Ask LH: Why Are Games So Expensive In Australia?

Hey Lifehacker, Why are some games almost triple the price in Australia compared to the US? You can pick up New Super Mario Bros DS (hardly a new release) for $25 in the US, but it's still $70 over here. The same applies to lots of other titles.

I know Adobe and Microsoft claimed they had higher prices due to local technical support but that makes less sense with Nintendo. It really bugs me since the games are mostly used by kids who often damage the cartridges or disks, and you can't really run off a copy to be used while the original is safe in a box. On region-locked devices, is there any alternative way to find cheaper games? Thanks, Game Overpriced

Dear GO,

The short and sad answer to "Why are they more expensive?" is "because they can be". Selling games is a business, and businesses will charge whatever they think the consumer will be willing to cough up. And since we do keep shelling out the money, nothing becomes any cheaper.

Australia is a much smaller market than the US, so there's arguably less incentive for retailers to offer bargain-priced or loss-leader games. Because most consoles are region-locked, you can't simply import cheaper overseas titles.

This whole issue was the subject of the Australian IT pricing inquiry, but unfortunately (if predictably) that particular investigation hasn't made any difference. And it's quite tricky to argue that games are an essential service and need a higher level of regulation.

What can you do? Shop around carefully online (check our list of bargain comparison sites for some leads). Consider second-hand copies, either through eBay or retail stores. Or try weaning your kids onto playing games on a cheap tablet or mobile phone -- there are a lot more bargain-priced choices available there.

Cheers Lifehacker

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Comments

    Interesting article, and I would like to add some information. I worked in a management position at an independent games retailer for around 5 years, and the people responsible for game prices in Australia are the distributors as well as the manufacturers of the consoles (e.g Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft).

    When our store got sick of ridiculously small margins by ordering stock through Australian distributors, we started ordering from over seas. It wasn't long before the Aussie distributors started putting pressure on us, with the help of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo to stop the process. How?

    We started to get legal warning (from the console manufacturers), and the distributors started warning us that they wouldn't honor warranties on items that we were still getting from them. Furthermore, we were eventually excluded from national console deals (eg: Xbox with two games). We were forced to give up the practice, despite it being cheaper for our customers.

    So the real reason is distributors (hint there is one big one in Australia). The console manufacturers also have a large part in it. If you are sourcing game from Australia as an Aussie retailer, you are only making maybe $5 from a full priced game, and this doesn't take into account any business running costs

      Hi Leonard, thanks for all your insight below.

      It seems like you are saying/implying that there is a monopoly situation with one big distributor controlling the price. Why aren't there more distributors popping up to undercut that single distributor.

        When I first started working at the game store, there actually was one or two other suppliers, and they had excellent prices and services. However, the larger supplier bought them out, and the competition was gone.

        I haven't seen any pop up since, particularly on a scale needed to shake up prices and competition. From my knowledge serious stocking of games and consoles is either done directly through Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft, or through the large supplier.

        I suppose why I've been writing all of this is because it's not particularly the fault of stores in this case, and there are a lot of factors. High costs from suppliers and manufacturers are an immediate example.

          So basically the ACCC should get involved because now it is a Monopoly.

    This is Nintendo's fault. You rarely see price drops on their first party games, besides introductory offers they won't go down for years. When Mario Kart Wii is more expensive than the Wii that is a big problem. I am advocating using R4/modchips on DS/3DS. If they can't offer a reasonable price then they can go fuck themselves. Some "rare" games are impossible to find or you have to pay $100+ on ebay of course I'm just going to download it.

    On to Xbox/Playstation games

    Are they expensive? If you buy when the time is right usually on release the games are always $58-$78. All the major releases from Sept-Dec last year were $58-$68 which is around the same price US pay with tax.

    Problem with price are the big retailers selling 3+ year old games for full price.

      The big retailers can't sell those 3 year old games for cheap if they are still expensive from the supplier.

      For example, big w won't order stock of Zelda on the DS that has a cost of $54 and sell it for $29 because it's three years old. The manufacturer and the suppliers control this.

      Contrary to popular belief, 99% of the time when a games RRP drops the retailers are not compensated. If you just ordered 5 copies of the latest Mario game at a cost of $91 and Nintendo decides to drop the price of the game to $50, the retailer loses $205 difference.

      In fact, a lot of the large EB games sales (eg 50% off, etc) are simply RRP adjustments. They usually sell them at the higher price for a long time, then drop the price to RRP levels. Since they have so many stores, it appears as genuine savings. Hence why they advertise the price discount as off "ticketed price"

    DS games can be imported from UK/EU - where you'll probably be able to get better prices.

    If it were distributors (as well as influence from the console manufacturers) setting obscenely high, unjustified prices for Australia. Wouldn't that almost be akin to price fixing?

    Before I purchase any game for myself anymore I check out http://www.comparegames.com.au/
    Since Ozgameshop changed hands they've become a bit pricey and their loyalty points have an expiry date nowadays.

    Last edited 13/02/14 11:18 am

      The issue is that you can still avoid using the distributors by importing stock, but being excluded from nation wide deals as a result is shooting yourself in the foot.

      The fact is that these guys are used to being the default supplier to game stores, and kick and scream when stores try to avoid them by being cheaper games from overseas. The manufacturers are all too willing to back them up too!

    The answer to the question is simply done in 3 words if you have a basic economic understanding.

    Supply versus demand.

    Elder Scrolls Online for Aussies is a massive rip-off. My wife and I did some shopping around and got the following instead -

    Physical Imperial Edition from Gamestop.com, $99 USD with $30 shipping - cheaper than Australia's out of stock EB games by $30 AUD after conversion, and that's shipping it halfway around the world...

    Digital Imperial Edition from Getgamesgo.com, $67 USD... that's $45 AUD cheaper than downloading it here... what the hell?!

      even buying the game from the ESO website is a much better deal considering the extra content.

    "Because most consoles are region-locked..."

    Actually, most aren't. It's really only Nintendo's devices and consoles that are locked these days. Microsoft and Sony don't have region locking on either the Xbone or the PS4. The PC can have region locking sometimes, but it's pretty rare. Besides which, even with region locking on Nintendo hardware, you can always import games from the UK and Europe since we share the same region. Although their prices are usually comparable to ours, so there isn't much of a saving to be had unfortunately.

    i have a question, why the hell is the digital version of ESO so damn expensive, look at it, in america the digital imperial pack is $80USD (i think) and the Australian one is $119.95AUD now hang on even today with the exchange rate being 1AUD=0.90USD that makes it cost $108.27USD, now that is a whopping $28.27USD more for just data and nothing physical to be sent to me WTH? its not like they are having to pay the conversion rates, we pay that when it goes across to them through banking fees, and nothing is being shipped to our country cause its all digital data being sent! so what is making it cost so damn much, do they not want Australians playing? honestly i would love it if it was the same price(well same currency corrected price!), but that extra charge is unfathomable?

    It wouldn't surprise me if a lot of the price hike would be unfair taxes and tarriffs, even on Steam, games are way more expensive to Australians then any other country. if that was the case (and pray god it isn't) those getting cheap bundles online could be hit with tax evasion charges and that is NOT GOOD!. I would need to do a buttload of research to find out if this is indeed the case, but with us Aussies being taxed so heavily on everything we get, it could possibly be the case.

    And the australian Government is planning on adding a GST to imported (including digital downloads) products which are not goods and services from Australia. If that bill passes games will jump another 10% :O

    Last edited 13/12/14 2:55 pm

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