Dear Steam: Geographical embargoes are stupid

At a time when piracy is putting a dent in video-game sales, Steam appears to be quite successful. Their success is due to two main factors:

  1. It's easier to buy a game on Steam than to pirate one
  2. Steam offers advantages over pirated apps

When you buy a game from Steam, it automatically downloads to your computer, and then you're ready to start playing. It eliminates most of the hassle of installing a new game (getting a refund if the game won't run, however, is something they need to work on).

And Steam offers some extras that pirates don't get, like access to an online gaming network.

So in short, Steam is successful because it removes all the friction that drives people to pirate, other than price. And that's why having geographical embargoes on games is so dumb.

Twice now, Steam has refused to sell me games because I live in Japan: once with Napoleon: Total War, and once with Civilization V.

Oops, sorry!

Oops, sorry!

Dear Steam: This is not the way to keep people from pirating your games. In fact, it's an almost perfect way to convince them to become pirates.

In most if not all cases, the geographical embargoes are mandated by the game publishers, and not by Steam. Japanese localization houses will sometimes require the publisher to give them exclusive rights to sales in Japan.

Back in the 1990s, giving up the rights to sales in Japan seemed like a good deal, since very few non-Japanese game publishers are able to handle selling in this country.

But this is a piss-poor excuse today, when you can sell in Japan through intermediaries like Amazon and Steam.

Steam, you have the clout to bop some sense into the game publishers. Convince them to let you sell their games worldwide, or face lost sales opportunities and a growing pirate population.

1 comment to Dear Steam: Geographical embargoes are stupid

  • Stephen Miller

    Hi Ryan,

    Interesting article. If you think Steam has problems, consider the case with Vudu (the online cloud-based movie ownership service)! I imagine the reason Vudu service is not offered in other countries has something to do with Hollywood studios, licensing, and money. Still it’s a shame you can’t “take” your movie collection with you when you travel to places like Japan.

    By the way, really enjoying your blog so far. (I’m also a J->E translator, but living in America.) I saw you post in another comment that yopu use a TM–which one, if I might ask? Every thought of programming your own?

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