By now, you are probably aware of the controversy over street dates for games. Certain GameStops were ordered by their corporate office to break the November 10th street date for Modern Warfare 2, sighting retailers in the area who had already broken the sale date on what is expected to be the biggest game this year. Then last week, a few stores in Jersey City broke street date on Assassin’s Creed 2 and Left 4 Dead 2, citing a “rogue independent” in the area that had sold them early first.
In light of these stories, many are starting to question whether or not street dates for games really matter. Many gamers find themselves wondering why a company cannot just sell the game if it happens to have the game on hand. Others are just happy to get the game early if they can, regardless of whether it should have been available.
So we at Everyday gamers thought this would be a good time to look at this issue and see if street dates are really that important.
Street Date vs. Ship Date
There tends to be some confusion on when games can be sold at retail. Part of the reason for this confusion is there are two different types of dates associated with games: “Ship Date” and “Street Date.”
“Ship Date” is the date at which a game ships. Games that have ship dates can be sold the day they are received. Out here on the west coast, that can be a little annoying, since games often arrive at retailers a day later here than they do back east. We tend to see some of our friends playing games before they have arrived at stores here.
“Street Date” is another issue entirely. A street date is a hard and fast date before which retailers are not supposed to sell the game. Street dates are usually reserved for the big titles. The idea behind a street date is it levels the playing field on the heavy hitters. It does not matter is a certain retail chain can get the game out to its stores faster than another, neither is allowed to sell the game until the date, allowing all retailers a chance to get the game on their shelves. This is also why you see retailers having midnight release parties on big games; the minute the clock hit 12:01 AM on the day of the street date, the store can sell the product.
So what happens if a retailer breaks street date? That is entirely up to the distributor. Some distributors will actually blackball retailers who break street dates. Others will just not give the retailer as large a shipment of next big title. Sometimes fines can be levied against the retailer, and some retail chains will actually fire employees who break street date.
So what can a store do if a competitor violates street date? Most retail chains have a street date hotline they can call if a competing store breaks the date. Usually they have to purchase the game at the competitor’s store to prove it, and after the call is made, the decision on whether the reporting store can likewise break street date is made, Most of the time, the answer is no.
The Controversy Begins
So just what are the facts of the two street date violations? My thanks to Kotaku for the following information:
Modern Warfare 2 : GameStop stores in Northeastern states such as New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio started selling copies of the game the weekend before the release. The claim was some mom and pop stores were selling the game ahead of time, so GameStop corporate gave the go ahead to break the street date. Some stores were claiming a special dispensation from Activision to sell the game early, but Activision has denied that claim. Activision has also shown some dismay over GameStop’s decision, though Capcom had the most to say about it, stating they had never heard of a decision from a retailer’s corporate headquarters to knowingly violate street date. GameStop had this to say:
“This past weekend, GameStop made the decision to break street date and sell reserved copies of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 in select markets where other retailers had broken street date. Our decision followed many conversations with Activision and was an effort to protect our customer base.”
Two problems with the statement: as stated earlier, Activision did not tell GameStop it could sell the game early, and several stores were not just selling preorders.
Assassin’s Creed 2 and Left 4 Dead 2: Three stores in Jersey City broke street date on these titles, once again claiming a local store had done so and “higher ups” at GameStop gave the go ahead for the early sale. There has been no response as of this article from GameStop, Ubisoft or Valve/EA about this incident.
So Now the Questions Remain
Street dates are broken on a regular basis. These two stories are gaining national attention, however, because in them the largest video game retailer in the US chose on a corporate level to break the street dates. The questions remain: is this really that big of a deal? Do Street Dates really matter anymore, or are they just an outmoded business model that needs to be changed?
Eric Bouchard: The Disturbing Trend
Having been involved in retail for years, I have worked in more than a few places where Street Dates were important. Borders, the Christian bookstore I used to manage and EB Games/GameStop had to pay attention to the dates on many of the items sold. At each store, street dates were taken very seriously; knowingly breaking them could get you in serious trouble.
Now you have the single largest video game retailer in the US choosing to ignore the street dates. Sure, GameStop is claiming there were independent stores violating street date that forced their hand, but let’s take a closer look at these stories and see what we can find.
- No stores have been named: Street dates are broken on many different occasions, but on most the stores who break the date are named and usually chastised by the corporation. Remember a while back when Target and Walmart were breaking street dates all the time? It was not a corporate decision; it was individual stores, and once word got out, it was stopped. So why have stores not been named in either of these stories?
- GameStop claims it was protecting its client base from sales from Mom and Pop stores. I highly doubt this. First, the people who frequent these Mom and Pop stores are not going to be shopping much at GameStop. I have stopped dealing with them almost entirely since my friend opened Play N Trade. Second, these smaller stores are more likely to get in trouble if they break street dates. They do not have the clout of GameStop to force retailers to still work with them. Third, even if some small independent store was selling the 10 copies of the game it got in early, are you really going to expect me to believe that poses a serious threat to the juggernaut that is GameStop? I don’t think so.
I have a real hard time believing the story GameStop is sticking to in regards to Modern Warfare 2. To knowingly break street date in the sheer number of stores they did over some Mom and Pop stores just does not make any sense. I spoke with my friend, the manager of the local Play N trade, about what would happen if he chose to break street date. He said he would get fined, receive no more product prior to street date and likely have action taken against his store as a franchisee for damaging the name of Play N trade. Why would an independent store risk that?
The other story is a little more believable, though the stores breaking street date before GameStop may have been reacting to the chain’s decision to break it on Modern Warfare 2.
The problem here is competition. Street Dates help level the playing field for the big games. They give independent stores the chance to make sure they actually have copies on hand ready to sell the day it comes out. What worries me is GameStop has already tried to hinder the competition through exclusive demos and preorder bonuses. Now they are breaking street dates, and unfortunately, the likelihood that Activision will do anything to actually punish the retailer is slim at best, even though the manager of Play N trade said Activision claimed everyone would be treated the same in regards to street date violations. Though I do not generally subscribe to conspiracy theories, a part of me wonders if GameStop isn’t just trying to test the waters to see if they can get away with this in the future.
I personally will not buy anything before street date, even if I find a store that has broken it. To me, it violates everything I believe, and I will not support a retailer who will knowingly break the rules for their own personal gain. I am really hoping these decisions by GameStop do not indicate a fundamental change in position by the retailer in regards to street dates. If GameStop is allowed to keep doing this without some form of punishment, it could mean then end of many independent video game retailers.
Laren Hawkins: It Just Ain’t Right
While I have not yet had experience in retail, I do have experience as a gamer and consumer. First off, breaking street date is breaking policy. A company sets a street date for a reason. As Eric mentioned earlier in the article, street dates are set so retailers have a chance to get the game at the same time. So, no one gets the EDG ( Ok, bad joke). Personally, I have many issues with GameStop, but why in the world would they think its ok to break a date that is set by the developer of the game? That’s what I have a problem with. Let’s do some math real quick, shall we? If GameStop breaks street date, then gamers get their game early. Therefore, more gamers are more likeyy to buy from GameStop, which equals more revenue.
To me, its a question of corporate ethics. At the end of the day, you are breaking a trust a developer has with you. That developer trusts your company to comply with its requirements. So, if you are breaking street date, then what are you saying about your company?
It is not a good idea to break street date. You are taking away the experience from other gamers, consumers and retailers.