As media drifts further and further away from reaching people through phsycial goods—paper magazines, CDs, video games on Blu-ray discs, etc.—capitalism continues to struggle to catch up to the change. The video game retail business in particular is in a pickle. Stores like GameStop mitigated the historically high prices of video games by letting people trade in old games to purchase new ones. Those stores, in turn, made a tidy profit on selling pre-owned games. What happens when video games are only distributed digitally? Can people sell back the license to play those games? According to the European Union’s Court of Justice, it would be perfectly legal to do so. To date though, digital distributors like Valve’s Steam don’t buy back used games and some consumer groups are fed up.
The Federation of German Consumers Association (VZBV) in particular has taken issue with Valve and Steam. The VZBV tried to get Valve to allow Steam customers to at least be able to sell their game licenses to other users after the Court of Justice sent down its decision. As of this writing, Steam users can’t even give away games they’ve purchased if they no longer want them in their library.
The VZBV announced this week that it’s escalated its pursuit of Valve. “[The VZBV has] submitted a complaint against the company to the district court of Berlin,” said representative Eva Hoffschulte on the group’s website.
The VZBV also went into detial about what in particular it’s trying to get Valve to change. In particular, it claims that by restricting Steam users from reselling games they’ve purchased on the service, Valve is limiting the growth of the digital distribution industry as a whole. They also think it’s unfair that consumers don’t have the right to resell digital games when their prices fluctuate so wildly. A consumer that spends $60 on a disc version of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, for example, can resell it for around $35 before the disc drops in price to that level months later. A Steam user that pays full price for a digital download, meanwhile, doesn’t get any of that value later on.
Valve is open to exploring used game sales. It already offers the Steam Trading service. Rumors that Valve would test letting users sell back games after playing them have been circulating for years now.
This much is true: Valve hired a full-time economist in June 2012. If nothing else, the company is actively researching what a media business should be in a world without physical goods.