Pre-Orders are Killing the Impulse Buy
Let me tell you a little story that began long long ago; probably a good three hours even at the time of this writing. It all started with a simple concept: I felt like reviewing a new game this week. It seemed like an easy task to just get a bit of entertainment and knock out some of my quota in one fell swoop. In my mind, I saw two choices of new games to review: Beautiful Katamari and Tony Hawk: Proving Grounds. Not the prime choices I would’ve preferred, but it’s what I had to work with. Since my decision rested between two games that were pretty much identical to their years-old predecessors, I chose to go with the cheapest one. And so I set out with a grocery list that had the words “Milk, Bread, Katamari” scribbled on it. Little did I suspect what a chore just finding that last item would turn out to be.
Since it was closest and across the street from a Jamba Juice, I stopped off at Gamestop first. After perusing the aisles a bit and not finding the one thing I was looking for, I went to the front counter to ask about Beautiful Katamari. The guy behind the counter gave me a look usually reserved for a clown holding a bloody butcher knife, and then told me that they had sold out of the game the day before. He then went on to explain that only two people had pre-ordered the game and so they only received four copies from their supplier. Ironically enough, he stood right in front of a wall of about three dozen copies of Tony Hawk as he was telling me this.
I thanked him anyways, briefly considered buying Tony Hawk, dismissed the idea, and left the store. My eyes immediately fell on a Game Crazy sign off in the distance and I figured, what the hell. So I proceeded to that store, asked the same question, and received the exact same clown-with-bloody-butcher knife look, only from three people simultaneously. Even though the game has been out for two days by now, they told me they hadn’t yet received their shipment for the game. No one had pre-ordered it at this particular location. Once again, I was told this from someone standing in front of about three dozen unsold copies of Tony Hawk.
At this point, I resigned myself to defeat for the time being and looked for a place to eat. About fifteen minutes later I walked out of a shop with a sandwhich in one hand and realized I was standing right next to a Play N Trade. Heaving a long sigh — the kind where you know you’re about to do something pointless just for pointless’s sake — I walked over to the store and went inside. The exchange once I walked in went something like this:
“Hello, how are you doing today?”
“Pretty good. Hey, do you guys have Beautiful Katamari in?”
“I’m sorry, do we have ‘what’ in?”
This did not bode well. As you can imagine, they didn’t have the game; in fact, they hadn’t even ordered it. At this point, my little errand transformed into a straightforward goal. To put it in much nerdier terms, my side quest became the story mission. I mean, here I am, an 18-25 year old male being denied my God-given right to waste some disposable income however I see fit. Madness, I say.
So where did I eventually find and purchase my quarry? At a Fred Meyer of all places (for those not living in the Pacific Northwest, Fred Meyer is essentially like Wal-Mart, only fancier, slightly more expensive, and less reviled). Really I was only there for the milk and bread and just wandered into the electronics section out of habit. So of course after all this time, when three of the game stores closest to me had collectively only four copies, Fred Meyer had five copies just tucked out of the way where no one who wasn’t looking would find them. They also had the requisite three dozen unsold copies of Tony Hawk.
My point with all this — to add a little bit of relevance to my roundabout, rambling tale — is that the whole pre-order system seems to be hurting the good old fashioned impulse buy. Pre-orders are great for those who pay close attention to gaming news and make their purchasing decisions well in advance of a game’s release. But for people in my situation, who find themselves on the fence until release time rolls around sometimes, it can mean they miss out. A new game is released and a games store in the middle of a bustling business area receives only four copies? What made that situation even stranger was that I’d been in that exact same shop last week, and there wasn’t even a display box out saying you could pre-order it. Or what about the second store I visited? So having no pre-orders is an excuse to ignore a release date entirely? Call me crazy, but it seems like more copies of a game will get sold when people can actually see them on the shelf and say, “Hey, what’s that game?” I can understand some stores might not expect huge sales when there are low pre-orders, but I think it’s fairly safe to assume that at least ten copies of a brand new game will get sold sooner or later; if nothing else than at least to the handful of game reviewers in the area.
In other words, from now on all my game shopping will be done at Fred Meyer along with my grocery shopping. Or maybe I’ll just run down to GameStop and pre-order six or seven games. Check back later on when I’ll most likely have a review of Beautiful Katamari posted, which is sure to contain the words “just like in the first game” more than a few times.