I think it’s important to tell stories like this every so often so that gamers and people in general can have a better understanding of how the world works differently for different people in different places. If you follow my content regularly then you probably know that I’m an American living in Taiwan. This is my firsthand account of the struggle of trying to buy the recently released Ring Fit Adventure for Nintendo Switch.
One of the most important reasons these stories/posts are important is that they help people have a better understanding of how value/pricing should work vs how it actually works. “Value is subjective” is the go to bootlicker answer that most people give when confronted by complaints about overpriced entertainment media such as games. But most of the people who tow this corporate shill line are speaking from a place of privilege in a country with a much higher standard of living and a much lower ability to stretch currency because of how much things cost. So I want you to read this post with the context of money relative to Taiwan rather than relative to your own country and standard of living.
Taiwan is a modern country. It has democracy, running water, modern technology, Netflix, and so on. The government is not a fascist dictatorship. The police cannot just arrest and detain citizens indiscriminately with no cause for undefined periods of time. It’s by no means a third world country. But the cost of living is relatively low compared to the US, most of Western Europe, and expensive parts of Asia like Japan and Hong Kong. So for context, allow me to explain to you with a few examples how money works here.
As I write this, $1 USD = 30.42 NTD. You can buy dinner in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, for 50 NTD ($1.64). This is not what everyone pays for dinner in every part of the city at all times mind you. But this is the price that I have paid for dinner literally hundreds of times. And by dinner I mean something at the caliber and amount of food as a Panda Express 2 item plate including a drink. The subway charges you relative to the distance you are traveling but the minimum cost is 16 NTD ($0.53). Taipei has a pay as you go bike share program that costs literally nothing for the first 30 minutes you ride. I commute to work every day with this bike share program in under 30 minutes, meaning my cost to commute is absolutely nothing. The first hour (up to 30 minutes after the first 30 free minutes) on the bike share program costs 10 NTD ($0.33). Rent is very low here, but owning property is not. Most people rent apartments, while few people own them. I spent the last four years until I just recently moved paying 15,000 NT ($493.02) for a three bedroom apartment, which I lived in alone. A standard AAA video game usually launches for 1790 NTD ($58.83). For the rest of this post I will mostly write prices in NTD for the purposes of relevance and time.
Taiwan has a huge gaming community and culture. Many gaming events such as Taipei Game Show are hosted here. Game launch promotional events are quite common and often involve giveaways and huge displays. The most recent one I personally attended was for Pokemon Let’s GO. Death Stranding Tour will stop in Taiwan as another more recent example. While gaming is big in Taiwan, there is no regulated gaming market and there are no giant corporate gaming entities such as GameStop to help regulate game pricing. There is a store akin to Walmart called Carrefour that sells some games, but their prices are always marked up for reasons I have never understood and they don’t carry everything. Every game focused store runs independently as a mom and pop style game seller. This is a bitter sweet situation.
On one hand, consumers are not beholden to one evil corporation monopolizing the games market. Game stores all run however they want to and even carry items that are hard to get in other places. When Fallout 4 launched, the Pip Boy Edition was super hard to find in the US. Even preorders were selling out in many places. In Taiwan they were easy to find. You couldn’t walk into any store and be guaranteed to find one, because that edition didn’t actually get distributed here, but many shop owners imported them. I didn’t buy one, because I don’t play Fallout, but I could have easily bought more than one of them if I had wanted to. Another example of this freedom of operation was God of War: Ascension’s collector’s edition. I bought the collector’s edition in the US. This version came with a steelbook and a Kratos statue. The collector’s edition in Taiwan didn’t come with a statue. It came with a Kratos themed PS3 controller. This controller wasn’t distributed to the US so you couldn’t get it there unless you imported it. I really wanted the controller but I wasn’t going to repurchase the game. I was able to go to a game store and tell them that I just wanted to buy the controller because I already had the game. They took the controller out of the collector’s edition and sold it to me at fair market controller price with no markup. I assume they later sold the steelbook edition of the game without the controller. This sort of thing could never happen at a legitimate game store in the US.
