May 21, 2008

Import Report

There are a multitude of reasons why I started importing games. Many of these are becoming more and more obsolete, yet some of them still apply.

- Visual Deficiencies. PAL games (up to PS2) often had problems after the conversion from NTSC. Black borders on the top and bottom of the screen, slower gameplay. Worst offender: Final Fantasy X. NTSC always ran in smooth 60Hz, the way most games are intended to. PAL 60 is the best format to use, combining 576 lines of PAL TV with pleasant 60 Hz refresh rate, but apart from some Gamcube and Xbox games, few ever used it. PS2 has almost no games that use this display method at all. Since most of what I bought consisted of PS2 games, NTSC was the way to go. Current-gen does not have this problem anymore, especially not on HD-TVs.

- Ridiculous German localization. Worst offenders: Suikoden II (Chain Mail, as in the armor, translated into Kettenpost), Breath of Fire III (the back of the box alone is a complete mess, 1/3 of the words do not even exist). This may have changed in recent years as well and more often than not there is a possibility to change the language even in the German version - Uncharted has 13 languages in any version of the game - but since I have been playing games in English for forever now, games and German language just don't mix for me anymore.
Kudos for Nintendo of Germany's localizations though, even back in the SNES days. Those were frequently better and more creative than their English counterparts, even if they took a LOT of liberties with the translations.

- Delays. Games were typically released in Europe 1-6 months later than in the US. In the PSX days, some gorgeous RPGs (Xenogears) were not released at all. Today simultaneous releases are becoming more and more common (GTA IV, MGS 4) and with help of some little independent publishers, (505 Games, Koch Media) smaller games find their way at least to the UK market most of the time, so this is one of the points that really is moot today. If you're not waiting for SSBB, that is.

- Money. US games are almost always cheaper, with the ridiculous Dollar exchange rate now more than ever. Sometimes it is a difference of ~10 € if you include shipping, sometimes it is as big of a difference as $19,99 (13 €) to 38,95 € (~$61) with Patapon, which you can see is a 300% markup for the EU version. US game prices seem to drop faster and lower as well. In conclusion, you are almost always saving.

The cons of importing:

- Hardware. You needed the appropriate hardware, as in a Freeloader, a Modchip or a US console, at least until now. PS3 is region free, I would guess 75% of the 360 library is region free and handhelds were unrestricted all along. Why Nintendo is always late to the party is any one's guess.

- Shipping. If you take the cheapest shipping method, it can take from 1-5 weeks for your game to reach you. If you take courier shipping, you are losing the price advantage and taxation is almost guaranteed.

- Taxes. Germany has the low, low import value limit of 21 €. Everything above that is running the risk of being taxed, although it is totally random if it is or not. In my experience, the bigger the parcel and the greater the distance to where it was dispatched, the bigger the chance of it being held for clearance. Value Added Tax (VAT) for games is "only" the 19% of the normal German Mehrwertsteuer, but it is still a lot and if your product is delivered via courier service, expect to be charged additional fees because they complete the clearance for you. But there is hope. I have heard that the value limit will be raised to 150€ this December. I hope it is true. Until then, ask the shops to mark down the value on the customs form and declare it as a gift. That is all you can do to increase your chances to not get taxed. Also, if shipping costs are proportional to units shipped, ship in as many single orders as possible.

- Payment. You need a credit card or a PayPal account. Preferably both. This is more of a hassle than a hindrance.

- Language. You need to speak English, but if you are here, you probably can.

With that out of the way, here the specific reviews of shops I had experiences with.


One of the biggest retailers in the UK with over 5,000,000 items on sale.

Last purchase: Gitaroo Man Lives! PSP, 15,49 €, free shipping.

Selection/Prices: Very good range of new and older titles back to Gamecube and PS2 with great deals and special sales from time to time. Very often UK/Europe exclusive deals available. If ordering from Europe, currency must be changed to Euro to reflect the increased shipping costs, as they are already included in the price. Still, as cheap as it gets in the UK. If a game is out of stock it will normally restock in a few days to weeks. They also have the PlayTrade program, similar to the Amazon Marketplace, which I had one experience with, went smoothly.

