How Price Tourism propelled a Switch game to Nintendo Switch fame

from the price is right department

Although, we’ve had many conversations about how some forward-thinking content creators have managed to view frustrating things like copyright infringement as opportunities rather than threats. This can happen in many ways: viewing counterfeiting as free marketing research, viewing it as a means of exposure, viewing infringers as underserved customers, and so on.

But it might be harder to see the potential benefits of something like price tourism in the video game space. If you’re not aware, price tourism is where some people impersonate their location identity in order to buy a video game that might cost $25 in the US, but is offered for the equivalent of a much lower dollar amount in a different country. The publishers have established these price discrepancies due to economic conditions in different regions of the world. Price tourism is generally, understandably, seen as sleazy shit that people shouldn’t do. Publishers are usually very angry about this.

But not the creators behind let’s build a zoo. The publisher of this game, No More Robots, recently released the 2021 game for pre-order on the Nintendo Switch. Team’s Mike Rose has a great twitter feed about what happened with those pre-orders, but Kotaku also has a nice description of what happened.

It started with Rose going to bed after setting up pre-orders for the game. Then he woke up and saw that there were a ton of these pre-orders. Except it seemed like a huge percentage of those pre-orders came from Argentina, where the game cost a fraction of what it cost in the United States.

Now, Argentina is not a strong economy, and due to regional Switch pricing, the price of the game and DLC usually $24 was around $1.50. Obviously, these weren’t genuine Argentinian sales, and Let’s Build A Zoo fell victim to tourist prizes, which use various websites to identify the cheapest location to buy a game, spoof their IP address or register a Switch account for that country, then purchase the game at its local price. All of these pre-orders earned RMN only $1 each. And it started to look like a disaster.

And if you read Rose’s Twitter feed, you’ll see that he, too, thought it was a disaster. He was ready to have a full-on freak-out. And, really, who could blame him? A group of people who did not live in Argentina were obtaining the prizes accorded to that country by usurping their location. Suddenly the publisher, an independent publisher, was selling a game like crazy but only getting a fraction of the compensation he expected. At this point, you’re probably thinking, “Well, how is it not a disaster?”

Here’s how.

However, due to a weird quirk in the way Nintendo compiles its regional sales, it aggregates all of the Americas when tracking sales for the United States and counts units sold, not revenue. All of those Argentinian pre-orders were registered by Switch’s algorithms as American interest, and it immediately started promoting the game much more heavily on its storefront to some of the highest-paying customers: Americans.

This then saw the EU Switch store thinking this game was a big deal, and it started to get promoted in most other countries around the world who are paying top dollar. On launch day, September 29, the game featured prominently in both stores’ “Bargains” tabs, getting…as Rose tweeted— “Charge more attention than we would have had.”

Yeah. Now, there’s no good way to quantify how much After the money No More Robots raised because price tourism that happened with his game…but obviously that dollar amount isn’t zero. And it’s likely that the exposure generated by the bad actors resulted in a huge windfall for the game and the publisher.

Does that make price tourism a good thing? Not at all. It’s a shitty thing to do, period. Does that mean that, like copyright infringement, it’s really worth it for the publisher to pursue all sorts of legal actions and demand remedies when it happens? Well, according to this story, absolutely not. It sure seems like yet another case of acquiring a game way less than above the board, resulting in an overall net benefit to the content creator.

So, like copyright, the question is what should the publisher do about it? Well, the answer, if you’re a Mike Rose, is nuanced.

“Every loophole is always exploited,” Rose tells me when I ask how he tackles ethical issues, adding that he thinks a lot of developers will see this as a “shithole situation and raise the price.” But for No More Robots? “I’m just going to continue to price our games the way they’re supposed to be, and if people are enjoying it, I guess that’s their right.”

I guess I disagree that it’s “their right”. But I think, at least in the case of let’s build a zoo, it is not “their fault” either. After all, if everyone ends up winning, who is wronged?

Filed Under: let’s build a zoo, markets, prize tourism, video games

Companies: no more robots

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