However for PC gamers in India, it’s been a mixed week. Sure, the news of Snake crouching onto Steam was nice, but the announcement of Grand Theft Auto V’s price for the nation was met with shock.
At INR 2499 (approx. $41) it’s a shade lower than what US gamers have to pay, what with Gamestop listing it at $59.99, but it’s still steep compared to other triple-A games in India.
You see, when GTA IV released on PC in December 2008, India had it at INR 499 ($8). And it set a tone for a generation of cheaply-priced games. In those days, you could get The Sims 3, Batman: Arkham Asylum, and Borderlands at launch on PC for a grand total of INR 2997 (around $50).
The low price point for GTA IV allowed distributors some bargaining power with publishers for subsequent game releases, arguing that if they want their games to have a chance of selling, the price had to be low.
But the other games, the ones that did get priced lower, came with a side effect: re-export. Game stores would take advantage of the low pricing and sell games for a higher profit to overseas clients.
A lot of them would order a hundred or two hundred units of a game, with the bulk of them exported to countries like Thailand and Brazil. And if the game had Steam support, they’d simply email keys to resellers on marketplaces like Kinguin.
It reached a point where customers would wonder why games weren’t on the shelves and distributors would question why small, hole-in-the-wall stores with next to no foot traffic were ordering humongous quantities of PC games.
Some of them welcomed this additional business, while others tried cracking down on it. Customers like myself would be questioned at certain store counters if purchased more than two copies of a game on PC like Company of Heroes 2. Eventually, better sense prevailed and publishers region-locked their games.
Those who didn’t, like Electronic Arts, ended up hiking prices. In no small part thanks to Australian consumers finding a way to bypass Origin to get a better deal on Simcity V with Indian prices. This resulted in a slew of angry Indian consumers taking to the internet to voice their discontent. EA stuck to its guns and didn’t sell much of anything. This year, the publisher’s not even selling its PC games on disc in the country.
While it would be easy to blame EA for this rise in pricing, the fact is, it is not the company’s fault. If other publishers looked at EA and then raised prices, every PC game for India after September 2013 would have been poorly-priced. But that didn’t happen.
If GTA V sells even remotely well at INR 2499, it may result in a price increase from every other publisher in the country. Publishers will figure: if people can pony up for the adventures of Michael, Franklin, and Trevor, they’ll do just the same for Batman and Geralt. According to people in the distribution network, Grand Theft Auto IV sold close to 50,000 copies on PC in the first month in India. This was in 2008. That’s double what the uber-popular FIFA franchise did before EA jacked up the price in 2013, so if GTA V approaches that kind of performance, it could really affect other triple-A prices.
A lot of retailers are shocked with the price and are confident that it won’t sell.
“Those who bought at INR 499, 699, 999 won’t buy at INR 2499”, said one store owner.
“What’s the point of such a high price? The game’s region-locked anyway”, wondered another.
“We’ll probably have to reduce our quantities by half if not more. I’m now worried on the effect this will have in the coming years on the price of games from other publishers”, said a game store purchaser.
Consumers are equally miffed. The country’s largest gaming forum, Indianvideogamer was abuzz with not so pleasant comments on the move:
“Guess which is going to end up as the most pirated game this year in India!”
“I think we can thank EA for this. They are the ones who jacked up prices by a factor of 4. So now anything that isn’t priced INR 4000 is considered a good deal for consumers by these guys.”
“Damn, I was hoping for an INR 999 or 1499 price tag as it’s distributed by E-xpress :(…I am still gonna get it for GTA Online..No interest in Single player mode now…”
It’s odd given that the distributor, E-xpress is known locally for keeping PC game prices low. In fact a few months prior the company was confident of bringing the game at retail in the range of INR 699 to INR 999, much like its titles from other publishers such as Warner Bros. and Square-Enix. The distributor did not reply to an email request for comment.
The short-term solution for consumers is easy: purchase the game at a lower price during a sale from Steam or any of the other countless key-retailers on the internet. But the problem with this is, it prevents the local market from growing and could drive prices of newer PC releases even higher. Which is probably what will happen in months to come. Given that piracy is prevalent enough as it is, an insanely popular game at this high a price will only take illegal downloads higher.
While it’s too early to tell what exactly are the effects of this move on the business as whole, it’s startling given that Rockstar Games and E-xpress have nurtured this fledgling market with careful pricing over the years. For now, however, if you’re looking to get your fix of open-world violence, be prepared to fork out or wait out.
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