Why Street Date Breaks Are Bad For The Games Industry As A Whole

Street Date Breaks allow us to buy the games we want early -- by default this should be a good thing, right? But what about the far reaching implications for the local games industry as a whole? And what will be the consequences of retailers consistently breaking street dates? Kotaku regular 'Choc' works on the publishing side of the games industry and, in this guest blog, discusses the far reaching implications of Street Breaks for both consumers and the local sector.

For those of you reading this who don’t know, yesterday Battlefield 3 broke street date in Australia. Ok quick go out and buy it then come back. Done? Good.

Now you’ve managed to obtain this game a little under 24 hours before you are supposed to be able to and, whilst you might think this is fantastic, if this street date break addiction we have in Australia continues it could be harmful to not only the industry but gamers as a whole and I will explain why below.

First of all street dates exist to level the playing field in the retail market. Giants such as EB Games, JB Hifi and GAME have distribution centres that get games to their stores faster than anywhere else. If we had no street dates you would see these three most likely having games on shelves three or four days before anyone else leaving the smaller retailers who have to go through middle distributors a bit out of pocket and at a completely unfair disadvantage because they can’t afford to have a major warehouse with huge logistic operations.

The second reason street dates exist is for marketing purposes -- there is no doubt of this. But how happy are gamers now that they can simply read a date in a magazine, or see it on television, walk into a shop and buy it without generally worrying if it will be in stock or not. Marketing teams spend months preparing for a game launch, buying television time, magazine ads and radio ads and these must be all pre-planned months in advance and at great expense. That is a huge burden to the industry if retailers keep ignoring street dates and releasing early.

So why do street date breaks mean bad things for gamers in the long run? If they continue the publishers will become less trusting of the retail sector and start to ship games in a different manner. Generally street dated games are in the hands of shops on the monday of the week of release ready to go later in the week. What street breaks may lead to is publishers shipping the game on a Wednesday to the retailers for a Thursday launch and you walk in 9am on launch day and you can’t buy the game as it has not arrived yet. Very annoying indeed and this generally costs that store a sale. I used to think street date breaks were awesome, I got to see the game early. Then I started to work on the other side of the fence in the industry and in the media, and saw the effect that street date breaks have on the industry. It’s not good.

And why is this only happening in the games industry? DVDs and Blu Rays regularly have street dates on their products and they are generally kept by stores and the stores respect them. Do the stores have a lack of respect for the gaming industry, thinking the industry needs them more than they need the industry? In this age of digital downloads retailers should be doing everything they can to keep the publishers happy. It is after all the publishers who are copping the heat from gamers because digital download prices match retail prices, but it's the retailers who are forcing this.

According to unverified sources the two stores which sold early were informed by EA and the distributor All Interactive Distribution to stop selling the game. When only two have broken nationwide its very easy to reverse the trend but JB HiFi allegedly flat out refused and not only sent out word to the Chatswood store to maintain selling, but sent a memo to their stores nationwide to start selling. Inevitably GAME and EB followed suit.

This breaks a number of rules around the retail agreements between JB and game publishers but I cannot go into details. Generally the way the retailers work is that if a break occurs and it's within the same suburb they will sell. EB has followed this rule for many years and in many ways publishers accept this because EB is losing sales because of a breaking store. What is not acceptable is what JB HiFi allegedly did today and that is break nationally based on one store in a shopping centre in NSW breaking. For the future of street date integrity JB HiFi needs to be dealt with harshly by the publisher if this turns out to be true. Or else what's to stop EB or GAME breaking as soon as they get a game saying, 'well it's going to happen anyway'.

And why is this such an Australian only thing? It is rare that the UK features a street date break and even rarer in New Zealand. In Australia, however, it seems every AAA game breaks street date. The reason, generally, is that Australia is a wide, large country and distribution of titles takes a very long time. Much longer than NZ and UK, and publishers take the risk of sending games early to ensure everyone can play day 1. This is no doubt under threat. Just look at the past six months and how many games broken -- Batman: Arkham City, Battlefield 3, RAGE, Dead Island, Zelda 3DS just to name a few. How many of those have broken in NZ or the UK? Zero.

EB Games regularly schedules midnight parties for core gamers. It had prepared parties for Battlefield 3 and unfortunately, as a result of events out of its control, had those plans ruined. This will lead to game companies refusing to do midnight launches because think about it -- stores have only got eight hours notice to cancel, which you might think is ample, but if an EB is in a shopping centre they would have had to arrange security at a premium cost, arrange with the shopping centre to open (which costs money) and pay their staff overtime. It’s unfair. We all love midnight launches and everything that goes with them (well some gamers anyway) but it won’t happen if this keeps up.

Australian gamers are getting games earlier than any other country in the world in terms of street date breaks but it's a double edged sword. Perhaps retailers should start to respect the street dates and realise that half the reason street dates exist is to protect them against other companies spending literally tens of thousands of dollars to be first to market. When the JB HiFi alleged memo went out, not every retailer in Australia had stock of Battlefield 3 and is now losing sales? How is that fair and why should that be allowed?


Comments

    "Australian gamers are getting games earlier than any other country in the world in terms of street date breaks" While that is true, 1 day before street date is still 1 day after it's released in the US. I bet a lot of people are probably fed up with being able to see people in America (and sometimes Europe) happyily playing the game while we wait, sometimes up to 2 weeks later to get in on the action.

    It's especially infuriating for digital games.

      Actually the release dates for Europe to us to Australia ebb and flow dramatically. We street broke arkham asylum on Monday and had it before everyone. Especially the UK who was getting it on Friday when we were originally getting it on Wednesday. In games Australia is generally between Europe and the us release dates, although smaller releases can be different. But I agree with everything else you said

        There are still niche games that we get a lot later than other PAL regions as well. I got Dynasty Warriors 7 a good month before it came out in Australia ordering from the UK.

