Gaming in Taiwan – GPU Racketeering
Contributed by DJMMT
Every so often, I write a post about the struggles I go through as an American gamer living in Taiwan. Usually, these posts touch on issues surrounding niche cases that affect me as a consumer because of issues having to do with my status as an American, using American gaming accounts, or living abroad and not speaking the local language fluently. However, this post is not about that sort of issue. This post is about a problem happening in Taiwan right now that affects all PC gamers, regardless of their nationality.
You may be aware that I’m a PC gamer, among multiple other platforms I game on, including Switch, PS5, and mobile. While I don’t consider myself a hardcore PC Master Race type of gamer, I do identify as a more than casual PC gamer. But more importantly, I identify as a PC Builder. Meaning that I build my own systems from the ground up. When I’m building a new system for myself, I care a great deal about specs. I will literally spend months studying and comparing components before I finally settle on what to include in a new build. As I do work in the PC gaming hardware industry, I’m privy to a lot of information that informs how I decide which components to buy, and when to buy them. I chase deals a lot. I’ll wait months for a promotion to start before I buy a part. And I’ll buy a part months before I plan to build a system when a deal is too good to pass up.
For instance, I just bought a CPU cooler from MSI even though I haven’t even purchased a CPU yet. The reason for this is that currently MSI has a promotion going where if you buy a specific cooler you get a free copy of Sonic Superstars plus an additional $20 of Steam credit. Meaning I paid $150 for a cooler and got back $80 in game value. If you’re interested in this promotion, you can find out more about it here. This level of scrutiny, frugality, and planning is how I buy every single part in a build. Because I don’t build a new home system very often. I built my current system about seven years ago. At the time, it was a top-of-the-line rig. It has a GTX 1080 GPU, an i7-6700K processor, and an X-99 motherboard. I absolutely regret buying that motherboard though. The point is that there is no scenario where I would ever buy all my parts for a new build all at the same time; and there is absolutely no scenario, under any circumstances, where I would pay another person to build my system for me.
I’m putting an NVIDIA RTX 4090 in my next system. It’s not even up for debate. From the moment I decided it was time to build a PC, which was right around the time I saw the spec requirements for Starfield on PC, I decided that I was getting a 4090. It was literally the one thing about my build that I was sure about. Recently, I’ve been seeing reports that NVIDIA plans to increase the price of 4090 graphics cards. That in and of itself is bullshit, and I could absolutely write a post about it, but I’m not going to. That’s not actually my problem. I’d already been saving to build this system, long before I had even decided it was finally time to build one, so I was ready to buy a GPU any time. The only reason I had been dragging my heels on buying a GPU, even though the 4090s have been on shelf for a while, is that the game bundle deals have sucked.
When I bought my GTX 1080, I got a free AAA game with it. I can’t remember exactly which game I got, since this was so long ago, but I believe it was Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands. My plan was to buy a 4090 as soon as there was a game bundle for a game I actually wanted. Make no mistake, there have been several games released for PC this year that I wanted/want. Baldur’s Gate 3, Starfield, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon, and the list goes on. There’s really no excuse for the fact that none of the great games released this year had a bundle deal. Instead, they offered junk like Diablo IV, Redfall, and currently Alan Wake II. Now, I’m not going to say that these are bad games. But I am going to say that I don’t want any of them. And they certainly don’t come to mind when I think about the question “What do I want to play first on my $2,000+ GPU?” Where are the proper AAA titles NVIDIA? Enquiring gamers want to know.
In any case, the reports about 4090 prices going up scared me into choosing to accept Alan Wake II, though I know I’ll probably never play it. I haven’t even played the first game. Or at least I would have accepted Alan Wake II if I had actually been able to purchase a graphics card when I went to buy one last week. And thus begins the true start of this post.
PC components are not hard to find in Taiwan. Especially not in Taipei. I’m certain I’ve written about it before, but basically there’s a large district in the middle of Taipei dedicated to gaming hardware sales. No matter what you’re looking for, if it’s available in Taiwan, they’ll have it there. It can be the most niche component ever, and someone will have it. That’s where I go to buy all my PC gaming hardware. In fact, that’s pretty much where everyone in Taipei goes. Why you’d start anywhere else is a mystery I couldn’t begin to solve. So when I went to this district looking to buy a GPU, I assumed that at least one store would have them in stock; and they did. No, this is not a sob story about how 4090s are sold out all over Taiwan. They make the cards here! While NVIDIA is technically an American company, the CEO is Taiwanese. More importantly, most of the major the resellers including ASUS ROG, MSI, GIGABYTE AORUS, and so on are all based in Taipei. I’ve literally visited some of their offices and done work with all those brands. And not influencer content creation work mind you. I mean real work in my day job working in gaming tech marketing. Of course they have 4090’s available in stores in Taipei.
Let me clarify that I am not saying 4090s are plentiful and that Taiwan is stockpiling them while other regions are struggling to get them. It’s not that great in Taiwan for components. Multiple stores did tell me they were sold out. But just as many stores had them in stock. And not just one model either. I did see the exact model I wanted, which is the ASUS ROG Strix GeForce RTX® 4090 OC Edition 24GB GDDR6X. But I also saw lots of other 4090 models including those from ASUS TUF, GIGABYTE AORUS, and other reputable brands. That’s why I was very surprised that I wasn’t able to buy one FROM ANY BRAND.
