Japanese gamers lined up early this morning to place pre-orders for the Nintendo 3DS. I didn't. I didn't leave the house until after many stores were already selling out. Yet, I had no problems getting my pre-order. So what's my trick?
Photos from this morning showed long lines in Tokyo's Akihabara and Shinjuku. According to this tweet, at around 7.30am this morning, there were already 260 people in line for the 3DS. In freezing weather.
Within moments of going live, online retailers like Amazon Japan were flooded with pre-orders, resulting in sell-outs. The surge of traffic hitting Amazon Japan was apparently so tremendous that it caused the site to whig out. All early indications are that the 3DS is going to be a smash in Japan.
Nintendo's move to pre-orders in Japan is a fairly recent one. When previous handheld or home consoles were released, some stores did pre-orders, but many simply could not because they didn't have an exact number regarding how many consoles they were getting. The result was long lines, which were great for launch day photos. It's an easy, tangible way for game companies to know if their game or console is a hit. But, there's nothing worse than spending the night lined up in a electronics superstore's parking garage to get game hardware, which is what I had to do when the Wii launched.
Yet, this morning, I woke up, vacuumed the house, had a cup of coffee and then placed my pre-order at after 10am. I was greeted by three housewives and a guy who could not for the life of him decide if he really, really wanted the Pro Evo 3DS game or not (he ultimately passed).
There are always long lines in the middle of Tokyo or Osaka — well, not always, ask Microsoft about that. The large electronics shops, game and toy stores in big Japanese cities tend to get an extremely large amount of stock. The reason for that is, of course, these stores are the size of huge department stores or even shopping malls, so they're the ones that are bound to get the long lines. On the other hand, small neighbourhood shops logically get a small supply. So even if the line is only a handful of people, that could be all the hardware the store has to offer. Likewise, even if hundreds line up in Akihabara or Shinjuku, the store should be able to meet the demand.
What I always look for is a large shop in a residential area, preferably one that doesn't get foot traffic. This morning, instead of hunkering into the middle of an urban megalopolis with bajillions of people, I went to a store near my house when it opened at 10am. I showed up a little after ten o'clock, talked to the staff there, looked at the games, talked some more and then paid for my pre-order no problem. My receipt read 10.20am.
I wasn't being lax or putting anything to chance in the least. Weeks before pre-orders were made public, I checked with the store, scoping the situation out. Late last week, I double-checked and learned that this particular store has never sold through their pre-order stock in a single day - meaning they probably still have 3DS pre-orders while most major urban and online retailers don't! And as of this evening in Japan, the shop still has stock. When I asked the staff late last week, they said show up on the day pre-orders kick off and that they were getting a couple hundred machines, so no need to line-up over night. Come when we open, they said. That's exactly what I did.
Sometimes, it's a necessary evil to line-up for hours on end in horrid weather to get the latest hot hardware, like when there are no pre-orders. But, if you're smart, avoid it.