Tuesday 1 May 2012

Steam: The inequitable pricing of digital distribution

Stephen Conroy. Affectionately known nationwide as "Douche-bag".

It's a 1984 reference, get it? You know, 'cause of the censorship thing? Aw, forget it.

Now, at any given time I'm usually in a pretty damn good mood. Mention this guy's name in front of me however, and I am so overwhelmed with fury that I am not responsible for the swiftly delivered punch to your trachea that will immediately ensue. There is no time for me to take context into consideration, either... It may be wise to employ code-words in lieu of his name if you plan to talk about him in my immediate vicinity, lest you enjoy being suddenly and violently assaulted.

This is wholly due to his stance and plans to censor the internet in Australia, and has publicly sung the praises of way that Iran and China handles their internet domestically (i.e. with national propaganda and government oppression).

I'm not going to write at length about this guy today however, as even actively thinking about him causes me physical and psychological harm.

Instead, I'm going to talk about an inquiry that he has launched that (surprise!) is actually in favour of Australian consumers. I'm talking, of course, about the Inquiry into the price of downloadable technology/video games.

This is a point I've been harping on about for a long time now, and it is absolutely amazing that they're actually seeming to do something in my interests for once (our active government, that is). My gripe is specifically with video game pricing, however believe me when I say it pretty much applies to most things that can be bought with money in this country.

Earlier this decade, our dollar was not performing very well. Against the USD (United States Dollar), we were buying a little over 50c in early 2001. This was the excuse that they gave us for charging anywhere between $90-$110 per game in Australia.

"Oh, it's because of the poor exchange rate with the USD. That's why you, the hapless Australian consumer, pay more for video games."

So, resigned, we gritted our teeth and handed over this exorbitant amount of money to the corporate asshats. We did this for years, hand over fist, (in some cases) paying more than double than our American counterparts.

Then, something happened. The Australian economy began to boom, and the steady climb of the Australian dollar (which has maintained being worth more than a US dollar for over a year now) should now put us in line with the United States. But, alas; The price of the Australian video game did not change.

"Why, Corporate Asshat, are you not lowering the price of our video games?! Our money is worth more now, surely this changes things?!"

"Well, er... did we say it was because of exchange rate? That's not what we meant. It's the fuel and transport, import taxes... warehousing and such. Please don't call me an "asshat", it hurts my feelings."

...and so, resigned, we hand over our hard earned cash still

It then something else happened. The proliferation of Digital Delivery. The idea is this: You pay over the internet with a credit card to a game distribution service (Steam being the most popular and well-known), and you can download the game directly to your computer!

What innovation! What wizardry! Surely now us poor Australians can now pay reasonable prices for video games! But... something's not right. What's this? It's region-locked? So, I am given a different library of games than Americans?

Let's just compare the prices real quick.

So, I'm looking at the Australian Steam Powered website... the price for a game that's been out for six months: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.

The price is listed as $100 USD, which is hella expensive for a game that's 6 months old.

Okay, so as I've reiterated in both the caption and the picture itself; The price is listed in USD. I wanted to see what the American's get shown, so I jumped on Google to access the American website.

Hmmm, okay. Turns out that it resolves my location by DNS and only serves up the Australian site for me. No matter, I'll just use an American proxy site like Proxify to mask my location and make it appear as though I'm in America.

Hmmm, that's odd. It seems that while Proxify can take me to a particular page, it's blocking me from accessing the price lists, and spits out an error that Steam Powered is blocking access.

They don't make this easy for me to get the truth, do they?!

Let me hunt around the internet. Ah ha! Somebody made a browser extension for this exact purpose. Thank you, kind person. So, the way it works apparently is that it compares the prices of the game in-browser for your convenience. Win!

Let's have a look...

Great Scott! 67% markup?!

This is ludicrous! We're  paying $40 dollars more... for a game that we download ourselves?! You can't argue that this has anything to do with distribution costs.

This, my friends, is proof that Australia is getting fraked on game pricing, no matter which way you look at it... and I'm so glad we're finally taking it seriously, 'cause it's only been happening from the beginning of time.

I reached out for Gabe Newell, founder of Valve and creator of Steam, for comment on the price disparity between the US and AU. Instead of replying with words, like a normal person, he sent me this photo of him eating cake.

Oh c'mon guys, it's a Portal 2 reference? Geddit? Ah, screw you.


  1. Australian Gamers have been getting bent over on price for far too long. SOMETHING HAS TO CHANGE!

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  2. I just hope that if he managed to pull of something beneficial from this enquiry that it doesn't mean he launched back into the whole censorship thing. I'll pay that $40 if it means I can still traverse the final frontier of free speech.

  3. Wow, you Aussies are getting screwed.