The European Union is amping up its regulatory powers across a broad swath of industries, and now it seems that they have turned their attention to the video games industry. But not in a way that you might think.
It isn’t microtransactions or some other advent of the mobile gaming era that has caught the EU’s attention. No, instead the European Union’s competition commission thinks that certain video game publishers hold a monopoly over the industry.
And they let the publishers know it. In a letter sent to Valve, owner of Steam, as well as Bandai Namco, Capcom, Focus Home, KochMedia and ZeniMax, the European Union’s competition commission outlined concerns about how games are sold and marketed to the public. Basically, what the EU is alleging is that there is some kind of price-fixing scheme at work that prevents gamers from buying cheaper versions of a game in another region of the EU.
Boston 25 News reports that “companies breached the bloc's antitrust rules by agreeing to use "geo-blocked activation keys" to prevent cross-border game sales.” Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager claims that the companies listed above worked together to limit consumer choices when it came to video game prices.
This might come as surprise to gamers in other parts of the world, but it isn’t that surprising when you consider the many and varied laws when it comes to the European Union and its member countries.
Unlike the United States or Japan, there is another layer of complication in the EU aside from the EU government, and that is the national governments which are much more powerful than state governments in the United States. For example, games sold in Germany might not be the exact same game sold in neighboring France.
Aside from language differences, Germany has a slew of censorship laws relating to violence and the depiction of WWII that France does not have. Of course, we’re not going to argue that this, in and of itself, justifies different prices, but it does help to keep in mind that some countries have different games for more nuanced reasons other than controlling price.
Naturally, the competition commission probably isn’t resting its conclusions on a lack of evidence but those of in the gaming world can’t help but notice how hard the EU is coming down on companies that have nothing to do with the European Union.
First, there is the so-called “meme ban” that passed recently. Then there are the various inquiries and investigations of everything from Facebook to Google. After that, they raised concerns about microtransactions being some form of gambling. Now they are alleging that there is a monopoly between publishers to fix prices on video games.
If you’re noticing a pattern of activity, you’re not the only one. It seems like the EU is bent on punishing companies that are successful and, more importantly, are not based in the member countries. Just something to think about, because ask any gamer if the government and its regulations are their friend and most will say “no, definitely not.”