Living in Australia, for the most part, is amazing. I say this as someone who has spent a sustained amount of time living in the UK, the US and Japan. Now that I’ve spent the better part of eight years here -- sunning myself on beaches, eating great food, living with friendly Aussies -- I couldn’t live anywhere else.
But there is a toll to pay, a bitter pill to swallow. Living in Australia has been an overwhelmingly positive experience, but playing video games in Australia? That’s been a little less positive.
So allow this whinging pom to do what he does best: whinge. At a later date I’ll no doubt write a follow up to this titled ‘The Best Things About Playing Video Games In Australia’ but, for now, allow me to indulge in describing the things that flat out suck.
The Price Of Games
Thankfully this situation has slowly managed to improve itself during the time I’ve been in this country, but when I first arrived in Australia? It was one of those moments.
You know what I’m talking about. You’re shopping for clothes. You see something you like. You pick up the item. You look at the price tag. It’s expensive, so expensive in fact that you actually let out a legitimate laugh at how expensive it is.
That was basically my first reaction when I saw a full-priced video game in EB Games here in Australia: laughter.
My second reaction: shock.
My third reaction: disbelief. People actually pay this much for video games here in Australia? How… why do they put up with it.
Oh... because they have no choice.
My fourth reaction: tears. Because I knew these were the prices I’d be paying for as long as I lived in this country.
Things are better now. Competitive pricing at retail has driven prices down (maybe a short term solution, because retail is hurting right now) and Steam, for the most part, has really allowed local Australian gamers to build up great digital collections.
But Steam isn’t all great, which takes me to my next point…
Pricing Disparities On Digital Services
This may be even more frustrating than the general price of games at retail.
With retail there are a number of factors that justify the higher pricing of video games. Some would call them ‘excuses’, but a fair few are legitimate.
Australia is difficult to ship physical products to. This is a real issue. Australia has a small population spread out across an incredibly large land mass. Again, fair enough. Australians, in general, have a high cost of living: our minimum wage is actually incredibly high, store rent is high, the cost of running a business – in general – is higher. Maybe we should expect to pay a little more. Maybe.
But digital pricing? There’s no real excuse here. Absolutely no excuse.
Perhaps the most frustrating is the digital price hikes on Steam. Time after time we’ve seen publishers artificially inflate the US price of a game on Steam to match the retail price. On some occasions we’ve actually watched the price change take place in front of our very eyes. A game will be $59.95US one minute, then $89.95 the next.
Almost as if publishers aren’t even afraid of openly rorting Australians.
It’s inexcusable. Plain and simple. These are digital products. There’s no additional shipping cost, no high Australian wages or store rent to deal with. This is simply a protectionist policy designed to satiate local retailers and it’s anti-consumer. Period.
But it’s better than not getting the games at all, which takes me to my next point…
Games Not Releasing In Australia At All
Would you rather pay more for video games, or have them not be released at all?
Remember Rock Band? I’ll never forget.
It took an entire year for one of EA’s most successful franchises to reach Australia. I had to travel halfway across the world to get my copy of the game -- carting it back through customs after a trip to the US – and when Rock Band finally released here locally, it was 12 months too late, and about $100 too expensive. A complete and utter disgrace.
On a smaller scale, digital releases tend to really struggle when it comes to timely releases in Australia, and when enforced geo-blocking stops us from downloading from US stores, this can be a real issue. Nintendo’s online stores tend to suffer most from this and this is mostly due to the high cost of classifying games in this country.
When you combine the high cost of classification with a smaller market base, quite often it simply isn’t worth the cost of classifying a video game for sale in Australia.
Which, again, takes me to my next point…
The Australian System Of Classification
I want to start this mega-whinge with a caveat: the Australian Classification Board is tasked with a difficult job: it must classify a colossal amount of video games and it must classify them using an out of date system and a vague set of guidelines. This is a difficult thankless task and a root and branch change is required sooner rather than later to make this system more manageable in the long term.
So we have our R18+ classification and that was a massive victory for common sense, but now bigger problems must be solved. We currently have a system that requires that all video games released in this country must be classified by the Classification Board and this is an expensive process. As mentioned above, it’s often expensive to the point where it simply isn’t worth it for major companies like Nintendo to release video games here in Australia – classification costs have legitimately sunk the release of games here! That’s incredible. Absolutely incredible.
The sooner the Australian Government follows up on the recommendations of the Australian Law Reform Commission the better. We are classifying games based on a piece of legislation that passed through parliament in 1995. That was almost 20 years ago.
It makes sense for classification of video games to be undertaken by industry, at least with video games rated M and below. This would allow for a cheaper process, and more time for the Australian Classification Board to deal with borderline cases at the MA15+ and R18+ level. This is in the best interests of everyone: consumers, parents, the games industry… everyone.
Playing Online Is… Not Great
I’ll never forget the first time I went home to Scotland on holiday after spending a significant amount of time in Australia.
It was 2006, I turned on Halo 2 on my brother’s Xbox for a quick couple of matches. Something weird was happening.
Almost overnight I had gone from a mediocre player, someone who could generally hold their own, to someone who was completely dominating every single match he played in. Back then I had a limited knowledge of how this all worked, but eventually it clicked. I hadn’t magically developed improved reaction times overnight, my connection had improved. There was less latency, I was finding more matches with local players. I was – for the first time since I left the UK – on a level playing field with other players.
Again, much like pricing disparities, this area has seen some improvement since I first arrived. Games on Xbox LIVE, for example, are far more efficient at finding matches and connections that work well for Australians. On some rare occasions, we actually have local servers. Titanfall and Diablo III are both local examples of games that have done the right thing by their Australian audience and set up local servers.
And I think that’s important to note; it’s important to finish on that point of optimism. Things aren’t great, but they’ve been way worse, and there have been improvements. The situation of local gamers today, compared to when I first arrived in Australia, is radically improved.
Things may be bad, but they could be a lot worse.
What do you think are some of the more challenging aspects of being a gamers here in Australia? Let us know in the comments below.