Apple today confirmed that UK .Mac subscribers can receive a copy of EverQuest for Mac when they renew their subscription – a bonus, as the game is not generally available here.

Apple launched .Mac as a subscription service in July 2002. Now, members choosing to renew their subscription can take their choice of renewal gift. Up for grabs are: Everquest, the Sims (along with a $15 rebate on Sims Expansion Packs) or a €20 (about £13) discount voucher against an Apple Store purchase.

Customers trying to exploit the offer have experienced problems. Apple sources say: "Customers should wait to get an email from .Mac before trying to claim their offers." It appears Apple is trying to clarify the way the renewal offer works.

To qualify for renewal gifts, subscribers must renew their membership before November 15, 2003 - and before their existing account expires. The offer is not available to subscribers whose accounts expire after that date. The chosen renewal gift will be dispatched within four weeks of the anniversary date or offer claim, whichever is later.

However, the cost of Apple's service is inconsistent across territories. Renewal online costs £68.99 for UK customers – £57.02 for the service with an additional £11.97 for VAT – or 21 per cent, against UK VAT of 17.5 per cent.

Apple sources have confirmed the 21 per cent VAT charge is to bring the company into line with EU rules. Company critics question why the company has chosen to levy the highest existing VAT charge available in Europe, particularly against UK customers who pay in Pounds Sterling, rather than Euros.

Tax In an attempt to clarify the situation, Apple has published a page detailing .Mac renewal prices internationally. Only the EU, UK and Australian prices include sales tax. The figures reveal that, without the sales tax, Europeans and UK .Mac users are actually being offered a better deal than those in the US.

US customers are charged $99.95 (sales tax not included) – £62.49 for .Mac.
Canadian .Mac users must pay $159 – £71.86.
European users €99 – £69.91 (£57.78, without VAT).
UK users £68.99 (£57.01, without VAT).

Japanese customers must pay the equivalent of £67.30; Australian .Mac users must pay £77.29; in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, .Mac users are charged £74.02; in Hong Kong access to Apple's services will cost £63.13 while in Singapore it costs £64.42.

The best renewal deal is available to African and certain non-EU countries which must pay €81.82, or £57.78. These countries include Switzerland, Bahrain and Vatican City – but do not qualify for the renewal gifts.

Apple's .Mac subscription is also available through the Apple Store (£69). The boxed retail product is no longer available through Apple's reseller network.

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