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Digital Game Downloads: Is that the best system for South Africans?

The digital experience.jpg

Whether we like it or not, the future of gaming is digital. But is an all-digital future the best fit for the South African ready gaming landscape?

Digital Experience

The convenience of digitally downloading your games is undeniable. You see the game advertised right there on your PlayStation 4/Xbox One/Steam client. It’s a game you’ve been waiting ages for, so you immediately click on the ‘buy’ button, download it and then you play the game. And you haven’t needed to leave the house at all. It’s fantastic. It’s a miracle everyone isn’t doing it already.

Of course, this is only a possibility in countries that have amazing internet. Places like South Korea, Germany and the good ole United States. It’s hardly the norm here in South Africa, where internet connectivity is kind of spotty, right? There’s no way we could be a part of this magical video game utopia.

Of course we can and we already are. While prices could be better, many people already have access to uncapped internet that have great uptime numbers. It's not the fastest, but it gets the job done. Proof? To all intents and purposes, every PC gamer in South Africa is a Steam user, which means the vast majority of their games exists only as ones and zeros; ones and zeros they could only pull down an internet pipe. And if you have a PlayStation Plus or Xbox Live Gold I would be stunned to hear that you hadn’t taken advantage of the Instant Game Collection and Games with Gold, which can only be acquired via digital means. I’ve yet to hear someone moan that claiming their free games was a hassle, and that includes some of the big triple-AAA games that can easily reach double-digit gigabyte sizes.

In that way, at least, it’s fair to say that many gamers in South Africa already have a taste of digital gaming and that shows that if there is resistance to digitally downloading games, quality of internet and bandwidth certainly isn’t it.

See the real problem with digital has little to do with delivery and everything to do with post-sales support. Digital is great when everything is working as it should, but what recourse does the consumer have when things don’t work out as they should. This is especially problematic in South Africa, since there are no direct digital content suppliers for games in South Africa.

As Ramone Pickover, Category Manager for Games at Kalahari.com explained, “All digital games sold in South Africa are purchased either directly or indirectly from international services such as PSN, Xbox Live, Steam…etc

“Every retailer or website that supplies digital content locally, [actually supplies] digital content vouchers for the above mentioned services.

“The policies of these digital content providers are very specific with regards to digital content, and no refunds will be applicable, even if a game is buggy or broken.”


Which is to say, if you’re buying your games digitally, no one in South Africa will take responsibility for that. You’re pretty much stuck up a river without a paddle.

So what do you do if you’ve made a digital purchase and you’re unhappy and want a refund? The first thing you have to accept is that you’re going to be spending a lot of time chasing down your money, either holding on a phone or filling out paperwork. Both PSN (0861 773783) and Xbox Live (0800 991 550) have support numbers you can call, but as I said be prepared for the long haul.

I contacted both those numbers with spoof issues - namely that I bought Assassin’s Creed Unity and wanted a refund - just to see what would happen. In both cases I got to operators surprisingly quickly and they were both friendly and helpful, but the fact is, in both cases getting money back just wasn’t on the cards. And in both instances progressing the query involved lots of hoop jumping.

The PSN Test

To get anywhere on PSN you need to fill in a form detailing your query, which will be emailed to you. Once completed and returned to the sender, that form would be sent to “them”, my South African-based operator wasn't to clear on who “them” were, but I surmised that it was the support division for PSN based overseas. It would take 2-3 working days to process the form and assuming that they agreed with you, you could be issued a refund. But, that refund would not be a reversal on your credit card. Instead, the money would be placed in your PSN wallet. So you could get you money, but you had to spend on the PSN. Basically PSN would keep you money, regardless of the outcome of the refund. Not what I wanted to hear. Incidentally, I have yet to receive this form

The Xbox Live Test

For Xbox Live, the procedure was slightly simpler. In this case I spoke with an overseas based operator who told me a code would be SMSed to the cell phone number linked to my Xbox Live account. Once I quoted that number back to him, confirming I was the owner of the account, he could access it and determine whether my story was true or not and then make an inquiry as to whether I should get a refund or not. ETA on how long the investigation would take to determine that? “A few days,” I was told.

In either case, there’s an investment of time hear that I’m not content to offer. Returning a game to Kalahari, GAME or CNA would take less hassle and, as past experience has shown, offers better and faster results. It has never taken me more than 30 minutes to achieve a resolution. With the PSN and Xbox Live calls, it took half as long as that just to know what was going to happen. In both cases it would take days to see the whole thing through, with no real assurances of a favourable result. And in PSN's case, whether the case fell on your side or not, Sony's policy is more an exchange than a refund.

What about Steam?

As far as Steams official policy with refunds is concerned, it goes like this: “As with most software products, unless required by local law, we do not offer refunds or exchanges on games, DLC or in-game items purchased on our website or through the Steam Client. Please review Section 3 of the Steam Subscriber Agreement for more information.

An exception is made for games purchased during a pre-order period if the request is received prior to the games' release date.”

That’s basically a no.

Conclusion

What this shows is that as convenient and efficient as digital purchases may be, it’s on the flipside that things can become troublesome. It’s my opinion, that the convenience offered isn’t enough to offset the security I get from physical purchase. In a country where games cost as much as they do, the option to easily get a refund or exchange, should one be required, is of tantamount importance to me. Not to mention the greater convenience of being able to use my older games to subsidise my new games.

Digital purchases are not going anywhere, but while the physical is still an option, I think it’s best to hold off on it.  What do you think, as a South African, is it better to get your games digitally or on disc?

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