Release dates are important. They’re important to the publisher, developer, marketing, PR and – of course – the public. With a game like Modern Warfare 3, which will have millions invested in just making sure people know when it’s coming out, let alone its development, a level playing field is absolutely crucial.
Of course, not everyone plays by the rules, and whilst most major high street retailers are sticking to the date set in stone during the summer, tomorrow’s launch has already been spoiled by early copies being sold to hungry punters with cash to spare. In fact, it’s possible to find tweets suggesting that here in the UK people were already playing it on Saturday.
And, locally at least, it’s further possible to tie those sales down to small number of specific outlets.
The 'Hardened Edtion' - about as comprehensive a special edition as you could ever want. Special editions and pre-order bonuses are normally the domain of the major retailer, though.
The hugely amicable Jon Brady, of Sarcastic Gamer, set out at lunchtime today to see if the various stores (including both indie and major high street nationals) would speak on the record about how and why the public was able to get a copy of the game before its general release.
We’ll not name the specifics stores, suffice to say that one was seemingly happy enough to sell Jon a copy of the game until he mentioned that he was doing an article on the subject. “I asked if they would sell me one,” he told me, “and they immediately asked which format I’d prefer it for.”
“I spent a few minutes watching people line up – a good ten or so people down the length of the store at any one time – to buy the game. ”
Things changed when he said he was doing a report, though. “I was asked who I was representing, and I explained I was writing a story about the Modern Warfare 3 release and broken street dates. One member of staff simply said there was nothing to say to me, but another was at first open to questions, before saying I’d need to ‘speak to the boss’.”
“Another member of staff hung around at the side of the till, saying there was nothing to comment on before the manager appeared from the back of the store to also tell me there was nothing to say,” continued Jon. “The first member of staff then told me ‘we’ve been here for 19 years, we’re independent and it’s what we do. We have nothing to say on this.’”
Independent, for the record, doesn’t mean you can break legally binding release dates, although it seems it’s not worth reporting those that do anymore.
The consensus that it’s ‘just one store’ (a response from distributors on the subject, according to Jon’s article) doesn’t really hold much weight – the theory is that once one shop has broken the release date, others can follow, and back when I had plenty of disposable income I’d frequent such indies and take advantage of their early selling. In fact, it’s why I used to shop online with ShopTo years back as they made their name in the formative period by sometimes shipping games a couple of days early.
In the case of Modern Warfare 3, though, there’s a presumed reluctance to mess with the likes of Activision, who are currently hosting a lavish launch bash down in That London, with our Tuffcub in joyful attendance. They’re as big a publisher as you can get these days, and we’d imagine relationships with them are worth keeping.
But here’s the rub: what choice do the indies really have? They’re repeatedly shunned with regards to pre-order editions (if they’re not HMV or GAME chances are they won’t be getting any special treatment) and they simply don’t have the buying power to sell cheap or even offer the crazy trade-in prices that the supermarkets and retailers do for titles like this.
And if you can charge a little more to get a few early sales without really upsetting anyone too much, is there really such a problem?
Of course, with the game having leaked onto the web last week and many of our readers already sampling Infinity Ward’s latest via retail copies, apparently we’re at the back of queue for actually speaking about this year’s big winter blockbuster (although I think Peter’s currently queueing for a midnight launch) but by all accounts it’s turned out to be a cracker, wherever you buy it from.
Just do us a favour: don’t stay up too late.