Following an investigation of their practices, the European Commission is fining multiple game publishers and Valve for breaking EU antitrust laws. The Commission is fining Valve, along with Bandai Namco, Capcom, Focus Home Interactive, Koch Media, and ZeniMax €7.8 million or just over $9.4 million USD. Specifically, the companies listed were fined for restricting cross-border sales of certain PC games and for “geo-blocking” practices, more commonly known as region locking.
Originally, fines for these companies from the European Commission were going to be much higher. However, due to their cooperation with the EC, every company save for Valve had its fine lowered. Valve, which chose not to cooperate with the Commission, was fined over €1.6 million or over $1.9 million USD.
The European Commission reached its decision after finding that Valve and the game publishers were blocking customers from playing games based on what region they lived in. In the case of Valve, the use of activation keys on Steam and a territory control function granted to publishers justified the company’s massive fine. The publishers on the other hand, used those functions from Steam, breaking the European Economic Area (EEA) into different markets. Specifically, customers outside of Czechia, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were not able to access some games due to region-blocking. The Commission’s investigation into Valve and the five publishers began in 2017.
What will happen to region locking?
It’s unlikely that this fine will prevent companies from region locking, or as the EC calls it, “geo-blocking” games going forward. Firstly, none of the companies fined will be affected by this loss of cash, as they’re simply too profitable. Secondly, region locking is an extremely common practice. Publishers or developers often do it to focus on specific markets or prevent games from being distributed by grey market retailers. While this was a start in combating region locking, the EC will have to fine each company much more for any real results to occur.