The French Canadian government of Quebec is saying non to English-only video games if French versions are available.
French language rules on video games come into force on April 1, prohibiting the sale of new English-only video games in Quebec if a French version is available.
Is this a smart move to get more video games into the hands of French speakers? Or, is it misguided, xenophobic protectionism? I'm going with the latter.
One of the many reasons this is such a bad idea is that game companies can simply stop creating French versions of games to bypass this ridiculous law. I'm not sure how big a market there is for video games in French, but I suspect any kind of regulation that forces game development companies to abide such rules would quickly force their hand to decide if it was worth it to carry on with multiple languages.
One retailer profiled in the Toronto Star alluded to the fact that the delay in getting games to players (assuming the French version came out after the English version) would affect his business dramatically:
"I'm afraid it's going to cost me my business," Ronnie Rondeau said. "If it really was going to make a difference, I'd be for it, but only a small number of people want to play in French. The rest don't care."
If the issue for retailers is really the timely delivery of the French version then this suggests there is a market opportunity for cloud gaming platforms such as Steam to figure out ways to offer new games in multiple languages.
Update 1:35 p.m. PDT: I got some helpful background information from the editor of JOUEZ.com:
In 1977, the Charter of the French Language, also known as Bill 101, defined French as the only official language of Quebec and framing fundamental language rights of all Quebecers. In 1997, this law was amended so that every product sold in Quebec must include packaging, instructions and warranty certificates in French. Since then, all computer software, including game software and operating systems, whether installed or uninstalled, must be available in French unless no French version exists. Video games publishers were given a six-year grace period to comply. Since 2003, video games are now available with French packaging/booklets/warranties.
In 2007, the Quebec government finalized a deal with the Entertainment Software Association of Canada, to increase the number of video games available in French in Quebec. Activision Blizzard, Disney Interactive Studios, Electronic Arts, Microsoft Canada, Nintendo of Canada, Sony Computer Entertainment Canada, Take2 Interactive, THQ and Ubisoft Canada, who are all members of the Entertainment Software Association of Canada, agreed that they would be able to offer their next-generation games with French content before April 1, 2009, if such a version exists elsewhere in the world.
After this deal was announced in 2007, the number of bilingual games raised significantly. For example, in 2007, only 17 percent of Xbox 360 games were available in French in Quebec. Today, half of the Xbox 360 library (about 190 titles out of 380) is available in French in Quebec. Almost every new AAA release is now bilingual or multilingual. Games that are only available in English, that don't exist in French, still can be sold in Quebec. Out of the thousand games released each year, almost every one of them made their way in Quebec. Retailers complaining about possible delays or higher pricing are not truthful.
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