Shipping: Shipping is free worldwide, but as you can clearly see from the prices, it is already calculated into it. GTA IV is advertised as ₤39.99 (50 €) on their site if shipped to the UK, but if the price is changed to Euro to make it available for worldwide shipping, its 55,49 €. So there. Shipping with Royal Mail is normally ₤2,50 to ₤3,50, so that's exactly the increase for the worldwide price point. It takes 1-2 weeks to arrive, since it is based on the Channel Islands, Jersey, which is the reason deliveries may be subject to VAT, but I never had that happen to me.

Customer Support: Ambivalent. First of all, there is no general contact email address or form available anywhere. Got a question? Tough luck. Apart from that, they are accommodating and focused on your satisfaction. Once when a game got lost and did not arrive after 4 weeks, I contacted them through the form (there is one for specific purposes like lost orders or returns, at least) on the site and got a refund in a week. No questions asked. Another time a game arrived that was already unpacked, used and horribly scratched. Once again, I contacted them through the appropriate form on the site, got my return instructions and had my refund 2 weeks later, including my shipping costs. No personal contact in any shape or form ever, though. Good overall.

Payment Methods: Credit Card

Overall: Highly recommended.

Biggest chain of video game-only retailers in Europe, with 800 stores across the continent.

Last purchase: GTA IV PS3, ₤42,94 (54 €) with shipping.

Selection/Prices: Smaller selection than, seems often sold out of older games. Good selection and prices for current games. They also sell pre-owned games for a discount, though I have never made use of it. Often UK exclusive limited editions and bundles. Multibuy promotions are available (Buy one get one free, buy two get one free, etc.) but most of the time games available in those are not the best.

Shipping: Standard Royal Mail at ₤2,95 (3,70 €) for one game, probably more for big orders. Very fast delivery, 2-4 days. No VAT possible since it ships from the European Union. Great.

Customer Support: Have not had much experience with it, except once. They have an online form for questions of any nature. I asked them about my MGS 4 pre-order bonus a week ago and have not received a response yet. Maybe it will arrive soon, maybe never. Slightly negative.

Other: There is a part of their site with some reviews, although this could be more advertisement than anything. There are better options if you are looking for critical judgement.

Payment methods: Credit Card

Overall: Highly recommended.

Last Purchase: Bujingai PS2, ₤10.93 (14€) with shipping, Marketplace purchase

Selection/Prices: Huge selection, combined with the Amazon Marketplace, almost any game is available. Good prices, good discounts, nothing special. Marketplace offers can be very cheap if you don not mind pre-owned games. When buying there, treat it like ebay, check the seller's reputation before you decide.

Shipping: Standard Royal Mail again, only this time for ₤4,98 for one game, add ₤0.99 for every additional game. 3-7 days delivery. May differ between retailers on the Marketplace.

Customer Support: Never had to deal with it, but generally has good support.

Payment Methods: Credit Card

Overall: Recommended, but I prefer Play and GAME

North America:

Last Purchase: Baroque PS2, $45,94 (30€) with shipping

Selection/Prices: Huge selection of new and old games back to the PSX, excellent prices, almost any older game for around $20, new games always at least $1 below RRP. No special deals or promotions, sadly. Awesome. New game releases are always 1-2 days late, for some reason.

Shipping: Air Mail for $6.99 (4,50€), $1,50 (€1) for every additional item. 2-4 week shipping. VAT possible, but it's definitely a random chance. Recommended.
Priority for $10,99 (7€), $2,25 (1,40€) for every additional item. Supposedly 6-10 day shipping, I used it once and it took 3 weeks. Also, FedEx was doing it so guaranteed VAT. Avoid.
Express for $26,99 (17,20€), $2,50 (1,60€) for every additional item. 1-3 day shipping. UPS or FedEx means it is fast, secure and there's definitely VAT. If you need the game as soon as possible, go for it.

