Videogame maker and distributor Valve Corp. must face antitrust litigation over claims that “most favored nation” policies for its Steam platform have driven up video game prices across the industry, a federal judge in Seattle ruled.
Judge John C. Coughenour let part of the case move forward in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, saying it’s plausible Valve exploits its market dominance to threaten and retaliate against developers that sell games for less through other retailers or platforms.
The company “allegedly enforces this regime through a combination of written and unwritten rules” imposing its own conditions on how even “non-Steam-enabled games are sold and priced,” Coughenour wrote. “These allegations are sufficient to plausibly allege unlawful conduct.”
The May 6 decision hands a win to the consumers and game publishers leading the proposed class action after the judge twice issued preliminary rulings in Valve’s favor.
Coughenour first ordered Steam subscribers to arbitrate their consumer claims in October, then tentatively dismissed the developer lawsuit the following month. Consumers who don’t subscribe to Steam—and never signed its arbitration agreement—are still involved in the case.
The consolidated dispute is one of several legal challenges to the standard 30% commission taken by leading sales and app distribution platforms across Silicon Valley.
The allegations echo claims that Amazon.com Inc. uses most-favored-nation-style policies to hike the price of “virtually all products offered for sale” online in the U.S. The Amazon cases include one focused on eBooks and another brought by the attorney general of Washington, D.C.
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