The European Commission, as well as the Competition and Markets Authority in the United Kingdom, are looking into several major companies, including even the three console manufacturers, namely Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo!
Let’s start with the European Commission – they claim in this document that six companies are illegally blocking Steam game sales between member states. (For example, if someone wants to buy an Austrian code from Germany – possibly to avoid potential censorship.) The six affected companies are Valve, Bandai Namco, Capcom, Focus Home, ZeniMax, and Koch Media, who owns Deep Silver. If they are found guilty, they might have to pay up to 10% of their annual worldwide turnover.
„In a true digital single market, European consumers should have the right to buy and play video games of their choice regardless of where they live in the EU. Consumers should not be prevented from shopping around between member states to find the best available deal. Valve and the five PC video game publishers now have the chance to respond to our concerns,” said Margrethe Vestager, commissioner in charge of competition policy.
Their document is only stating their objections – the investigations have not started yet. The affected parties can respond in writing to the document, and they can also defend themselves verbally in front of the Commission, as well as the national competition authorities. Koch Media‘s statement says they are only involved with their pre-2015 business, and they are trying to stay within the rules as much as possible, and ZeniMax doesn’t comment about ongoing legal matters.
Valve also responded with a statement – they say it’s not about game sales on Steam, but third-party key resellers, and these keys – upon the publishers’ request – can be blocked regionally (geoblocked). Valve hands the Steam keys for free, and they get no profit from such sales. (And indeed, it’s a legitimate issue: for example, from within the EU, we cannot activate game keys from the CIS – Commonwealth of Independent States – countries that are not EU members. Those games cost way less. Regional pricing isn’t available in all non-Euro zones within the EU, though.)
In the United Kingdom, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA for short) is looking into Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo. They want to see if the online gaming contract terms are fair; whether it’s easy to cancel a pre-order or request a refund or not; or if the automatic renewal processes’ regular reminders and default settings are fair (for example, for a PlayStation Plus-subscription). They also want to hear customers’ opinion and experiences.
„Roll-over contracts are becoming more and more commonplace and it’s essential that they work well for customers. Our investigation will look into whether the biggest online gaming companies are being fair with their customers when they automatically renew their contracts and whether people can easily cancel or get a refund. Should we find that the firms aren’t treating people fairly under consumer protection law, we are fully prepared to take action,” Andrea Coscelli, CMA chief executive, said. CMA is currently neutral (has no view) about the Sony/Microsoft/Nintendo trio.
So both PC and console users can be affected in these investigations. Let’s see what the European Commission and the CMA come up with…