Filling the Lik-Sang Void
With Sony having squeezed Lik-Sang out of business, where should importers turn? We take an in-depth look at the pros and cons of the alternatives...
If you're a regular frequenter of the world's gaming blogs, its pretty safe to say you're going to have heard about the media frenzy surrounding the recent demise of the hardcore gamers friend Lik-Sang. As I write this, I'm unsure as to whether or not I believe its real. Is it a hoax? Some massive publicity stunt on the behalf of the people at Lik-Sang, blaming the evil empire of Sony for closing off a segment of their market share? Surely if the internet is to be believed, no one is buying PSP's, anyway so they should be making a roaring trade off the back of Nintendo sales?
Sony has gone after other importers for the same reasons. Play-Asia for instance has a no imports into Europe Agreement. No doubt after considerable legal threats from the overlords at Sony. Apparently the Euro hate stems from the country's decision to use 240v mains power instead of 100v and Sony not wanting to be blamed for any exploding product. Which is strange, as all PSPs ship with the same 100-240v mains adapter? It is more likely that it just boils down to Sony Europe doing its damnedest to protect itself from losing any sales figures to other Sony regions. America itself appears to remain free to import without any major legal hassles from any of the large game makers. Land of the free indeed!
The closure of Lik-Sang for many of is is the end of an era, having relied upon their services for many years. Getting lovely packages containing games either way earlier than their eventual western release, or games that will never ever make there way over here. It all makes Sony look very much like an evil destroyer of fun, with thunderous tones of "THOU SHALT NOT PLAY" echoing from the heavens above. Parting those clouds of discontent there are still some rays of import hope, even for those repeatedly punished European gamers.
The (now two) main Far East based export companies are Play-Asia and YesAsia. Both offering similar services (with the exception of Play-Asia's lack of European shipping for Sony products). So why would you prefer one over the other?
Play-Asia is definitely set up more with gamers in mind. Its website is very user friendly and has useful links and well-defined caegories. I use Play-Asia all the time for grabbing used Saturn and PlayStation One titles and unlike some other nefarious used game sellers, I can safely say the descriptions of the used games are accurate and I've never been annoyed by the condition of a game upon its arrival. As for new games, Play-Asia usually has available "Asia" editions of most titles, these are effectively the same discs as the Japanese editions but come with simplified instructions, often in English and are considerably cheaper than the Japanese equivalent. They have a very useful list on the site describing which XBOX360 titles (I know, not handheld related but still worth a mention) happen to be region free, so you can pick them up at a much more attractive price than your local game store.
Their selection of handheld titles is excellent too, with a superb selection of the latest titles and a healthy back catalogue for each of the current handheld systems. Their GameBoy Advance back catalogue is quite amazing. I'm constantly rummaging through their GBA selection to ponder over the purchase of ludicrously obscure-sounding games that no-one ever appears to have reviewed. The price of the games is often dependant upon their popularity, but don't expect to pay more than 5-10 dollars more than you'd expect from an equivalent title over here (shipping charges apply on top of that though don't forget). One of the best things about Play-Asia is they have a neat loyalty scheme in place. With virtually every order you'll receive money off vouchers to the tune of $5, redeemable on an order of over $50. The cool thing is, if you're a regular frequenter of gaming forums, you'll often find a Play-Asia voucher thread, where people offer up for use vouchers they have no intention of using, if they're about to expire. Free money? Yes please! Play-Asia also deals in game soundtracks, music and movies but not the same extent as YesAsia I've found.
YesAsia appears to be the other way around from Play-Asia, appearing to concentrate more upon music and video export with barely a mention of videogames on the homepage. So why should anyone bother? Well, it might have something to do with the "Free International Shipping" banner at the top of the page. Any order over $25 qualifies for free shipping, which is a bonus in my books, seeing as most of the time I order multiple items. Their selection of games isn't as comprehensive as Play-Asia but if it's newer titles you're after, especially if you happen to live in Europe and want PSP games, then you'll find YesAsia very agreeable. YesAsia also has a super special treat for us British and German folk in the form of tax-free importing! (Our countries do really love that sales tax, 17.5%, yum!) So while their videogame service isn't generally as comprehensive as that of Play-Asia, they lure you in with good value, which makes them ideal for the occasional import.
