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Himeji Castle

Give me Steam

The mighty George recently bought himself a very nice new laptop, so I've been steering him in the direction of various apps and games he should be installing and enjoying. Along the way I discovered that there's a rather large price discrepancy between Half-Life 2 in Australian game stores, and its price when it's purchased through Valve's online store / content delivery system, Steam. HL2 at EB Games and Harvey Norman is AU$110, while on Steam you can get the Source Premier Pack for US$60, which is about AU$80. The Premier Pack even includes the expansion pack Episode 1, which is another AU$40 locally. This is a fairly significant saving, and makes shopping in an Australian brick-and-mortar game store look pretty stupid. Games stores in the USA, Canada and the UK (the ones that I've personally experienced) have far more reasonable prices, and aggressively drive them down in order to shift older games. If you don't want to throw down for full price at release, you could be pretty well assured of watching the price steadily fall over time, if you can stand the wait. I picked up Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory in Vancouver for CA$25 months ago, and last night I saw it in EB Games in Sydney for AU$89. If you pay that, you're a complete idiot.

I suspect the big problem is that Australian retailers are still working off the old 2:1 exchange rate that used to exist between Oz and the US a few years back. Google tells me that an US dollar buys about 133 Aussie cents right now, which buggers the original balance sheet pretty savagely. There is probably enough headroom to sustain a business that imports games from the US and sells them (with a small markup) in Australia, while still remaining cheaper than the standard retail prices. There's probably some kind of law against it, or at least a bloke called Knuckles in an EB Games t-shirt who'd break your legs if you tried.

The sad thing is that I like game stores. I love wandering around with other gaming buddies and talking about stuff, leafing through magazines, checking out funky new headsets or playing demos. Impulse buying is also great. It seems ridiculous that I would go there and never buy anything. I can't imagine this is good for their business, although it does strengthen the position of online systems such as Steam, which makes sense because games are essentially bundles of bits. Wrapping a collection of digital files up in a physical object such as a DVD and then shipping it across the world seems rather unnecessary, and somewhat wasteful. Of course Australian broadband is very expensive, slow and suffers from monthly download limits, which limits the regular downloading of gigs and gigs of game data... ugh.

It is possible that I've been hanging out in the wrong gaming stores, so let me know if there are places in Sydney that actually have decent prices. I'm not exactly sure I'd journey over hill and under dale to shop there, but it would be comforting that not everyone selling games in this country are idiots. Until then, I suppose I'll borrow games from friends, rent from video stores, and Obtain Games By Shady Means. I might try and order a few games from the US and see what the final bill turns out to be, and I'll definitely be buying Episode 2 over Steam when it's launched early next year. Oh, and I'll certainly be buying Psychonauts via Steam as well in October. It's meant to be very very good.