When Steam sent me an email to let me know it would be changing its pricing on the local store to New Zealand dollars instead of US dollars, I was naturally suspicious. Gamers in New Zealand have long known they've been getting gouged on price.
It wasn't a press release, and therefore didn't tout the change as being good for Kiwis, but I was still a bit put off by the enthusiastic exclamation marks.
Has it made a difference? It's hard to say.
Steam had already introduced regional pricing for New Zealanders on a lot of its biggest releases. Even on Steam, the platform lauded for its sales and generally much lower prices, Kiwis have been getting gouged for a while.
Regardless, the prices we pay in New Zealand for games and consoles are way over market value in the US. (In fact, almost all our electronics are woefully overpriced.)
The RRP for the PlayStation 4 in New Zealand is $650. That's considerably cheaper than when the PS3 was released at well over $1000 in 2006, but still pretty steep compared to the NZ$531 that Americans pay for the console. Still, there are distribution costs and whatnot. They're not that steep, but most people kind of accept that there's a bit of a "New Zealand tax".
But when one reader sent me an email to talk about price gouging on Lego Dimensions, I had to admit it was a particularly egregious example. The placeholder price for the game's starter pack is $200 at EB Games - US residents can get it from Amazon for just under NZ$133. That it's almost 50 per cent more for Kiwis is, in my opinion, pretty obscene.
Now, the thing about Lego is there are a lot of licensing deals and those are expensive. But that licensing is paid in other territories too, so why the discrepancy?
I tried to contact EB Games to ask, but was unable to get a reply by deadline.
Usually the distributor sets the pricing anyway - that's where a recommended retail price comes from - and retailers discount it from there. Mighty Ape, for example, has the RRP at $200 but is selling Dimensions for $180.
And distributors essentially pick the price they can get away with that will get them the biggest margin on sales.
The fact is, Americans just refuse to put up with prices like this. But for some reason we do, because we're far away and used to it being difficult.
The good news is that the options are opening up now. Online retailers offering better prices are taking business away from those more traditional brick-and-mortar stores.
The bad news? The fact that retailers are still managing to get away with these prices means they must still be getting plenty of business. I'm as guilty of buying from them as anyone -- sometimes I decide I want a game, and I want it that day, and it's better to just pop into a shop and pick it up, even if I do pay a few extra dollars.
One thing is for sure: local game prices aren't going down significantly anytime soon. You can still easily pay $120 for a popular, new release game, even without the Lego figurines. With the cost of producing a game continuing to rise - especially with the release of new consoles - we're lucky prices haven't significantly gone up with them.