy Agreement. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 19 Oct 2013]. Valve. (2013). Steam [computer software]. Available from Valve. 2013. Steam logo [Image] Retrieved from Valve. 2013. Steam Online Conduct. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 19 Oct 2013]. Valve. 2013. Steam Subscriber Agreement. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 19 Oct 2013]. Valve. 2013. Steam, The Ultimate Online Game Platform. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 19 Oct 2013]. Valve. 2013. Steam Trading Policy - Trading and Gifting - Knowledge Base - Steam Support. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 19 Oct 2013]. van der Hoek, J. (2007). Playing Games. [Image] Retrieved from Wright, T. (2011). For good behaviour. [Image] Retrieved from