When we reviewed Serious Sam a month ago, Take 2 Europe told us that the fast-paced first person shooter would have an RRP (Recommended Retail Price) of £19.99 when it was released on Friday March 30th. As the suggested price in the USA was $19.99 this made a certain amount of sense. But since then the game's release here in Europe has been pushed back by two weeks for reasons unknown, and it will now be appearing on store shelves tomorrow (April 13th).
In the process of checking several online stores early last week to confirm whether or not the game had actually been released here, we noticed something rather disturbing - most of them were charging significantly higher prices for the game than the RRP which Take 2 had quoted to us just a few weeks earlier. The worst offender by quite some margin was Special Reserve, charging a frankly ridiculous £28.99, which is about $40 at current exchange rates, double what American gamers have been paying for the title since its release over there last month. Better known retailers such as Electronics Boutique (£26.99), HMV (£24.99) and Gameplay (£24.99) also seemed to be overcharging for the game. In fact, the only two stores which appeared to be sticking to the RRP were Amazon UK (£18.99) and Software First (£21.99, with a further pound off for members).
At first we assumed that the big retailers had all decided to cash in on the game's unexpectedly high profile with hardcore gamers, but when we contacted Take 2 last week to find out what they thought of the hefty mark-ups many retailers were apparently applying to their game, our PR contact told us that "I still don't know .. the price point", adding that "as far as I knew it was £19.99, but it looks like it could go up". It took us an entire week to get confirmation of this, but we were finally told yesterday that the UK RRP for Serious Sam is indeed now £29.99, more than double the suggested American price for the very same game. This is particularly ironic as the game was developed right here in Europe by a small Croatian company called Croteam. Take 2 told us that "we can't comment on this" when asked to explain the price discrepancy.
Further checks this morning revealed that Amazon UK had increased their price for the game to £24.99 within the last three days. Presumably their earlier low price had been based on the RRP we had originally been quoted, and anybody who was lucky enough to pre-order the game at £18.99 should hopefully still have their order honoured. But presumably now Amazon have heard that the RRP has increased and have raised their prices accordingly. Anybody still hunting for a bargain on the game should probably head over to Software First quickly, in case they decide to change their price as well.
Needless to say we are very disappointed by this move. Games traditionally cost around 25% more in the UK than in America, due to a combination of VAT (the UK's 17.5% sales tax) and the economies of scale in the US that come from having a large, fairly uniform, mostly English-speaking market. But in this case the difference in price is between 75 and 100% depending on where you buy it, which is clearly taking the mickey. In our original review of Serious Sam we said that "at just £19.99 it's certainly well worth a closer look", and although it is somewhat harder to justify paying anything up to £29.99 for what was supposed to be a mid-range title, it remains an incredibly enjoyable game at any price.
In related news, reports emerged last week that a truck containing around 4,000 copies of Serious Sam along with related posters and advertising materials was stolen in Staffordshire. If you think you know whodunnit, or found copies of Serious Sam on sale in the UK last week, you are encouraged to contact ELSPA on 0870 513 3405. At the time ELSPA reported that the value of the shipment was £120,000 and The Register commented that "since the game retails for 20 quid, we're not entirely sure how it comes up with that figure". Now we know - the game's RRP had been quietly increased to £30...