European Commission opens geo-blocking investigation into Valve

The European Commission, an executive body of the European Union, has opened an investigation into Valve and five other PC games publishers to determine if geo-blocking agreements between them are against the region’s competition rules.

The EC is investigating Valve (which owns the Steam distribution platform) and five other publishers (Bandai Namco, Capcom, Focus Home, Koch Media and ZeniMax) for the possibility of geo-blocking, where companies “prevent consumers from purchasing digital content, in this case PC video games, because of the consumer’s location or country of residence,” according to a news release.

When purchasing certain PC games, users must enter an activation key to ensure the game wasn’t pirated in Steam. According to the release, the investigation focuses on whether that requirement is done for the purpose of geo-blocking, which would limit consumers’ ability to play the game based on the region in which they live.

“In particular, an ‘activation key’ can grant access to a purchased game only to consumers in a particular EU Member State (for example the Czech Republic or Poland),” according to the release. “This may amount to a breach of EU competition rules by reducing cross-border competition as a result of restricting so-called ‘parallel trade’ within the single market and preventing consumers from buying cheaper games that may be available in other member states.”

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