European game release dates are mad and strange and have to stop

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Tuesdays are the best of days if you’re one of the 7 percentage-ish of the world that live in North America. On Tuesdays, you get to have fun. That’s when all the new videogames are released.

It’s the worst of days if you are one of the 11% of all humans that live in Europe. You get to look at the Americans and wonder: why are they better than us?

Why do they get to play games first?

Today’s a good example. Borderlands 2 just came out in the US. The reviews are nearly universally glowing. That’s great news for US gamers – because it’s on the shelves right now. They can buy it, take it home and play it. Or, if they’re PC gamers, more likely they can buy it, download it and play it immediately.

For EU gamers? It sucks to be us. We’re left watching our US friends rave about it on social media, forums and streams. But we have to wait to play it.

For PC gamers, it’s exceptionally maddening, thanks to Steam’s pre-load function. I’ve got a copy of Borderlands 2 sitting on my PC right now, waiting for a man in an office somewhere to give me permission to play it. The geographical location of my PC, desk and monitor are such that I’m forbidden to even open the files and have a look until Friday. All the bits, and the bytes. But I can’t play it. I’m not allowed to. It’s encrypted.

This is insane. It happens all the time and there’s just no good reason for it.

I wanted to know why this is the case – why EU countries settled on a Friday release date rather than a Tuesday release date, so I spoke Dorian Bloch, Videogames Director at Gfk Chart-Track. He’s been around the industry for years, heavily involved with retailers in the UK and Europe.

He put the Friday release date as a collective decision by the fledgling games industry. He explained that as the industry grew up, it wanted to differentiate itself from music and film; part of that would be to deliver games on a different day to when “the singles turned up at Our Price. They didn’t want to be on the same truck.” Since then, tradition has dictated that the European release date for games would be held on a Friday.

It’s not like games can’t be released on a Tuesday if the publisher wants them too – game distribution costs remain the same whether the game is put out on a Tuesday or a Friday.

The mad thing: Dorian explained that game publishers understand the value of global release date. Ever since Sonic Tuesday (November 24th, 1992) publishers and retailers have co-operated over global launch events.

But they are special events.

That has to change, and soon. Not just because I’m impatient. But segregating players in a global videogame market just doesn’t make sense any more. A digital economy could and should allow for global releases. A digital economy could and should stop EU customers feeling like second hand citizens.

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