Category Archives: eShopping

Valve/Steam Rambling

Over at Ars, there’s an interview Ars had with Valve’s Director of Business Development, Jason Holtman. In case you are unaware, Valve is the game development company that has brought us Counter-Strike, the Half-Life series and Left 4 Dead. Valve is also the company behind the downloadable PC game store, Steam. In the article, Holtman discusses Valve’s success with Steam as a platform for digital distribution of games.

Steam and DRM

I have been using Steam since 2005. At first, I didn’t trust Steam very much. I think I was a little apprehensive about what would happen to the games that I buy if Steam should ever close it’s doors. Steam distributes the games it sells with a form of DRM – a non-obtrusive form of DRM mind you. Some games you buy require you to have a connection to the internet to play. Most do not and you can choose to take Steam “offline” if you want to play a game offline.

It has been my experience, so far, that you can download and install games as many times as you want. Some 3rd party games still come with Activation Limits or Install Limits. However, some of these games also come with programs that you can use to deactivate a game before uninstall, thereby saving you 1 activation.

While I have become more trustworthy of Steam, I can’t help but wonder what the hell will happen if/when Steam dies? I think this is a question that has been asked far too many times and that has not had a clear, precise answer. Will this DRM that Steam uses keep us from enjoying these games we purchase should they go the way of the Dodo?

Purchasing games on Steam within the European Union

There is a lot of [obvious] convenience when it comes to buying games on Steam. You don’t have to go to the store or order games from another online site that will deliver the physical medium to your door. Steam used to charge in US dollars but changed that well over a year or so ago. Since I live in Finland, I have to purchase each game in euros. Fair enough, but the problem is that Steam seems to be charging the same number amount in both euros and US dollars. For example, Steam is currently having a 5-day sale. A couple of days ago, they were selling Left 4 Dead 2 for 25% off. The price in euros was 37,49€. I checked with some Steam users in the States and the price was exactly the same in dollars, $37.49!

Now, $37.49 does not equal 37,49€;  it equals 25€ and 37,49€ equals $56. Now, I can understand and expect some price increase if this were a physical medium I was buying the game in, such as a DVD or a CD. Since you have to import the game into the country and we are talking supplies, shipping costs and import taxes. However, this is not the case. What about VAT (Value Added Tax) you say? Here is the price for a game that costs $37.49 with Finland’s VAT of 22% :

  • Game in US dollars: $37.49 + $8.25 VAT = $45.74 or 30,55€
  • Game in euros: 25€ + 5,5 VAT = 30,50€ or $45.65

So, I have to ask what the heck is going on here? Why is Steam price gouging it’s euro-using customers in Europe?

Steam isn’t the only company engaging in price gouging here in Finland. Finns have been complaining about this since the introduction of the euro. Products and services apparently used to cost way less under the old Finnish mark. My concern here is that some foreign and Finnish companies importing, physically or digitally, products into Finland are keeping their prices at the same number as they are in the States. Counting on the ignorance of Finns who do not understand what is going on here, either because of language issues or they genuinely do not understand. Meanwhile, hoping that the Finnish government will keep ignoring the will of the people as they have been doing in recent years.

I’ll end this by asking asking one more question, where the hell is Half-Life 2: Episode 3??? 😀

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Tom’s Hardware vs. MacPadd.com (QMS Inc.)

Over at Tom’s Hardware, I have been watching a battle take place between reviewer, Tuan Nguyen and David Free of Macpadd.com/QMS Inc. Free is the alleged owner of QMS Inc the maker of the “Macpadd”, a custom mousepad for Macintosh computers. The problems began over two weeks ago when Nguyen order a Macpadd from Macpadd.com in order to review the mousepad for Tom’s Hardware.

No email, No answer

According to Nguyen, over the course of seven days he and others at Tom’s attempted to contact a representative of Macpadd.com. While they received an automated email response from Macpadd.com after the purchase of the mousepad, they never received shipping confirmation, tracking number or any kind of correspondence from Macpadd.com.

Eventually they stumbled upon the business contact number of QMS Inc. via the statement Nguyen received from PayPal. Nguyen attempted to make several calls with no answer.

Shots fired

With no communication from QMS, Nguyen filed a dispute with PayPal and explained to PayPal what had happened up to that point. About five minutes after the dispute was filed, Free responded via email explaining that they mailed the mousepad and that shipping from their location in Canada to California takes a while. Not long after that, Free called and once again explained. Nguyen requested the tracking number within an hour. Free responded by saying he would email the number. After three hours no call or email came so Nguyen called Free back. The rest of this story can be read here.

How not to respond to criticism of a product or a service provided

On November 2nd, the day that Tom’s published the report on the dispute with QMS, David Free updated Macpadd.com with this statement. (Note: this statement is no longer on the Macpadd.com site but it is now available here.)

Fraud or not, Free’s attempt to play the victim in this situation is exactly how you should not run your business. You don’t publish statements, responding to any criticism about your products or services. You improve on what you offer. At least this is what is supposed to happen.

Late yesterday, Finnish time, Tom’s published a third article about this subject. This time, Nguyen provided a detailed explanation why they have taken the actions they have taken. They even included the Canada Post tracking number Free provided. This number was for a shipment that had taken place three prior to the beginning of this saga. You can read the entire article here.

According to Nguyen, Free has completely stopped all communication with him about this situation. He has reported QMS to the Canadian Competition Bureau and the RCMP Fraud Prevention Department.

Some thoughts

While I am going to reserve my end judgment about David Free and QMS Inc., I will say that Free handled this situation with the grace of a collapsing building. Someone asking you to do your job is no grounds for verbal abuse, threats and providing false information to a customer. Every action that Free has taken in this matter has cast serious doubts and has made people question whether there might be some type of fraud going on.

I was once the victim of a scam involving a supposed seller on eBay years ago. Back then, the seller was offering a certain amount of copies of Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun (Yes, it was that long ago!) via Dutch auction. Many people came out as winners. We all paid our money and received nothing in return. By time we all realized what had happened, the seller closed up shop and took off.

I have posted about this story not only because everyone should be aware of the potential of online fraud, but also because QMS is selling the Macpadd in the EU. I’m not going to tell you not to buy it, just consider your options.