Friday, August 28, 2015

Steam is no longer that cheap for Australians

Screenshot of Fallout 4 on Steam Store Page
Fallout 4's price is dearer on Steam when compared to even physical copies

Many of you are probably already aware of this but even though Steam was a great place to buy games if you were living in Australia, it's now no longer the case, at least when it comes to many high profile and AAA titles. This is because of two big reasons I can think of:

AUD/USD Exchange Rate graph courtesy of xe.com
AUD/USD Exchange Rate graph courtesy of xe.com

1. Favourable Exchange Rate

Up until the end of last year, Australians enjoyed a favourable exchange rate with the US Dollar. In fact, up until 2013 it was around parity and even in 2014 it was still around the 0.90c mark. However, that's not the case anymore and it's now around 0.70c or if you want to look at it the other way, the USD/AUD Exchange rate is about $1.40.

So during the past few years, it made sense to purchase games of Steam. Often they ended up being sometimes 50% less than the price you'd pay buying a physical copy at EB Games or JB Hi-Fi since they tend to always charge the same price for games (i.e. $70-90 for a full game, $50 for an expansion). The fact so many Australians were getting a discount thanks to the favourable exchange rate and the huge difference between prices for physical copies of games and their digital versions may have contributed to the second reason games are once again expensive for Australians...

2. The "Australia Tax"

I've noticed in the past couple of years a lot more games on Steam (especially ones from big publishers) being subject to "special" regional pricing. One such instance I've mentioned before with respect to Beyond Earth where when it was first available for pre-order on Steam the game was about $50USD but this was increased to $90USD only a few days later. Only for Australians though, which means 2K Games must've caught on to the fact that there was more money to be made from Australians if they just bumped up the price to be closer to physical copy prices. i.e. publishers charge more for Australians because they know they can get away with it. We already pay so much for everything so why contain it? s'cool!

While this was merely annoying while the Australian dollar was at parity with the US dollar it's now become highway robbery with the current exchange rate. I intend to demonstrate this by sampling the pre-order prices for a few high profile/AAA titles that are coming out in the next few months:


Fallout 4
Steam USD price = $79.95
Steam AUD price = $111.93
EB Games price = $89.95
JB Hi-Fi = $79.00
Ozgameshop = $59.99

In the case of Fallout 4 we can see that the Steam price is over $110 AUD! Even EB Games is $20 cheaper. If you want to get the best price though, Ozgameshop is the way to go at about $60.00: that's a difference of $50 people!


Beyond Earth: Rising Tide
Steam USD price = $26.99
Steam AUD price = $37.79
EB Games price = $49.95
JB Hi-Fi = $49.00
Ozgameshop = $35.99

Maybe 2K Games learnt their lesson when they originally released Beyond Earth on Steam and haven't applied the Australia Tax to the game's DLC – or they just haven't got around to it yet since it's still at a reasonable $37.79 AUD. You can still get it slightly cheaper from Ozgameshop though.


Need for Speed (2015)
Origin USD price = $89.99
Origin AUD price = $125.99
Ozgameshop = $72.99

There's actually not many places selling the PC version of this game: only Ozgameshop and Origin. However, Origin is charging a whopping $90 USD for the game which translates to over $125 AUD! You can get it for over $50 cheaper if you decide to buy it from Ozgameshop though.


Star Wars: Battlefront
Origin USD price = $89.99
Origin AUD price = $125.99
EB Games price = $89.95
JB Hi-Fi = $89.00
Ozgameshop = $66.99

EB Games and JB Hi-Fi are also selling the PC copy of this game along with Ozgameshop and Origin. Again, Origin is charging a whopping $90 USD for the game which translates to over $125 AUD. This means EB Games and JB Hi-Fi are cheaper (for once) by about $35. Ozgameshop is the clear winner again though with only $66.99.


Trackmania Turbo
Steam USD price = $53.96
Steam AUD price = $75.54
EB Games price = $59.95
JB Hi-Fi = $39.00

Ozgameshop doesn't seem to have any pre-orders for Trackmania Turbo but it's being sold on Steam, EB Games and JB Hi-Fi. In this case, the physical copies turn out cheaper, especially JB's price which seems really cheap being $20 less than EB Games and over $35 less than Steam!


Anno 2205
Steam USD price = $69.95
Steam AUD price = $97.93
EB Games price = $79.95
JB Hi-Fi = $69.00

Once again the physical copies trump Steam with JB Hi-Fi offering the game for over $25 less than the Steam price.


XCOM 2
EB Games price = $89.95
JB Hi-Fi = $89.00
Ozgameshop = $54.99

Curiously, there's been no pre-order price set on Steam for XCOM 2, at least for the Australian market. Currently you can only pre-order from EB Games, JB Hi-Fi and ozgameshop with ozgameshop being the clear winner at $54.99


Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege
Steam USD price = $60.95
Steam AUD price = $85.53
EB Games price = $89.95
JB Hi-Fi = $79.00

Rainbow Six Siege seems to have the lowest price discrepancy amongst retailers. While Steam's price seems expensive it's still slightly cheaper than EB Games. JB Hi-Fi is the winner in this contest though with a price of $79 for Rainbow Six Siege.


So what do you think about the price-gouging we Australians receive? Is it warranted or do you think something should be done about it? Where do you tend to buy your games nowadays?

Thursday, August 27, 2015

AntharioN Soundtrack Review

AntharioN Official Sountrack Cover Art
  • Name: AntharioN Official Soundtrack
  • Label: Orphic Software
  • Composer(s): Eric J. Gallardo
  • Number of Tracks: 25

As you know, I'm a big sucker for game soundtracks so usually if there's an option (and it's not too expensive) I'll pre-order games that come with the soundtrack included or, in the case of AntharioN, pledge at the level that comes with a soundtrack as a reward.

