Valve and five major PC publishers get huge fine for game blocking

Valve and five major PC publishers – ZeniMax, Capcom, Bandai Namco, Focus Home Interactive, and Koch Media – have found themselves on the wrong side of European antitrust regulators, it seems. Today, the European Commission announced that it is penalizing all six companies with a collective €7.8 million fine (around US $9.5 million) for making bilateral agreements that geo-blocked certain PC games in the European Union.

Specifically, the European Commission says that all six companies "geo-blocked Steam activation keys which prevented the activation of certain of these publishers' PC video games outside Czechia, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania." These arrangements, the European Commission says, lasted between one to five years and were implemented between September 2010 and October 2015.

In addition, the EC claims that four out of the five publishers – everyone but Capcom – implemented licensing and distribution agreements with other distributors in the European Economic Area (EEA) that contained clauses which prevented cross-border sales of PC video games within the EEA. Both of those things are against European regulations, specifically the EU's Digital Single Market, which is intended to allow customers to shop offers from different Member States to find the best pricing.

As a result, the European Commission has fined each publisher and Valve separate amounts. Bandai Namco and Capcom have to pay the least with fines of €340,000 and €396,000, respectively, while Koch Media will have to pay €977,000. ZeniMax and Focus Home Interactive will have to pay quite a bit more, as the EC has leveraged fines of €1,664,000 and €2,888,000, respectively. Valve, meanwhile, will have to pay €1.624 million.

The European Commission said that all five publishers cooperated with the investigation, so as a result they each received a reduction in their fines. Valve, on the other hand, didn't cooperate with the European Commission and was fined the full amount. We'll see what happens from here, but it's clear now that European regulators aren't going to take kindly to geo-blocking games – something that happens fairly often in the industry.