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Different worlds

A high-speed broadband network connects most of the developed world. Nine gigabytes of videogame data can be shared with someone in another continent in a matter of hours.

So why do staggered territorial release dates still exist? Files can be shared digitally and rapidly from anywhere, to anywhere: master code does not need to be airmailed to the other side of the world anymore. There is, quite simply, no overriding practical reason dictating that a game must unavoidably be released in Europe several days - or weeks - after it goes on sale in America.

It continues to happen. Whether it's a matter of licensing, supply and distribution lag or of publishers thinking of non-US territories as incidental, it's still regularly the case that Europe has to wait. Months, in the case of some past Nintendo titles (which have even done it the other way around - Mario Strikers Charged for Wii arrived in Europe in May 2007, didn't reach the US until July, and not until September in Japan).

Gamers are an impatient bunch, though of course they're cultivated to do so by carefully-stoked publisher and media fires of hype and impossible expectations. If you're going to work so hard to convince them they want something, you'd better be willing and able to give it to them.

If you don't... well, it's an open invitation to piracy. This is the age of social networking - Facebook and Twitter fills with rapturous (or disappointed) reports of what people are playing. The availability split is no longer invisible - it's public, and for some gamers, agonisingly so. This only increases the desire to play right now. If publishers and retailers have failed to make that possible, the great hunger will remain - and so gamers will turn to filesharing for their imagination's sustenance.

Being an open platform, PC suffers the worst, despite all manner of excessive DRM that can often punish the legitimate customer. PSP, DS and Wii aren't all that far behind, however. The process of making these platforms accept unsigned code is a little more complex, but a swarm of guides and tools buzz casually around Google search results. The 360, too, is gradually becoming a pirate's bounty.

Doom 3 is the poster boy for how wrong staggered release dates can go, of course. Inexplicably placed to release in Europe weeks after American stores proudly boasted it, British gamers who'd been waiting years for the shooter sequel flocked to torrent sites. And, by the time it finally arrived in UK retail, word was out that it wasn't the era-defining classic that hype had pitched it at.

It's very rarely the case that every pirated copy of a game equates to a lost sale, but when it's a matter of genuinely not being able to buy a videogame, the problem becomes even more acute.

It's happening this week for Transformers: War For Cybertron. That's perhaps not a game with a great deal of expectation around it, but that it went on sale in the US yesterday but doesn't arrive in Britain until tomorrow means the torrents are heavily-leeched. Widespread availability (though some etailers appear to be fulfilling pre-orders) of the PC version is now indefinitely delayed, say Activision, even though it's already on sale in the US, both in brick and mortar shops and on Steam, right now.

A UK PC gamer who wants to play this moderately-hyped title will either have to expensively import it, find an American friend to gift it to them on Steam, or find illegal means of acquiring it.

A nine gigabyte DVD image can be shared with the other side of the world in hours. There is simply no practical justification for denying a simultaneous international release of any game - staggering retail availability can only hurt revenues.

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Alec Meer avatar
Alec Meer: A 10-year veteran of scribbling about video games, Alec primarily writes for Rock, Paper, Shotgun, but given any opportunity he will escape his keyboard and mouse ghetto to write about any and all formats.