The European Commission put out a press release today announcing the conclusion of an antitrust investigation it launched in 2019, and the issuing of fines against six video game publishers totaling over €7.8 million. The publishers were found to be engaging in the practice of “geo-blocking,” restricting sales of video game keys based on geographic location.
Valve, along with Bandai Namco, Capcom, Focus Home Interactive, Koch Media, and ZeniMax, apparently had engaged in a scheme whereby Valve provided activation keys for Steam which were locked to specific geographic regions inside the European Economic Area. The keys could not be activated outside of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, or Slovakia, all of which are EU members. Such activities go against the EU‘s “Single Market” policy. As European Commission EVP Margrethe Vestager stated at the start of the investigation, “European consumers should have the right to buy and play video games of their choice regardless of where they live in the EU.”
Of the six companies involved, Valve was the only publisher which did not cooperate with EU investigators, and they were fined €1.6 million. The other five publishers did cooperate with investigators and received reductions between 10% to 15% of the initial fines. However, the adjusted fines were still significant. Focus Home Interactive received the largest fine of the group, €2.8 million. ZeniMax was hit for €1.6 million, the same amount as Valve. The other publishers were fined less than €1 million each.
In the press release today, Vestager said, “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. Such practices deprive European consumers of the benefits of the EU Digital Single Market and of the opportunity to shop around for the most suitable offer in the EU.”