Gamers in India looking forward to Dragon Age: Inquisition will not be able to play the game. Well, officially at least. While parts of the internet, including publisher Electronic Arts' (EA) forums are abuzz with all sorts of speculation, we've managed to speak to those close to the matter to set the record straight.
Okay, what actually happened?
This weekend, EA issued a statement on Origin, the company's online PC game store that anyone in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh who has pre-ordered the game will have their money refunded. The official statement is as follows:
"In order to avoid a breach of local content laws, EA has withdrawn Dragon Age: Inquisition from sale in India and the game is no longer available for pre-order. Customers who pre-ordered the game will be contacted directly and will be fully refunded."
Simon Smith-Wright, Regional Marketing Director, Asia Pacific at Electronic Arts has confirmed the same to NDTV Gadgets on email. EA stopped releasing games on disc for PC in India earlier this year, but this also applies to the physical copies of the game that would have been sold on consoles.
The distributor for the game, Milestone Interactive said that this refers to the game's homosexual sex scenes. Rather than face the wrath of some of India's more prudish segments of society, EA have pre-emptively decided to make the game unavailable in India, without confirming or commenting on which local laws were being breached.
Sources close to the matter who chose to remain anonymous have said that this refers to users who have taken offence to some of EA's earlier games such as Dante's Inferno. Unfortunately, the exact details of the judgement in that case are not available online but it is clear that EA is willing to avoid entering the market at all, instead of risking another court case.
Does this affect Dragon Age: Inquisition only?
"The current action we've taken only affects Dragon Age Inquisition", said Smith-Wright when asked if this would affect Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II as well as other role-playing games such as Mass Effect and it's two sequels. All of these allowed players to pursue romantic relationships with specific characters in the games.
Dragon Age II had only four character romances. They were all bisexual so players had some sort of choice. With Inquisition there are a lot more options. It sports the series' first fully gay character, Dorian, that players have the option to romance. The developer Bioware has gone with more options in terms of romances for Inquisition. There are straight, bisexual, and gay character romances because they each tell different stories.
In the Fable games, your character can be straight or gay. Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood suggests that Leonardo Da Vinci was gay. Even The Last of Us has a minor part played by a gay character and in the game's Left Behind downloadable content, we learn that Ellie is attracted to other girls. All these games are available in India as well. Our guess is that given the recent revisions to the laws pertaining to homosexuality, EA is not willing to risk any potential legal trouble.
Okay, has this happened before?
In the past Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas never made it to India. This is because Bethesda, the series' publisher didn't want to offend Indian sensibilities due to the game's portrayal of cows. They were mutated, two-headed, and called Brahmins. At the same time, the game was edited for sale in Australia and Japan. References to morphine and nuclear bombs were removed respectively for copies sold in these countries. Of course, the size of the Indian RPG market is much smaller. Informed sources tell us that such games sell a few hundred copies at best.
Nonetheless, the games were (and still are) readily available via the grey market. And digitally as well if you're willing to use a VPN or have a friend abroad gift them to you via Steam.
But I want the game anyway, what do I do?
If you're on PC, you can use a VPN service like Hola to buy the game from sites like G2A or Green Man Gaming or import a physical copy from Amazon US or PlayAsia. You'll also need a VPN for disc-based PC copies as these too require activation via Origin.
Buying it officially via Sony's and Microsoft's digital stores in India may not be possible either.
"The action we are taking applies to all versions of Dragon Age Inquisition across all sales channels within India. So India PSN and XBL stores included in that, yes. We're working with all partners on ensuring this action is complete as soon as possible", said Smith-Wright.
PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One users can either import the game from Amazon US or download it via the US PS Store or US Xbox Games Store. The latter requires you to either have a US credit card (your luck with virtual cards would vary) or purchase store credit via Amazon US or sites like Maximus Cards. Needless to say, the grey market will be bringing it in so be on the look out around release date. The release date of the game for India was November 21, in line with the European release date - less than a week away. Dragon Age: Inquisition might not be available through EA's channels but it's still available on the Xbox Games Store for India. For how long, remains to be seen.
Is this really a big deal?
From a commercial standpoint, role-playing games like Dragon Age don't do well at all in India. Usually nothing more than the minimum order quantity is what is imported. This is in the range of 300 to 500 units for consoles and about 1,000 units on PC. So it's not a big loss to EA or it's distributor compared to games such as FIFA that are more popular.
However it does beg the question, why indulge in complete censorship? Television shows of all sorts are available in the country by exercising self-censorship in subtitles. The user base isn't spectacular in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh but if there's a long term view to grow the market,video game companies would do well to take notice of the practises followed by other industries.
By pre-emptively deciding against selling the game before raising any questions, EA will push a lot more people into piracy. It's simpler than finding a legal workaround. People who would have paid full price for the game locally will end up importing it, buying it digitally from other stores or obtain illegal copies. Simply because EA isn't willing to cater to the market.
What do you think? Should EA have made the right decision by not bringing the game at all? Let us know in the comments.