I know the PC components stores in this district very well. Even though most of the clerks don’t speak English, I know where to go to get what I want and how to navigate their digital enquiry systems, even though I can’t actually read Mandarin, which everything is written in. So, I walk into the first store, walk up to their enquiry computer, find the exact GPU I want, which they have in stock, and I tell the guy I want to purchase it. He tells that he can’t sell it to me as a single item purchase. The only way I can get it is if I purchase an entire system’s worth of components and have them build it for me there. Note that this is a fairly common thing that people in Taiwan do. They will build your system for you with the specific parts you purchased right in front of you. It’s very convenient for casuals and lazy people; neither of which I identify as. I was shocked to say the least when I heard this. As the guy didn’t speak English fluently, I thought I was misunderstanding something. Like that specific model was part of some exclusive program at that store or something. So I left the store and immediately went to another one. There are several in that district, so I have no problem if one store can’t fulfill my needs, generally speaking.
The next store had a clerk that spoke English fluently. Not only would he not sell me the 4090 model I wanted, but he said he couldn’t (wouldn’t) sell me any 4090 model unless I bought a full system. Again, I was shocked. The store right next to his told me the same thing, but he even went as far as saying that he wouldn’t sell me a 4090 unless I bought the components for a full system worth at least $3,700 USD. Think about that. I wanted to purchase an item priced at $2,000 USD and these shops refused to sell me the product, that they had in stock, unless I was willing to spend an additional $1,700 USD. And this was every shop. Not just one brand of stores. Not just some weird niche vendor. I went to more than 10 different stores and none of them would sell me a 4090. They were happy to try to unload a 4080 on me though . . .
First of all, I can’t believe this is actually legal. How can a store put a $2,000 item behind an additional $1,700 paywall when they aren’t the producers of the item? Second, I can’t believe that NVIDIA is aware of and in support of this policy. NVIDIA literally lost the sale of a $2,000 item because I wouldn’t give a bunch of other companies that aren’t NVIDIA an additional $1,700+ in sales. And you can’t even make the supply and demand argument, because the products were in stock. If this had been a limited edition model, like the ASUS ROG Strix GeForce RTX® 4090 OC Edition 24GB GDDR6X Evangelion Edition, maybe this policy would hold water. But we’re talking about every single model of 4090 GPU available in the market. That’s collusion. But it’s not even collusion of the manufacturers. It’s collusion of the resellers.
I have heard a couple of arguments to justify this policy, but none of them are particularly good. One that kept coming up was scalping. But this isn’t how you would combat scalping. If that was really the issue, you’d refuse to sell anyone multiple cards and create a registry to track who had already purchased one. Clearly the shops are colluding anyway, so it wouldn’t even be that farfetched for them to create a coordinated sales ledger. The other argument that came up was low stock. But so what? Just because products are limited doesn’t mean you can deny selling them to paying customers. The first person to show up with the money to buy the product gets the product. You don’t sit on the product and wait until you can con someone into buying a bunch of other unrelated products. At that point, you might as well just raise the price of the product itself.
Thankfully, I work in the industry, so I was actually able to look further into this issue and get information from actual industry members based in Taiwan. The actual reason for this ridiculous policy, and I can’t believe I have to say this, is America. But it’s very complicated, so stick with me. Because NVIDIA is an American company, they are beholden to American sales and distribution laws. Mainland China has a huge market for high powered GPUs, specifically for AI development. Recently, as in less than a month ago, the US banned NVIDIA from distributing high powered AI development intended graphics cards to China. However, as RTX 4090 gaming cards are considered consumer goods, these are still legal for NVIDIA to sell in China . . . for now. This ruling caused the demand for 4090s in China to skyrocket literally overnight. But that’s not even the real problem. China gets a supply of consumers GPUs distributed to them just like every other country NVIDIA resellers distribute products to. However, the increased demand for 4090s has caused Taiwan distributors, because of their close ties and proximity to China, to funnel the supply of 4090s that were meant to be sold to end users in Taiwan to China instead. These Taiwan distributors can sell these 4090s in China at an insane mark up. And they can get away with it, because no one on the outside will try to get involved with sales regulations in China to prevent it.
Since the supply of 4090s meant to be sold in Taiwan has been severely reduced, the vendors here are gouging end users desperate to get one of the few cards here, given this newly artificial scarcity. So they’ve decided that rather than raising the prices outright, since they’d get caught and in trouble with both Taiwanese regulatory bodies and the companies they sell product for, that they would create a mandatory price wall that balloons the profits made by forcing people to buy entire systems rather than single part GPU upgrades. It’s a truly disgusting scam that doesn’t make any of the important people raise any eyebrows. So no one is doing anything to stop it from happening.
The thing I really hate about this practice is that it screws over so many different people in so many different situations. As I said, I’m in the process of building a new system at home and would never purchase all my parts at once, nor from the same store. But I’m just one of many different types of people who can’t buy a 4090 in this situation. What if you built a 30 series system recently and just want to upgrade the GPU? What if you had 4090 and it got damaged and had to be replaced? What if you are buying a Christmas/Birthday gift for someone? There are so many situations where honest consumers who aren’t scalping or doing anything else nefarious would just want to buy a GPU and can’t because of this weird policy. Again, I can’t see how this is actually legal.
Currently, my only options are to wait until this policy changes, which may never happen, or import the card from another country. The problem with importing cards is that you risk a $2000 component getting damaged in shipping; and it’s absolute hell trying to claim your warranty, should something unforeseen happen. But I will absolutely not settle for a 4080. I’d wait for a 5080 before I’d do that. In any case, I have a stack of components waiting for a GPU, and until then I can’t play the latest games on PC. You work hard, save your money, and the system still manages to screw over gamers. I wish I was important enough to get NVIDIA to notice this blog post; but I know they won’t.