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Australia Tax on games: How to buy games without paying too much

Australians should be used to getting shafted on the cost of software. It’s a way of life, one so prevalent that even the Government admitted as such with an upper house enquiry called “IT Pricing and the Australia Tax”.

In case you’ve forgotten, that was the committee that produced revelations including the nugget that it was cheaper to fly to Los Angeles and back for a copy of Adobe’s Creative Suite Master 6 Collection than it was to pay for a retail copy in Australia. The price markup then was a staggering $1735, an impost Adobe Australia’s Paul Robson laughably justified by saying it was the price Australians paid for a personalised experience.

Companies don’t just gouge on boxed releases though, with online releases and digital downloads a constant source of frustration for gamers in particular. Take Civilization: Beyond Earth (CIV: BE), an upcoming sequel to the critically acclaimed Civilization series and the first spiritual successor to Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri.

Alpha Centauri first launched in early 1999 and despite running for over two decades, the Civilization franchise has only ever featured space as an in-game victory condition rather than a playable entity. So when CIV: BE appeared on Steam for $US50, gamers were somewhat surprised. It was a reasonable price for a top-shelf release, one many were prepared to wear (including yours truly).

Those who opted to sit on the fence were later punished for their conservatism when 2K Games, the publishing label for Take-Two Interactive, quietly and suddenly decided to jack the price of CIV: BE pre-orders up by $US40 to $US90 for Australian consumers. For good measure, the cost of pre-orders for Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, which is being made in Australia, jumped by $US10 as well.

Even after factoring in the exchange rate, Australians are routinely forced to hand over $20 to $30 more than their foreign counterparts. The highly anticipated RPG The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt costs $US60 in the United States, but Australians have to fork out $84 (sans discount for both regions).

A copy of Civilization V still costs a staggering $60 for Australians, while Americans are only expected to hand over $US30. This is a game that first shipped four years ago, a game that you can pick up for $15 through other online reputable retailers. So with more gouging than a rugby match, what can gamers do to avoid the dreaded Australia Tax?

The first rule of thumb is an old piece of advice you might have received from your grandparents: shop around. If you’re still attached to having a boxed copy, or the thought of downloading massive installers on a restrictive internet plan doesn’t entice you, there’s always the importing route.

Ozgameshop is a website based out of England that sells in Australian dollars and ships physical and digital codes to Australia. Shipping for orders above $US50 is free, although goods generally take between two to three weeks to arrive. But with almost every modern major release receiving multiple updates in the first few weeks after release, having a bit of patience certainly can’t hurt.

Another bonus you’ll get is lower prices on all platforms. A pre-order for CIV: BE is only $50 – cheaper than what it would have cost on Steam before 2K jacked up the price, once you factor in the exchange rate – while a game code for Football Manager 2014 is only $15 compared to the $US30 charged on Steam.

Ozgameshop aren’t the only importers worth checking out. Play-Asia has long been a popular target for gamers looking to import console goods and games, particularly Japanese releases not available locally, at reasonable prices. While you won’t get the substantial savings you might on PC, you’ll definitely save a few bucks.

Activision’s much-hyped Destiny, for instance, can be pre-ordered for just under $65, compared to the exorbitant $99.95 EB Games are charging. If you like your games to be a bit darker, then perhaps Alien: Isolation is your thing. Play-Asia are selling that on PS4 for less than A$65 too, whereas even JB Hi-Fi are charging nearly A$80 for the same game.

Digital codes will always provide the best sales, however, but you may need to convince the websites or marketplaces that you’re not actually an Australian. Amazon is perfect for this. If you create an account with a fake US mailing address, but use your real credit card details, you’ll have full access to their digital games and software range.

The mega-retailer often has sales around various holidays, particularly American ones, so it’s always worth having an account just in case. The discounts are substantial – I picked up a pack with Bioshock 1, 2 and Bioshock Infinite, and a bundle containing Civilization V, the Brand New World expansion and all the associated DLC for $20 each.

You can pull this trick on console too. Xbox World Australia outlined earlier this year how you could change the region on your Xbox One to take advantage of the cheaper prices on the US Xbox Marketplace, although you’d need a fake US address, the same as Amazon.

It’s not uncommon for PS4 gamers down under to have a US account for the PlayStation Network either. You can even create a Japanese account if you’re a fan of the quirky and unusual games still available for PS3 – Kotaku has an excellent guide.

One day, Australians won’t have to resort to these workarounds. But as long as distributors and developers continue to use our cost of living to arbitrarily gouge consumers, gamers down under will be able to save hundreds of dollars a year thanks to the tricks I’ve outlined above.

About the author

Alex Walker is a freelance journalist writing for ABC Technology & Games, and games.on.net. You can follow him on Twitter @thedippaeffect.

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