In Real Life

How Dick Smith's PlayStation 4 Midnight Launch Is Exploiting Consumers

It’s not illegal. It’s not technically unethical. But there’s something off about Dick Smith’s Official PlayStation 4 launch.

It’s no secret that the PlayStation 4 is in high demand. Stocks are low. Retailers across the country are crying poor. If you didn’t pre-order a console before November of this year your chances of walking into a store in Australia and walking out with a brand new PlayStation are somewhere between zero and absolute zero.

It’s one of those rare moments in the games industry where pre-orders actually make sense — to consumers this time, as opposed to retailers and publishers as a means to judge demand. This time there is a genuine shortage and it should be first come, first served. Pre-ordering, in this specific case, is the only thing that’s fair.

It’s a volatile situation. It’s Jingle Jingle All The Way in real life. Arnold Schwarzenegger is racing down the aisle in a slapstick comedy of errors. Only it isn’t a ‘Turbo Man’ doll he’s ripping from the cold dead hands of strangers, it’s a PlayStation 4.

And now, a twist in the tale. Dick Smith announces, out of the blue that it has 300 — count them — 300 brand new PS4s up for grabs. They just found them lying around on the back of a lorry somewhere and now, out of the goodness of their hearts, they’re putting them up for sale, during the official midnight launch at Dick Smith’s flagship store in Sydney CBD this Thursday night. No pre-order necessary.

But there’s a catch. In fact there are several catches.

Catch number one. In order to be eligible to buy one of the 297 PS4s you must enter a competition. Just to be clear, you are not entering this competition to ‘win’ a PS4, you are entering the competition for the right to ‘buy’ a PS4. The competition involves stating, in 50 words or less, what game you are most looking forward to playing on PS4 and why.

Catch number two. In order to find out how to enter the competition you have to ‘like’ Dick Smith on Facebook. You don’t ‘like’ Dick Smith to enter. You ‘like’ Dick Smith to find out how to enter.

Okay let’s just recap before we go any further: you are liking a Facebook page in order to find out how to enter a competition for a chance to win the opportunity to buy a PS4.

It almost beggars belief.

But incredibly, there is one final catch.

Winners of the competition for the chance to buy a PlayStation 4 from Dick Smith will not be told in advance whether or not they have ‘won’. The winners will be announced on the night at the midnight launch in the city. Meaning that thousands of people will likely make the trip into the city, on a Thursday night, wait until the winners are announced and go home, empty handed without a PS4.

So again, another recap.

Dick Smith is asking you to like their Facebook page to find out how to enter a competition for the chance to buy a PlayStation 4. They are then asking you to travel into the city alongside possibly thousands of other consumers desperate for a PlayStation 4 and wait to be told whether or not you have the right to walk up to the counter and pay money for a console.

Is this real life? I cannot fathom how everyone involved in this event — Sony, Dick Smith — is justifying this event.

It’s exploitation of consumer demand, plain and simple. An opportunistic attempt to gather a large, rowdy group of people at one specific focal point in Sydney for a glorious photo opportunity: ‘look how many people queued up to buy this in-demand consumer device. Look how many of them came to Dick Smith in order to do so!’

On the face of it, it’s a pretty horrible trick to pull on the people who want to spend money in your store.

I get it: the PlayStation 4 is sold out. You probably won’t be able to buy one of these consoles, without a pre-order, before Christmas. This is a last chance gasp for folks to buy one and Dick Smith are taking full advantage of that fact. But this is a step too far. It’s a nefarious marketing inception gone two levels too deep. It’s downright nasty.

There are people who have pre-orders on PlayStation 4 consoles. They pre-ordered late so their console cannot be guaranteed by whichever retailer they chose to buy from. They are currently waiting by the phone waiting to see whether or not they will get their PlayStation 4 before Christmas. Meanwhile, 297 consoles that could have had their names on them are being used as part of a convoluted, exploitative publicity stunt designed to grab some quick and grubby headlines.

It’s not right and it sure as hell isn’t fair.

[Update: Dick Smith has responded to criticisms of its PS4 launch competition. Head here for more.]