Valve are no strangers to litigation and fines. Earlier in 2016, the gaming giant was fined $3 million after a suit in Australia found their advertising and marketing policies to be deceptive to consumers. This time around, Valve find themselves on the business end of a suit alleging violation of EU law over blocking access to products and services based on IP addresses. The violation centers around EU competition laws that are meant to open up access to products and services across national borders between member states.
The European Commission has launched multiple investigations today “to assess if certain online sales practices prevent, in breach of EU antitrust rules, consumers from enjoying cross-border choice and being able to buy consumer electronics, video games and hotel accommodation at competitive prices.”
Specifically, the Commission is investigating Valve and its agreements with multiple game publishers, including ZeniMax, in regard to Steam’s geo-blocking ruleset.
“The investigation focuses on whether the agreements in question require or have required the use of activation keys for the purpose of geo-blocking. In particular, an ‘activation key’ can grant access to a purchased game only to consumers in a particular EU Member State (for example the Czech Republic or Poland). This may amount to a breach of EU competition rules by reducing cross-border competition as a result of restricting so-called ‘parallel trade’ within the Single Market and preventing consumers from buying cheaper games that may be available in other Member States.”
ZeniMax Media, the parent company for Elder Scrolls Online’s ZeniMax Online Studios, has issued a statement that it “understand[s] that this investigation is part of a broader review of the sale of copyright content and goods” and will be “cooperating with the Commission to address any concerns and remain committed to ensuring that our consumers can freely purchase and download our games, subject to applicable legal or technical requirements that may apply.”