It can be a pain if you just want say one game, as the price might be below the threshold of getting free shipping, but I often actually find myself bumping the order up with a little music, say a random CD single or DVD, expanding my collection of zany J-media.
There is an alternative to the aforementioned outfits. For example we have the lovely people at National Console Support. The prices are good and they are shipped from within the US (NYC) so you'll receive your goods faster than you would if importing from Asia. NCSX also has a great selection of older titles to pick over on all the popular formats, and their range of GBA games is really something special. They also do a range of toys and other assorted goodies, awesome desk fodder to impress your workmates/scare off the opposite sex (I myself find it a damn shame that traditional CRT monitors have been consigned to the dustbin of history, what am I supposed to build my videogame/Japanese culture shrine on top of now!?).
There are of course other means of locating those import goodies, namely Ebay and trading on forums. I've dabbled in both, finding them cheap and convenient. I can usually find someone on Ebay selling what I want (and locally rather than abroad) and on forums I'll often find games at silly prices, being sold by people similar to myself, so I'm safe in the knowledge the game won't be covered in cheese and have coffee rings all over the manual.
So... Why on earth isn't every man, woman and child living on a nutritious diet of imported goodness? As we've covered before, the games aren't for everyone, often requiring a good bit of patience to understand, but some people don't import because of the perceived hassle involved in doing it. There's been over the years a whole barrel of scare stories, passed around on forums, blogs, with sites like epinions.com having a selection of interesting reading, particularly on nefarious company that was Buy Rite Games (Whose sole purpose appeared to be to rip people off under the pretence of being a videogames importer). Many of these are true, after all, I've come across enough problems dealing with company's mail order in my own country, so we're bound to come across ones that operate from distant lands too.
A common problem with these online exporters my friends and I have encountered is that little bit of text on the product page, you know, those little words "in stock". With new games it's usually true, but if you're looking for something oooooh, more than a few months old? There's a chance that those words are a big fat LIE! As you go ahead and order, thinking '"woo gamez!" to yourself in a happy little voice in your head, only to sit by your doorstep, morning after morning, crying, as the postman doesn't deliver. So you head back to the website to check your order and it NOW says "item on backorder", next thing you know you're throwing a fit of rage and knock all the toys off the top of your monitor.... (Not that this has ever happened to me... honest!)
YesAsia's tax free scheme for the UK and Germany has also been a godsend for many of us, after being stung very heavily by items from both Lik-Sang and Play-Asia. Not a problem for other places in the world generally but just as an example, I pre-ordered a PSP via Play-Asia, their price was very good for the time, I received it promptly and spent my Xmas indulging again in Ridge Racer, only to have a small letter from the courier plop on my doormat. "Hi there! On behalf of her majesty's customs and excise service, you must pay us ooooh, 80 pounds, uh... RIGHT now too. Thanks!" Needless to say my jaw received carpet burns that day as it hit the floor and remained there most of the day. My PSP had just seen a one third price increase, money that I kinda hadn't budgeted for. It was like seeing my next three videogame purchases placed into a small basket, attached to a helium balloon and floated away while i was tied to a chair, watching helplessly, screaming...
There have been, of course, more extreme examples of shoddy service but it's difficult to say any one of the companies I've mentioned has more issues than any other. They're businesses, customer service issues will naturally occur. They can't all afford an Amazon.com size team of monkeys endlessly updating their databases. Now, I've had problems, friends of mine have had problems, but I honestly believe the benefits far outweigh the really quite infrequent service problems. Shopping at these sites is as easy as shopping anywhere else, I'm currently in the process of locating the Famicom mini series, tracking down as many music games as I can, generally enjoying unique titles not available over here. If it weren't for the likes of Play-Asia, YesAsia and NCSX, my handheld life would be a considerably duller fare, I can't imagine life without the likes of Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan and Band Brothers!
Lik-Sang is going to be missed by many of us, and other companies are bound to step into their shoes, but you have to wonder how long is it gonna be before our friends in suits ruin the fun by closing them down too. The time is now, support your local importer!