The reason these sorts of things can happen in Taiwan is because of the lack of regulation. Game stores are not distributing games on credit from publishers and beholden to their rules. Instead they’re purchasing stock in advance and then selling it to the public at whatever markup they decide. This allows them the freedom to do whatever they want. Sometimes this can work in the consumer’s favor, such as when I wanted to buy the Kratos themed PS3 controller. Another example is that I was able to preorder the Pokemon Sword and Shield double pack for 3040 NTD ($100 USD). That’s $20 cheaper than a preorder in the US. The reason they were able to sell it to me at that much lower price is because they were able to purchase it at a wholesale price and distribute it at below standard global market value. In the US, GameStop would never sell you a new Nintendo game at a 17% mark down because Nintendo wouldn’t let them. In Taiwan, the only thing stopping a game store from doing so is how much profit they want to make. That’s the sweet side of an unregulated games market. Now let’s talk about the bitter side.
The problem with a completely unregulated games market is that there are no price protections for consumers. When a game launches, stores can charge whatever they want for it, and they often charge too much for certain games. While this doesn’t usually affect the pricing of AAA games, it absolutely affects indie titles. Indies almost always get sold at a high markup in Taiwan. Because they don’t have a standardized breakdown of indie vs AAA market pricing. Instead they’re all just games. So you often see indie titles and titles that aren’t supposed to launch at full AAA price being sold for more than they should be because the store(s) have decided that’s what they think they can get for it. To be fair though, this can go the other way as well such as with my Pokemon Sword and Shield preorder example. Along with this is the fact that the standard price degradation over time system pretty much doesn’t apply here. In the US, you can all but guarantee a non-Nintendo Switch game will drop in price at an almost systemic rate. Not to mention peak discount holidays like Black Friday. None of that applies in Taiwan. Games often go down in price over time, but there are no guarantees it will happen and it can take literal years. And the platform doesn’t matter. Nintendo games almost never drop in price in the US. In Taiwan, that same slow rate of price decline can be applied to PS4 and XB1 as well.
Another problem is that there are no guarantees about stock. In the US, if a game is getting distributed to physical stores you can pretty much guarantee that the game will be available somewhere. You might have to look around, because the game might sell out in some places, but you can pretty much know for sure that if it’s legitimately being distributed to the US then you can find it at GameStop, Best Buy, Walmart, Target, and a number of other stores. In Taiwan, you have no guarantees that a game will be available in store unless you’ve personally gone to a store and asked about it. Basically, the Taiwan games distribution industry operates almost exactly like a black market but without the criminal element. This is the backdrop with which I tried to purchase Ring Fit Adventure for the Nintendo Switch on launch day/weekend.
Ring Fit Adventure for the Nintendo Switch is a special game because it can only be sold as a physical release, due to the required ring accessory, and, also because of the ring accessory, the packaging is large and the cost is in no way standardized. Especially in a place like Taiwan. The game was first announced during a Nintendo Direct in September 2019. I was sold by the end of the trailer. I immediately decided that I would purchase it on launch day for the full price. A very rare decision for me. Since launch was only about 2 months away from announcement, I immediately went to game stores and started inquiring about the price and preordering it. No stores could give me a definite answer about whether or not it was going to be released in Taiwan, when it would be available, or how much it would cost. Sadly this is a common occurrence in Taiwan for non-standard games. So I kept checking back periodically.
Like I said before, there is no regulation and no larger games distribution franchise that you can easily access online and check for standard prices. This means you have to physically enter stores to make these sorts of enquiries. Admittedly you could call stores, but as a person who doesn’t speak Mandarin, the local language, fluently this is much more difficult than actually walking into stores and asking in person. I also have to say that a large number of game store employees in Taiwan aren’t true believers. They aren’t knowledgeable about a lot of details concerning upcoming games, hardware, and services and often need to have things explained to them, which I find really irritating, if I can be honest. And it’s not just with games. Tech store employees in general often disappoint me with their lack of knowledge even though the bulk of computer products are being developed and often manufactured in their back yards. But I digress.
