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Judge rules part of antitrust suit against Valve can continue

The antitrust lawsuit against Valve can continue, a US judge has ruled. Valve had filed a motion for the case to be dismissed, but the latest ruling states that game publishers “plausibly allege” that they “suffer price and non-price injury” from Valve’s conduct related to Steam. In particular, the suit alleges that Valve use “most favored nation” policies to prevent competition based on price.

In this case, the alleged “most favored nation” policies relate to part of the agreement sellers sign with Valve when releasing a game on the Steam store. These policies state that publishers must offer their game on Steam for the best price it’s available elsewhere. The parties in the anti-trust suit argue this stops them from offering games cheaper elsewhere, thus stifling competition with Steam.

The suit also alleges that Steam’s 30% fee for releasing a game on Steam is substantially more than Valve’s costs, and that this high price is maintained due to Steam’s high market share.

The suit was brought by a combination of game publishers and Steam users, including Overgrowth developers Wolfire Games. Wolfire’s part of the suit was initially dismissed.

As reported by Bloomberg Law, Judge John C. Coughenour has now walked back his earlier skepticism. He had originally ruled that the stability of Valve’s 30% cut of sales showed that they were not exploiting their market share to increase prices, but he now rules in his latest opinion that Valve “did not need market power to charge a fee well above its cost structure” at first because it was competing against brick-and-mortar game stores. That’s obviously no longer the case.

While the “most favored nation” allegations will advance, other claims made as part of the suit were dismissed.

All of this is similar to cases brought against Apple and Google in recent years, particularly that brought by Epic Games concerning the Apple app store. Epic’s Tim Sweeney has likewise criticized Valve’s policies, alleging on Twitter that Steam “has veto power over prices.”

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