A video game publisher called Wolfire Games is currently leading a class action lawsuit against Valve, the company that operates the computer gaming marketplace and platform Steam. The lawsuit alleges that Valve is using monopoly power to force game publishers to sell their games through Steam and pay fees for every sale at Valve’s chosen rate, which hurts the publishers’ ability to make money.
Lawyers think customers could make a similar claim against Steam because they’d have to pay more for games if the publishers charge more to make a profit. But due to a clause in the user agreement gamers sign when they make a Steam account, consumers can’t file a class action lawsuit like the game publishers can.
So instead, two law firms are looking to represent people who use Steam in a private legal process called “arbitration.” It’s a method of settling legal disputes outside of the courts and is required in place of class actions by some companies’ terms of services.
They’ve apparently been casting their nets wide, putting ads up on YouTube, Facebook and other social media websites. Those ads have been leading gamers to two websites with information forms: steamclaims.com and steamrefund.com. But several forums frequented by people who use Steam have questioned and debated whether these websites are scams.
Are lawyers really looking for people to represent in legal cases against Steam?
- Zaiger, LLC, the law firm behind steamclaims.com
- Mason, LLP, the law firm behind steamrefund.com
- Court documents
- Steam Subscriber Agreement
- ClassAction.org, an online information resource on class action lawsuits and settlements
- Consumer Reports, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization
Yes, there are two law firms currently looking for people to represent in legal cases against Steam. The websites dedicated to these cases are steamclaims.com and steamrefund.com. While agreeing to let either firm represent you shouldn’t cost you any money, there’s no guarantee you’ll be awarded money from this, either.
WHAT WE FOUND
In 2021, game publisher Wolfire Games sued Valve, the company which owns and operates Steam, a computer gaming platform and store, in a class action lawsuit. They alleged Steam was a monopoly, and Valve used this monopoly to pressure publishers into paying higher commission fees for every sale made on the Steam store.
Originally, there were two versions of the lawsuit: the game publishers’ version and a consumers’ version, which alleged consumers were forced to pay higher prices for games based on the arguments of the publishers’ suit.
A court decision on this case from 2021 declared that consumer claims must be handled through a process called arbitration. The reason for this is because the Steam Subscriber Agreement that people agree to in order to use the platform prohibits people from banding together to sue Valve in class action lawsuits. Instead, people wishing to sue Steam must go through arbitration, the Steam Subscriber Agreement says.
While the game publishers’ class action suit is still ongoing, the information forms on steamclaims.com and steamrefund.com are for people interested in being represented in individual arbitration. By recruiting hundreds and even thousands of people to represent, the lawyers are trying to use a tactic called “mass arbitration.”
Since there is no settlement and each case has to be argued individually, there’s no guarantee you’ll win money. If the lawyers win on your behalf, they will keep a portion of the money you’re awarded as their payment.
How can you tell these websites are legit?
Each website is owned by a different law firm. The steamclaims.com website is run by Zaiger, LLC, and the steamrefund.com website is run by Mason, LLP.
First, here’s what we know about Zaiger: It’s a real law firm, although it was only formed in 2019. In August 2022, the firm hired William Bucher as a counsel, according to Bucher’s LinkedIn page. Bucher has experience working on cases involving the video game industry during his legal career, and he is on the American Bar Association's Digital Games and New Media Committee, according to the Game Developers Conference. A Whois search of the steamclaims.com domain shows the website’s URL was registered in August 2022, the same month Zaiger hired Bucher.
Mason, LLP is also a real law firm, and its website links out to the steamrefund.com website. Mason has experience in mass arbitration cases and cites several such cases on its website, including a T-Mobile case the firm was involved in. The firm is also frequently involved in class action lawsuits.
Gary Mason, a partner at Mason, LLP, told VERIFY in a phone interview that his firm and Zaiger are the only two law firms he’s aware of that are currently offering to represent Steam customers in arbitration.
Arbitration takes place outside of the courtroom, so you won’t see either of these law firms named in court documents for Wolfire Games LLC v. Valve Corp, the game publishers’ class action lawsuit. Still, by establishing that the law firms are real, have a history in working on cases like this and even link to the claims website on their firms’ websites, you should be able to feel confident in the legitimacy of these legal services.
Lawyers typically post their contact information online. Mason says he’s answered phone calls and emails from many people who wanted to know whether they were looking at real legal services and not a scam.
And the fact that the Wolfire Games suit is still ongoing gives the arguments for these individual arbitration claims some added credibility, Mason said. The publishers’ lawsuit has survived two motions for dismissal, meaning a judge thinks it’s at least plausible that the complaint has merit. The arguments that consumers should be compensated by Valve are similar to the arguments that the publishers be compensated, he said.
Who is eligible for arbitration?
The two law firms will represent Steam account holders who have purchased games on Steam in the last four years. These account holders must be over 18 and live in the United States.
Mason, LLP claims that people may be eligible to recover as much as 60% of the purchase price of all the games they’ve purchased on Steam over the last four years.
The lawyers will not file your claim until you sign a retainer agreement.
Mason says that his firm is not currently excluding people who only have low value claims, such as people who may have only bought just one $10 game in the last few years. He explained that Valve has to include attorney fees in your recovery if you win, and since his firm only keeps about 40% of whatever you’re awarded, it’s possible that you end up with a sizable amount of money even if your claim is small.
Will this cost me anything?
Both law firms say there will be no cost to you unless you’re awarded money in arbitration.
“You pay nothing unless you get paid,” Zaiger, LLC says. “The highly experienced lawyers at Zaiger LLC and its litigation partners will cover your arbitration filing fee, prosecute your claim, and receive a portion of any arbitrator award or settlement that Valve pays you. If you don’t get paid, these legal services are free.”
“There are absolutely no upfront or out-of-pocket fees or costs for retaining our firm,” Mason, LLP says. “We work entirely on a contingency so you will owe us nothing unless we recover money for you. If we do, our fee is 40% of the recovery.”
Within its retainer agreement, Zaiger also says it will collect a 40% fee on whatever you win from arbitration.
Mason told VERIFY on the phone that there is “no way to lose money from us,” even if they lose your case.
And if you’re worried that Valve could take away your Steam account for filing a legal dispute against them, Mason said he believes that this is an unlikely scenario. Retaliation like that would open up the company to a new set of legal disputes because of laws designed to protect consumers from that kind of retaliatory behavior.