I kept checking back periodically and finally got an answer that Ring Fit Adventure would release in Taiwan on 10/31. I found this odd since it was officially announced to be releasing on 10/18 but this has happened in Taiwan before so I didn’t think twice about it. I asked what the price would be and stores were still not giving me a clear answer. At this point, no store would offer me a preorder, since they couldn’t give me a price quote. Based on the general lack of knowledge, the lack of physical ads showing up in stores for the game, and the lack of a price, I assumed the game was not in high demand here.
For me personally, there are a great many game stores I visit in four general locations. One store by my apartment, three by my office, eight to ten at one shopping district, and another eight to ten at a second shopping district within walking distance of the first. I say eight to ten because some smaller stores open and close frequently, don’t consistently carry all products, and often mark up prices a great deal to the point of them not being worth wasting my time at unless I’m desperate for information as opposed to making an actual purchase. This means I literally take the time to visit 15 or more stores when I’m trying to buy a game. And I always go for the best price I can possibly find on principle. Like I said, the cost of travel is often free here so it’s just a matter of finding the time to visit all the stores.
Right before Ring Fit Adventure released, I was finally able to get a store to tell me the price would be 2500 NTD. Based on my own estimates due to experience in this market, this was exactly the price I assumed it would be. Still I was unable to get any store to give me a preorder, for reasons I still am unsure about because I’ve preordered multiple games here in the past. I even had some stores tell me that they wouldn’t be getting the game outright. But at least I had a release date, which I found odd considering it was the same release date as Luigi’s Mansion 3, a price, and the time to go buy the game from one of the four closest game stores on launch day, which was a Thursday. I had the money, the time, and the access. I was as prepared as I could possibly be to buy this game at launch.
As soon as I got off work, I rushed to the first of four game stores. They were sold out. They said they only had enough units to fill preorders. This was odd to me for two reasons. The first was that the store hadn’t offered me a preorder when I had enquired multiple times over the past two months. The second was that it’s extremely bad practice for a game store to only carry enough units to fill preorders. It’s also unheard of in Taiwan for anything other than super limited collector’s edition stuff. Even Nintendo Labo sets were and still are super easy to find all over Taipei. But I didn’t have time to discuss it so I rushed off to the next store. Sadly and surprisingly, I got exactly the same answer. Then again at the third store. The fourth store had told me that they weren’t getting the game, but I went there to check anyway. They now had a physical ad for the game, brochures, and some units sitting behind the counter. But they too wouldn’t sell me a copy because they had already been preordered.
At this point I was both in shock and angry. This had literally not happened to me since I was a kid living in LA trying to get a new copy of Mirror’s Edge (2008) for XBOX 360 a week or two after release. I went to multiple stores only to be told it was sold out and then finally gave in and paid a GameStop $55 for a used copy. That was literally the last used game I purchased, because I don’t buy used games as a general rule. Over the course of that evening of failure it started raining so I had to take a bus (15 NTD) once and also went over the 30 minute free limit on the bike share costing me another 10 NTD. That’s 25 NTD, or half a dinner, wasted on failing to get a copy of Ring Fit Adventure on launch day. But these were all smaller local stores so while I was angry and surprised by what had transpired, I was confident that I could get a copy on the following Saturday, since I didn’t have time on Friday to go to the shopping districts.
The following Saturday I went to the shopping districts and I fared no better. Stores kept telling me the same thing I had heard two days ago, with one exception. Some stores did have one or two spare units but their prices were extremely inflated. I learned that the standard price for Taiwan had actually been set at 2550 NTD, or one dinner higher than originally quoted. While I found this annoying, I deemed it a manageable price increase. If I was purchasing the game in my native California, I’d most likely pay more than that with tax. But the prices these stores were offering me were way above that standard price. 2700 NTD, 2990 NTD, and so on. I even had one store offer it to me at a whopping 3450 NTD. That’s a markup of 900 NTD ($29.58). For reference, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD Remake on the Switch released here just a few days prior to Ring Fit Adventure for 790 NTD. Meaning this store wanted more than the price of a new game in addition to the standard price of the game I was trying to buy.
