Indie developer (and Humble Indie Bundle originator Wolfire Games has filed a proposed class-action lawsuit against Steam creator Valve, saying that the company is wielding Steam’s monopoly power over the PC gaming market to extract “an extraordinarily high cut from nearly every sale that passes through its store—30%.”
An unbreakable monopoly
The lawsuit, filed in a Washington state federal court, centers on what it considers an illegal tying of the Steam gaming platform (which provides game library management, social networking, achievement tracking, Steam Workshop mods, etc.) and the Steam game store (which processes online payments and delivers a copy of the game). After years of growth, the vast majority of PC gamers are locked in to the Steam platform thanks to “immense network effects” and the high switching costs to move to a new PC platform, the suit argues.
That makes the platform “a must-have for game publishers,” who need access to the players on Steam to succeed. But games that use the Steam platform also have to be sold on the Steam store, where Valve takes its 30 percent cut of all sales. By leveraging its monopoly platform power into a “gatekeeper role” for the store, Valve “wield[s] extreme power over publishers of PC Desktop Games” that leads to a “small but significant and non-transitory increase in price” for developers compared to a truly competitive market, the suit argues.