The European Commission has fined Valve and five other big game publishers for implementing a policy of geo-blocking for Steam keys (the gaming platform owned by Valve).
For the uninitiated, you can purchase a Steam key from third-party retailers to unlock a particular game on the service, and in the EU, prices for keys can vary between countries. The practice ruled against here was Valve and the publishers stopping cross-border sales.
In other words, when someone from a certain country bought a Steam key in another country because it was cheaper, when they came to activate the game, the key wouldn’t be recognized as valid in their home country – otherwise known as geo-blocking, or policing purchases by location.
It meant gamers could only buy a key and actually get it to work if it was purchased in their own country, which might have a higher price for the title being bought. Such cross-border restrictions are a violation of EU law, and some big fines have been given out – particularly to Valve.
Executive Vice President of the European Commission, Margrethe Vestager, commented: “Today’s sanctions against the ‘geo-blocking’ practices of Valve and five PC video game publishers serve as a reminder that under EU competition law, companies are prohibited from contractually restricting cross-border sales.
“Such practices deprive European consumers of the benefits of the EU Digital Single Market and of the opportunity to shop around for the most suitable offer in the EU.”
Valve was fined just over €1.62 million ($1.96 million), and of the other five publishers, ZeniMax (which owns Bethesda) was hit for a very similar amount: €1.66 million ($2.01 million). Koch Media was fined €977,000 ($1.18 million), Capcom €396,000 ($479,000), and Bandai Namco €340,000 ($412,000). Focus Home was slapped with the biggest fine to the tune of €2.89 million ($3.5 million).
Valve declined to cooperate with the investigation and so was fined the full amount, whereas the other publishers did, and as a result had their penalties reduced by 10% (or 15% in the case of Capcom).
The European Commission’s investigation into this affair actually began way back in February 2017, and encompassed around a hundred PC games available on Steam, which were subject to the aforementioned geo-blocking practices between September 2010 and October 2015.