Valve has fired back at today’s geo-blocking accusations from the European Commission, saying that, in short, Steam as a platform can’t be held responsible for any alleged geo-blocking by the developers and publishers it provides keys to.
The European Commission has been working on a years-long investigation into a number of game companies for allegedly geo-blocking, or restricting game sales by region in a way that prevents international sales between European Union countries.
Today, the commission announced that it had issued statements of objections to Valve, Bandai Namco, Capcom, Focus Home, Koch Media, and ZeniMax to inform those companies that its preliminary findings see each in breach of EU competition rules.
Valve is the only company mentioned in that list in a non-publisher role and has already issued a statement on the matter, arguing that “the [European Commission]’s extension of liability to a platform provider in these circumstances is not supported by applicable law.”
The European Commission’s accusations state that, among other things the five publishers mentioned entered into an agreement with Valve to use geo-blocked activation keys to prevent cross-border sales of select games on Steam, something which the commission says may have prevented consumers from buying games for a lower price in other EU member states.
“However, the EC's charges do not relate to the sale of PC games on Steam - Valve's PC gaming service,” reads the statement from Valve. “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," continues that statement.
"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.”
The commission also accused those five publishers of entering into a similar geo-blocking agreement with other distributors not named in the release and said that those agreements prevented distributors "from selling the relevant PC video games outside the allocated territories, which could cover one or more Member States."
If the European Commission finds that the accused companies did indeed breach EU competition rules, all six could individually face fines of up to 10 percent of their annual worldwide turnover.