The government of Australia wants to know why videogames cost so damn much.
Games are expensive. Let’s not complicate that statement with talk about indie bundles and Steam sales and all that other good stuff; let’s stay focused on mass-market, big-budget console releases and just agree that, yes, games are expensive. But as bad as things are here – “here” being North America, although I imagine it’s pretty much the same situation in Europe – it’s far worse in Australia, where by all accounts the beaches are great but videogames cost a bundle.
Check out EB Games Australia for some examples. Max Payne 3? 100 bucks. Diablo 3? 90 bucks. Call of Duty: Black Ops 2? 110 bucks. These aren’t collector’s editions, either; these are the standard, off-the-shelf releases that people in this part of the world can pick up for $30, $40 and even $50 cheaper. And the Australian government wants to know why.
The issue goes far beyond just videogames, obviously, and the inquiry announced in April by Stephen Conroy, the Federal Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, will also consider the high price of downloadable music, e-books, “professional software” and even hardware like game consoles. Today the government made a call for public submissions to the inquiry.
“Australians are often forced to pay more for IT hardware and software than consumers in overseas markets,” inquiry chairman Nick Champion said in a statement. “The Committee’s inquiry aims to determine the extent of these IT price differences and examine the possibility of limiting their impact on Australian consumers, businesses and governments.”
At one point, high Australian software prices could have been justified by the cost of getting products to, and then around, the country. Australia’s not the most conveniently located joint in the world, after all, and there’s a big, empty space in the middle that seems to exist solely to kill people. But for digitally-distributed product, which at this point means just about everything except the hardware on which it runs, that’s no longer an issue; data usage notwithstanding, it costs no more to “ship” a game to Australia than it does anywhere else.
Currency exchange isn’t a factor either, as the weak state of the U.S. dollar has brought the Australian dollar just about to par. And while it takes time for markets to adjust to changing conditions, that doesn’t appear to be happening in Australia, which leaves one simple, but rather ugly answer: Game sellers are relying on inertia and ingrained numbness to high prices to pad their margins. Greed, in other words, and while I have absolutely no evidence upon which to base that assertion, in the era of Steam and GOG, it’s becoming harder and harder to see any other explanation.
Australians who want to take part in the public submission process can find out more at the Parliament of Australia website.