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EU Commission is opening investigation in Valve for geo-blocking Steam keys

Nabbis

Member
Sep 8, 2014
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That isn't even close to a solution. The disparity in cost for Zloty in Poland and typical pricing / wages vs game cost isn't so easily reconciled with other Euro countries unless you drop the price far below every other country. Publishers have the choice, and they won't bite. They haven't done so for pretty much ever and it is perfectly legal for them to make that choice of retaining their profits. In the worst situations, as with Russia prior to locking, pubs will either purposely hike the price higher or not produce the game for the region at all.

Well, what can i say, Poland did join the EU didn't it? I get the problem of theory and pragmatism not working together but im not exactly suave with granting special privileges for a weaker economy that joined a union knowing full well what will happen.
 

Abilidebob

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Sep 30, 2013
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I can see this ending up affecting the BR prices in the future if it makes Valve change how things work. Fucking hell no way in hell I'm going back to 250 reais games.
 

Banderdash

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Jan 31, 2014
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Go get em...

And then someone can go them about still not putting regional pricing on there store.
It's straight up bullshit.
 

Tomasety

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Jun 7, 2010
225
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Spain, The Canary Islands
I wonder how EU would consider leaving English language out? That would effectively prevent reselling too.

I thought of it as a solution but it won't happen. The only chance would be that games were localized in several local languages. No publisher would take that route.

"While geo-blocking may be necessary in certain cases to comply with legislation or be the result of restrictions imposed by suppliers, unjustified geo-blocking as a commercial practice amounts to consumer discrimination."

"The Commission intends to put an end to geo-blocking for commercial reasons and similar techniques, except for cases of well-defined exceptions."

"The Services Directive already prohibits discrimination of consumers based on their country of residence, both in the online and offline world. For instance, travellers asking for the same product should not face prices differing according to their country of residence."

See the page on the rights of recipients for more information.

Source: https://ec.europa.eu/growth/single-market/digital/ - Geoblocking strategy action.

I didn't check the rights of recipients article but I guess publishers could defend themselves using well-defined exceptions.

I hope that poorer country customers don't get hit by this and see an unjustified rise in price of games.
 

Bboy AJ

My dog was murdered by a 3.5mm audio port and I will not rest until the standard is dead
Dec 17, 2004
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The EU is the only consumer protective government these days. Thank goodness someone is trying to address why corporations think they can profit from a global economy while denying consumers from doing the same.

Build it the cheapest possible way globally, lock sales in regions and charge as much as that region can take. Scummy.
 

Dascu

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Nov 24, 2006
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I thought of it as a solution but it won't happen. The only chance would be that games were localized in several local languages. No publisher would take that route.



Source: https://ec.europa.eu/growth/single-market/digital/ - Geoblocking strategy action.

I didn't check the rights of recipients article but I guess publishers could defend themselves using well-defined exceptions.

I hope that poorer country customers don't get hit by this and see an unjustified rise in price of games.

Note that the Geo-blocking Regulation, which was proposed by the Commission and is currently going through hell and back in the Parliament and Council, is not the same as what is being discussed here with this DG COMP investigation. The proposed Regulation even excludes (online) copyrighted material. It's not really relevant for Steam.
 

Mivey

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Oct 28, 2014
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I guess geo-blocking in the sense of something like Wolfenstein in Germany would still be justified, since its not about commercial interests. But price barriers within EU states would probably not be acceptable. That's how I am reading this.
 

Shiggy

Member
Jun 10, 2004
26,711
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Turkey all game related services is tied to EU instead of Asia.

Game prices,betas,events etc...

Turkey isn't part of the EU or EEA, so publishers can still choose to block the activation of Turkish codes within EU countries.
 

CuNi

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Sep 4, 2014
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I think this will only lead to you being able to buy keys everywhere, but they will assign specific regions specific versions of a game like EA did with battlefield 3. If you buy the game in Poland, the key activates for a Polish version, if you buy from Russia you get a Russian version. That way you still can distinguish between regions with prices but allow everyone everywhere to buy the games.
 

