Ubisoft's online shooter and role-playing game hybrid has had a street date break. Enterprising retailers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are already selling the game, brazenly displaying pictures of it on Instagram. The game is supposed to be out on March 8, but stores in the UAE are selling it right now.
This isn't the first game to see a street date break and it won't be the last. The UAE has been a hub for early release games since the PS3 era if not longer. Games like Infamous, Killzone 2, and most famously, God of War 3 have all been available in the country weeks prior to launch. This impacts markets close to the region like India massively. Reason being early copies meant for the UAE find themselves on store shelves in India via a resourceful grey market network of traders.
We've seen this happen with Far Cry Primal and Street Fighter V, Indian merchants with contacts in the UAE bringing in copies of either title through parallel import channels. Prior to this games like Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, The Order: 1886, Just Cause 3, and FIFA 16 were just some big name titles that found themselves available locally prior to release - all of which were stock meant for the Middle East.
(Also see: The Division Beta: 7 Things You Need to Know)
This results in those operating through the official, legitimate supply chain such as distributors and retailers losing out on business and ensures that India remains a small market for gaming, as early releases allow for sales through channels that aren't necessarily recorded or tracked as they should be.
Why does this happen and who is responsible for this? According to those in the industry, this is due to publishers putting pressure on their UAE and Saudi distributors to perform.
"We received a call from a distributor based in Dubai a few weeks ago. He wanted us to take a large quantity of upcoming games as his publishers were adamant that he ups his numbers," a buyer at a local game store explains. "We had to decline as there's no way we could account for this without landing in trouble with our distributors."
Others however, aren't as principled.
"We were able to buy Far Cry Primal five days before release for Rs. 2,900," an independent store owner tells us. "The rate is comparable to what we would have to pay the official distributor and we can charge customers more to get it early."
This should come as no surprise. Prior to Paris Games Week last year, Sony celebrated hitting one million PS4s sold in the Middle East alone. So publishers expect the sales of their games to match the PS4 install base as it is region's dominant console.
Games from the UAE finds its way into India often. There are more than 38 free trade zones in the UAE, making import and export of items a breeze.
Furthermore, Indian travellers to Dubai hit a massive 1.6 million last year. Combined with airfares that keep on dropping and it suddenly makes fiscal sense to send someone to pick up product on a regular basis. While it might sound outlandish for some, import duties in India as well as customs hassles leave a large number of mom-and-pop game stores pursuing this option, either directly or by obtaining goods from another retailer who does it regularly.
In the case of The Division though, getting it early is a waste of money. The game is dependent on online connectivity and the chances are that its servers aren't up just yet. Furthermore, buying a copy of the game prior to release in such a fashion ensures you're paying a lot more than you should. We'd suggest waiting until it's out officially on March 8 before bothering.