At this point I was confused, shocked, and angry. Why was it so difficult to get a copy of Ring Fit Adventure? For all the problems I’d had in the past with games pricing in Taiwan, rarity had pretty much never been an issue for things I wanted that could be gotten in Taiwan. And honestly I can count all the things I really wanted in Taiwan and just absolutely couldn’t get without importing it myself. The most recent example I can think of is the collector’s edition of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice for PS4. They got the game here with a steelbook but not the edition with the statue. So why was Ring Fit Adventure so hard to get for a fair price? Eventually one clerk who understood English and saw my frustration with the ridiculous price he offered told me that all the units in Taiwan were not legitimately distributed there but instead had been imported from Hong Kong or directly from Japan. This was why the markup was so prolific and ridiculous throughout all these stores. While he didn’t give me a reason why this was the case, he did help me understand what was going on.
Finally I made my way to the store I should have started with, but didn’t because it’s the most out of the way so I usually end there. There’s a game store in the middle of Taipei that has a clerk that is both knowledgeable about games and fluent in English. He’s the only clerk in this country that I consider a friend. He knows me, greets me personally every time I enter the store, and always fills me in on what’s going on. The reason I don’t start there every time I want something is because his store never has the best price. They always have the standard base price. If I was willing to pay the standard market price for games, I’d always just go there. But I always hunt for the best price so I never start there because that’s the last resort shop. If I absolutely can’t get a good price then I go to his store and pay the base price, because their prices are absolutely fair. They’re just not a deal. It’s like buying from Target instead of Best Buy because Target is selling the new game for $57.99 while Best Buy is selling it for $59.99. His store is Best Buy. That’s actually the store I bought my Switch at as an interesting side note.
It’s important to note that he doesn’t own the store. He’s just a part time employee there. That means I have to catch him at work. I actually visited the store multiple times in the two months leading up to the release of Ring Fit Adventure but he just happened to not be on shift when I walked in. If he had of been then I would absolutely have been able to get Ring Fit Adventure for a fair price of 2550 NTD on launch day (10/31 for Taiwan). When I walked into the store on the Saturday he was there, thankfully. I asked him about the game and he told me the same thing every other store that didn’t have spare copies to markup told me. They were sold out and only had enough to fill preorders. The difference was that because he both speaks English and is knowledgeable about games, from both the consumer and business side, he could tell what the hell was actually going on with this game.
As it turns out, I had been completely misled, or more accurately misinformed, about Ring Fit Adventure’s distribution in Taiwan. Every store told me that the game would be available in Taiwan on 10/31. I took this to mean that the game was being legitimately distributed by Nintendo to Taiwan, like any other Switch game such as Luigi’s Mansion 3 which was and still is widely available here, on 10/31. This was not actually the case. The truth is that the game was not legitimately distributed to Taiwan at all. Apparently the Taiwanese government agency that is in charge of approving products for sale in Taiwan didn’t approve of the ring accessory for Ring Fit Adventure. I still don’t know why this is the case. But like I said, the games market here operates like a black market. So rather than not sell the game since it couldn’t be acquired through legitimate publisher/distributor channels, all the stores imported the game manually via connections in nearby countries, specifically Hong Kong and Japan. This means that 100% of Ring Fit Adventure copies sold in Taiwan currently were/are contraband. This is why the prices were so marked up and the game was/is so hard to find.
