International Man of Misery: How Online Shops Ruin the Experience for Travelers

Seb Wuepper laments how online retailers treat customers who travel.

steam archer

The internet is divided by oceans. We might deny this fact, we might cry out in righteous anger about it, but it is true. There are oceans on the internet. This is especially true in the world of digital game distribution. The internet oceans are divided by streams of different currencies, different languages, regional codes and regional licensing agreements. They result in a number of things, all of them more or less annoying to the loyal customer.

For one, internet oceans regularly screw up releases. A game is released in the US on one day, and five weeks later on another shore, in basically the same shape and form with no localization or anything added that would justify this delay. Internet oceans. My friends from Australia and Britain can sing plenty of songs about those incidents.

In both cases, this is the fault of the rest of Europe. Because Australia clearly is a part of Europe. But that’s another story. See, Europe has a vast, horrifying array of different languages, into which most bigger releases have to be translated to. Also it has an equally horrifying array of licensing agencies and age verification institutions. And it has Germany. Which is the special ed case of Europe when it comes to gaming.

My credit card does not live here, so I apparently do not live here

But those cases are somehow understandable. Stupid, idiotic, bullshit, and the like. But still understandable and the ones to blame are external factors. Which is not the case when it comes to being subject to the utterly idiotic circumstances an international traveler is subjected to.

The only ones who seem to get things right in this case are Netflix. See, the thing is, I am not from the United States. I just live here for a little while. I have a credit card which doesn’t have a billing address that’s located within this country. It works though, I can pay with it everywhere without incurring ruinous international service charges. It’s the reason I got me a credit card in the first place. And I can open up a Netflix account no problem without them saying “uh, your credit card does not live here, no can do sir!”. Not even Amazon gives me any trouble. They realize I’m not from around, sure, they offer me to be billed in my home currency – at a worse conversion rate than my credit card company has – so I respectfully decline and select the local currency, the allmighty US Dollar, to pay with.

See, those companies treat the customer with respect. They assume, if you have an American IP and can provide an American address, you do live in this country and can be serviced like someone who does. Other companies though? Not so much. Take Steam for example. Usually, Steam is all fun and games (pun intended) and Valve a company that deeply respects their customers and understands that customer service is the only way to deter piracy of products. With this though? Oh man. Really not so much. My credit card does not live here, so I apparently do not live here, which means I am charged in my home currency, and I cannot use the American Steam store, meaning I cannot buy certain games at all since they are banned from sale in my country, or I can only buy heavily censored versions. Because my credit card does not live here.

There is apparently no option to use any kind of otherwise internationally accepted payment to use with Steam – or with any other big online store that sells digital games –  that has a billing address associated with it that isn’t in the United States. More so, even if I went through and tried buying games at the higher Euro prices over here, Steam itself will bug out. The latter is very specific to Steam and Steam alone, however other online stores offering regional pricing in other currencies also will not allow me to pay in the local currency, forcing me to pay extra due to the higher prices in Europe while not living there.

And it’s not just Steam. The iOS store does similar things. As does the Android store. And the Playstation store. Your physical location, however long you are there, does not mean that you are there for the purpose of digital retail. Digital retail means you live where your credit card, or whatever your preferred method of payment is, lives. Which, given the nature of credit cards and PayPal is quite a travesty, since those methods of payment in the non-digital world mean that state and currency borders don’t apply. Well, they’re back up and almost impenetrable in the digital retail world.

The reasoning for this isn’t quite clear to me. Probably a mixture of plain old greed – after all those EU prices are higher than the US ones – and licensing trouble. With a good deal of digital arms race paranoia thrown in. After all, if the store currency / pricing structure was based on IP alone, that would be easy to fake. So what can I do? Eventually I will probably have to acquire an American credit card. In the meantime I have to hope on some good natured people to gift me games I cannot buy over here, because my credit card does not live here. I admit it might be a small thing getting angry about what essentially amounts to small change in pricing differences. But as someone who’s Steam shopping experience is bad enough at home due to censored games and reduced offerings at Steam sales due to my country’s policy on games, so my tolerance for being bullshitted, even if it is only for a few $, is very, very low.