We recently published an article on Gamestop breaking the release date on the Star Wars: Episode II CCG (see 'Gamestop Breaks Release Date on Star Wars CCG'), and a comment from another specialty retail chain buyer on CCG release dates (see 'Chain Buyer: Star Wars Earlier than Most'). Those prompted this response from a writer who wished to remain 'anonymous' at an unnamed distributor. The quotes the writer inserted into his comments, below, are from the 'Chain Buyer...' article above.
Our article said:
'That's unusual for a WotC product, he said, complaining that his chain was routinely beaten by hobby stores by a week or more on new Magic and Pokemon releases. 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.'
'Anonymous' from a distributor responded:
The fact that this source had seen no written notification of the release dates is an important point; chain discounters and the mass market retailers don't play 'nice.' In point of fact, it's one reason why they have grown as large as they have - being aggressive is often far more profitable. [On the occasion of Gamestop breaking the Star Wars CCG release date,] someone at the home office, whether deliberately or by accident, neglected to inform the individual stores of the Lucas-mandated release date. It's also entirely plausible that during this period of transition at Wizards of the Coast (one of many in recent days), the proper notification of said date was not given, which certainly would remove the burden of guilt from Gamestop's shoulders - in this case, at least.
Will chains like Gamestop get away with this behavior unpunished? Well, they have in the past, and there's no sign of it stopping now. Frankly, the hobby industry is tired of the mass market having all the advantages, and tends to applaud those manufacturers like WizKids who make a concerted effort to level the playing field. The fact that the chain stores routinely have mass-market product earlier than the hobby market tends to more than even things out in the long run.
When hobby distributors are threatened with losing access to all of WotC product if release dates are broken, I'm afraid there is little sympathy for the mass-market retailers, who are perceived by the hobby trade as having upper management that acts as if the laws don't apply to them. The way things currently stand, they're right; big chain stores, with the correspondingly massive buying power they wield, can do as they please, and no-one in a position to do so has deep enough pockets to call them on it. Let's be honest here, too; it would require very deep pockets indeed to do such a thing. The mass market and chain retailers do make up a substantial portion of sales for many of the larger hobby manufacturers.
If your source was looking for a shoulder to cry on, he's clearly come to the wrong place. Perhaps the analogy is somewhat harsh, but it's akin to going into a group of mice and complaining about how the owls just don't get a fair shake! Many retailers have expressed outrage, but none have expressed surprise that breaking the street date for the Star Wars CCG happened; that in itself speaks volumes.
Our article said:
'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.'
'Anonymous' distributor continued his response:Chain retailers and mass marketers frequently complain about the extra level of bureaucracy they need to overcome; this internal logistics difficulty apparently justifies them being shipped product well in advance of everyone else. Interestingly enough, they routinely have little problem getting said product on sale in many of their stores before the release dates as in the recent example of Game Stop. This had been an ongoing problem with the book trade as well, who in the recent past frequently had brand spanking new WotC product in large bookstore chains before the same product has even left the warehouses of distributors serving the hobby market. Again, little sympathy here from the Hobby Trade for complaints of being 'behind the curve' in product releases. Still the concept of parity in release dates is well worth striving for; the fact that the dates are announced in advance, and that the Hobby Trade strives mightily to maintain them, will hopefully be seen as the Hobby Trade's olive branch, their step in that direction.