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Valve and 5 more distributors under investigation for anticompetitive practices in e-commerce


Valve. Koth Media, Bandai Namco, Zenimax, Capcom and Focus Home Interactive are under investigation by the European Commission for "suspected anticompetitive practices in e-commerce." Asus, Denon & Marantz, Philips and Pioneer are also part of the same investigation because of how customer are restricted when purchasing online electronic products.

"E-commerce should give consumers a wider choice of goods and services, as well as the opportunity to make purchases across borders. The three investigations we have opened today focus on practices where we suspect companies are trying to deny these benefits for consumers. The cases concern the consumer electronics, video games and hotel accommodation sectors. More specifically, we are looking into whether these companies are breaking EU competition rules by unfairly restricting retail prices or by excluding customers from certain offers because of their nationality or location," stated Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, the lead investigator.

When you register as a user on Valve's distribution platform, Steam, it determines your location via your address details. We've had a few cases where video games didn't release for South Africa via Steam, or were delayed for a period. Luckily those cases are few and far between.

According to the press release, the EC noted that other Internet goods performed better in cross-border online sales than video games and consumer electronics. The accusations against the companies are quite serious, as the EC believes they are actively implementing barriers to cause a fragmentation of the EU market. "The Commission has therefore launched an inquiry to gather market information in order to better understand the nature, prevalence and effects of these barriers and to assess them in light of EU antitrust rules."

The accusations fall under "retail price restrictions" and the EC will focus on the issue of "discrimination on the basis of location and geo-blocking." The EC is stating that such practices harm the consumer by limiting their choices and violates the "EU competition rules that prohibit anti-competitive agreements between companies."

The EC will focus on video game activation keys to determine if customers are being treated in a non-competitive manner.

"The investigation focuses on whether the agreements in question require or have required the use of activation keys for the purpose of geo-blocking. 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). 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.

The Commission is carrying out this in-depth investigation on its own initiative."

Last year, Valve was investigated by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) over "misleading advertising", but they were later cleared of any wrongdoing. Valve, however, did change the Steam store pages as a direct result of the investigation.

What's your take on this? Do you agree with the EC that the companies in question are being anticompetitive and restricting your consumer rights? Or do you think the EC is treating the accused companies unfairly?

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