A U.S. district judge has decided that an antitrust lawsuit against Valve over how it operates and uses the Steam platform can move forward. The company suing Valve, Wolfire Games, alleges that the Half-Life and Portal developer uses its digital storefront and its huge amount of control over the PC gaming market to “exploit publishers and consumers.”
As reported by Bloomberg earlier this week, U.S. District Court Judge John C. Coughenour ruled in favor of letting part of Wolfire Games’ lawsuit against Valve move forward in the Western District of Washington. Judge Coughenour said it was plausible that Valve used Steam’s immense size and control of the market to threaten or even punish developers that try to sell games through other platforms, like the Epic Games Store or GOG.
According to Judge Coughenour, Wolfire’s allegations are that Valve uses a combination of “written and unwritten rules” to “enforce” control over developers, influencing how games, even non-Steam-enabled ones, are sold and priced. And the judge feels that these allegations are “sufficient to plausibly allege unlawful conduct.”
This May 6 decision is a win for Wolfire, following a previous setback in the ongoing legal case against Valve and its Steam platform. After filing the initial lawsuit last year in May, Wolfire’s case against Valve was dismissed by the same Judge in November. However, Wolfire was allowed to file another complaint about the issues noted in the dismissal and did so. Now, Wolfire’s antitrust lawsuit will move forward in court.
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It wasn’t a total win for Wolfire, however, as another claim in the lawsuit was dismissed. Wolfire argued that Steam operates in two markets—as a gaming platform and store—and that Valve shouldn’t tie them together. The judge disagreed, saying that there is no demand from consumers for a fully functional gaming platform that is separate from a store. However, the remainder of the case and its focus on Valve’s alleged control of pricing and sales remains.
Back in May 2021, Wolfire’s CEO David Rosen said in a blog post about the lawsuit that he had “no choice” but to file the suit against Valve because it had become too large and powerful in the PC gaming marketplace.
“As the dominant platform, when developers list their games on multiple PC stores, the majority of their sales will come through Steam,” wrote Rosen.
“I believe this makes most developers afraid that if they don’t sell on Steam, they will lose the majority of their revenue. To those developers, avoiding Steam would add unacceptable risk to the already high risk of game development in general. I believe that most developers have little or no choice but to sell on Steam and do as they’re told by Valve.”
“I believe that businesses are free to do whatever they want within the law. However, once a company reaches a certain level of power over an entire market, the antitrust laws forbid those companies from distorting competition.”