For our respective hordes!
Before I got to spend untold hours closing out one of my favourite franchises, I spent a week in Thailand; and my oh my was it an eye-opener. Whether it was the close proximity of excess and poverty, the scenery, the traffic, the food, the people or the bargains: Thailand - Bangkok specifically - had me on my toes.
When I say bargains, I'm not talking about pirated games either: I'm talking about legitimate retail releases. Don't get me wrong, if you find the IT mall, there are enough shops and stalls selling bootlegged copies of the latest releases on PC for less than 200 Thai Baht (about 6 Australian dollars); but when you see how much it costs to buy the genuine article, you may not think it's worth compromising your Steam account for cut-price games. The average cost of an authentic PC game is about 800 Baht (roughly $24). Some cost a lot more - it turns out that Call of Duty: Black Ops is expensive, regardless of region - but most are offered for about seventy percent less than they are in Australia. Console games are also cheaper in Thailand, but not by as much. Price, however, is not the sole contributor of the shopping experience.
That being said, PlayStation 3 games (I didn't pick up any Xbox 360 games in case they were region-locked) were on sale for roughly half the Australian recommended retail price. I bought several new releases (FIFA 12, El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron, God of War: Origins Collection and The Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection) and one relatively-recent release (Alice: Madness Returns) for just under 6000 Baht (about $200 AUD). Even by ozgameshop standards, that haul is pretty respectable. What made the above even better though, was the standard of service and the atmosphere found in some of these gaming retailers. Thai game retailers have comparatively smaller shop spaces to work with, but they know their products, and they're not afraid for you to try them. I walked into one store where the proprietor booted up Dark Souls for a customer. The young man proceeded to play while I asked about the cost and the release date for the English Language version. I also enquired about several other titles and was told that "That has English voice-overs but the menus are in Japanese," and "Catherine's pretty popular here, we'll have some stock in soon." When money and product was exchanged, I was told "Thanks for your business. You can trade these in towards your next purchase if you'd like. See you soon." It was all so seamless.
I didn't hear lines like "Trade and save at Nadz," or "We buy your old games," as I made my through various games shops in the Digital Gateway mall. Customers could trial whatever games they wanted in some stores, and they knew the people behind the counter. I felt a sense of warmth in some of those shops that wasn't only due to my being in Bangkok (where it's really freaking hot.... everyday!). I should also clarify that Nadz was the name of one of the stores; I'm not taking the piss.
I promise you: THERE ARE GAMEZ IN THIS BAG!!!
Funny thing is, I haven't played a single game that I bought over there with the exception of a few heated exhibition matches in FIFA 12. I am engrossed in Gears 3, that's for sure.
I'd wager that Australian specialist games retailers could learn a lot from their Thai counterparts. More realistic prices would be great, but how about improving the quality of the shopping experience on the whole? Instead of the three-year old Guitar Hero setup in JB Hi-Fi, how about an open station where consumers can play whatever they're interested in? Instead of the push-inclined geekery from staff in Gametraders, how about some warmth, sincerity and some leave-me-the-fuck-alone? Instead of the apathetic, ignorant slogan slamming you get at EBGames, how about some product knowledge and some attention?
What have you been playing while I've been buying games in another country? Did you miss me?
Important, potentially heart-warming Dutch note: It is with great pleasure that I announce the arrival of my niece, Arabelle Johanna. Congratulations to Reuben and Danielle on a beautiful, healthy baby girl. Best wishes for the future, and you'd best believe I'll be the nerdy uncle that showers that kid in videogames and assorted geekery when she gets older. For now, she'll have to subsist on cuddles.