Some of you have probably noticed the reports from the XBox Live Preview currently underway regarding the Games on Demand pricing. Different regions have been offered different titles at strangely varied price points, some close and some ridiculously distant from any retail comparison.
Unfortunately, if you happen to live in Australia or New Zealand, it looks like we’re on the way to being disappointed once again. Unfortunately, the removal of MS points as the benchmark and moving to local currency has removed any chance of consistent prices. Considering we are generally always limited when it comes to On Demand purchases from any console maker, this isn’t a surprise.
See why after the jump.
I’m currently lucky enough to be getting a sneak peak at the upcoming major update for the 360′s NGE. Aside from speed, marketplace and avatar updates, one of the most significant additions is the ability to purchase full retail games. Microsoft has recently pushed through the sub-update that allows the games to be sold and downloaded, and I have to say I have been shocked at what’s been on offer.
There are currently 5 games available during the current leg of this preview – Call of Duty 2, Bioshock, Mass Effect, Oblivion and Viva Pinata. The US gets Sonic The Hedgehog, Assassins Creed, Lego Star Wars and Need for Speed Carbon. Japan adds an additional Fight Night Round 3, Bullet Witch, IdolM@ster, Perfect Dark Zero, and Rainbow Six: Vegas. Since all of these titles are currently available and rated in the AU retail marketplace, I can only imagine that publishing issues are holding them back from online sale.
For the sake of regional comparison, I’ll keep it between the US and the AU/NZ markets, since the European regions are very numerous and, it has to be noted, have sub-regional splits for certain games as well.
3 of them are sitting at the reasonably RRP price of AU$49.95 – COD2, Bioshock and Oblivion. This is in comparison to the US$20 (Around AU$25) that they are priced for on the US marketplace. Strangely enough, NZ pays $20 more for COD2, at $69.95. Why? Heaven Knows. Viva Pinata sits a little closer to the norm at AU$29.95, which is almost a 1:1 split with the US pricing. While there is certainly a pretty high discrepancy, its nothing compared to the jaw dropping bombshell that is Mass Effect.
Mass Effect released in Australia on the 22nd of November, 2007. That’s almost 2 years ago. In the US, it is priced on the marketplace at a very respectable $20, close to the average online purchase value of $16. In Australia and New Zealand? $99.95. How much could you purchase it for the shop? You’d be hard pressed to pay more then around $40, even at EB Games who rarely price stock lower then the RRP.
That’s over double the cost. And while we’re at it, why are downloadable titles being priced significantly higher then their retail equivalents? Surely it wouldn’t be difficult to find the average retail sale, or even just discount the RRP since there are no middle-man costs (such as packaging, delivery, warehousing, staff and labor wages) to inflate pricing.
Mass Effect is one thing, but the other $49.95 games are all easily available at bargain bin prices. You’d be hard pressed to find Call of Duty 2 for sale at all, let alone at the $50 price point. For the sake of the article, I checked out three local discount retailers – JB Hifi, Big W and Kmart. Of those three, only JB Hifi had the title in stock, and sold it for AU$17 at the time of this article publishing.
Many have been saying that its highly possible that these prices are simply placeholders for when the update goes live to the masses. I don’t think so. The titles are available for purchase right now, for those in the preview, and its doubtful that MS would bother changing them without coming up against a major backlash from early adopters against their purchase.
It’s a shame that this is the case. I was actually in a position a few weeks ago where I would have purchased a downloadable copy of Mass Effect, after a heated discussion with a fellow editor regarding the combat system. This sort of impulse purchase fits in perfectly with an offering like this. But its unlikely that anyone with even a basic sense of retail pricing would even consider purchasing at prices like these.
Here’s hoping that Microsoft listens to the feedback and makes a greater effort to make these products competitive, rather then blaming the marketplace for not being “ready” for downloadable purchases. The success of Arcade is proven, now its time to start pushing some goodwill back into an already disappointed group of gamers.