In 2017, the European Commission began an investigation into multiple major gaming publishers and various platforms, citing a need to help facilitate trade online for EU citizens. Part of this effort involved investigating the commercial practices of companies like Bandai Namco, Capcom, Focus Home, Koch Media, Valve, and ZeniMax for alleged anti-consumer practices. The findings were that the six companies used geo-blocking activation keys that stopped consumers in one country from listing games bought on various platforms in another part of the EU.
So in essence, a game bought through Steam keys in the UK cannot then be used or resold in a country like France, and according to the Commission, that’s a big problem for fostering economic growth. This is because the precedent set by such a practice could be exploited by other industries to stifle free trade within the zone.
These investigations are pretty serious, as the EU makes up a significant amount of the sales for the games industry, especially for platforms like Steam. So when Valve got involved, you just know things are about to be wild. Valve being implicated in this region locking is pretty bad for their business, as it could open them up to serious fines or restrictions within the EU.
Valve is fighting the charge and is likely to ask for a closed-door hearing to argue its case before senior competition officials from the Commission and national watchdogs, according to sources supplied to Reuters.
According to Valve, geo-blocking activation keys are only used on three per cent of all the games on the service, and that the company mandated removal of the option for keys distributed in Europe back in 2015, so it’s unclear as to what’s actually going on here.
So whether these allegations bear fruit in terms of fines or stricter regulations is yet to be seen, but you better watch this case closely, whether you’re in the EU or not.