Do we really own our Steam games?

It may surprise you, as it surprised me, but we don’t really own our Steam games in the way that we think that we do.

When we purchase games from Steam we don’t buy the games, but rather we buy a license to play the games. This license means that we are theoretically renting a game forever but it can be revoked at any time.

We can lose all of our games if:

1. Valve goes under

If Valve, the company that runs the Steam servers, were to go out of business, then they would stop hosting our games on a cloud server. This means that we won’t be able to access the games or play them.

This is similar to what happens if a Mass Multiplayer Online (MMO) game company goes out of business.  MMOs only work only through servers hosted by the company. If they go under and no one takes over the game, then tough luck, you can’t play what you bought.

What will happen to our games if Valve goes under has been brought up before in the steam forums. The “off the record” promise from a few years ago is that Steam will release a patch that allows games purchased from Steam to be played without the Steam server.

Although this rumor is comforting, the fact remains that Valve has no obligation whatsoever to make this patch. If it is easier not to, then they might not do so. Then how will we play “Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader”?!?

Specifically designed to torment 4th Graders

2. If we move to  a different country

There have been numerous examples of people moving from one country to another and having their Steam account or games banned. This is supposed to be a feature where Steam prevents your account from being hacked. Apparently, many others have had good luck if they tell Steam in advance that they are moving to another country. 

Steam also frowns on you getting games for a different exchange rate than the norm of your country. The image below is from a Rock, Paper, Shotgun comment section

3. We make Valve mad for any reason

Clarification – After writing such an inflammatory section title, I think that this is a good time to clarify a few points. I think Valve is an excellent company and I’ve never had any issues with them or Steam. I’m trying to even provide links to ways that Valve have dealt with most of these issues. Despite Steam’s fairly good track record, it is very important that we understand what we are potentially getting ourselves into when we spend hundreds of dollars on a service like Steam.

Example – In the case of a Russian steam user named gimperial $1,500 and 250 games were on the line. At the end of last year gimperial was banned from Steam and unable to access his games. gimperial openly traded copies of games on Steam for favors in real life. He even said there were instances where he would gift a game on Steam for a beer.

gimperial assumed that his ban was because of his gifting (which he admitted to). However, Steam told him that the reason his account was specifically being revoked was not because of his gifting. Valve said that he breached on some other agreement of the EULA but would not tell him what it was. When gimperial repeatedly asked Steam and Valve help forms and execs why he was banned and unable to access the 250 games that he had legally purchased, he received no answers

At this point Rock, Paper, Shotgun probed the company and wrote a largely distributed article about the incident. Whether this is related to what happened next is not known.

gimperial was given access to his 250 games and told that he could use Steam again, but told that he could not gift games for ten years.

Everyone knows that Jan 30, 2022 is the real end of the world according the the Mayan Calendar. Sucker.


This story ends in a happy ending. gimperial is given back his games and told that he can’t use a service that he was misusing. That’s very fair. It’s very concerning, however, that Steam just took away his games and account without warning and without telling him why.

I can understand if some people are afraid of online big brother coming to get them after reading articles like this. For those of you that would like to have virtual bomb shelters in your back yard check out this way to run Steam games online.

Personally, I’ll take my chances with Steam. At least now we’ve all been warned that we might not receive a warning from Valve before we lose all of the games that we “licensed”.

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About loganlampton

I'm a student of public relations and advertising at Purdue University. I like to stay fun and smart so that I can hang out with cool people like you. I'm about to graduate soon, so if you like what you see, hire me!

Posted on February 19, 2012, in Interesting News and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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