10.24.2006

Farewell to a Digital Bazaar: Lik-Sang Dies

Farewell to a Digital Bazaar: Lik-Sang Dies
By Karl Castaneda

I'll never forget my first import game. Dragon Ball GT: Final Bout - my brother bought it for my 11th birthday. I was totally obsessed with anything Goku at the time, and having seen an ad for the game in GameFan, my brother ordered it on the spot. Unfortunately, he was unaware of the region-lock on the PS1, so after some confusion, he turned to a small Hong-Kong-based website for a mod chip. A few weeks and some engineering ingenuity later, I was firing off kamehamehas like no tomorrow.

Sometime later, I found out that this small website was called Lik-Sang.

Founded in 1998, LS didn't exactly start out legitimately - their most popular products were mod chips (ask any console rep - they hate them with a passion) and flash carts that allowed ROMs to be played on retail Game Boy units. However, after a series of lawsuits in 2002, Lik-Sang was re-branded with a new owner, and since then, it's become the largest vendor of import games in the world.

When I joined Planet GameCube in 2005, I was fairly familiar with the company, but since the two websites were affiliates when it came to import reviews, I became much more familiar with them. Although I normally eschew Japanese-language games (due to their accursed kanji - the character system of death), I've reviewed a couple of imports in my time, and each time we requested a game from them, they were always receptive to our queries and concerns. Nice folk, really.

You could say that Lik-Sang's even had an impact on localization. Were it not for the fevered demand for games like Ossu! Tatake! Ouendan and Naruto Gekitou Ninja Taisen, we may not have seen those games localized as Elite Beat Agents and the Clash of Ninja series, respectively. These titles were some of the most heavily-ordered titles of all time, and knowing that LS contributed to that, it's undeniable that they've left some sort of mark on the gaming world.

2005 would mark the beginning of the end for Lik-Sang, however. After continuing to sell PSPs to the European market after Sony issued a Cease and Desist (LS maintained that Hong Kong law provided them with a loophole - any product may be sold anywhere in the world once it's released in any territory), bad blood soiled the import vendor's future. Sony has since brought forth multiple lawsuits to their door, and this morning, the dam broke.

Due to legal troubles, Lik-Sang has closed its doors, and will no longer provide import services anywhere in the world, let alone the European territories that sealed their fate. Any money that had been deposited into Lik-Sang before their shut-down will be refunded, but the damage has been done: the hardcore community has lost one of its favorite shops.

It's a shame really, because I'll always treasure those memories I had with Final Bout made possible by Lik-Sang, and it hurts to know that gamers might not have that opportunity in the future. Sure, Play-Asia's still around, but with LS becoming precedent, is any import retailer safe? Time will tell in that regard, so we can only cross our fingers for the best.

As for Sony, it's hard to see things from their perspective. As a giant corporation that hardly lost any money from these transactions (and likely made money, as all PSP units were bought by Lik-Sang from Sony), they've struck a hard blow to the community, and with bad press spewing from their HQ every day, things are only going to get worse for their street credibility.

And let's not forget that many high-ranking Sony Europe executives were themselves Lik-Sang customers. These include Ray Maguire (Managing Director, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe Ltd), Alan Duncan (UK Marketing Director, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe Ltd), Chris Sorrell (Creative Director, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe Ltd), Rob Parkin (Development Director, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe Limited), who received PSPs shortly after its Japanese launch, along with complimentary LS merchandise.

I'm going to leave the disgust for someone else - I'd rather not get that riled up. For Lik-Sang, I can only offer my deepest sympathies, and a thanks for the memories.

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Below, you can read for yourself today's press release concerning the shut-down.

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Lik-Sang.com out of business due to multiple Sony lawsuits

Hong Kong, October 24th of 2006 - Lik-Sang.com, the popular gaming retailer from Hong Kong, has today announced that it is forced to close down due to multiple legal actions brought against it by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe Limited and Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. Sony claimed that Lik-Sang infringed its trade marks, copyright and registered design rights by selling Sony PSP consoles from Asia to European customers, and have recently obtained a judgment in the High Court of London (England) rendering Lik-Sang's sales of PSP consoles unlawful.
As of today, Lik-Sang.com will not be in the position to accept any new orders and will cancel and refund all existing orders that have already been placed. Furthermore, Lik-Sang is working closely with banks and PayPal to refund any store credits held by the company, and the customer support department is taking care of any open transactions such as pending RMAs or repairs and shipping related matters. The staff of Lik-Sang will make sure that nobody will get hurt in the crossfire of this ordeal.

A Sony spokesperson declined to comment directly on the lawsuit against Lik-Sang, but recently went on to tell Gamesindustry.biz that "ultimately, we're trying to protect consumers from being sold hardware that does not conform to strict EU or UK consumer safety standards, due to voltage supply differences et cetera; is not - in PS3's case - backwards compatible with either PS1 or PS2 software; will not play European Blu-Ray movies or DVDs; and will not be covered by warranty".

Lik Sang strongly disagrees with Sony's opinion that their customers need this kind of protection and pointed out that PSP consoles shipped from Lik-Sang contained genuine Sony 100V-240V AC Adapters that carry CE and other safety marks and are compatible world wide. All PSP consoles were in conformity with all EU and UK consumer safety regulations.
Furthermore, Sony have failed to disclose to the London High Court that not only the world wide gaming community in more than 100 countries relied on Lik-Sang for their gaming needs, but also Sony Europe's very own top directors repeatedly got their Sony PSP hard or software imports in nicely packed Lik-Sang parcels with free Lik-Sang Mugs or Lik-Sang Badge Holders, starting just two days after Japan's official release, as early as 14th of December 2004 (more than nine months earlier than the legal action). The list of PSP related Sony Europe orders reads like the who's who of the videogames industry, and includes Ray Maguire (Managing Director, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe Ltd), Alan Duncan (UK Marketing Director, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe Ltd), Chris Sorrell (Creative Director, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe Ltd), Rob Parkin (Development Director, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe Limited), just to name a few.
"Today is Sony Europe victory about PSP, tomorrow is Sony Europe's ongoing pressure about PlayStation 3. With this precedent set, next week could already be the stage for complaints from Sony America about the same thing, or from other console manufacturers about other consoles to other regions, or even from any publisher about any specific software title to any country they don't see fit. It's the beginning of the end... of the World as we know it", stated Pascal Clarysse, formerly known as the Marketing Manager of Lik-Sang.com.

"Blame it on Sony. That's the latest dark spot in their shameful track record as gaming industry leader. The Empire finally 'won', few dominating retailers from the UK probably will rejoice the news, but everybody else in the gaming world lost something today."

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