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Valve under spotlight as EU Commission considers if regional Steam keys are anti-competitive

Valve Anti-Cheat changes

Valve is among three companies to be investigated by the European Commission over the regional locking of videogame keys. The Commission will consider whether doing this prevents “consumers from enjoying cross-border choice” and being able to buy video games “at competitive prices”.

You can’t sell the best free games on PC at anti-competitive prices.

The Commission will investigate agreements made between Valve and five major PC games publishers: Bandai Namco, Capcom, Focus Home, Koch Media and ZeniMax. The question is whether these agreements require the use of game keys “for the purpose of geo-blocking.”

The news was announced on the Commission’s website. Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, gave the following comment:

“E-commerce should give consumers a wider choice of goods and services, as well as the opportunity to make purchases across borders. The three investigations we have opened today focus on practices where we suspect companies are trying to deny these benefits for consumers… More specifically, we are looking into whether these companies are breaking EU competition rules by unfairly restricting retail prices, or by excluding customers from certain offers because of their nationality or location.”

Cross-border trade is a fundamental tenet of the EU’s single market. If the Commission rules against Valve, they will be found in breach of EU anti-trust (competition) laws. It may be some time before we hear a judgement, however, as there is no time limit on concluding an anti-trust investigation, and any potential ruling is unlikely to bear heavily on region-locking practices beyond the EU.