According to Simon Kuznets, there are four types of countries: developed, underdeveloped, Japan, and Argentina.
Well, it’s not that difficult to pin down the first three, but getting your head around Argentina’s economy still taxes the minds of most people, not least those of us that live in the country. A couple of years ago, the digital game platform, Steam, enabled local currency payment options for customers based in Argentina in line with their policy to localise Steam accounts across the board. This meant that international credit cards such as Visa, Mastercard, and American Express were accepted for local currency, but more importantly, numerous other forms of intermediary payments such as RapiPago and Pago Facil. These two methods simply involve going to a RapiPago or PagoFacil outlet in a high street with your printed payment advice note from Steam complete with barcode, making the payment over the counter and the money would find its way to Steam in payment for your game. Unfortunately, this also meant that PayPal was withdrawn as a payment method, but since hardly anyone uses PayPal in Argentina (except me), this didn’t cause much trouble for most.
On that subject, I’ve submitted a ticket to Steam asking what the situation is now that their policy has been reversed, however, I expect to receive some BS standard reply (as per previous requests) as is normal nowadays with big corporations that couldn’t give a monkey’s *** about their customers anyway.
Meanwhile, everything changed overnight a couple of years ago.
This localisation change enabled many people to pay for games and software even if they didn’t have a bank account or credit card, which is a very important point and no doubt an aspect that Steam will have factored into their policy decision. Cash is still king in Argentina largely due to a still-present black market economy and the eye-watering interest rates of up to 70% charged by the credit card companies which puts many people off any idea of using a credit card. So, paying cash for a game was a win-win situation for everyone. Not only that, due to some peculiar exchange rate calculations, the local prices for Steam games in Argentina were often (and still are) less than half the price of their US dollar equivalents. So win, win, and win again.
However, during the last eighteen months or so, the Argentine peso has lost a staggering amount of its value as can be seen by the first image in this article. A couple of weeks ago, the peso fell a further 33% in one day following the incumbent government’s disastrous showing in the primary elections. These elections were a kind of dress rehearsal for the general elections on 27th of October and are generally considered to be a pretty good yardstick of what’s going to take place later, so the markets panicked at the thought of a return to Venezuela-style populism. Clearly, this kind of event had knock-on effects, one of which was Steam withdrawing from their local currency arrangements and no longer accepting the peso, which will likely plummet even further over the next few months if the markets get twitchy again, which is about as likely as the sun coming up in the morning.
But you have to laugh at Steam’s catch-all lawyer-speak when they say “Due to recent changes to government laws in your region…”, when we all know damn well that it’s not government laws at all, but a lack of confidence in the Argentine local currency that’s driven their decision to back out. Nobody wants pesos; they have as much value as toilet paper and probably even less– except if you send them to Venezuela, where there is apparently a shortage of loo paper and they would be most welcome, believe me.
However, I’ve been following the Spanish speaking discussions on Steam and many are saying that some prepaid Argentine cards (Visa/Mastercard) can, in fact, be used. But that largely depends on how the prepaid card company operates internationally. One has to assume that the prepaid cards exchange on the day and remit to Steam the relevant amount in US dollars afterward. But one cannot be too sure of anything related to Argentina’s economy where the sovereign currency is really the US dollar, in all but name and law. Many have even suggested that Argentina follow the example of Ecuador in dollarising the economy, but since the size of the cake remains the same either way, it’s a tough call and perhaps the subject of a very different discussion.
In the meantime, I’ll be digging a little more and if any nuggets or revelations show themselves, I’ll be sure to rant away in a further tome at some later date.