Tomasety

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Jun 7, 2010
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Note that the Geo-blocking Regulation, which was proposed by the Commission and is currently going through hell and back in the Parliament and Council, is not the same as what is being discussed here with this DG COMP investigation. The proposed Regulation even excludes (online) copyrighted material. It's not really relevant for Steam.

Thanks for clarifying it, I misunderstood the information or didn't understad it at all, although I didn't know that the proposed regulation excluded online copyrighted material by now.
 

stan423321

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Jul 24, 2014
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First time hearing about it. What did they do?

I am not entirely sure what exactly is going on so I'll just list the symptoms.

I bought Dishonored 1 and DLC on Steam on a sale. It did contain a different language set than the regular European key, specifically English, Russian, Hungarian, Czech and Polish. The game also got a note that you cannot gift it through Steam "in my territory". Huh. It got English on the list, so I didn't think twice about it.

After buying the game it appeared in my library as "Dishonored (RHCP)". Some time later it changed to "Dishonored (RU)". Now it is "Dishonored RHCP" again.

Steam introduced the exploration queue. A bug surfaced (Valve seems to have patched it later): when I was browsing Steam servers decided I could be interested in Dishonored (true!), and I didn't own Dishonored, at least the regular one. But when I got to visit its store page, I got automatically redirected to the RHCP version's page, which was not in queue so I couldn't pull Dishonored out of it.

Then my friend pre-ordered Dishonored 2 and got a D1 key on GMG or something, and for some reason decided to send it to me. I decided to randomly enter it and voila, now I have two different Dishonored 1 entries in my library. I assume the guy thought I didn't have it because he bought his copy on GMG or something too and it was another normal one.

I don't remember where did I purchase Fallout NV and DLCs. It doesn't have anything like RHCP in the title of the game but it has some mumbo jumbo like "1C" (Cenega's Russian owner?) in some owned DLC names, and language warning on the store page. It doesn't show me that I already got it when I visit the store and I can put it in cart for myself. The gift guy which is apparently a big Bethesda fan returned on my birthday with a Steam gift (this one does not have gifting disabled, and no, I am not making this friend up). Unlike Dishonored key Steam bounces this one as I already have Fallout NV, but the guy apparently didn't see it.

This is a big mess but I have doubts whether EU would qualify this as in-EU regional lockout.
 

Dascu

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Thanks for clarifying it, I misunderstood the information or didn't understad it at all, although I didn't know that the proposed regulation excluded online copyrighted material by now.

It's complex and there's voices (some Member States, some Member of the EU Parliament) to expand the scope.

The simple issue is that a lot of audio-visual content is licensed on a territorial basis. E.g. Time Warner makes agreements with local broadcasters about when they can air 'Game of Thrones'. Or some local independent film productions get funded by a local TV broadcaster, with a sort of exclusivity contract so that it will only be aired in other countries later. Or perhaps it's too costly for a company to do the translation and marketing work for the entire EU, and they want to use the income from publishing in one country to fund that work for publication in another country later.

A lot of this is established business models that may or may not make any sense (anymore). Some of it is due to the current copyright framework. Some of it is bullshit, some of it has some interesting reasoning behind it.

Either way, opening this up is a can of worms and the EU Commission is trying not to touch it. Overall, the situation currently tackled is that where you may be re-directed when trying to buy a physical product (whether that's a table, a book or a video game) from a webstore in a Member State that is not your own. Having access to the entire Netflix or broadcasters' online catalogue from a different country is not gonna happen.

Don't confuse this also with the proposal being discussed on Portability: that's being able to access your own catalogue while abroad (AKA no IP-check for temporary travel). But a lot of publishers are worried this could de facto be the same as abolishing geo-blocking: There'd have to be checks to see that you don't sign up for Netflix in one country and 'travel' abroad. I mean, the situation where people would all sign up for a UK Netflix account (which may have more content and faster availability).

Important caveat with all of this: DG COMP is its own thing. They don't care about established business models or maintaining a balance in the wasp's nest that is the copyright/film/music/TV industry. They often get into conflict with the other parts of the EU Commission because they 'play by their own rules', that is, they look at everything from a competition and state aid perspective. The same conflicts are apparent in terms of taxation law, where a lot of people are furious towards Commissioner Vestager for in effect changing tax law via state aid investigations.
 

