Moving from London to Cape Town has made me realise how much I appreciate the existence of download services like Steam, GOG and even The Humble Indie Bundle.
When I was in the UK, I took the amount of media options available to me for granted. I could watch TV online via on demand services like BBC iPlayer or 4od. I could listen to almost any track I wanted with Spotify or buy them on iTunes. I could watch a whole bunch of films on Love Film and Netflix. If I wanted to get a book, it was just a few clicks away on Kindle. Finally, games were easy to get hold of thanks to the many online stores out there.
So once I got to Cape Town I realised that a lot of the things I got used to in the UK were no longer available to me thanks to the idiocy of regional copyright. I couldn't watch any of the UK TV sites anymore because of copyright restrictions. Spotify and the iTunes music store do not exist in South Africa at all, once again, due to the music publishers short sighted views on international markets. Films are a similar problem with a lot of film studios not licencing to Netflix-like services outside of US and Western European markets. Amazon also have to deal with insane copyright restrictions where publishers won't allow their books to be read in markets that they do not operate in (regardless of the fact that the operational costs of international digital distribution are no different from domestic digital distribution). All of these services have been held hostage by pointless region locking from the content holders.
I am aware that I can use a VPN service like Tunnel Bear to access my old UK services again, but the point is, I shouldn't have to.
But, the one medium that is truly leading the way in this area is gaming. My entire Steam library is usable here without any problems. Nothing was gimped because I was living outside of the US, it was normal Steam that I know and love.
As for GOG, one of their major selling points is the fact that games are not region locked. GOG are keen to stress that they go through a lot of effort to ensure that they secure international distribution rights for games.
Finally there's the Humble Indie Bundle which not only gives you DRM free versions of games, they also try to be as internationally accessible as possible by offering a huge amount of payment options.
So why are other forms of media so against the idea of distributing in other "emerging markets"? One of the reasons is the fear of piracy.
This is of course the wrong way of approaching the issue. If you give people no legal means of obtaining a product that they demand then the only option available is to pirate it.
Gabe Newell pointed this out in an interview in 2011 when he said “The people who are telling you that Russians pirate everything are the people who wait six months to localize their product into Russia. It doesn’t take much in terms of providing a better service to make pirates a non-issue.”
Of course there are still major problems. Hardware costs are still way higher than in the West or Japan. There is also the issue of brick and mortar stores only selling mostly mainstream titles here also at a hugely inflated price compared to overseas.
Most of us accept that digital distribution is the way things are heading and, in my personal experience, it has proven itself with the ability to overcome some of the geographical boundaries that have plagued other forms of media. I hope that other games companies follow the example of Valve, GOG and Humble in understanding that gaming is global.
Do you live in a country where you've been denied content? Vent your frustration in the comments.