Valve and Ubisoft fined over Steam and Uplay refund policies in France

Image source: France

Valve and Ubisoft have been fined by French authorities over the refund policies of Steam and Uplay, specifically their failure to specify that consumers in the country have 14 days to demand a refund from digital services. Ubisoft has no refund policy in place for Uplay—all purchases are final—while Valve offers a 14-day refund policy but only on games that have been played for less than two hours. Neither of those are adequate under French law, but that's not the only problem.

As noted by French gaming site NoFrag (via PCGamesN), French law allows for no exception for the number of hours played: Article L221-18 states, in Google translated form, "The consumer has a period of fourteen days to exercise his right of withdrawal from a contract concluded at a distance, following a canvassing telephone or off-premises, without having to motivate his decision or to bear other costs than those provided for in Articles L. 221-23 to L. 221-25."   

Those articles lay out the conditions under which consumers can be held liable for either the direct costs of returning the goods, or "the depreciation of goods resulting from manipulations other than those necessary to establish the nature, characteristics and proper functioning of these goods," which is basically a legal way of saying, "You break it, you bought it." 

The fines are relatively minor: Valve must pay €147,000 ($171,600) to France's Directorate-General for Competition, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Prevention, while Ubisoft has to fork over €180,000 ($210,100). That may be why Ubisoft doesn't sound like it's going to put up too much of a fight in a statement sent to GameDaily.biz

"The DGCCRF recently decided to penalize several video games publishers including Ubisoft for what they view as our store's non-compliance with four articles of the French consumer code. We have been collaborating with the DGCCRF on this matter, and believe our store is compliant," Ubisoft said. "While we disagree with this current decision, we look forward to continuing productive discussions with them. We also are evaluating possible recourses. In the meantime, we remain dedicated to providing great games and services to our players, including via the Ubisoft store." 

Interestingly, it appears that companies actually can restrict or deny refunds for digital purchases in France: Article L221-28 says that "the right of withdrawal cannot be exercised" under a number of specific circumstances, including for "digital content that is not supplied on a physical medium whose performance has begun after the express prior consent of the consumer and expressly waives his right of withdrawal."   

But L221-5 specifies that companies must make that clear to consumers, "in a readable and comprehensible manner," prior to the completion of the purchase. Because Valve and Ubisoft failed to spell that out, they don't get the benefit of the exception. Both Steam and Uplay now display banners detailing the fines and which laws were broken to warrant them.