Games firms fined £7m for breaking anti-trust rules

The European Commission has fined Valve, owner of the online PC gaming platform Steam, and five games publishers - Bandai Namco, Capcom, Focus Home, Koch Media and ZeniMax - a total of €7.8 million (£6.9 million) for breaching EU anti-trust rules.

Valve and the publishers restricted cross-border sales of certain PC video games on the basis of the geographical location of users within the European Economic Area (EEA).

Games sold cheaper in some countries with a lower standard of living could not be activated in richer EU member states, said the Commission.

The “geo-blocking” practices led to the fines for the publishers totalling over €6 million, which were reduced by between 10 and 15 per cent due to the companies' cooperation with the Commission. “Valve chose not to cooperate with the Commission and was fined over €1.6 million”, said the Commission.

Executive vice president Margrethe Vestager, in charge of Commission competition policy, said: “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.”

Steam is one of the world's largest online PC video gaming platforms, offering more than 35,000 games worldwide. It allows users, upon authentication, to directly download or stream PC video games.

It also allows users who buy PC video games outside Steam, such as in brick-and-mortar shops or digitally through downloads from third-party websites, to activate and play video games on Steam.

Valve allows publishers to let gamers play on Steam through activation keys included in their games.

Valve also offers to the publishers a territory control function, which enables the setting up of geographical restrictions upon activation.

The combination of Steam activation keys with the territory control function enables the “geo-blocking” of PC video games based on the geographical location of the user.

As a result, users located outside a designated member state were prevented from activating a given PC video game with Steam activation keys.

The Commission found that Valve and each publisher “partitioned” the EEA market in violation of EU antitrust rules.

As a result, certain games sold in the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania could not be activated outside those territories - where they were sold for a cheaper price.

As a result of the Commission's findings, any person or company affected by anti-competitive behaviour as described can bring the matter before the courts of member states to seek damages.

Valve said it would be appealing the Commission's decision and maintained it had co-operated with the inquiry.

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