Earlier this week, Valve completely overhauled the way Steam gifts work, removing the ability to store games in users’ inventory or send them to someone else’s email, automatically refunding declined gifts, and, most important of all for some countries, disallowing gift purchases if the price difference between the sender and the recipient is higher than 10%. While I’m aware that PC gaming enthusiasts all around the globe have been clamoring for the gift to email and gift to inventory functionality to be restored since the new system doesn’t let them buy games on sale to gift them later if they don’t yet know who will be the recipient of their generosity, I’d like to talk a bit about the last change I mentioned, as it will greatly hinder some Steam users’ ability to purchase games on Valve‘s storefront.
Over the last five years, a number of countries have been blessed/cursed with their own regional Steam storefronts, letting customers who hail from certain parts of the world pay with their own currency and either enjoy competitive game prices or shake their heads in disbelief at the outrageous prices that some publishers choose to charge in the poorer regions of the globe. Up until Valve introduced the new gifting restrictions, users who felt that the prices they had to pay were far too high could turn to friends from neighboring countries and, if they weren’t subject to the same outrageous pricing, ask them to purchase the titles on their own regional storefront and then send them as gifts. This kind of thing wasn’t an ideal solution, but it let Steam customers from Peru pay less than US$ 75 for a newly released AAA title, for example. Thanks to the changes implemented on May 3rd, that option is no longer available, and Peruvian Steam users who wish to enjoy the latest AAA releases must either pay an outrageous extra fee, or turn to grey markets such as G2A or Kinguin.
Speaking about grey markets, it’s quite obvious that trying to deal with them was one of the driving forces behind the new gifting restrictions, as the removal of the gift inventory will shut down the alternative economy that has been in place since 2011. Sadly, while this will probably help the Bellevue-based company a lot regarding their Support tickets (a popular scam tactic involved purchasing games as gifts with stolen credit cards and then reselling them to other users, who would probably try to contact Steam Support once their games got removed due to a payment issue) it won’t actually hurt alternative marketplaces a lot, since their main sources of income are CD keys (legit or otherwise). On the contrary, users who wish to avoid the crazy price increases imposed upon them by greedy publishers will now turn to these websites instead of asking friends for help as they would in the past.
So, if the new gifting restrictions don’t really help most Steam users and won’t put a big dent on grey marketplaces, then who stands to gain from their implementation, might you ask? The answer is simple, this change will only benefit Valve, as the volume of Steam Support tickets related to trading scams will steadily decrease thanks to the removal of the Steam gift inventory, and publishers can be confident that shady resellers won’t be able to benefit from big Steam sales like they did in the past. This seems to be yet another situation in which customers from the poorer regions of the globe must pay for the big companies’ incompetence or lack of interest. Valve knows that people living in most South American countries (for example) can’t pay the outrageous prices that big publishers set for these regions, yet they not only avoid intervening on their behalf in a meaningful manner, but also take away the only thing that could be used to purchase Steam games at competitive rates without recurring to a grey market reseller.