Quit your bitching and listen to mine. Why it sucks to be a gamer in India.

It’s tough living in a supposed third world country. You never get access to great games like Persona or BlazBlue unless you’ve got a credit card plus spare cash to deal with the all but obvious customs charge that follows or a relative kind enough to get you what you need. Reason being, we’re a nascent market, where anything outside triple-A (or purported triple-A tripe like NFS and WWE) don’t sell. Even the mainstream press doesn’t give games or gamers any respect, devaluing the entire ecosystem of gaming, casual or hardcore, PC or console to cheap Chinese knock-offs.

Heck, Nintendo doesn’t even have a legit presence in the region, so we’re officially three formats short.Throw in the fact that the two biggest formats in terms of install base are the PS2 and PC, even games like Forza and Gears aren’t that easy to come by unless you really hunt for them. Having said that, if it’s not labelled God of War, WWE, Uncharted, Halo, Cricket 20xx, Assassin’s Creed, FIFA, GTA or Hanuman Boy Warrior you’d be at your wits end trying to find it.

Digital distribution services such as Steam aren’t exactly the most accessible of options thanks to a glorious Fair Usage Policy (FUP) that caps your downloads to 25GB (yes, I shit you not, I rather get an aneurysm than explain to a customer rep why their policies suck) and the fact that local, physical boxed PC games cost around $20-25 at launch. Yes, we’re perhaps the cheapest for PC games in the world. But that counts for nothing when a good portion of titles don’t even release here, officially or otherwise.

For example my attempt to find a copy of Fallout: New Vegas for the PC was a disaster. Thanks to D-toid and a few friends on Steam who were raving about it my interest was piqued. I figured it shouldn’t be much of an issue getting it. Never had I been so wrong. The first stumbling block was finding someone who knew about it outside my merry band of virtual friends, there wasn’t anyone at retail or real-life per se who had an idea about the latest in post-apocalyptic simulation. Most trips to stores were like this:

“Do you have Fallout: New Vegas?”
“No but we have FIFA 11.”
“Oh, no thanks.”
“Sir we have this new game, GTA4. Just came in. Brand new!”
Me: facepalm

At least Fallout 3 was easier to source due to it being banned (pro-tip: you want a game to sell, get it banned and have parallel importers bring it in and charge a boatload) no such news of New Vegas being banned ensured that my local grey market importers were equally clueless.

Ironic isn’t it? There I was, searching for a game that focused on the sheer lack of humanity in post-apocalyptic times and I never felt more alone in my quest for it in the 6th most populous city in the world. Forget obscure, it hadn’t even been heard of. No, it doesn’t get better.

Entire genres get ignored so much so that RTS or RPGs outside their initial run are absolutely painful to find. This means if you don’t snap up a copy of Dragon Age: Origins or Mass Effect 2 within the first week or two, you’re more or less boned till it makes it on the shelves as a platinum/greatest hits release.

Don’t even get me started about platform parity, for the longest time, things were so bad with Xbox 360 sales that we only got the arcade SKU a year and a half after the rest of the world did. I guess it probably had to do with MS’ smart idea of straight math, assuming that ten percent of a 1 billion-odd population with a per capita income of $1219 would actually be able to afford a $500 Xbox 360 Pro console. At least we got Xbox Live before a ton of other territories including the Middle East.

However we’re by and large a PlayStation country with PS3 games selling around three to four times as more as they would on the Xbox 360. This basically means if you ever bought an Xbox 360 you’re screwed as games are hard to come by because so few of them are brought in unless you’re the sort looking to pirate because in that case it’s easy to get your hands on a console and games, in some places even easier than getting an unmodified Xbox. The same applies to the Wii in quite a few places as well.

And it gets worse. A few months ago a couple of leading distributors thought it would be a nice idea to start a price cartel, preventing retailers to price games as they saw fit. In fact, no retailer would be allowed to price any EA, Sony first party, MS first party, Capcom or Namco Bandai titles at a discount. All games from these publishers have to sell at suggested maximum retail price for the first two months. The end result? A ton of retailers parallel importing product and some of them doing it catastrophically wrong to the point where NTSC U/C PS2 and Xbox 360 games litter store shelves when we’re a PAL territory.

It’s a bone-headed policy that’s probably going to do more harm than good. Luckily, other distributors aren’t too interested in maintaining a stranglehold on day one pricing. Yet. Problem is EA is the topdog publisher in the region and has a major influence on how other big publishers such as Ubisoft and THQ do business.

Are we going to end up with price fixing that’s borderline, if not completely illegal? It’s too soon to tell, but it’s just one of the many glaring problems that gamers in India face. The hilarity of all of this is, how do you expect to keep piracy down if everyone selling legit games is hellbent on making things more difficult? It’s these inane reasons as to why people continue to flock to piracy regardless of format. Interested in games for your PS3? Sure, hop on over to your friendly neighbourhood store with your PS3 in tow and wait for 30 minutes as the salesman loads the games of your choice on your PS3’s hard drive right infront of you.

All in all,things are oppressive at best. And until the industry decides to be a little more open, a little more perceptive and a little more interested in actually serving a market instead of shoving crap down its throat, it sucks to be a gamer here.

Oh and I did manage to get my copy of Fallout: New Vegas after pulling in a massive favor from a friend overseas. Not something I’m likely to try again. How easy is it for you to get your games in that little slice of paradise you call your country?

Next week, why locally created video game content should die in a fire.