Column: Dear EA…

Dear EA,

I represent a group of people you may have heard of before — your consumer base. Of course, it’s entirely possible you may not be aware of our existence, but unlike the upgrades to each yearly release of Need for Speed, rest assured that we are real. Undoubtedly, you’ve put a lot of thought (most notably about how you’ll be spending your next salary bumps) into your revised pricing for PC games in India, but allow me, a humble PC gamer who’s been paying for your games since 1998, to tell you why you’re making a horrible mistake. This is, after all, India so it’s understandable if the budget allocated to market research mysteriously disappeared. So allow me to share with you what such research, if conducted, would reveal.

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The Indian video game market is currently in an interesting place. On one hand, you have a small, but dedicated group of PC gamers who are willing to spend whatever it takes to land a triple-A title. To spell it out, these are the people who matter to you. The other, infinitely larger segment of Indian PC gamers is the kind that pirates video games with abandon (and has done so since time immemorial), for one of two reasons — either they cannot afford to buy games (key point, in case you’re wondering), or they simply don’t care. However, over the last few years, the pricing sweet spot of Rs 999, coupled with deals through third-party retailers like Flipkart and Game4u, has resulted in a significant nod towards paying for video games — a trend that is slowly, but surely seeing video games appreciated as a commodity worth paying money for. Within reasonable limit.

You are ensuring that gamers who once paid money for your products are going to resort to piracy once again. Let me assure you of that fact.

By foolishly (and it is foolish) pricing your titles at more than triple the price (Rs 3499 for Battlefield 4? Are you serious?), you don’t simply risk losing a consumer base that has taken years of cajoling to grow. Far worse, you are ENSURING that gamers who once paid money for your products are going to resort to piracy once again. Let me assure you of that fact. This is not a threat — it’s a reality that you seem to be ignoring. For every bit of DRM and anti-piracy jazz you build into your games, there’s a bunch of geeks by the name of TPTB and Razor1911, who will find a way around it. It’ll take them a month, but they will. And Indians are a patient bunch, especially when it comes to saving money. Your argument to that may be that gamers with cracked copies won’t be able to play online, but that won’t matter because 80% of India’s PC gamers couldn’t be bothered with online offerings. You may argue that buyers paying three times the price will make up for the people who decide not to buy your games. And if that really is your reasoning, I feel even more undervalued as an EA consumer. Honestly, I didn’t ever think that was possible.

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You may also argue that a price bump is necessary to deal with India’s economic climate, and I agree wholeheartedly. It’s 60 Rupees to a Dollar. Inflation is higher than ever, and it’s perfectly natural to expect all commodities, games included, to get more expensive. We’ve seen the prices of upcoming pre-order titles (Arkham Origins, Assassin’s Creed 4, Watch Dogs, etc) rise to Rs 1,499, and we’ll have a grumble about it, sure, but we get that it’s necessary. You’re an business, you’ve got employees who have bills to pay — we get it. But if you want to level video game prices across the world, include third world economies in that bracket, and expect this to be a smooth or even viable transition, you’re kidding yourself.

Perhaps you’d like to know that buying three of your A-list titles in India is akin to spending a reasonably luxurious long weekend out of town. Unless you’re extremely well-to-do, you’re going to be thinking over and over again about whether you can afford it. This means that in addition to reducing your own sales, you’ll have a bunch of very unhappy PC gamers in India. You decide which one’s worse.

Console gamers in India are used to spending Rs 2,500+ for a video game. That said, there’s a large culture of reselling video games in India, and at least one out of three console gamers sells single-player titles on eBay to recoup the cost. PC gamers, of course, don’t have that luxury. The average upper middle-class Indian gamer probably earns Rs 50,000 a month (optimistic figure). Every EA game he buys is chipping away at 7% of his monthly income. Wonder if he can do without that?

I’ll be the first to say that I couldn’t give two hoots about most of EA’s triple-A titles, but you’re hurting the Indian video game scene in general, and that’s what concerns me. Also, if you expect ANYONE in this country to spend over Rs 3,000 on a Need For Speed title, you’re off your rocker.

Think about it.

Best wishes,
A concerned PC gamer.

azeemAzeem Banatwalla is a writer and stand-up comedian. He spends bewildering amounts of time and money adding things with fans and blue lights to his gaming rig, refusing to play any game below the maximum visual spec. He’s a PC gaming snob, but he does occasionally miss playing old-school Sonic on his Sega Mega Drive 2. Views expressed are Azeem’s own and do not reflect those of IVG’s editorial staff.

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