I really wasn’t planning to make three posts tonight, but I couldn’t help putting up some discussion on Jeff Atwood’s latest rant about Digital Software Distribution. I know where he’s coming from, and it’s absolutely unacceptable, but I have some insider knowledge – software companies are not to blame for this one. He’s pointing his anger at the wrong people.
My discovery all came about with the release of Fury, a combat-oriented MMORPG type game developed by Auran in the city where I live (Brisbane, Australia). Upon release of the game, many people chose the Digital Download option because as with all online games, the physical CD is basically useless and needs patching before the box even hits stores.
It quickly came out that the online store was charging $90 in the default Australian Dollars, but switched to $50 when you viewed it in US Dollars. With the exchange rate already well over 90c at the time this was obviously a huge ripoff and those of us who bought the game in AUD quite rightly complained.
Luckily for us Auran are one of the most open game developers I’ve ever seen, and they told us exactly what was happening. They were, essentially, being held ransom by the Brick & Mortar retailers. Retail distribution is still the primary source of income for any game developer, online distribution is certainly growing but it’s far from ubiquitous (and may never be).
Retailers are scared that online distribution will eat up their revenue. So they took advantage of their power and refused to stock the game unless the online sale price was the same as the retail price – and on top of that, they forced Auran to wait until 10am on the west coast of Australia before any online release could be done (midday on the east coast, 12 hours after the servers went live). This meant that not even US customers trying to get the game early could buy it online.
The same deal happened with Auran’s US and Euro store prices, and I have no doubt that it’s the same situation for Valve, EA, Microsoft and anyone else doing online sales of software they also make available in a boxed CD. The sooner we take power away from these greedy B&M retailers, the better.
Although, as some Australians point out in the comments, digital download at US retail price is a godsend for Australians. Our retail price for games hasn’t dropped despite massive rises in the value of our dollar vs the US dollar this year. We’ve gone from paying a 20% premium over US game prices to a 67% premium, and if it wasn’t for region locks everybody I know would be importing games from the US.
I’ve been saving my game prices rant for a few months now, and I think it’s about time I opened the eyes of my American friends.