Sigh. Sigh sigh sigh.
A bit of a personal bugbear this; region locked game releases where certain territories are able to play games before others, not based on the physical capacity to do so but instead based on agreements with retailers stating that a game will not release until a certain day, which is usually a Friday (some kind of antiquated market research presumably decided we only buy things on Friday).
It always ends up the same way, with half of the world (or as is usually the case: the USA) posting across the various Social Networks and gaming forums about how they’re playing/enjoying the big new release.
The other half then usually resorts to swearing, screaming, railing against ‘the man’ and most interestingly: devising clever workarounds that allow them to get access to the content they have paid for early. To be clear, with reference to the last sentence, I’m not talking about Piracy. I am referring instead to the VPN or Proxy IP method, whereby the user uses a piece of software or the Windows VPN protocol to spoof an address based in another country or continent. This practice allows the user to trick a piece of software that is region locked to unlock itself, allowing the user to play the game ahead of the release date for their territory.
I like this method. It’s clever and it makes you feel like some kind of awesome tech-wizard, which is part of the attraction of being a PC Gamer to many of us. In the past it has been a bit of a grey area, particularly on Steam, where the restrictions on these methods were not clearly defined enough to stop people using them.
However, with the release of Borderlands 2 the arguement has erupted in comments sections and forum threads across the web and looking at the Steam Subscriber Agreement that was updated in July, it seems the issue is less grey than it is stark black and white.
The SSA now clearly states:
“You agree that you will not use IP proxying or other methods to disguise the place of your residence, whether to circumvent geographical restrictions on game content, to purchase at pricing not applicable to your geography, or for any other purpose. If you do this, we may terminate your access to your Account.”
That reads as a pretty clear warning to me that using the aforementioned technical splendidry may now result in a ban. What is equally as clear, after several conversations with fellow gamers and the perusal of long in-depth forum discussions (with even more in-depth explanations of exactly how to use the Proxy/VPN method) – is this: Plenty of people are willing to risk the wrath of Valve banning or deleting their account to play a game 3 days early. Taken at face value, that might seem kind of insane, after all many devoted PC gamers have accounts with £1000′s of software attached. If their account is suspended or terminated they risk losing access to that – permanently.
However, these people simply don’t believe that Uncle Gabe or the kindly patriarchal persona crafted by Valve would punish them for what they see as a minor infraction. Indeed, their righteous indignation, ignited by the fact that they are unable to play the game at the same time as their friends (location be damned, it’s not a relevant distinction in this scenario) warrants a little technology based subterfuge. As you can probably tell, I’m pretty sympathetic to this particular viewpoint. RPS covered the issue last year and I broadly agree with author John Walker’s call for a No Oceans release date policy. However, my concern here lies not in a wider campaign, but clarity. Buck-passing comments about retailer agreements don’t go down well with gamers, so instead companies seem to choose no comment at all. This leads to people suspecting ‘they don’t care’ and going ahead and using the risky methods outlined above. If this scenario leads to banned accounts and disgruntled gamers then let’s get this clear – Nobody wins. It’s bad PR for Valve/Gearbox/2K, it can be devastating for the individual gamer involved if they lose access to their account and it only fosters further resentment for the retail industry, who would do well to ensure their services are geared around providing their customers with what they want, in an era where their influence is waning fast.
In short – I would like to hear from Valve and Gearbox their reasons for these delays – unpopular or not. I would also like to hear the process involved for dealing with customers who have chosen to go to extreme measures to play Borderlands 2 early. Millions of dollars are spent whipping up fans into a frenzy of anticipation over the release of a new game, in some respects you can hardly blame those who have bought into the hype, let alone punish them – you might as well punish your marketing team for being too successful! At the very least people need to know in precise terms what they are getting into if they decide to pursue the Proxy route, catch-all statements tucked away in the Steam Subscriber Agreement are not quite enough.
Authors Note: Steam and the Valve Corporation are not responsible for setting release dates, they are responsible for the delivery of the product according to specifications dictated to them.
I have reached out to both Valve and Gearbox/2K Games for comment on the issues discussed in the article above, the article will be updated if they respond.