Hard-Core Gamers Drive Gray Console Sales

Molouk Y. Ba-Isa, Arab News
Publication Date: 
Tue, 2007-02-13 03:00

ALKHOBAR, 13 February 2007 — So you want a PlayStation 3 (PS3) and you want it now. Who cares about Sony’s official launch date! Time to mosey on down to the Eastern Province’s promised land of gaming consoles — Alrashid Mall. Need that PS3? Just dig out your wallet. It’s available at several locations in the mall. Prefer an Xbox 360? That’s available too. How about a Nintendo Wii? No problem — if you’re willing to pay the piper.

The PS3 is of course the shiny new toy every one is interested in having. Khaled at the gaming shop “Toy Story” said that they’ve sold nearly 20 units since Nov. 17. This doesn’t sound like many, but consider that Toy Story retails the 60-gig PS3 at SR4,600, including two games. That’s double the US price and the console comes without a warranty. Are you at the point of a heart attack yet? If so clutch your chest and hold on a while longer, while we tell you the details about the Wii.

Fans of the “Legend of Zelda” series are driving Wii sales. For Nintendo’s long-awaited “Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess,” the designers have created a special version utilizing the powers of the Wii controller for all-new ways of exploring the fictional Kingdom of Hyrule — the setting where the game takes place. The Wii retails in the US for $250, but is selling at Toy Story for SR2,470 — more than double the US price.

“Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda has a cult following in Saudi Arabia, so fans will buy the Wii just to play the newest version of the game,” said Khaled. “Nintendo and Microsoft’s Xbox have always had problems in Saudi Arabia. We charge whatever the market will bear for these consoles because there is no official distributor for either one. The manufacturers have abandoned this market and we are doing people a service by importing the consoles without channel support.”

The PS3s on display in the gaming shops in Alrashid are NTSC consoles from both the US and Japan. Since it’s possible to select English as the language of the interface in the NTSC-J machines, shops have had no difficulty selling those consoles.

So far none of the shops in Alrashid have had to try to repair one of the gray market consoles and just laughed when asked if they thought they could. With no authorized representative in Saudi Arabia, the Wii will never have an official launch. Sony Gulf has scheduled the official Middle East retail launch of the PS3 for March 23. Even though Saudi Arabia is the largest market for the console, Dubai will be the venue for the March 22 PS3 launch party featuring singer Shakira.

Sony stated that it will make one million PS3 consoles available across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Australasia on March 23 — which means that consumers in Saudi Arabia won’t find an officially imported console for months longer. Initially, Sony will only be shipping the premium 60GB console to the Middle East. Even though Arab News spoke with a Sony rep yesterday and he stated that he knows the price, he refused to reveal it. More than 30 games will be out on disc at the official launch, with additional games available through the PlayStation Network.

Late last year, Sony Gulf asked Middle East customers to wait for the official PS3 launch and penalized those customers who bought gray market by denying them warranties on the consoles and preventing them from registering their PS3s on the PlayStation Network. Sony has advised that there will be no difference in performance or speed between the US and European PS3 consoles. Additionally, as the PS3 games are region free, there is an incentive to wait and buy the European version of the PS3 at a more reasonable price and with a warranty. It should be noted that although the PS3 comes with a Blu-ray player, Blu-ray movies are not region free. This may cause some grief for those living in the Kingdom who want the latest movie releases.

There are ways to beat Saudi Arabia’s gray market. In the case of the PS3, just wait a little longer. However, for the Nintendo Wii, circumvent the local retail thieves by purchasing the Wii online through a service offered from www.eshtr.com. Eshtr Service allows people in the Kingdom to use their local credit cards and buy from any US site. Credit cards from Saudi banks are not accepted by most US websites, but Eshtr Service has a US credit facility. To order, it’s also necessary to set up a US address through Aramex. Basically, Eshtr Service places an order on your behalf in the US and when they receive it there, they transfer it to your Aramex address and it’s sent to you in Saudi Arabia.

This method will still be more expensive than buying the Wii in the US, but at least there is the chance to have a warranty. Eshtr Service works for all sorts of items that one might want to purchase from US online retailers, although be certain that the goods will clear Saudi customs, be aware of the shipping charges and calculate the Saudi customs tax to be sure that purchasing items this way is a good idea.

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