The European Commission has announced in a press release that it’s fining Valve and five other publishers for “geo-blocking” PC games, thus preventing their sale across borders in the EU. Valve has already said that it plans to appeal the decision, and has now issued a much lengthier statement explaining its stance on the EC’s findings.
The fine concerns Steam activation keys provided to developers – not games sold directly on Steam. “Valve provides Steam activation keys free of charge” to developers, a representative to the company tells us, and those keys are often then sold through a third-party store. Valve says “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.”
The company adds that it “believes that the EC’s extension of liability to a platform provider in these circumstances is not supported by applicable law.” However, Valve also says that it’s already stopped region locking games in the EEA in 2015, except where required by law to prohibit sales of certain games in specific regions.
You can read Valve’s response in full below.
During the seven year investigation, Valve cooperated extensively with the European Commission (“EC”), providing evidence and information as requested. However, Valve declined to admit that it broke the law, as the EC demanded. Valve disagrees with the EC findings and the fine levied against Valve.
The EC’s charges do not relate to the sale of PC games on Steam – Valve’s PC gaming service. Instead the EC alleges that Valve enabled geo-blocking by providing Steam activation keys and – upon the publishers’ request – locking those keys to particular territories (“region locks”) within the EEA. Such keys allow a customer to activate and play a game on Steam when the user has purchased it from a third-party reseller. Valve provides Steam activation keys free of charge and does not receive any share of the purchase price when a game is sold by third-party resellers (such as a retailer or other online store).
The region locks only applied to a small number of game titles. 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. The elimination of region locks may also cause publishers to raise prices in less affluent 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.