Valve head talks digital ownership

By Steve Watts, Feb 21, 2012 9:00am PST

Analysts are constantly proclaiming a digital future for games, but that notion is still uneasy for some customers. The lack of a physical object brings up questions of ownership, and Valve boss Gabe Newell has addressed those concerns head-on in an interview.

"It's sort of like this kind of messy issue, and it doesn’t really matter a whole lot what the legal issues are, the real thing is that you have to make your customers happy at the end of the day," he said.

Speaking to The PA Report, Newell side-stepped the legal issue brought up by a recent customer complaint, and consistently stated that satisfaction must be the number one priority. "If you're not making your customers happy you're doing something stupid and we certainly always want to make our customers happy," Newell said. "And I think we have a track record of having done that."

The instance of the Russian gamer who lost his games, in particular, is being dealt with from a customer service angle. "If you're asking me to render a legal opinion then I'm just not the super useful person to render a legal opinion," he explained. "At first blush it sounded like we were doing something stupid and then we'll get it fixed."

He also points out that the issue of ownership doesn't worry customers as much after they've had some experience with Steam. "So, you know, people were worried when we started using Steam initially because, oh my gosh, if I don’t have my discs what happens when I get a new machine?" he said. "And after they’ve done this a couple times they're like 'oh my god, this is so much better, I'm so much more likely' - you know, this isn't a legal argument, this is a real world argument - 'I'm so much more likely to lose my discs than I am to have any problem with my Steam account, that seems way better than having a physical token that I use to access my content.'"

While the question of ownership isn't fully settled, Newell's remarks are a good reminder that customers can vote for their wallets. If Steam or a service like it mistreats its customers as we burrow more heavily into the digital future, they can at least be held accountable by taking business elsewhere. Of course, doing such would mean sacrificing all semblance of "ownership" one has over their purchased digital content.

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