PC World had a unique opportunity to get an inside look at biggest online game retailer in Asia Pacific, Play-Asia.com. Based in Hong Kong, the online store mostly caters to customers in the APAC region, but Play-Asia director, Jan Neuhaeusser, says that the online store also has a substantial customer base overseas, spread over America, Europe and Africa. Many of these overseas customers are made up by ex-pats who are used to getting the items they want but cannot because their local market does not carry the product.
What types of products do you mainly deal in?
Play-Asia director, Jan Neuhaeusser (JN): We sell video games from many regions, video game related toys and merchandise, DVDs and CDs which are of Asian original. Naturally, as our business has grown from a pure video game retailer in 2002, we focus on video games and pride ourselves in having the largest selection of video games in Asia, perhaps even the world. We currently offer games for more than 50 platforms, whether it is Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 or out-of-production systems such as the Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Master System.
You recently attended the Tokyo Game Show in Japan. What was the response to Play Asia there?
JN: We have not been attending as an exhibitor, but as visitors only. Our purchasing team attends there at business opening days to gather information on newly released items, especially announced limited edition consoles, pricing information and so on. Basically, we went there to gather as much information as possible to be able to provide this content to our customers. Customers have a tendency to ask us months in advance about game specific information such as DLC, pre-order gifts, limited editon availability, pricing, etc. Of course we use the opportunity to strengthen our ties with local distributors and publishers.
What challenges do you have to deal with in your space?
JN: We have the same challenge as everyone else who makes their living from trading. We need to provide excellent service and competitive pricing. Often, it is difficult to keep service exceptional as we are selling so many different games from different regions. There is the shipping delay of items that would, for instance, come from the U.S. domestic market. It is difficult for a consumer to understand that we have a hard time to offer a game on the foreign release day when distributors overseas are only allowed to ship their supplies one day before.
Software is increasingly becoming tailored to the regions where they are released. Is this creating issues for you?
JN: The problem we have stems from the same root in that we offer different region's worth of items, and as a result, they are not always identical. Limited editions are only literally limited in some territories and again it is difficult for a consumer to understand that an item offered in one region, such as Japan, is not offered in the same fashion in an English language edition. Region lockout is a problem of course, which really is something that is very annoying to many consumers but the market has proven that consumers' needs are not always the decision maker here.
What is your view on companies that are putting in region lockouts in software?
JN: We have companies who never applied regional lockouts suddenly do so, and with the enforcement of online registration of PC games, we see an increase on restricting consumers' freedom of choice. I personally do not recommend my friends to buy PC games because of this restriction. You own the physical media, but if the company so pleases, you are unable to play it if your IP address (i.e., your current geographic location) doesn't satisfy them. Especially being an expat myself, I can vouch for the difficulties it creates when moving from one zone to another. I basically end up buying all the games again if I still want to play them online. Good for the publisher, of course, but not for the consumer.
What is Play Asia’s relationship with global game publishers, considering the type of distribution that you do?
JN: This really depends on the publisher. For some territories we have very good relationships with them. For other territories we don't because we buy from the open market. The best publishers are, due to our location, Asian publishers and working with them is great.
What do you have planned for the next six to 12 months?
JN: I can not be specific on our plans but we have plenty of new developments in the pipeline and they will be announced in due course when they are ready. Play Asia in business now for nine years, and as our first decade comes to a close, we will have a bunch of new and exciting stuff coming up.
For more information about play Asia, go to: www.play-asia.com
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