Today, the European Commission issued Statements of Objections to Valve and five PC game publishers for ‘geo-blocking’ sales of retail PC games in violation of EU antitrust rules. The Commission says that Steam has failed to allow consumers across the EU to buy and play games regardless of their home nation. Valve has issued a statement disputing the Commission’s concerns.
This complaint does not concern game sales made directly through Steam. Instead, it’s about activation keys predominantly provided with retail copies of PC games. The investigation into Valve – along with Bandai Namco, Capcom, Focus Home Interactive, Koch Media, and Zenimax – began in 2013.
“In a true Digital Single Market,” commissioner Margrethe Vestager says, “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. Valve and the five PC video game publishers now have the chance to respond to our concerns.”
Valve has responded to the Commission’s concerns, saying in a press release that it had already turned off region locks on these game keys within the European Economic Era 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.”
Additionally, Valve “believes that the EC’s extension of liability to a platform provider in these circumstances is not supported by applicable law.” The company also claims that “elimination of region locks will also mean that publishers will likely raise prices in less affluent regions to avoid price arbitrage.”
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If the Commission’s objections are confirmed, the companies would be infringing on Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. You can read the complaint in full here. As The Verge notes, the EU implemented rules in December 2018 which prohibit ‘geo-blocking’ – more popularly known in the gaming space as region locking.