A number of major games publishers are under a spotlight cast by the European Commission for breaking EU competition rules. Valve, ZeniMax, Bandai Namco, Focus Home Media, and Koch Media are all directly named in a press release from the Commission that announced the move yesterday, stating that the companies treated consumers unfairly by including geographical blocks in their games, which prevented cross-border sales from other EU countries.
According to the Commission, the use of region-specific activation keys denied EU customers the benefit of shopping around for the best price in a single digital market — a breach of EU antitrust rules. Commissioner Margarethe Vestager elaborates:
“In a true Digital Single Market, European consumers should have the right to buy and play video games of their choice regardless of where they live in the EU. Consumers should not be prevented from shopping around between Member States to find the best available deal.”
All five companies are granted some time to read over the Commission’s statement, respond in writing, and request a hearing to present a defense. Valve has already done so, stating that a small number of Steam titles fall under the EU violation, and none of them are published by Valve itself:
“Approximately just 3% of all games using Steam (and none of Valve’s own games) at the time were subject to the contested region locks in the EEA. Valve believes that the EC’s extension of liability to a platform provider in these circumstances is not supported by applicable law. Nonetheless, because of the EC’s concerns, Valve actually turned off region locks within the EEA starting in 2015, unless those region locks were necessary for local legal requirements (such as German content laws) or geographic limits on where the Steam partner is licensed to distribute a game.”
While the statement from the EU Commission is certainly damning, it’s important to note that this is a formal Statement of Objections, not an announcement of litigation. That said, if evidence is uncovered that finds companies are infringing on EU rules, they are subject to fines of up to 10% of their annual worldwide turnover.