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.
Steam: Policy Primer - Warwick Janetzki NET303: Internet Politics and Power Curtin University, Australia
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.
Valve Corporation advertises Steam as “the ultimate entertainment
platform” that enables their subscriber base to “play, connect, create
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
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.”
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
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.”
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.
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
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.
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
Image „Yes No‟ shared by Minh-Duy Poirrier. (2007)
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.
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.
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
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
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
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)
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.”
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Subscribers agreeing to the SSA must be mindful that they are also
agreeing to additional terms not outlined in the SSA itself. These terms
Rules of Use
Steam‟s Online Conduct
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
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
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
Just what constitutes naughty behaviour on Steam?
Uploading offensive or illegal material
Threatening or abusive behaviour
Harvesting information from other subscribers
Creating a false identity
Violating laws or regulations
Image „privacy‟ Shared by MacEntee (2009)
and use of personal identification, privacy conditions on their forums
and the storage of information
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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