Critical Intel

Critical Intel
Adventures in Hong Kong's Game Markets

Robert Rath | 1 Aug 2013 10:24
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Every expat lands in Hong Kong with a list in hand. First item: Immigration Office. Next, get a local bank account and cell phone. After that comes furniture - eight to ten hours in IKEA purgatory, looking at space efficient couches too practical to be comfortable. My list had all these things with one addition: "Find best place to buy games."

Getting your hands on a game here isn't as simple at it is in the States. There isn't a Wal-Mart here, or a Target, or anything like that. You can't go to a single location to pick up everything from breakfast cereal to BioShock. Product overlap isn't a thing here. For clothes you go to a clothing store. For food you go to a grocery store. For over the counter drugs you hit up a pharmacy. If you can't find what you want in the malls and community stores, you descend into the street markets and hit stall after stall. There seems to be a market for everything in Hong Kong: Cat Street for antiques, Tai Yuen for toys, Stanley for clothes big enough to actually fit expats. Kowloon boasts markets specifically for songbirds, flowers, sneakers, wedding dresses and goldfish.

There's no such thing as a videogame store here. GameStop never gained a foothold, supposedly because local bootlegs drive down retail prices. While I don't know if that's true, the name brand retailers I visited seemed reluctant to invest in a healthy games section. Local electronics giant Fortress had a limited stock mostly given over to the big boys like Halo and Modern Warfare. One Toys "R" Us I visited - located in a fifteen story mall that felt like shopping in an ant farm - only had half a dozen games for each system, but an entire wall of Skylanders. Both places priced games between 350-450 Hong Kong Dollars ($45-58 USD), and that held true with another indie shop I visited - not exactly a steal.

It would be the markets, then.

My internet research back home had painted the city's markets as a sprawling junk drawer of games. A place where you could find anything you wanted, get antique hardware fixed and play games you never knew existed. I was determined to have that experience, but more than that, I knew what exactly what game I wanted to walk away with: I wanted the first game I bought in Hong Kong to be Sleeping Dogs.

The first time I ran across games for sale it was in Stanley Market, and entirely by accident. Stanley is an expat suburb far removed from the crowds and housing blocks of the city. Streets there curve around steep emerald peaks, sweeping past cliff side mansions to give brief glimpses of the junks and yachts anchored in the bay. Stanley is charming, though it's an expensive kind of charm. The market lies just up from the promenade and focuses on selling wares to tourists or well-to-do residents that don't want to make the trip into the city. There are some storefronts and coffee shops, but the heart of the market is a collection of tin-roofed stalls. One of them was an electronics shop - phone chargers, game peripherals, strategy guides and consoles - and a single shelf of games. The prices were lower than the brand name shops, but still higher than my search engine had promised. Sleeping Dogs was 299 HKD, about $38.50 and was a good deal compared to the newer games in the case. I passed, walking on to Murray House and Blake Pier, resolved to find something better tomorrow.

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