It seems Valve and five publishers have attracted the attention of the EU, as they claim they're breaching EU competition rules. In particular, what the EU say they're doing goes against the "Regulation 2018/302" introduced on December 3rd last year.
The statement from the European Commission, available here, mentions that they've sent Statements of Objections to Valve and Bandai Namco, Capcom, Focus Home, Koch Media and ZeniMax.
The main concerns from the EU are these:
- Valve and the five PC video game publishers agreed, in breach of EU antitrust rules, to use geo-blocked activation keys to prevent cross-border sales, including in response to unsolicited consumer requests (so-called “passive sales”) of PC video games from several Member States (i.e. Czechia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and in some cases Romania). This may have prevented consumers from buying cheaper games available in other Member States.
- Bandai Namco, Focus Home, Koch Media and ZeniMax, broke EU antitrust rules by including contractual export restrictions in their agreements with a number of distributors other than Valve. These distributors were prevented from selling the relevant PC video games outside the allocated territories, which could cover one or more Member States. These practices may have prevented consumers from purchasing and playing PC video games sold by these distributors either on physical media, such as DVDs or through downloads.
Valve just sent out a statement, here's what they said in full for those interested:
Earlier today, the European Commission ("EC") sent Statements of Objections ("SO") to Valve and five publishers in an investigation that it started in 2013. The EC alleges that the five publishers entered into agreements with their distributors that included geo-blocking provisions for PC games sold by the distributors, and that separately Valve entered into agreements with the same publishers that prevented consumers in the European Economic Area ("EEA") from purchasing PC games because of their location.
However, 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 will also mean that publishers will likely 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.
Basically, the EU wants to prevent stores and publishers from making it so that you can't get your games cheaper if you choose to shop in a different country. It can be a pretty difficult topic, certainly one with a lot of complications. The issue gets complicated, since publishers may want to offer certain countries a cheaper price if their wages are traditionally lower but they might not do that if anyone is able to come along and just pay the cheaper price.
What are your thoughts on this?