Gamers Have a Strong Ally Against Geo-Blocking – The European Commission
One thing that unites all video game fans is the frustration that they are missing out on content that is available elsewhere. Moreover, it can also leave a sour taste in the mouth when learning that you are paying more for something than your fellow gamers are in another country. It happens, and despite protestations from major gaming providers that geo-pricing and geo-blocking either don’t occur or are insignificant, there is ample evidence that it still occurs.
Experienced gamers are, of course, a resourceful lot, and most are aware that it is possible to browse the internet privately and negate geo-restrictions through the use of devices like VPNs. But it is intriguing to see how the European Commission is fighting the corner of the gamers in this battle, and the Bloc’s plans to see digital fairness could have a knock-on effect in regions outside of Europe.
DSM one of the main priorities for EU
At the heart of the issue, is the EU’s drive towards what it terms the Digital Single Market (DSM). It has become one of the EU’s main political priorities, and its main aim is to deliver “the best possible access to the online world for individuals and businesses.” That’s a broad statement, of course, and one that delves into ambiguous political jargon, but gamers should take heart that the Commission is pretty serious about this.
So, why does the EU have a beef with gaming providers? And why should you be interested, even if you don’t live there? Well, it seems that the issue comes down to the pricing of some games in parts of Eastern Europe, and the subsequent geo-blocking of the activation keys from DOTA creator Valve and several games publishers once players tried to access them in other EU countries. That’s a huge no-no when it comes to the principles of the EU Single Market.
EU laws ensure that someone from say, France, could head to Poland and buy a car, bring it back home and not have to pay taxes, import duty, etc. The same goes for any other type of product, with everything falling under the law of free movement of people, goods, services and capital. The EU’s question, then, is why should a digital key be exempted from these principles?
The answer is that they should not be exempted, and the law is crystal clear on the matter. And the key point for cost-conscious can be seen in this statement from the EU’s head of competition policy, Margrethe Vesteger: “Consumers should not be prevented from shopping around Member States for the best possible deal.”
Commission putting consumer rights first
Could this have a knock-on effect elsewhere? It’s difficult to say for sure. However, it might encourage gaming operators to practice harmonisation of prices and policy if only for the sake of simplicity. It should be remembered that the EU has the bit between its teeth when it comes to the (perceived) malpractice of Big Tech in areas of anti-trust laws. Just ask Google’s executives how the Commission doesn’t mess around in these matters.
Indeed, gaming providers are also acutely aware that the EU can fine them up to 10% of their global annual turnover if it isn’t happy with their practices in this area. These issues usually get stuck in the courts for a while, but it’s a pretty big stick to whip them into shape.
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