UPDATE (6/28/23): This story has been updated to reflect changes in the law firms handling these cases.
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?
Yes, there are multiple law firms currently looking for people to represent in legal cases against Steam. The websites dedicated to these cases are steamclaims.com, steamrefund.com and bucherlawfirm.com/steam-case-explained. While agreeing to let a firm represent you shouldn’t cost you any money, there’s no guarantee you’ll win and be awarded money, 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, steamrefund.com and bucherlawfirm.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. A third website, bucherlawfirm.com/steam-case-explained, is run by Bucher Law PLLC.
First, here’s what we know about Zaiger: It’s a real law firm, although it was only formed in 2019. When it first began soliciting clients for cases against Steam, the firm hired video game lawyer William Bucher as a counsel, according to Bucher’s LinkedIn page. A Whois search of the steamclaims.com domain shows the website’s URL was registered in August 2022, the same month Zaiger hired Bucher. Now, Zaiger says it’s partnering with John Roberti, a lawyer on the American Bar Association’s antitrust law committee.
Bucher has since left Zaiger to seek clients for his own law firm, Bucher Law PLLC. 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.
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, confirmed to VERIFY in a phone interview in February that his firm and Zaiger were two firms offering to represent Steam customers in arbitration at that time.
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, so it’s possible that you end up with a sizable amount of money even if your claim is small.
Will this cost me anything?
All three law firms say there will be no cost to you unless you’re awarded money in arbitration.
“We get paid if we recover for you. Meaning, we receive a portion of any arbitrator award or settlement that Valve pays you,” Zaiger, LLC says. “If we recover nothing, you pay nothing.”
“Bucher Law PLLC represents consumers in filing arbitration claims at no out of pocket cost,” Bucher Law PLLC says. “That means Bucher Law PLLC takes a portion of what we recover for you, and if you recover nothing, our 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.”
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.
Likewise, Zaiger says it’s “extremely unlikely” that Valve will terminate your Steam account for participating. “To date, none of our tens of thousands of clients have reported to us that access to their Steam Account has been revoked,” Zaiger says on the steamclaims.com website.