Welcome to Australia, the Limbo of Video Games

Man, the wait for Diablo 3 is kind of a pain, isn’t it? Not so much the waiting part, but the fact that it isn’t even really necessary. As the guys at Penny Arcade know, for those of us who have purchased the game online, this title is not only finished – it’s literally downloaded onto our hard drives at the very moment. There it is, ready and playable, or at least it would be if we could decrypt it. And we can’t decrypt it until Blizzard gives the say so, and they won’t decrypt it because it would upset retailers, who – for the time being – remain important. So while we sit and grumble about the little inconveniences that come with gaming, here’s something most of us can say to make ourselves feel better: At least we’re not Australian gamers.

"I'd rather be playing Grand Theft Auto!"

There’s a reason why every time you see an Australian on TV they’re either surfing, playing soccer or wrestling crocodiles: various factors make gaming a headache for Australians. First of all, let’s start with the cost. Retail prices for games particularly and computer-related items generally are so out of whack in Australia that there’s now a parliamentary inquiry on the matter. And don’t think that this is because, being a continent unto itself, would-be purchasers need to have video games transported by boat or plane. As of last year, Australian gamers could expect to pay considerably more than their American counterparts for the exact same games on Steam – sometimes 30 or 40 dollars more – despite the USD to AUD (US Dollar and Australian Dollar) exchange rates being close to equal. One reason for this? Because despite the shipping cost of an online game being nil – along with the lack of box, manuals or disk, mind you – digitally distributed games still have to be priced to match local retail costs.

Let that sink in a moment. It’s a pain in the ass to ship games to Australia, and this factor contributes to driving up the cost of some titles to around double the typical retail price. Then along comes an online distribution method which makes this added cost practically irrelevant, since there’s no need to box the game and put it on an airplane. But instead of this resulting in a discount for anyone, Australians often end up paying the exact same inflated price so publishers can stay on good terms with the already established local retailers who, frankly, couldn’t compete with the digital alternative. It’s a little like engineers designing a car which is 99% less likely to be involved in any accident, but you still have to pay the exact same insurance on it because otherwise the little lizard from Geico will have his feelings hurt.

To be fair, it’s not simply a shipping costs issue. As has been discussed by others, in addition to the shipping issues, Australians also have a variety of regulation-related issues to deal with, as well as the simple custom of things in Australia typically being more expensive and Australians being used to it. But no matter how you slice it, you still end up with a transparent screwing being delivered to the fine folks down under.

Now, that’s just the pricing end of things. Having to pay double to enjoy the latest in the Call of Duty series is one problem, but what if the very desire to play a released game legitimately isn’t available? First, you have to realize that the insane game pricing in Australia can lead to some publishers deciding to skip the market altogether – and while digital distribution is growing, you’re still left with an awful lot of titles that need to be delivered to you in the old-fashioned boxed-copy way, at least if you want it legally. This can be gotten around, of course – just buy the game overseas and have it shipped to you. It’s added cost, but remember, Australians are used to added costs.

"But who will think of the poor zombies?"

Not only is regional distribution a hurdle for Australians, but so too is their government censors. In fact, a long list of major video game releases have had censorship issues in Australia, from Aliens vs Predator to, of course, the Grand Theft Auto series and Left 4 Dead 2 – the latter of which required removing most of the death from a game about killing the undead. Part of the problem is that, until very recently – late 2011, in fact – Australia had no rating available for what would be considered a ‘mature’ game, with the result being that any mature games simply didn’t see the light of day in the country. Due to a variety of political developments, including the resignation of the attorney general who vetoed every attempt to introduce a ‘mature’ (R18+) rating for video games, this is less likely to be an issue. Unless, of course, a game gets a more mature rating than the publisher thinks would be optimal for sales – in which case, localization and censorship will be going hand in hand. And you can count on that happening, since the new attorney general decided the easiest thing to do is to make both R18+ and MA15+ games unavailable to anyone not 18 years old or older.

So while you count down the hours until the formal and official release of Diablo III, cheer up. As any Australian can tell you, your modest gaming inconvenience can be a whole lot worse.

Victor Grunn has been a gamer since the days of single-button joysticks and the Atari 800XL. When not lamenting the loss of the Ultima series or setting people on fire in Team Fortress 2, he's an aspiring indie game developer and freelance writer.


To Top