The European Commission (EC) has fined a number of games companies including Valve (€7.8 million) $9.5 million over the geo-blocking of Steam keys.
In a ruling on its website, the EC said that it was fining Valve, Bandai Namco, Capcom, Focus Home, Koch Media and ZeniMax Media, saying that publishers creating Steam keys that can only be activated in certain regions was an anti-trust violation. The organisation said that the EU Digital Single Market meant that products should be available equally to all consumers in the European Economic Area.
Geo-blocking stops keys being activated in certain regions. Publishers use this tech to allow the sale of games at different prices in different regions, depending on what the value of local currency and what the economy is like. The theory is that more wealthy countries like the UK, France and Germany can afford higher prices, where less fortunate regions should pay less. Key resellers and grey markets exploit this to sell keys bought at lower prices in less wealthy countries at a higher price in better-off countries.
“More than 50% of all Europeans play video games," executive vice president Margrethe Vestager, said.
"The video game industry in Europe is thriving and it is now worth over €17 billion. 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."
This case has been rumbling on for some time now, with the European Commission saying in April 2019 that Valve and the aforementioned companies were in violation of EU antitrust law.
Valve challenged the ruling in September 2019 and was the only company to not see a fine reduction for co-operation. The Steam firm has been fined €1,624,000 ($1.97 million).
Capcom received a 15 per cent discount for co-operation, walking away with a €396,000 ($480,530) fine, while Bandai Namco, Focus Home, Koch Media and ZeniMax all saw a 10 per cent reduction for their assistance. These companies paid €340,000 ($412,576), €2,888,000 ($3.5 million ), €977,000 ($1.18 million) and €1,664,000 ($2 million) respectively.