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EU: Valve and five publishers probes for geo-blocking games

 |  February 2, 2017

The legislative body of the European Union is launching an antitrust investigation into regional pricing and geo-blocking practices on Valve’s Steam store. In a statement, the European Commission says it’s investigating “bilateral agreements” between Valve and five publishers: Bandai Namco, Capcom, Focus Home, Koch Media and ZeniMax.

The investigation is focused on activation keys, whose primary function is as an anti-piracy tool. After buying a physical copy of a game, users need to submit an activation key to prove they own it and add it to their Steam library. Once done, the game is then available on any device that the user is logged into.

Although that’s an accurate description of what activation keys are supposed to be for, in reality, they serve another, arguably damaging purpose: enabling a giant third-party market. Companies like G2A and Kinguin resell activation keys at discounted rates, which is great for getting games on the cheap but not so great for keeping smaller developers in business.

While games bought directly through Steam are almost entirely region-free, the same cannot be said for activation keys. The Commission believes that Valve has agreements with the five publishers that may require the use of activation keys “for the purpose of geo-blocking.” The example it gives in its statement is that a key bought in certain countries may only work within those countries. These regional restrictions are made clear on the Steam Support site.

Full Content: Tech Crunch

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