The Great Digital Divide

Microsoft finally launched the Xbox One in South Africa last week, just about ten months after Sony’s Playstation 4. At long last we were afforded the opportunity to make price comparisons between the digital offerings from both companies, as disc-based titles are almost identical across the board.

We expected PSN to be priced a little higher, having known for quite some time that we aren’t really a region in our own right, having no official local support from Sony. Instead the Playstation brand in South Africa is distributed by Ster-Kinekor Entertainment. Therefore we are simply seen as an extension of Europe with a magical currency conversion that nobody can (or will) explain.

The results, however were beyond our expectation in a very negative sense. We compiled a Google Spreadsheet consisting of various multi-platform titles both old and new, to form an overall basket of average goods across both platforms. As our investigation continued, we also added both UK and US pricing to the equation for a direct comparison to other regions.

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The difference between the almost affordable Xbox One digital pricing and the astronomical increase in PS4 prices is simply unfathomable. Ranging from acceptable price differences of R50 to the utterly inconceivable R350 on a few titles. To put that into perspective for our non-local readers, this amounts to an increase ranging from 9% – 64%!

The most ridiculous of all is that those games clocking in at +64% aren’t even new, but rather PS4 launch titles almost celebrating a birthday. The only retail title with price parity is Destiny, which costs the same on both platforms but still manages a 14% increase over the disc-based version. We’ll consider that an outlier or just the usual Activision madness.

All in, if you decide to go digital, the PS4 will cost you R3261 more than the equivalent basket total when purchasing an XO. Yes, you read that correctly, almost a 37% increase for going with Sony’s product over Microsoft’s.

The Xbox One’s constant issues maintaining resolution and frame rate could justify getting more pixels and frames per Rand choosing Playstation. Jokes aside, when comparing other regions with our own, the difference is negligible with the PS4 slightly more expensive in the UK and inconsequentially cheaper in the US, when compared to Xbox pricing.

So why does Sony see fit to rip us a new one at the bottom of Africa? Don’t they know people are starving here?

UK pricing is comparatively very similar to our own, and it becomes apparent that there is a simple currency converter at play. It’s been many years since the Queen reigned supreme over our dear land, so why are we still being treated like a colony? How is Microsoft getting their pricing spot on to our local economy and almost identical to retail? Is it a simple case of Microsoft converting to the stronger dollar or is someone actually using their brain and making a special effort for our emerging market? My bet is the latter, but you can decide for yourself looking at the data.

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Obviously after these findings we reached out to @Playstation_SA  and @SterEnt on Twitter and got shushed very quickly with PR excuses. Apparently everything is beyond their control, which as the official supplier in South Africa, is pure and utter bollocks. If it’s beyond your control then make a plan to get it under control.

Adding further insult to injury, every PS Plus subscriber in South Africa received an email very late on 30 September 2014 informing them of a “slight” increase in the annual subscription of the service. This “slight” increase sees the cost go from R489 to R749, an utterly unjustifiable increase of 53%. I don’t know what planet they are from, thinking that they can just yell SURPRISE with that sort of increase. It’s not even remotely tax or inflation relevant. One would think they multiplied tax increases with inflation to get to that ludicrous total.

Don’t get me wrong, even at R62 a month Playstation Plus is still a spectacular deal, especially if like me you have a Vita, PS3 and PS4 and therefore score 6 “Free” (+53%) games a month.

Where it becomes questionable is how one can justify such a massive increase in cost, when it should be getting cheaper. We aren’t receiving 53% more services or features all of a sudden. Actually, we get less than the rest of the world for the same subscription. We don’t have local console servers and also don’t get access to any of the multimedia streaming services offered by Sony and their partners. We’ll probably never get Playstation Now for the same reason that we don’t have servers, but more so because our broadband simply isn’t up to scratch, latency wise.

So all things considered, we should actually be getting a discount to justify the lack of services offered. Of course all of this wouldn’t have been so insulting if Sony (Ster-Kinekor?) didn’t wait until a mere couple of hours before 1 October when the new pricing would come into effect.

Fair warning of the massive increase would have been a good start. Even better would have been some buttering up with what’s to come in the near future. Instead it’s like Sony was using a salt grinder on our open wounds, created by their overall price irregularities.

If Playstation announced today that we’ll be getting local servers by the end of the year and Playstation Now in the foreseeable future I would be standing at their door begging them to take my money.

Sadly that isn’t the case and it seems like there is nothing but profiteering at play. Worse still is that we all played right into their hands by rushing out to go buy PS Plus subs today at the old cheaper price, simply perpetuating the problem in doing so.

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So what can one do about it?

Well if you don’t absolutely despise Sony by now and simply want to save some bucks, then the simple solution is to “move” to America. Yes, you can jump through a couple of hoops and make use of a US PSN account. Doing so will save you about R3000 or 35% to purchase everything in our basket. Best of all is you can still use your regular SA account with everything you purchased from the US PSN store so it only costs a bit of effort. Doing so might also send Playstation SA a little bit of a message…or it could make matters worse because they believe the market is smaller than it really is and price it even worse.

The really extreme option would be buying an Xbox One. Sacrilege I know, but at least it seems Microsoft has half a clue what an emerging market is and how to cater for it. Maybe that’s worth supporting? Then again we could forego console altogether…hello Steam?

There’s always the typically South African option…we can put on our dance shoes and Toyi-toyi our dissatisfaction with the entire situation, but personally I’m not very good at that.

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