It’s a complaint that I hear every time I speak to a video game store buyer: ‘Why are there so few copies of God of War, The Last of Us and Uncharted? Why can’t Sony bring in more?’
And you know what? I can’t blame them.
Bigger stores like e-commerce behemoth Flipkart have solved their supply issues: they simply purchase the games from gray-market channels. This means that they charge more than the suggested retail price, although that makes sense since the games are imported. For India, Sony’s first-party games are manufactured locally.
So why are supplies of Sony games so low right now? Because Sony India isn’t manufacturing them, or at least isn’t distributing anything it might be manufacturing. Retailers like Flipkart would never be selling gray-market games if official copies were available, so the fact that they are means Sony India isn’t offering any product to Indian distributors.
Exactly why that’s the case is unclear. Sony declined to comment for this article, but the retailers I spoke to didn’t. Independent outlets or mom-and-pop stores make up around 40-50 percent (depending which distributor you ask) of the market in India. Unlike the bigger chains, most of them don’t have a reliable way to import first-party Playstation 3 games now that official domestic channels have dried up. The result is that at many of these shops, you simply can’t find Sony’s first-party games anymore.
To make matters worse, India is, for all practical purposes, a Sony country. The quantity of games sold on the PS3 is on par with, if not greater than, the games sold on PC. Though Playstation 4 sales haven’t picked up as much due to supply constraints, they will eventually if history is any indication.
And of course, being the number one console in any comes a sizeable chunk of software sales. At the moment, Sony first-party games make up around 30 percent of all game sales at retail. But that’s probably going to change, because those games are getting harder and harder to find.
And most retailers who can’t afford the high import rates to bring in Kratos, Joel, and Nathan Drake are quite happy replacing them with Ezio, Aiden Pearce, and Lara Croft. Yes, it has reached a point where third-party titles from publishers like Ubisoft and Square Enix are making a dent in what has been Sony’s share of the pie.
“For quite some time we have not been able to order Sony’s platinum titles, so we’ve had to order third-party instead to make up the numbers for the month,” one retailer told me. It’s a common quip amongst independent retailers.
“But what about the used market?”, you ask. Well, that’s pretty much dried up by now. Usually you’d see robust availability of these games pre-owned. A quick search on Ebay India indicates that you can pick up The Last of Us used for INR 2200 (approx. $37). Decent compared to the current going rate of INR 2999 (approx. $50) for a new gray-market import. But it’s a year old with a HD remaster on the way. And if it were available officially, it would cost INR 2699 (approx. $45) new. This makes it an expensive proposition.
So whether it’s to gray imports, substitutions of third-party games, or a sudden yet unlikely influx of pre-owned copies, the bottom line is that Sony India stands to lose out on potential customers because of the lack of official copies of these games in stores.
The situation isn’t rosy on the hardware side either. By the time the PS2 was at the ripe old age of eight, it cost under INR 10,000 (around $167). After that price drop, its install base increased exponentially to where it stands now, at close to a million units sold.
Compared to this, the PS3 is still at INR 22,990 (roughly $387) for the 500GB model and INR 19,990 for the 12GB model with PS Move (around $334) eight years post-release. Will Sony even get close to the PS2 install base with the PS3 in India? Unlikely. But if Sony ever hopes to regain a mass-market share in India, a price drop on the PS3 is needed.
With Microsoft picking up the pace, and PC games staying competitively priced for the most part, it seems that Sony might be losing its edge in a market that it dominates. Whether it happens or not remains to be seen, but for now, if you need your fix of God of War, Uncharted or The Last of Us, be prepared to pay more or simply wait it out in the hopes of the situation rectifying itself.