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Valve among companies fined for geoblocking Steam keys



Update 21/01/2021: Valve has responded to the European Commission’s allegations and said that they disagree with the commission’s findings and the fine they have received. Read their full statement below. Original story from 20/01/2021.

Valve and a handful of game publishers have landed in hot water with the European Commission for geo-blocking Steam keys in certain regions of Europe. Steam owners, along with Bandai Namco, Capcom, Focus Home, Koch Media and ZeniMax (Bethesda’s parent company), have been fined € 7.8 million (around £ 6.9 million) for “breaches of EU antitrust rules”.

“Valve and the publishers restricted cross-border sales of certain PC video games based on the geographical location of users in the European Economic Area (”

; EEA “), and entered into the so-called” geo-blocking “practice,” the European Sa Commission.

A study by Valve and the five publishers found that between 2010 and 2015 they had agreements to geographically block certain Steam keys, so that they were not activated outside the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Geo-blocking is usually done so that games can be sold cheaper in low-income countries. However, people in higher-income countries have often found ways to circumvent regional pricing in the past. Obviously, publishers are not a fan of this, because it means that these people get lower prices.

Valve did not cooperate with the investigation and has been fined € 1,624,000 (around £ 1.4 million). However, the publishers cooperated and had the fines reduced somewhat. SnowRunner and Greedfall publisher Focus Home still managed to collect a fine of € 2,888,000 (approximately £ 2.6 million).

A distribution of the fines.

“The current sanctions against the ‘geo-blocking’ practice of Valve and five PC video game publishers serve as a reminder that under EU competition law, companies are prohibited from restricting cross-border sales,” said the Commission’s Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestage. , so.

“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.”

This is bad because the EU’s digital single market is designed so that everyone living in the EU can buy and use things from all other EU countries.

This may not be the end of it, as the Commission says “any person or company affected by anti-competitive conduct as described in this case may bring the matter before the courts of the Member States and seek redress.”

Update: Last night, Valve issued a statement to Eurogamer claiming that they cooperated with the investigation, and disagree with the fine they have received:

“During the seven-year investigation, Valve cooperated extensively with the European Commission (” EC “) and provided evidence and information upon request. However, Valve refused to admit that it broke the law, as required by the EC. Valve disagrees with the EC’s findings and the fine is imposed on Valve.

“EU fees do not apply to the sale of PC games on Steam – Valve’s PC game service. Instead, the EC claims that Valve activated geographical blocking by providing Steam activation keys and – at the publisher’s request – locking these keys to specific territories (“regional locks”) within the EEA. Such keys allow a customer to activate and play a game on Steam once the user has purchased it from a third-party retailer. Valve offers Steam Activation Keys for free and receives no share of the purchase price when a game is sold by third-party resellers (such as a reseller or other online store).

“The regional lock only applied to a small number of game titles. Approximately only 3% of all games that used Steam (and none of Valve’s own games) at the time were subject to the disputed area locks in the EEA. Valve believes that the EC’s extension of responsibility to a platform provider in these circumstances is not supported by current law. However, due to EC concerns, Valve actually shut down regional locks within the EEA from 2015, unless these regional locks were necessary for local legal requirements (such as German content law) or geographical boundaries for which the Steam partner is licensed to distribute. a game. Elimination of regional locks can also lead publishers to increase prices in less prosperous regions to avoid price arbitrage. There are no costs involved in sending activation keys from one country to another, and the activation key is all a user needs to activate and play a PC game. ”

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