An Offer I couldn’t Refuse: The Woes of Region locked release dates

So, today I indulged upon an impulse and bought Dead Island, mostly in the hope of convincing some mates to buy it as well so some wonderful co-op fun might be had. I bought it from Gamersgate and not steam. Both because it was five pence cheaper on Gamersgate, that kind of sales trickery works on my market indoctrinated mind, and because I almost have enough blue coins to afford things on their service. Whilst buying the game I was a little surprised to see that it wasn’t simply for pre-order, but that it and Space Marine were actually to buy and had been shelved under new releases a whole three days before the UK streetdate.

For the briefest of moments (well an hour and a half due to the vagaries of download speeds) I sat suspended in the beautifully crazy belief that I might actually be able to play a game before a retail mandated release date had come. The download finished and in happy glee I clicked “Install”. Only for steam to jump into the picture and ask me to activate my key. At that moment I couldn’t help but feel that steam was like a truncheon wielding officer telling me to get my grubby little fingers off the glass lest I disgust the rich American children in the sweet-shop so much that they might not feel quite as happy as they should about their zombie-killing antics.

All of which got me thinking as I divested myself of my five sizes too small Oliver Twist costume; it didn’t used to be this way. Back before every game under the sun seemed to come bundled with Steamworks, or some kind of online activation, games would often arrive early if you had pre-ordered them. Game especially, for all their many and varied sins, were especially good at delivering pre-ordered games two, three, sometimes even four, days ahead of release. And Gamers could play the games they had bought when they had the physical copy in their hands. Indeed that was one of the chief reasons I tended to buy physical copies of games. After all I was brought up on constant advertising and the age of cinema that pioneered the head-slammingly fast cut. I have the attention span of a concussed goldfish and the patience to match. Which means I want the game now dammit. Just because our American cousins can’t spell things proper doesn’t mean they should get a head start in finding all the bugs a game has to offer before the devs throw out the traditional day 1 (for us) patch.

As has been mentioned by others the mandated release difference is nonsensical. It defeats the point of the internet. (No; the other point of the internet. Honestly you lot have dirty minds.) Information unbound by national boundaries and the constraints of distance and travel. A hundred years ago a missive between Eddison and Tesla might have taken over a month to cross the Atlantic. If they lived today Tesla could call Eddison a lying scumbag to his face via Skype. Whilst Eddison could have posted the video of him electrocuting an elephant on Youtube for all the world to see at the click of a disgustingly fascinated finger. And what irritates me most of all is that the companies who should by rights be championing the shedding of the old restrictions of our bricks and mortar past are instead actively participating in our being herded behind national cordons. Yes, I’m calling Steam a sheepdog. Which I suppose in conjunction with my earlier calling them a policeman must make Steam Babe the sheep-pig.

Part of this frustration stems from the fact that I know that there is a way to get around the lock; the VPN trick. The problem is that after investigating this fabled thing it appears to exist in a grey area of popular consensus. Everyone agrees that it’s a shady proposition, but the lines seem to be split fifty-fifty between those who swear that as long as you don’t fake your IP whilst buying stuff Steam won’t give a flying fuck, whilst others swear that using any kind of IP mask will result in Gabe Newell personally coming round and stealing your hardrive before buying your house and having it demolished, leaving you out on the street with nothing but your blue bunny slippers and a half-cold cup of coffee. Which is a risk. More than a risk in fact, it’s a stupid risk because I have over 132 games on Steam and if my account gets banned that will mean I am poorer by 132 games. The very fact that I own 132 games is something of a shock to me, so much so that I had to count twice, that I could suddenly lose access to 132 games is actually a bit scary. After all now I’m the guy who walk down the street with my head held high in full knowledge that I own 132 games (well the licenses to play those games until the rights holder decides they’ve had enough of my making a mess in their previously pristine game) whilst if I lost them I would be little more than a pauper. I would become, in effect a Baldrick. Not to mention I’d lose all my hats in Team Fortress 2. All of which leaves me chiefly irritated that no one from Steam has come straight out and said not to do it. A little clear definition would do wonders for transforming the Schrödinger’s cat of fear and temptation into the Oppenheimer of certainty.

There are those that will argue that getting frustrated over having to wait a whole three days to play a game is a little silly. These people are obviously Buddhist monks trained in the art of going OM for long periods to kill time in between coffee breaks. But accepting their premise that time is a transitory thing and waiting a little bit won’t kill me I have to say that it misses the point a little. Yes I want to play the game now. Yes it sucks that I can’t. But the root of that frustration isn’t a sense of misplaced entitlement. Well not all of it is at any rate. A good chunk of it is that when I pre-ordered Fallout 3 way back when and it arrived early and I got to play it early. The happy excitement that being able to play it early brought me added to my enjoyment. It lent some of that Christmas morning shine that I never seem to experience very often anymore.

Maybe I’m wrong to bash Steam. After all they’re having to deal with publishers and retailers that have had deals for decades. Hell if you believe half the rumours recently Game here in the UK along with Gamestop in the US are one step away from running protection rackets and knee-capping wayward developers. But still, you’d expect a company that has such a lot of weight to throw around (Note: not actually intended as a Gabe Newell joke) to fight it’s own corner a little better. Or at least a little more publicly.