Anim

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Apr 13, 2012
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It isn't as clear cut as that. Countries in the EU, not using the Euro, will have a different currency that will be of different value. Poland for example uses zloty, much lower valued than euro. Valve lets pubs decide if they want to employ a reduced price to suit the economics of that country so its users can actually afford the game in the first place. Without geoblocking, everyone will exploit that price, probably not sustainable or at least much worth to said companies. The other option is to employ a singular price, Poland would get screwed over, people can't afford the game, increased piracy that eventually affects all markets.

Pretty sure that this will be successfully challenged by the EUC, but that won't benefit the lower currency countries at all.

But games on Steam have never been cheaper in Poland than in the rest of Europe. And there's no way to buy in PLN, you have to use euro. Still, even though the currency is lower valued, the wages are not so low that people can't afford games (especially considering Steam sales). Poland is a completely different market and economy than Russia or Ukraine, it's a part of EU after all. There'll never be regional pricing for Poland on Steam.

I can think of only one way that people outside of Poland can get cheaper keys - through key resellers selling keys from physical copies. For example recently I bought a physical copy of RE7 for 150 PLN (35 EUR), which is 50 EUR on Steam. But this is becoming increasingly rare, as physical copies of new releases are getting more expensive every year.
 

stan423321

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Jul 24, 2014
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I think this will only lead to you being able to buy keys everywhere, but they will assign specific regions specific versions of a game like EA did with battlefield 3. If you buy the game in Poland, the key activates for a Polish version, if you buy from Russia you get a Russian version. That way you still can distinguish between regions with prices but allow everyone everywhere to buy the games.

This is more problematic for a publisher than it appears at first because it's not something that can be sensibly done with every game. You need enough text for this to be a viable deterrent. Which also rises localization costs. Interesting, huh.
 

LordRaptor

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Aug 20, 2015
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My stance on this is the same as it is in most of these threads - although I believe its bullshit global corporations can benefit from globalisation but don't want their customers to benefit from that self-same methodology, on the whole I think its more bullshit that gamers in rich countries trying to save a few bucks on their DAY ONE! purchases will end up forcing higher pricing to lock poorer countries out of the equation entirely.

I mean, I can't ethically complain about corporations exploiting poorer countries lower incomes to get cheaper goods, then turn around and do that exact same thing myself.
 

Zaph

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Jun 19, 2010
15,995
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Single 👏 Market 👏

Corporations don't get to pick and choose when its applies to them.
 

YoodlePro

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Jul 16, 2014
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For all of EU's faults I think Consumer Protection should be lauded in every European country.

I don't know of another place in the world where the governing body is actively passing laws or looking out for the consumer.

For instance the end of roaming this year in June. You'll be able to travel throughout Europe using just your normal subscription from your residence country, without paying anything extra in roaming. I can't wait.
 

wazoo

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Jun 10, 2004
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People should be aware that a complete free market with different pricing will benefit two kind of populations. One is the population of wealthy countries buying games at discounted prices, the other is the mafia sellers that buy tons of game keys in east europe to resell it in West Europe. It already happened at the beginning of steam a few year ago, and that is why zones appeared.

The prospect of west customers buying discounted games is more frightening to publishers that losing a few "real" (read : not the mafia) eastern europe customers that will not buy cheap games anymore because of a uniformization of price all over Europe.

So free zone can only mean an increase of price in east Europe.
 

Mr-Joker

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Mar 7, 2013
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Seems like a clear breach to me. There's no better place for consumer protection than in the EU.

Yep, the EU has great consumer protection and I praised it highly and it frustrate me how the UK stupidly voted leave over immigration fears and the government bending backward to pander to them.

Not looking forward to losing my consumer right when Britain leaves.
 

Abilidebob

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Sep 30, 2013
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My stance on this is the same as it is in most of these threads - although I believe its bullshit global corporations can benefit from globalisation but don't want their customers to benefit from that self-same methodology, on the whole I think its more bullshit that gamers in rich countries trying to save a few bucks on their DAY ONE! purchases will end up forcing higher pricing to lock poorer countries out of the equation entirely.

I mean, I can't ethically complain about corporations exploiting poorer countries lower incomes to get cheaper goods, then turn around and do that exact same thing myself.

