Valve and five PC video game publishers were fined a total of €7.8 million (about $9.5 million) by the European Commission for limiting cross-border sales of games in the European Economic Region. The Commission has reported that the companies have geo-blocked about 100 PC video games, prohibiting them from being enabled and played outside those EU countries. This violated the EU’s Digital Single Market rules banning these forms of barriers.
The European Commission says that geo-blocking was meant to prevent the activation of games outside the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Geo-blocking prevents players living in EU countries with higher average salaries from saving money by purchasing them in EU countries where they are cheaper and then enabling them on Steam. The activation keys were geo-blocked between 2010 and 2015, said the European Commission.
“Today’s sanctions against the ‘geo-blocking’ practices of Valve and five PC video game publishers serve as a reminder that under EU competition law, companies are prohibited from contractually restricting cross-border sales,” said the European Commission’s head of competition policy. “These practices deprive European consumers of the benefits of the EU Digital Single Market and of the opportunity to shop around for the most appropriate offer in the EU.”
In total, five publishers were fined. Focus Home was fined almost €2.9 million (about $3.5 million), ZeniMax about €1.6 million (about $2 million), Koch Media almost €1 million (about $1.2 million), Capcom €396,000 (about $480,000) and Bandai Namco €340,000 (about $410,000). Since both of these firms cooperated with the investigation, their fines were reduced by between 10% and 15%. However, Valve decided not to comply and received a fine of more than €1.6 million (about $1.9 million).
The European Commission began its formal review of the practice of geo-blocking back in 2017 and officially asked Valve to stop the practice back in 2019. Valve previously argued that only a minuscule percentage of games used regionally locked trigger keys, and argued that it should not be responsible for the region locks demanded by publishers. It said that the practice ended in 2015, with few exceptions.