Valve acts to close Steam grey market

December 18, 2014 | 09:48

Tags: #digital-distribution #digital-restrictions-management #digital-rights-management #drm #grey-import #grey-market #russia

Companies: #steam #valve

Valve has continued its crusade against grey-market importing and exporting of software published through its Steam digital distribution platform, preventing buyers in selected countries from gifting content outside their region.

Valve's Steam digital distribution platform is one of the most successful around, partially due to the company's savvy decision to require its installation in order to play its highly-popular games but also because it is largely unobtrusive. Its features, like Big Screen Mode and card trading, are pro-consumer more often than not and even its digital rights management (DRM) technology is relatively inoffensive compared to its direct competition.

Recently, however, Valve has been cracking down on some of these features with new restrictions. In November, the company announced new rules for gift content which would see a 30-day moratorium on trading post-purchase. Valve claimed at the time that the new rules were there to help curb fraud, where thieves would pay for gift content on a stolen credit card and then trade it with an unsuspecting innocent who would have the content removed from their inventory when the fraud was discovered. Its critics, however, claimed that the new rules were more to do with blocking users from taking advantage of the grey market created by disparate cross-region pricing on the platform - using virtual private network (VPN) endpoints in countries where game prices are cheaper to save themselves money on Steam purchases.

New rules imposed by Valve and uncovered by reddit users mean that games purchased using currencies local to Russia, CIS. Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Turkey, Brazil, Mexico, and Singapore are now region-locked using the AllowCrossRegionTradingAndGifting flag. It marks the first time the company has used the flag to restrict all purchases in a given currency, and appears to be for no other reason than to prevent buyers outside these regions from taking advantage of cheap local pricing and tempting currency exchange rates. Similar restrictions do not apply to currencies in which game prices are higher including pounds, US dollars, Canadian dollars and Japanese yen.

The timing of the move coincides with concerns regarding the stability of the Russian rouble, which suffered its biggest intraday drop since 1998 this week leading to Apple's withdrawal from the market.
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