Valve and five PC video game publishers have fined the European Commission a total of € 7.8 million (about $ 9.5 million) for restricting cross-border gaming sales in the European Economic Area. The Commission said that companies blocked around 100 PC video games, preventing them from being activated and played outside certain EU countries. This violated the EU’s digital single market rules, which prohibit this type of barrier.
According to the European Commission, the purpose of the geo-blocking was to prevent games from being activated outside the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Geographic blocking prevents players living in EU countries with higher average incomes from being able to save money by buying them in EU countries where they are cheaper and then activating them on Steam. Activation keys have been blocked geographically between 2010 and 2015, the European Commission said.
“Today’s sanctions against Valve and the” geoblocking practices “of five PC video game publishers are a reminder that EU competition law prohibits companies from restricting cross-border sales by agreement,” the European Commission’s competition chief said. “Such practices deprive European consumers of the benefits of the EU’s digital single market and the opportunity to shop for the most appropriate offer in the EU.”
A total of five publishers were fined. Focus Home received fines of almost € 2.9 million (about $ 3.5 million), ZeniMax over € 1.6 million (about $ 2 million), Koch Media nearly € 1 million (about $ 1.2 million), Capcom 396,000 (approximately $ 480,000) and Bandai Namco EUR 340,000 (approximately $ 410,000). As each of these companies cooperated in the investigation, their fines were reduced by 10-15%. However, Valve decided not to cooperate and received a fine of more than € 1.6 million (approximately $ 1.9 million).
The European Commission launched a formal investigation into geo-blocking practices as early as 2017 and formally asked Valve to end the practice back in 2019. Valve has previously claimed that only a small percentage of games used regionally locked activation keys and argued it should not be responsible for area locks requested by publishers. It said it would end the practice in 2015 with limited exceptions.