Customer Support: Had to deal with it only once, and they were very accommodating, fast and friendly. Would have gotten a refund if the game was lost in transit, but it turned up a few days later.

Other: They always mark the exact value on the customs form so be aware of that. Because of the relatively cheap shipping, splitting big orders is advisable.

Payment Methods: Credit Card, PayPal

Overall: Highly recommended.

One of Canada's leading independent video game retailers.

Last purchase: God of War II PS2, $27,48 (17,70€) with shipping

Selection/Prices: Good range of all current systems back to PS2. Sometimes restocks of long sold out and rare games for older systems. Also sells pre-owned games for a discount, again, I never used it. A few years ago it was the cheapest place to shop because of the low Canadian Dollar but since it is now almost 1=1 with the US Dollar, this advantage has vanished. Still, the prices are good, it has regular price drops and special deals. When ordering, leave the price in $CDN, their conversion rates are very "imaginative".

Shipping: $7.49 (4,80€) for every lbs, so basically per game if it is not bundled with an artbook or bonus of some sort . Shipping normally takes less than week. Since shipping is proportional to game units, shipping every game separately to avoid taxation is advisable. Expensive courier shipping via DHL Express is available but since their regular shipping is so fast, I have never used it.

Customer Support: Exemplary. Fast, friendly and accommodating. Nothing to complain about.

Payment: Credit Card, PayPal

Overall: Highly recommended.


Last purchase: Naruto Shippuuden: Gekitou Ninja Taisen EX2 Wii $68,30 (43,60€) with shipping.

Selection/Prices: Great selection of US, PAL, Japanese and Asian version games from PSX and up with offers for classic systems as well. Not many older US and PAL games. Prices are a little higher than in other places for most games. Regularly there's a Deal of the Week and special sales. Also, nice Japanese candy for $1-$3, so add one to your order. It's cheap and tasty!

Shipping: Since it is coming from Hong Kong, customs delays are to be expected. Shipping is calculated by weight directly at checkout. For a single game it is:
Economy Air Bubble: $3,40 (2,20€), listed with 5-10 days but in my experience it is rather 2-4 weeks.
EMS Speedpost: $24.90 (15,90€), listed with 3-5 days but in my experience it is more around 7 days. It's trackable until it reaches Germany, from there it is delivered by DHL. VAT is even more likely to be added here, but not guaranteed.
UPS: $24.90 (15,90€) 1-4 days, definitely fast, definitely VAT. Tracking available all the way.
FedEx: $31.90 (20,40€) Same as UPS, only more expensive.

Customer Support: Friendly and acceptable speed. Once a small part of an order was not delivered and I did not get a refund or a reshipment, even after asking them about it, however it had only a value of $5. I do not know how their policies are if big shipments are lost in transit.

Other: A BIG minus here. They do NOT deliver any PSP or PS3 products to the EU, at all. Bummer.

Payment: Credit Card, PayPal, Moneybookers

Overall: Recommended

Last Purchase: Sony Dual Shock 3 Controller (Ceramic White) $54,99 (35,10€) with free shipping and 5$ coupon.

Selection/Prices: Small selection of recent US, Japanese, Korean and Asian games. If a game is listed as available in 7-14 days, do not bother, it could as well mean "sold out". Prices are often very good. No promotions or sales that I know of.

Shipping: Free Standard shipping on almost everything which does not seem to be reflected in the prices. 6-12 business days, once again, since it is shipping from Hong Kong, expect delays. Also, they promise VAT free delivery on anything. Should you still get charged VAT by local customs, they will refund it. Neat.
Express: $19,99 (12,80€) per shipment, $1,5 (1€) per unit. I think they ship via EMS Speedpost, so the same as Play-Asia applies here.

Customer Support: Never had to deal with it, so no experiences here.

Payment: Credit Card, PayPal

Other: Once again: Sony. No VAT-free shipping for any Sony products. No Sony consoles or US version games to anywhere in the EU. Bummer again.

Overall: Recommended

Then there is ebay for the UK and the US but this is another complex topic altogether.


Julian said...

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bibo said...

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