ABU DHABI // You can buy the game here next week. You can buy the console, too. Getting the F1 2009 racing game to work on a Nintendo Wii system purchased in the Emirates, however, is another issue. A dispute between Nintendo, video game distributors and local dealers means that Formula One fans keen to whizz around a virtual Yas Marina circuit may discover that the new racing title cannot run on their machines.
That is because most Nintendo Wii systems sold in the Emirates are formatted for North American games, while most games sold here are in the European format, and the two are not compatible. The distributors and the National Media Council back the sale of European games, which also have a different age rating system to the North American games. As long as Nintendo's North American consoles dominated the market, it was not feasible for local dealers to sell many Wii games, said Rabeeh Zakaria, the business manager for the Pluto Group distribution company.
"The problem is Nintendo supplies NTSC [North American] machines. The games we get from most publishers are PAL [European] games, which won't even work on NTSC consoles," he said. "It doesn't make sense." The new Formula One game, which is scheduled for release on November 20, will be available for the Wii and for Sony's handheld PlayStation Portable (PSP) console. Mr Zakaria said his company, based in Dubai, had ordered only a few hundred of the Nintendo version of the game, and several thousand of the PSP version.
The designer of F1 2009, Codemasters, believe the UAE is a key market for the game after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The company recognises the Emirates as a "European" territory and endorses the sale of PAL versions here, said Hal Bame, the director of distributor territories. "That being said, it's a free world and plenty of wholesalers may decide to bring in NTSC, but that's not something we'd support," he said. Mr Zakaria was disappointed that he would not be able to capitalise on F1 fever. "It's a great game and Yas Marina is there, but what can I do?" he asked.
Anticipation over F1 2009 is high in the gaming community. The Geekay Games shop in Abu Dhabi Mall gets daily inquiries about the title, but the modest order total has raised eyebrows. "That's a little crazy," said Michael Priest, 27, a British video games journalist based in Dubai. "I would assume we'd get 5,000 or 10,000 copies because F1's so huge here," he said. Mansour Sultan, 25, said he had spent hundreds of dirhams on Wii games from the wrong region and returned them. "It's happened to me a few times," said Mr Sultan, an Emirati film director.
Retailers routinely meet confused Wii owners who buy an incompatible game and want to return it. It happened around twice a week at Geekay Games, said Reden Gungon, a salesman. The chain's managing director, Kishan Palija, said the store accepted returns in most cases, said t. His shop stocked games in both formats, and Mr Palija believes most clients buy North American "because the NTSC releases are more affordable and most stores are selling American [consoles]".
He estimated that Nintendo's NTSC consoles outsold the PAL version by three to one. Microsoft and Sony, the makers of the Xbox360 and PlayStation 3, respectively, distribute PAL consoles and games in the Emirates. Amit Raisinghani, Nintendo's head of distribution for the UAE, said the corporation was negotiating with the Media Council to get its backing for NTSC merchandise. "We're running the legal processes now and soon we should know what is official," he said. No one at the NMC was available for comment.
Nintendo's preference for NTSC stretched back decades. "That format has been selling the best since 1984," Mr Raisinghani said. The Nintendo Wii console launched in the Americas before Europe. It premiered in the UAE in its North American format. Rami el Hussein, the managing director of Pluto Group, said: "They've probably sold maybe 50,000 or 60,000 units and it's too messy to pull out and switch to PAL. Now Nintendo are too deep in it."
As for the F1 2009 game, Mr Palija said his shops would sell the American version. "We're going to get enough," he said. "People still have Formula One on their minds, so that's motivating us to get enough stock." firstname.lastname@example.org