An article on The Inq says: WE REPORTED last week on the problems that many people are having connecting to the Steam servers to play Half-Life 2. We had lots of people emailing the INQ to say that you could always use offline mode to play without a net connection, but these people seem oblivious to reports online that many people are unable to get this mode to function properly. More interesting, perhaps, are the legal agreements that surround a purchase of Half-Life 2. One is that no mention of Steam is on the HL2 box or in the End User License Agreement, yet it is required to play. The second is that where a gamer buys a copy of the game for which the CDKey has already been hacked, he will have to wait up to two weeks to get a replacement from Sierra/Vivendi, since shops will generally not take back opened software. The third is that no copy of the game can be sold without paying Valve a $10 fee to transfer the CD-Key to another Steam account. So, a number of problems with tricky solutions. A big thanks to the numerous INQ readers that contributed information and advice to help us wade through the statutes of m'learned fiends. Disclaimer: I have studied law, but am not a lawyer. This isn't legal advice, just for your reading pleasure. Let's take the first point. The German Consumer Association has recently found that the packaging on Half-Life 2 is misleading. In a report made following complaints from the public, they said that the mere listing of an internet connection under the 'other' category in system requirements did not accurately describe the true extent of the internet tie-in with the game, and ordered Vivendi to amend the packaging and untie Steam from HL2 or face a hefty fine. See this page. How far other consumer associations will agree with the Germans is yet to be seen, but it seems a no-brainer that Steam should be mentioned on the retail pack. The return of software has traditionally been a bugbear for gamers. Most shops, at least in the UK, have a policy not to allow the return of opened software because of piracy risks. However, most consumers are not aware that, in some cases at least, this is in breach of their statutory legal rights, which cannot be infringed. This page at the UK's Office of Fair Trading conveniently notes an example of when goods can be returned as faulty: [The goods must be] fit for their purposes, including any particular purpose mentioned by you to the seller – for example, if you are buying a computer game and you explain you want one that can be played on a particular machine, the seller must not give you a game that cannot be played on that machine. It is quite conceivable that any gamer not being able to connect to Half-Life 2 is entitled to a legal refund in the UK. The case would hinge around whether or not the inability to play the game without persistent net connection, or the previous hacking of the CD Key rendering it unplayable, makes the game unfit for the purpose described on the box. This could well be a winner. The last issue is the most interesting and relates to a number of other cases that have come up over the last couple of years. According to US and UK law, under the principle known in the US as 'First Sale', a consumer buying a game takes absolute title to it; that is, they own it. Here's the dig. At least in the States, opening a game box is equivalent to accepting a EULA. However, you can't read the EULA until you've opened the box, since game stores don't carry copies. Can the EULA then be binding? In the US courts - and contrary to popular opinion - it can be, but it must be 'reasonable' according to a bunch of different standards. Half-Life 2, perhaps, wouldn't be. There's a good piece of commentary on this point here. Here's where it gets complicated. The Half-Life 2 EULA is pretty standard, and doesn't actually prohibit the transfer of the game for free. Point 4 explicitly provides for it, stating that a transfer can take place if the seller removes the programme from the computer and transfers all of it, including any 'code used to unlock the programme' - that means CD Key. But, arguably, you can't transfer the CD Key without paying the $10 Steam charge, because otherwise it's still registered to you at Valve, meaning you haven't truly transferred ownership to the buyer. However, here's something else. No mention of the Steam software is made in the EULA for Half-Life 2. This means that the terms of the Steam EULA that you agree to when installing that software are almost certainly not incorporated into the contract you agree to when installing Half-Life 2. Consequently, the $10 transfer fee would not be enforceable because it isn't in the HL2 contract, and Valve would be acting illegally in blocking any sale of the game from one person to another. Got all that? So what's the best course of action? Well, as always, it's to get people with lots of money to go after Valve. The Germans have already done it. If you're really annoyed at Valve for the whole situation, organise some mates and complain to your country's consumer association to get something done. You'll find they're surprisingly receptive to things like this. In the meantime, don't cancel the broadband, eh? You aren't about to get rid of HL2 any time soon.