Valve has offered a rare public defense of its 30% commission on the Steam marketplace in a new motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Wolfire Games earlier this year. The motion, spotted by Gamesindustry.biz, was filed on July 26 and argues the lawsuit "fails to allege the most basic elements of an antitrust case."
"Valve, an innovator that created Steam as a platform for playing video games in 2003 and, to create an integrated customer experience, offered games for purchase starting in 2004, set the 30% rate at the beginning, at a time of 'vibrant competition' for PC digital game distribution," reads the motion. "In other words, 30% was a competitive price from the beginning, was still so nearly a decade later in 2013, when Steam allegedly became 'dominant', and nothing is alleged to have happened since then to make it supracompetitive."
Valve is asking for the court to dismiss Wolfire's claims and toss the case. Wolfire argued in its initial complaint that Steam policies like its 30% cut and price parity provision for pricing Steam Keys sold outside the platform have made it difficult to sell their games elsewhere. "As a result of these practices, other stores struggle to compete with Steam and developers and publishers reportedly have no choice but to continue selling on Valve's storefront," Wolfire argued.
Valve countered in its motion by saying it has no obligation to allow cheaper sales of Steam games outside its marketplace, implying it does so as a favor to game developers. "Plaintiffs say this request is anticompetitive. But Valve has no duty under antitrust law to allow developers to use free Steam Keys to undersell prices for the games they sell on Steam — or to provide Steam Keys at all," the motion reads.
The 30% cut has become a hotly debated topic in the game industry and the broader app store ecosystem, as various lawsuits filed against store owners like Apple, Google and Valve have argued that strict store policies around revenue sharing are anticompetitive. The most prominent of these is a pair of lawsuits filed by Epic Games against Apple and Google, with the Apple case having gone to trial in May. We're awaiting a verdict from the judge, but a great deal of the proceedings in court involved arguments over the origin of the 30% cut and the motivations around keeping it relatively static for so many years.
Nearly every major store owner has in the past few years began introducing exemptions to the 30% cut, due in part to regulatory pressures and legal fights. Apple and Google both now offer a reduced cut of 15% for small developers. Valve, too, lowered its cut in starting in 2018 shortly before the launch of Epic's competing PC game store, which has a revenue share of 88-12. The 30% is still intact, but Valve now takes less money the more sales a developer makes, in a bid to keep the biggest developers and publishers from leaving Steam altogether.