EVO 2011 Interview: Portal Versus, Fair Game, and $150 Games.
EVO 2011 saw gamers from the around the world unite with one common interest, video games. I met teams of players from France, Germany, and Japan, but perhaps the most intriguing player I met came from the Amazon jungle-filled land of Brazil. Between trips to buy multiple ice cream sandwiches, Michael Akira Locke (a.k.a Comboman70) linked up with Mana Tank and Focus Fire and I sat down with him to get the skinny on just exactly what it is he does and why gamers in Brazil are forced to pay upwards of $150 per game.
Michael works for a website in Brazil called Portal Versus, which is essentially the Brazilian equivalent to Shoryuken.com. Dedicated entirely to fighting games, Portal Versus reports relevant news as well as translates news from major sites into Portuguese. Aside from the typical reporting and producing videos, Portal Versus is perhaps the largest and most well-known fighting game tournament organization in Brazil.
These aren’t your typical tournaments where a bunch of like-minded gamers show up, beat the crap out of each other in various games, and then take off for the day, never to think about it again. No, these are high quality tournaments where a player’s performance has lasting effects throughout the rest of the tournament year. Portal Versus runs about 4 circuits a year where players rack up points that are totaled up at the end of the year and the winner receives prizes.
Each tournament pulls in well over 200 people itching to play Street Fighter, Marvel vs Capcom 3, and Mortal Kombat, with Street Fighter obviously being the most popular. Now, Portal Versus isn’t just about their own tournaments. These guys want to make sure that gamers around the country are able to attend a tournament that is of a remarkable high quality, whether or not it is an officially sanctioned Portal Versus tournament. Portal Versus partners up with other hosts to ensure that they run their tournaments in a professional and organized way, that way gamers who attend others know that they are going to be given the royal treatment at a relatively cheap price. Portal Versus is truly interested in the community as a whole; aAnd with the current state of the video game industry in Brazil, gamers need companies like Portal Versus supporting them.
The whole of the video game industry seems to revolve almost entirely around North America. Prices and release dates are usually referenced as the standard and a good majority of the world’s largest conventions are held on America soil, so it’s easy to understand that those living in America may not realize that the players they connect with online do not necessarily share similar experiences.
The standard going rate for a video game these days is around $60, but gamers in Brazil are stuck paying more than double that price because of a government law that has failed to receive a revision.
Thanks to an old law stating that all games – read gambling – are subject to a government tax of 120%. This law was placed into effect long before video games become insanely popular and once that happened, they were clumped into the games tax law simply because they bore the term ‘game’ in their title.
That’s right, the Brazilian government technically classifies video games as gambling and they adamantly refuse to revise the law. Okay, it’s not so much an adamant refusal as it is that things like that just take time. It’s not that people haven’t tried, but when it comes to revising old laws, the Brazilian government is about as quick as molasses.
One such organization trying to bring attention to the issue is Fair Game (Jugojusto). The concept behind Fair Game is to show the government that video games do not need to fall under the category of gambling and that by tagging games with 120% tax they are doing more harm than good. People want to buy games, they are right about that, but at $150 bucks a pop, people are a bit more selective about what they buy.
I look at my personal collection of games and I see a load of fantastic games that I would probably fork over $150 bucks for if need be, but I also see a good deal of games that I probably shouldn’t have even paid $60 for. Impulse buying video games in America is far easier and more affordable than Brazilians could hope for at the moment. Even used games for them are insanely expensive, so Fair Game has developed a plan and successfully brought multiple large name retailers on board to start the ball of change rolling in the right direction.
Twice now, Fair Game has marked a day as national free video game day. No, they were just standing on the street corner tossing games out to passing fans. They contacted companies like Wal-Mart and other major retailers to aid in their cause by agreeing to sell games at exactly the cost of the government tax. That means that the retailer would make absolutely zero money on the transaction. In fact, they would be losing a substantial amount, but providing gamers with a chance to pay just about what the rest of the world pays for a game.
For the release of Marvel vs Capcom 3, Fair Game amassed 1,200 copies across the nation and, selling them at exactly the cost of the government tax rate, sold out in less than 35 minutes. People want to buy games, and they want to pay a fair price. Fair Game is planning to repeat these events for as long as it takes to convince the government that they could in fact make more money by lowering the tax rate on games.
Gamers in Brazil are finding loopholes around the tax law simply because they want to play games, but can’t afford to pay the outrageous prices, so importing is the next best option. Many internet stores already know that when sending games to Brazil, they need to mark it as a movie so that it enters the country under the radar and the gamer gets a title for a substantially lower price. However, that doesn’t really do anything to help the Brazilian government at all.
A high tax rate brings in more money, yes, but people are far more reluctant to go out and buy games on a whim. Fair Game wants to show that with a much lower tax rate, gamers will ignite the industry and flood the economy with gaming money left and right. However, before that can happen, they need to convince many more retailers that taking a massive loss now will pay off in the future.
Portal Versus is teaming up with Fair Game to bring more attention to the issue and through their tournaments and the large amount people that show up, hopefully convince retailers to jump on board with them and ultimately get the government to take notice.
So next time you find yourself moaning over dropping $60 on a new game, just remember that some people out there have to pay almost as much as we do for a system… for one game.