So just over a month ago, the soundtrack was finally delivered to those that pledged at a high enough level via a Dropbox link which I'll no doubt lose amongst the thousands of emails in my inbox (why couldn't they tie it to a Humble Bundle account or something?). Anyway, I managed to download the zip of 25 128Kbps MP3s (check if there are more formats) and was astounded by what I heard.

Obviously, half of the tracks I've already listened to while playing the game but never without some background noises so this was the first time I could just focus solely on the music. The soundtrack consists of all the music you'll hear in the game (or at least I believe that's the case, as I haven't quite finished the game yet) which is a mix of exploration and combat music, which is further divided into music that plays while travelling in a dungeon and music that plays while travelling out in the open.

I'm usually not a big fan of combat music on game soundtracks as they tend to be either pretty repetitive or lacking in any coherent melody, so it's probably just as well that there are only a few combat tracks on the AntharioN soundtrack, however exceptions to the rule include Raider's Folly since it reminds me of the music from Arcanum's classic string-quartet soundtrack and War Horn of the Raiders, since I always get a laugh when this brave, epic, heroic music plays while you're dispatching crabs and seagulls.

The rest of the soundtrack seems to be heavily inspired by Jeremy Soule's work on the Elder Scrolls games and to me that's a good thing. The Main Roads, Grand Vistas, Serene Scenery, The Sun Always Rises and Well Travelled are all epic, majestic themes where you'll usually hear a lot of violins and horns. The soundtrack also has some tracks that demonstrates Eric J. Gallardo isn't a one trick pony with the angelic, peaceful Below, the beautiful, exotic, Middle Eastern-influenced No Light, and the lovely clarinet in Visions of Home.

Score – 8/10

AntharioN's official soundtrack wouldn't feel out of place in a AAA title so it's truly amazing to find such high quality music in an indie game. The soundtrack is definitely instrumental (no pun intended) in immersing you into the world of Antharion but it also works well as a standalone high fantasy music album.

Now the bad news: I don't think you're able to acquire this soundtrack yet unless you were a Kickstarter backer! I've scoured the interwebs and while Orphic Software (the developer of AntharioN) has hinted that Eric J. Gallardo may be releasing the album on his own, it's been over a month now and nothing has happened. Fingers crossed he does indeed start selling the album but be sure to check out his Facebook page for updates in the meantime!

LINKS:
[ Eric J. Gallardo's Facebook Page ]
[ Eric J. Gallardo's SoundCloud Page ]

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Where are they now? - Glen R. Dahlgren

Real men explore the tunnels of Venus without shirts... or any regard for the boiling temperatures apparently

Although I never played the game when it was originally released, I did have a go at Frederik Pohl's Gateway several years later. While the game's interface and graphics looked dated by the late 1990s there was something appealing about playing an interactive fiction game with graphics, especially a sci-fi one based on an award winning novel. The music was also pretty good too and the main theme to Gateway as well as the Chapter 1 music still echo in my head to this day (I even made it my ringtone at one stage).

But who were the people behind the development of this game? Well they were obviously people from the now defunct Legend Entertainment, and the producers of the game were Michael Lindner, Mike Verdu and Glen R. Dahlgren. For today, I'd like to delve a bit into the career of Glen Dahlgren and we'll revisit the Mikes another time :).

Dahlgren completed a Bachelor of Computer Science at Penn State University in 1990. During the 1980s, he was already programming games for the TRS-80 Coco, one such game being 1986's Dragon Blade which was a fantasy interactive fiction game with graphics. After graduating from university he managed to secure a job at a fledgling development studio composed of Infocom veterans called Legend Entertainment. Dahlgren worked on a few projects during his first couple of years at Legend Entertainment (all Interactive Fiction DOS games with graphics) such as 1991's Timequest, 1991's Spellcasting 201, 1992's Spellcasting 301 and, of course, 1992's Frederik Pohl's Gateway.

In 1993, Dahlgren was promoted into more senior roles as a game director/lead designer. He continued to work on Interactive Fiction games with graphics such as 1993's Gateway II: Homeworld, 1993's Eric the Unready, 1993's Companions of Xanth and 1994's Death Gate.

The late 1990s marked a change of direction for Legend Entertainment as they abandoned the ageing interactive fiction genre for first person games. The company was also bought over by GT Interactive in 1998 and then acquired by Infogrames in 1999 (who eventually rebranded themselves as Atari). Dahlgren worked on the 1999 game adaptation of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time and also worked as a designer and producer for 2003's Unreal II. Dahlgren was promoted to Creative Director the year before and became part of the senior management team, but sadly it was only a couple of years after his promotion that Legend Entertainment was shutdown by Atari for good.

Dahlgren joined Perpetual Entertainment and worked there for three years on the game that would eventually become Star Trek Online (which is still running to this day - lots of Trekkies out there no doubt).

From 2007 onwards, Dahlgren worked at a variety of companies as a game designer and mostly for mobile games in recent years. He started his current job as Director of Game Design at KLab America in 2012 and he's still there to this day. So what exactly does KLab America develop? Well, they have a mobile game called Lord of the Dragons and a mobile game based on the popular TV series Glee. Can't say I'm exactly too interested in either game but if Dahlgren ever decided to develop a story-driven game on the PC again, I'll be watching it closely!

LINKS:
[ Wikipedia: Legend Entertainment ]
[ MobyGames: Glen R. Dahlgren ]
[ Official website for KLab America ]