After the publication of our article on Gamestop breaking the release date for the Wizards of the Coast Star Wars Episode II CCG (see 'Gamestop Breaks Release Date on WotC Star Wars CCG'), we heard from a buyer for another specialty retail chain, who told us that while Gamestop was 'notorious' for breaking street dates, in this case his chain had also been shipped earlier than necessary to make the street date. That's unusual for a WotC product, he said, complaining that his chain was routinely was beaten by hobby stores by a week or more on new Magic and Pokemon releases (for an analysis of WotC's shipping and street date systems, see 'Wizards of the Coast Readies New Street Date Policy').
According to our source, his chain received product about eight days earlier than was necessary to work through the internal distribution system and reach stores by the street date. He also said that there had been no written notice or signed agreement to hold the Episode II CCG until the official Lucasfilm-mandated release date of April 23, although he believed that store managers were observing a standard April 23 date for all Episode II merchandise.
The Star Wars situation, where the specialty retail chain has product well before the street date, was not only exceptional for Wizards of the Coast, but for games in general; our source felt that he typically puts out games from most manufacturers later than the hobby channel. He cited WizKids' Mage Knight as a non-WotC example on which he felt hobby stores had a time advantage, and Yu Gi Oh as a product that he thought had gone on sale at his chain at around the same time as it was available at hobby stores, an exception. He urged parity on release time between all channels, an outcome most retailers would welcome simply for the certainty it would provide.