Court rules Gabe Newell must appear in person to testify in Steam anti-trust lawsuit

Valve boss Gabe Newell is headed to court. A court order filed on November 16 (via Gamesindustry.biz) says Newell is required to testify in person in the ongoing antitrust lawsuit between Wolfire Games and Valve so the plaintiffs in the case can “adequately assess” his credibility.

Wolfire filed the antitrust suit in April 2021, claiming that Valve suppresses competition in the PC gaming market through the dominance of Steam, while using it to extract “an extraordinarily high cut from nearly every sale that passes through its store.” Valve takes 30% of all sales made on Steam up to $10 million, after which the percentage drops to 25% on sales up to $50 million, and 20% for all sales beyond that.

The suit was dismissed without prejudice in November 2021, meaning Wolfire had 30 days to amend its complaint to address the shortcomings cited by the court, and so it did—the case was revived in May 2022.

As part of the ongoing discovery process, lawyers for Wolfire want to question Newell, who they say is “uniquely positioned to testify on all aspects of Defendant’s business strategy.” And they want to do so face-to-face, as “only an in-person deposition would allow them to adequately assess Mr. Newell’s credibility.”

Newell had previously requested a remote deposition, saying “that he is at risk of developing a serious illness were he to contract Covid-19,” according to the filing, and thus “has structured his life to minimize exposure to possible Covid-19 transmission. According to Mr. Newell, an in-person deposition, even with the health measures which plaintiffs propose, is not consistent with those safeguards.”

He has indeed taken steps to avoid exposure to the pandemic: Newell famously spent a good chunk of time through 2020-21 in New Zealand as a “Covid refugee.” The court rejected his argument, however, saying that while Covid-19 presents “continued public health risks,” Newell failed to present any substantial evidence that he’s at greater risk of serious illness arising from Covid-19 than the general public—and even if he had, Wolfire’s lawyers “would be unduly prejudiced by a remote deposition given Mr. Newell’s unique knowledge as to defendant’s business strategies.”

To accommodate Newell’s concerns, the court ordered that everyone in the courtroom must wear an N95 or compatible mask during his appearance, although Newell himself will have to remove his mask when answering questions.