Now I don’t personally care about the legality of owning a game that isn’t supposed to be sold in Taiwan. No one does. The government isn’t going to knock on anyone’s door looking for Switch games. And even if they were, everything is paid for in cash in Taiwan and no records are kept for game sales, so they wouldn’t know whose door to knock on anyway. I just want a copy of the game at a fair price. I’m less angry now that I understand the situation, but I’m still really pissed that I wasn’t offered a preorder. All these stores told me I couldn’t preorder the game and then apparently sold preorders to everyone else. I assume it was because of the language barrier and that most people just couldn’t explain the situation to me clearly. I will give them that benefit of the doubt, because racism against Westerners isn’t really a thing here so I don’t assume it was anything like that. But if I had known about this contraband situation I would have dragged my wife to a game store and had her demand a preorder for me. Or I would have preordered it from my friend clerk if he had been at work when I went to his store prior to launch, because he would have informed me about the situation.
Ultimately I did not acquire a copy of Ring Fit Adventure during the opening week. As I write this I still don’t have a copy now. But my friend allowed me a special order and said they will put one aside for me in their next shipment at a price of 2550 NTD. He couldn’t tell me when it would be available but the store will call me when it is. So I ended up spending a bunch of time and 56 NTD (just over one dinner) in travel costs to not get a copy of Ring Fit Adventure plus I have to spend another 30 NTD to go back to the store when they do finally get my copy in stock. Hopefully it becomes available the week of November 15th week so I can pick it up at the same time I pick up Pokémon Sword and Shield.
If not for the wasted travel money, I wouldn’t be super angry about not being able to get the game during launch week. While it’s a game I’m really looking forward to, I’m extremely backlogged and have other fitness games I can play like Just Dance anyway. What I’m really unhappy about is the rampant overpricing that many stores sold the game at to parents and kids without the patience and knowledge required to make an informed purchasing decision about Ring Fit Adventure’s odd product status in Taiwan. This sort of information, though kind of risky because of the illegality of it all, should have been more widely distributed. As I went to store after store looking for the game that Saturday, I realized that I was not the only one desperately trying to get a copy. Originally I thought there was no demand because all the stores seemed so out of the loop when I inquired about it over the two months leading up to release. It turns out that I was extremely wrong. Lots of people preordered the game and lots of people who didn’t preorder the game were hunting in stores just like I was. I saw many a parent and their pleading child in game stores asking about it. And I know those marked up units were ultimately sold to parents with spoiled children as well as to parents who just aren’t knowledgeable about such things and thought the prices being quoted were just the normal price for the game. It’s a really despicable scenario that should not have occurred in the way it did. But that’s what happens when you have a completely unregulated games market. Free market capitalism is never for the benefit of the consumer. Especially when it comes to entertainment.
I hope that eventually Ring Fit Adventure does get legitimately distributed to Taiwan and is sold at a fair price to gamers of all types and ages. I also hope that I get my copy soon.
Some people are probably wondering about the online aspect of buying physical games in Taiwan, since I didn’t really address it here. The reason I didn’t is that it’s not super simple, it doesn’t work in cash like the brick and mortar market does, and the prices are often marked up at a default. There is no Amazon type entity here. Nor are there brick and mortar stores with an online component like a Best Buy or Walmart. The best you can hope for is something akin to Newegg, where there’s a well-known online store that you can trust, but the prices aren’t usually better for games. There are a few of these such as PlayAsia, which usually has marked up prices, sometimes ridiculously so, and a site called PCHome. You also often have to pay shipping on these online purchases. So to answer the unasked question, yes there is online game purchasing here but it isn’t the most convenient or affordable way to buy games here. In the five years that I’ve lived in Taiwan, I’ve never purchased a single physical game online. You also need to be able to read Chinese for many online stores in Taiwan. For reference though, PCHome sold Ring Fit Adventure on opening day for 2550 NTD. I’m not sure what the cost of shipping would be, but they are currently sold out as I write this and were sold out opening weekend. PlayAsia has multiple versions of the game from different regions with prices ranging from 2457 NTD all the way up to 2872 NTD. This does not include shipping cost.
*This post was originally written on November 4th. Due to my busy blog schedule I was not able to publish for some time. I ultimately was able to claim my copy of Ring Fit Adventure on November 12th. Same week but not the same day as Pokemon Sword & Shield.