A range of major video game publishing studios is set to be legally challenged by the European Union (EU). This is due to the suspicion of geo-blocking usage in order to prevent cross-border sales within countries who are part of the EU.
The companies named to be in violation of the law are Valve, Bandai Namco, Capcom, Focus Home, Koch Media, and ZeniMax.
All European Union nations benefit from the single-market shared by its 28 members. This single market enables consumers to shop between all 28 different regions to find the best deal possible.
This pro-consumer market is made even more efficient by the € currency shared by 19 of those 28 members.
The EU has specific laws with regard to video game codes. Specifically, companies are not allowed to make nation specific codes, only region specific to Europe. This is what the six identified companies are thought to be in violation of.
“In a true Digital Single Market, European consumers should have the right to buy and play video games of their choice regardless of where they live in the EU.”
Those were the words of EU commissioner Margrethe Vestager, head of competition policy.
So why are these companies doing this? Simply put, as it tends to be, profit. EU citizens that live in wealthy nations such as the UK or Germany are currently free to buy codes from less economically developed EU nations.
In order to ensure people in these regions can still afford to buy games, they are offered at cheaper prices. Key sellers like G2A and CDKeys often use this by selling keys from places like Bosnia & Herzegovina and Moldova on the cheap.
Valve has fired back at these accusations of anti-consumer practices. They claim Steam is a platform of distribution for developers to use and it’s unfair to judge them based on developers’ and publishers’ actions.
Steam itself does allow you to buy keys from all over Europe and still use them in another EU nation. Valve has said that as long as their service allows for this, they should not be expected to do more in upholding the law. Valve also highlight that they do not receive a percentage cut of any sales made through third-party resellers:
“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.”
Right now, Steam has no region locking across Europe outside of required specific national laws. An example being in Germany where the Strafgesetzbuch bans the use of specific political symbols in media (such as the Nazi swastika). Whilst not having region locking does hurt companies somewhat, it’s arguable that the benefits for consumers greatly outweigh the cons.
Regardless of your stance of who is right and who is wrong, it seems the EU has already made its mind up. If these six companies are deemed to have broken EU competition laws, they could be fined up to 10% of their annual worldwide turnover. A heavy fine that is sure to intimidate games companies from straying away from anti-consumer practices.
I’m a passionate games critic who has been writing actively since 2015. I have a particular interest in both racing games and JRPGs as well as a love for Overwatch and its eSports scene. I consider gaming and writing my two big passions in life. So much so that I’m currently studying a one of a kind degree that covers both in one! My goal in life is simply to become a renowned critic who is respected for his opinions.