Exactly. Brazil steam prices are usually 30-50% cheaper than on the US, but that's kinda of a necessity as our income is way, WAY lower than that of a 1st world country. So if those lower prices stop happening here we're fucked.
 

Nzyme32

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May 23, 2013
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But games on Steam have never been cheaper in Poland than in the rest of Europe. And there's no way to buy in PLN, you have to use euro. Still, even though the currency is lower valued, the wages are not so low that people can't afford games (especially considering Steam sales). Poland is a completely different market and economy than Russia or Ukraine, it's a part of EU after all. There'll never be regional pricing for Poland on Steam.

I can think of only one way that people outside of Poland can get cheaper keys - through key resellers selling keys from physical copies. For example recently I bought a physical copy of RE7 for 150 PLN (35 EUR), which is 50 EUR on Steam. But this is becoming increasingly rare, as physical copies of new releases are getting more expensive every year.

This is indeed what I am talking about, and this is all about Keys
 

Gothos

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Sep 10, 2013
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I wonder how many countries will be affected by this. Here in Poland we already have Steam prices just as in western Europe which is absurd :(
 

Faustek

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Apr 25, 2013
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Soooo....am I stupid or isn't it just to make the purchase price tied to your countries debit/credit card? And screw us with international cards. Also just add the tax thereafter. Like Amazon adding import tax for example.
I mean for me it's not a problem, we already pay more but for countries with a weaker economy and lesser(lower?) standard of living it would still allow them their normal regional prices. It's not like Eastern Europeans are dying to pay €60... Not like anyone is.
 

Dascu

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From Politico:
Europe’s competition czar opened three investigations Thursday and sent a clear signal that more online shopping cases are coming.

The probes were triggered by a deep dive by regulators into the e-commerce sector launched in mid-2015. The European Commission received thousands of responses that showed patterns of four illegal practices.

Thursday’s probes target video game publishers, tour operators and electronics makers for price manipulation and discrimination based on a shopper’s location or nationality.
The full results of the e-commerce inquiry will be published in the first half of the year, and could lead to other antitrust cases focusing on price-comparison websites and restrictions from selling on certain online marketplaces.

“This is the start and I expect there will be other cases,” said Salomé Cisnal de Ugarte, an antitrust lawyer at Crowell & Moring.

The announcement comes as the Commission, European Parliament and Council all struggle to update and harmonize consumer protection rules for the internet age. The Commission introduced parallel rules in December 2015 — one for the sale of physical goods, like jeans and jelly beans, and the other for software, mobile apps and the like. Progress has been mixed at best.

“E-commerce should give consumers a wider choice of goods and services, as well as the opportunity to make purchases across borders,” said Margrethe Vestager, the European commissioner for competition. “The three investigations we have opened today focus on practices where we suspect companies are trying to deny these benefits for consumers.”

[...]

The last probe is against five video game publishers, including the makers of Street Fighter, Capcom of Japan, and of Doom, ZeniMax of the U.S. which allegedly used activation codes to stop buyers from downloading games from other countries’ websites.
That may be a factor in game prices in Western Europe, which are twice as high as in Eastern Europe.

Bandai Namco, a Japanese publisher, said it “will fully cooperate with the European Commission and [is] confident about the outcome of this matter,” said spokesperson Emilie Hurel.

As consumers increasingly shop online, the Commission’s antitrust division is once again looking at business agreements between suppliers, manufacturers and distributors, as well as their contracts with retailers.

Boosting Europe’s digital economy is a flagship policy of the European Commission, which explains Vestager’s intense scrutiny.

“We apply competition rules without political interference but in light of political priorities,” Johannes Laitenberger, the most senior official in her department, said last week.

Many online companies have read the writing on the wall.

“The good news,” Laitenberger said, “is that [before we take action] many companies have reviewed their policies.”
http://www.politico.eu/pro/margrethe-vestager-buckles-down-on-e-commerce/
 

Smasher89

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Sep 9, 2012
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Closing borders on the internet, and here in sweden it seems like we will get company driven isp censorship(saw something about the music business won a case against a isp provider yesterday).

Nice that Nintendo has gone towards the opposite way with regionfree again for the Switch now atleast!