At the behest of its game publishers trade association, plucky little Belgium has banned videogame rentals in the country.
The decision was actually made in June, when the Belgian Entertainment Association convinced the government that videogame rentals made a "sizable dent" in videogame sales. As a result, beginning that month retail outlets couldn't buy any more games to rent, but were allowed to continue renting their existing stock of games until December. De Standaard Online has now confirmed that the plan is full steam ahead, and in a month, Belgians will no longer be allowed to rent videogames.
The decision may appear at first glance to be a win for publishers, but how it will work out in the long run in anyone's guess. Sales could be pushed down as people are denied an opportunity to legitimately sample a game before they lay down big bucks to buy it outright, or in the same vein, piracy in the region could see a dramatic rise. The only certain aspect of the matter is that gamers are getting screwed, and while my personal position against videogame piracy is well documented, nonsense like this certainly doesn't boost anyone's sympathy for the industry or its efforts to protect itself against copyright violations.
Naturally, gamers in Belgium aren't happy with the situation either. "Dat is rampzalig," said Filip Dossche, who was presumably reacting to the news. I have no idea what the hell that means but he sounds pretty pissed off, and I don't blame him.
UPDATE: Edge Online has updated the story, pointing out that Belgium isn't actually banning games, it's simply creating a situation in which the game rental business is completely untenable.
"What's happening is that video rental stores are declining in popularity, and because of this those stores began to buy retail copies of games and put them up for rent. I can't think of any country that would allow this. Rental outlets need publisher permission to rent out games, and need to buy them wholesale, just like with films," explained Belgian Entertainment Association Managing Director Olivier Maeterlinck. "The point is that stores can still put out rental copies. They just have to get permission to do so."
The obvious difficulty is that game publishers, as averse as they are to game rentals and second-hand sales, are never going to grant that permission. "It will still be legal, yes, but the problem is that it is no longer feasible," a spokesman for GameMania, Belgium's largest game retailer, said. "We cannot establish rental deals with any of the major publishers, and so we will be terminating our game rental business."
(Thanks to Slycne for letting me know.)