Passionate gamer left frustrated by PlayStation's rules on downloaded content when moving countries

Zane Hunt loves his PS4 but just lately he feels like the one who got played by PlayStation.

Imagine you're in Zane's living room right now, with Fair Go, looking at the blue screen of wah-wah waaah as Zane tries to load up one of his games, to no avail.

That screen reads: "…to use the content purchase it from the PlayStation store."

Zane is frustrated.

"So I bought this, Tropico 5. I bought it on my Australian account, but whenever I try to use it even on my Australian account it'll come up and say that I've got to repurchase this game."

Yep, Zane paid once, but that was on an Australian registered account, with an Australian credit card linked to it and a monthly sub to PlayStation Plus, so he can purchase downloadable content and crucially, game in multiplayers online with his mates.

Zane shifted back home to New Zealand with his family, and thought he could stay in touch via his gaming.

He has set up a New Zealand PlayStation account but can't simply shift across all he's paid for.

He's now excluded from that contact with his old mates by Sony PlayStation's terms of service, unless he solves a digital dilemma.

Does he pay twice for games he bought, or does he use a workaround that gamers on other platforms don't have to worry about?

Dr Sy Taffel says it could be much simpler.

"The Sony system just seems unnecessarily punitive to anyone who happens to move country and there's no real reason why the system that they have seems to be in place."

Dr Taffel lectures in digital media ecologies at Massey University, which is one way of saying he hasn't just read the terms of service before he clicks 'I accept'.

You're purchasing a license which means you don't technically own the thing - Dr Sy Taffel of Massey University

He has some idea of the power they bestow on companies that are after your digital dollar, to use content you create without asking you, to share your private information, and to allow, modify or revoke access to what you've purchased.

But what are you buying when you buy a game in digital format?

"You aren't buying ownership of an object or a device, you're purchasing a license which means you don't technically own the thing. But the owners of it are allowing you and you alone to use it, which means it's a non-transferable thing."

That's standard, but Sony's approach to locking down purchases by region is not how the whole gaming industry operates, says Dr Taffel.

"It only seems to be Sony that has this rather bizarre country-locked model that doesn't let you say that you've moved country, and you're forced to create a new account for your new country.'

While it isn't a big deal for Sony it is for some of its PlayStation customers, says Dr Taffel.

We have an obligation to respect local policy - Sony Interactive Entertainment Europe

"There are hundreds of people online who for a number of years have been complaining that this is completely unfair and unreasonable when we live in  a globalised world, when people do move from country to country, and it's not always something that's foreseeable several years in the past when you bought the machine and many of the things that have been subsequently purchased for that."

Sony isn't budging, right now.

"Australian PlayStation Network accounts can be used and accessed in New Zealand as well as used concurrently with New Zealand accounts on the same console," says Sony Interactive Entertainment Europe in a statement.

But why can't Sony just let Zane and others switch countries?

"We have an obligation to respect local policy – for examples, local ratings boards, pricing (which may differ due to exchange rates), commercial obligations with local authorities in regard to our Store etc, and this is why we cannot merge an account from one country with another."

So is there anything Zane can do?

"In order to have full access to PlayStation Plus enabled content they would also need to have an active PS Plus subscription on that account. We do make clear in our terms that access to some PS Plus benefits, including the monthly games, are lost when the membership expires."

Zane has an active sub, in New Zealand. He just wants to bring in the Australia purchases too. Not run two accounts and two subs, nor repurchase everything here in NZ.

He is unimpressed at the prospect of keeping an Australian credit card going on part-time wages while he finishes high school, so that he can keep his games and friendships alive.

"If someone wanted to buy a PlayStation, I'd maybe suggest waiting if you were planning on moving somewhere. Don't buy a PlayStation."

Sony's spokesperson says people can use PlayStation accounts from overseas and steered us to a third-party site that lets you buy credit for them to let that happen.

Sony claims variable age ratings, prices and other factors mean it can't merge accounts started in different countries.

Compare that with Microsoft Xbox or Valve's Steam system for PC gaming. Both of those let you switch country with one click. No losses, no messy workarounds and transaction fees.

Zane just hopes Sony realises it's time to make it that easy.

Zane Hunt purchased downloads in Australia, but can't use them in New Zealand. Source: Fair Go