How to solve the console launch problem

It’s another media maelstrom this week as two new consoles show up on store shelves: the PlayStation 3 and the Nintendo Wii. I’m not getting either one at launch, which is new for me. I was one of those crazy people who got in line overnight for the PS2, the GameCube, the PSP, and the Xbox 360. I thought it was a fun social thing to do; I saw it as one of the few meatspace experiences a gamer could get. So much of gaming is about virtual worlds and online communities that I kind of wanted to be part of something physical, to meet and greet and hang out with other people who were this passionate, but in person.

The problem is that my Xbox 360 launch campout experience tainted me. It really was a sign of everything that’s wrong with the way game hardware is sold. And I’m not blaming Microsoft, Sony, or Nintendo for this–they all want to make money, they’re all businesses, they all benefit from a big hoopla being made about their products on launch day. My problem is with the retailers. Because retailers are stupid. It’s that simple. They are not learning from the past, they are not paying attention to customer behavior, and they are not gamers. You would think that, out of all the employees working the counter at your average megamart, they would know something about how their customers act, what drives them, and how obsessive they are.

When I lined up for my PS2, I kept a diary. It was full of paranoia, fear, chaos, and rain. It was also six years ago. But what showed up when the PS3 launched? Same shit different day. You can just search YouTube to find evidence some of the huge lines. But you have to dig through the news reports to find people in line getting shot by BB guns – when they weren’t being shot with real bullets – plus an armed robbery, a thwarted smash-n-grab, and one jackass who is proud that he drugged his fellow linegoers so he could sell the PS3 on eBay. Yes, they were jerks, but they were jerks because they were paranoid and in an every-man-for-himself mentality. And since you’re turning around and selling it on eBay, you get no love from me.

But the big one that people have had fun with is the guy who slammed into a pole while sprinting to get one of 10 spots in line at Wal-Mart. Watch the video and listen to Wal-Mart’s corporate statement. This sums everything up.
Why are the retaliers so goddamned stupid? You idiots. You know it’s going to happen. You helped advertise to make it happen. Why are you never, ever prepared?

Why are retailers making people have footraces to buy products? Wristbands–use them. Create a system, franchise-wide, and use it. Post the rules in your store ahead of time; print up a flyer and hand it out whenever someone asks about the impending launch. Here’s a system off the top of my head: Choose a time when lines may form and give those people wristbands. Post a sign for everybody that comes late and let them know the system that you advertised ahead of time is already underway.

Why are so many lines left unattended, with consumers wondering what the truth is, how many are in stock, and what will really happen?? Hire two or three workers serious overtime to be official representatives and have them hang outside with everybody else. Give them the next day off. But hire them for a special shift so they can actually talk to your customers and tell them the truth.

Why do so many stories of waiting in line have the phrase “when the police/security arrived” two-thirds of the way down? Hire security. Tell them what’s going on. Let the local law enforcement know that you expect a line of people. Ask for their cooperation. Authority figures work in cases like this. They just have to show up!

The violence, the injuries, the bad press–it all comes from a lack of information. The scalping, that’s a question of rarity, and that is something the retailers cannot control. But they sure as hell can fix this problem, and to my mind, they’ve had six years’ warning. No excuses anymore

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