Nintendo Switch price cheats propelled the game to mass audiences
Prize tourism, the rogue practice where people usurp their location in order to take advantage of emerging economies in poorer parts of the world, isn’t much appreciated by the gaming industry. Buying a full-priced game for fifty dollars pretending you’re in Brazil scams developers and damages the economies of the e-overrun country. But in an odd twist, editor extraordinaire Mike Rose just revealed how it helped his latest game reach an unexpected level of success.
No More Robots is the publisher of many successful indie projects, with names to their name like Yes, Your Grace, Hypnospace Outlawand Descenders. The Zookeeper Management Simulation of 2021 let’s build a zoo, by the Springloaded developers, was NMR’s biggest investment to date, and continued to perform well for the PC editor over the past year. Late last month, the game hit consoles, including Switch. It was pre-ordered a week earlier on September 22, when Rose started noticing something odd.
First of all, it seemed very strange. Pre-orders for the Switch version were pouring in and he was thrilled. Until he noticed that 85% of pre-orders came from Argentina.
Now, Argentina is not a strong economy, and due to regional Switch pricing, the price of the game and DLC usually $24 was around $1.50. Obviously, these were not genuine Argentinian sales, and let’s build a zoo fell victim to price tourists, who use various websites to identify the cheapest location to buy a game, spoof their IP address or register a Switch account for that country, then purchase the game at its local price. All of these pre-orders earned RMN only $1 each. And it started to look like a disaster.
However, due to a strange quirk in the way Nintendo compiles its regional sales, it lumps all of the Americas together when tracking sales for the United States, and counts units sold, not revenue. All of those Argentinian pre-orders were registered by Switch’s algorithms as American interest, and it immediately started promoting the game much more heavily on its storefront to some of the highest-paying customers: Americans.
This then saw the EU Switch store thinking this game was a big deal, and it started to get promoted in most other countries around the world who are paying top dollar. On launch day, September 29, the game featured prominently in both stores’ “Bargains” tabs, getting…as Rose tweeted— “Charge more attention than we would have had.”
It is impossible to measure how many additional sales let’s build a zoo net following this situation, but Rose explained to Kotaku that just being on the Switch’s Deals page has already seen its games double in sales. He tells me the game has since done extremely well on Switch, describing it as “our best launch yet”, beating the best-selling cycling sim, Descenders.
All of this, of course, leaves a big ethical question. Buying games this way, taking advantage of the smaller economies of poorer countries, has consequences. Often this will cause developers and publishers to wonder if they should even sell their games in these regions given the money they are losing, or raise their prices to a point where they are locally unaffordable.
Mega hit of 2022 Sifu set to release on Switch this month, but Argentinians report that the game is no longer available for pre-order there. It was previously reported priced at 40 pesos ($2), but links to old shop page now end with Wario. It seems very possible that this is another example of the phenomenon, with the opposite reaction. We contacted the SloClap developers to ask for more details.
Cursed at golf Developer Liam Edwards of Chuhai Labs tweeted that the studio’s recent game faced the same situation.
Edwards said Kotaku that his team learned about Argentine pricing through a discussion on a forum focused on these issues. He explained that regional pricing is not under their control, or even that of the publishers, but instead a standard price is set, and then the eStore reprices the game accordingly by region. For Cursed at golf, this price was between $2 and $3. “It’s really not cool,” Edwards says of people taking advantage of these awards. He adds that this “complicates the number of things that developers must constantly keep in mind when selling their game.” Although he adds that a positive side effect is that “at least people who maybe can’t afford it have a way to pick it up while ‘giving'”.
As for Mike Rose, he really doesn’t want to raise prices in Argentina, given how unfair that would be for an economy where around $2 is a standard price for a game. his Twitter feed, Rose concludes that “platforms really need to figure out as soon as possible what to do to find out how easy it is to swap regions and buy games very cheaply.” He adds, “It’s not just on Switch – we’ve seen a great ‘Argentina’ across all platforms, including Steam and Xbox.”
“Every loophole is always exploited,” Rose tells me when I ask how he tackles ethical issues, adding that he thinks a lot of developers will see this as a “shithole situation and raise the price.” But for No More Robots? “I’m just going to continue to price our games the way they’re supposed to be, and if people are enjoying it, I guess that’s their right.”