For a few weeks, 2K Games' new title, Borderlands, was available to Australians at the same price on Steam that it was available in the UK and US. The game has been pulled from the Australian Steam site for the last week. Kotaku is now reporting that the game will reappear at a much higher price.
This probably doesn't quite amount to resale price maintenance, which is the illegal practice of setting minimum prices so that retailers don't undercut each other. It's probable that the relationship between Steam and 2K is complicated enough that this isn't technically an example of game prices being hiked up in order to lessen competition and protect Australian retailers, who have become used to selling games at a much higher price than their counterparts elsewhere in the world. Nevertheless, it is the sort of behaviour that's likely to annoy consumers, and quite rightly.
The huge markup for electronic distribution seems to be a trend - Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, for example, is available from Steam for Australian residents at USD$89.99, and US residents for USD$59.99.
This is, of course, no big surprise for Australians. We have become quite used to paying more for books, music, and movies. What's particularly upsetting is that there is no way that retailers can justify the price increase for digital distribution by blaming the size and remoteness of the Australian market - the bits no longer have to be shipped here by boat.
When Trent Reznor realised that the price of his CDs in Australia were, in his words, 'ridiculous', his advice to his fans was to "Steal and steal and steal some more and give it to all your friends and keep on stealin’", because that was the best way that publishers would "get it through their head that they’re ripping people off and that’s not right."
We don't condone copyright infringement here, but there is growing unease amongst Australian gamers about the unfairness of a system that seems to discriminate against them - even when, as now, the Australian dollar is doing extremely well against the US Dollar. Perhaps if the industry cares about how fans view publishers, it will do something to address these concerns.
For now, we suggest that you purchase your games from overseas retailers, or get a friend with access to an international Steam store to gift it to you at their lower prices.