Money, Money, Money. How Stretched Is Your Budget?
We’ve all heard Ben “Yahtzee” Crowshaw, of Zero Punctuation fame, complaining about how the prices of games in Australia are leaving him out of pocket, and presumably out of sanity as well, judging by the fantastic, tangential rants he is known to go on. It has also been cropping up in the news of late that game prices of certain countries are extortionately greater than those of their British and American counterparts, along with various East-Asian countries, including the technological capital of the world – Japan. This brought me to ponder, sat at my desk in dishevelled school uniform and with various expletives penned up and down my arms, how substantial were these price discrepancies, and what was the cause behind them? Prepare yourself for a journey through the mind-boggling world of financial inequality…
To localize this article, I will count the British recommended retail price of £39.99 (not that I would ever pay that, with all the offers about these days) as the starting point, the zero, the centre of the scales. Taking Australia for example, and a relatively recent release, Call Of Duty: World At War, the price difference is not immediately apparent. When using a currency converter to change the Australian Dollars into the good old British pound, I found that the prices were inflated over there. While in Britain, the most one would expect to see on the ever-annoying game price label would be between £39.99 and £44.99, and that’s brand new and in a shop that is yet to discover ideas such as “special offers” and “good business”. In Australia, however, this is the price that one may expect to see at the cheaper end of the market. At the time of writing, the cheapest price an Australian price comparison engine turned up was AU$80.00. Equivalent to just over £37, leaving the Aussies seemingly bottoming out right at the top of the British price ladder. Scrolling down the page, I was horrified to discover that the highest price listed was AU$120 – a whopping £55 in Sterling. A price which frankly, even with the better Australian weather and omnipresent beach babes, would have my back pocket moaning aloud in despair.
Call Of Duty: World At War, just one of many games gunning for people’s wallets.
Going trans-continental, the pattern continues. In South Africa, for example, the cheapest price I could find for the same game was 615 ZAR – around £43. This does not, at first glance, seem too extreme, but with the echoes of a recent, albeit short-lived, price rise for Xbox 360 games in the mill, as a South African flag-flyer of the Gaming Nation, I would be more than slightly unnerved. Specifically, the price rises, effectual in late 2008, had titles such as the upcoming Halo Wars priced at a jaw-snapping 800 ZAR (£55). These massive price hikes were made even harder to swallow by confirmation from Microsoft that new titles would be released at a price between 900 and 1000 ZAR. Though MS has since changed the tune emanating from its money hungry, infinite abyss of a mouth, saying that games will continue to be released at a rate of 699 ZAR, South African gamers must be left feeling uneasy about possible future fluctuations in the cost of their favourite pastime.
The causes for this “Price Discrimination” as it’s known in the trade, are as wide and varied as the prices are from country to country. Major contributors include exchange rates, the performance of each country’s stock markets and, in some scenarios, greed on the manufacturer’s part – made possible by region-encoding, heavy costs associated with importing games and, sometimes, a lack of a manufacturing base in that particular area.
Returning to home soil, there is no intended price rises planned for the UK, but what lurks beyond the horizon could bear a menace to anyone with a credit card. Personally, I don’t see any problems coming our way in the foreseeable future, but let us take a moment to grieve for the money of our Australian brethren who really have to shell out for their gaming fix.