      Bf3 came out last night digitally on pc, but I guess this doesn't happen for every release does it.

      This is the biggest problem with these "Street dates" these publishers and distributors impose on us. If you want us to side with you on the not breaking street date argument, then you have to start actually releasing games in a timely fashion in Australia. That isn't 2 days after, or even 1 day after. If it's launched on the 25th in the USA, launch it on the 25th in Australia. Until publishers/distributors start doing this I will fully support any "break" in street date.

      As for digital street dates, this is even worse. There's no excuse for these to be any different to the rest of the world. If you don't change your business model people will simply ignore you and pirate it. Be warned.

        If it's launched on the 25th in American it would be the 26th in Australia - right?

          Only if they're going to launch it at an exact time of the day.

          We are a day ahead mate :-)

        I thought that the street date breakages were a reward for being so ripped off on the prices...

      This, if they don't want us to break street dates, stop leaving Australia behind, it's bad enough that we pay twice American retail.

      We are in the vicinity of 1% of the world market. To be honest, I think getting hardcopy games released even in the same month show's that they're putting in some effort for a minimal return.

      This being said, I purchase digitally using a US steam account with Australian dollars (currently above parity) and normally pre-ordered.

    Great article and really needed. I had thought of possible implications but nothing that drastic. Kudos Choc

    No offense Choc, but this reads like a shill article to villify the local retailers. I'm not buying it as I don't feel any obligation towards the local distributors OR local retailers. You're both going to have to deal with the larger issue of Australian pricing and international competition first.

      Just because there are other important issues to deal with, doesn't mean that this one should not be dealt with until those are.

        What can I say? I lack both the sympathy and ability to deal with this (non-)issue

    Well written article. While it doesnt really impact me, as I've not bought a game on 'day one' since Twilight Princess, I did wonder about what impact this was going to have on EB's midnight launches.

      It had a massive impact. I was working last night, and instead of a shop full of 50-100 people, an awesome atmosphere, and even prizes of Batman to give away, we had maybe 1 or 2 people come in every hour from 7-12.

      Last night was the worst shift I have ever worked, and it should have been the best.

        Agreed, I turned up to an EB one in the middle of the CBD Melbourne, and was the only customer in the store for the 20 minutes I was there. It was to be a great night, but that was ruined by JB hifi

          I bet a lot of other people had a great night actually playing battlefield 3 rather than standing in line for hours.

    It's interesting, but I can't help but feel it's not all that relevant to gamers themselves who have no direct control over this.

    Is the implication that gamers should not take advantage of a broken street date? Or that they should not attempt to buy a game early?

      You're right. As a consumer it's absolutely your right to go out there and take advantage of street breaks. It's absolutely nothing to do with consumers at all. I just find the whole thing interesting.

        I agree to an extent. You have the right to take advantage of it, certainly. However it may come back to bite you as a consumer later on.

        If they do start shipping the day before to prevent street date breaks, and there's a sudden problem with the supply, you may find that some smaller towns may be without the game for several days after launch, or you may not get to attend a midnight launch, or the store where you're pre-ordered may not actually get it on launch day.

        The article makes it pretty clear that this may impact on gamers in the long run.

      To be fair, some gamers do contribute to it when they buy during a streetbreak, put their receipt online as proof which other gamers then use to convince other retailers to break their street dates.

      The responsibility does come back to the retailer in the end, but us consumers do occasionally play a part, no matter how small.

        That's actually a fair point that I didn't consider.

        Still, I'm not conviced that it's all that huge an issue with any kind of ramifications.

        I mean, worst case scenario is that (as described in the article) games get shipped a little later and gamers get them maybe a day or two late. And let's be realistic here, that's a mild annoyance - not the end of the world.

          Maybe, but let's consider it another way. Lets say EA decide to get creative, and as a result of JB's alleged behaviour, publicly announces that they will only be shipping to JB HIFI the day before launch.

          How many pre-orders will JB lose as a result? Who will even bother walking into a JB on launch date?

            Absolutely, but that’s (obviously) JB’s problem and no concern of mine (unless I were a shareholder.) As a consumer, and the target audience of this article, that’s something out of my hands.

            Either way, all this information seems to be something that should be/has been brought to the attention of some area of JB management.

            I guess my main point is that the tone of the article is such that the author seems to be calling for or at least wanting some sort of action to take place re: curbing street date breaks, but it’s being presented to a group that realistically has zero control over the issue.

    CDs and DVDs don't normally have street dates at all.

    Breaking street date is also horrible when publishers like EA refuse your pre-order DLC codes because the game isn't active yet and then refuse to re-issue you a new code saying it was a one-time only thing.

    But this is one of many reasons why a lot of people refuse to purchase EA titles anymore.

    And EB pay overtime? Hahaha .. nice one.

      As far as I'm aware, most CDs do. (For bigger artists, anyway.)

      They're generally more rigidly adhered to (for bigger artists) and the reasoning is that it makes it much easier to collate sales data for organisations like ARIA to go "artist x sold this many copies within their first week."

      That's how it was explained to me, anyway.

      I always assumed that it was a similar system for games, that street dates were in place to afford more accurate sales tracking.

      Starting to think I could be way off the money though.

      Absolutely, but that's (obviously) JB's problem and no concern of mine (unless I were a shareholder.) As a consumer, and the target audience of this article, that's something out of my hands.

      Either way, all this information seems to be something that should be/has been brought to the attention of some area of JB management.

      I guess my main point is that the tone of the article is such that the author seems to be calling for or at least wanting some sort of action to take place re: curbing street date breaks, but it's being presented to a group that realistically has zero control over the issue.

      Yes Jackson, after a certain time the $$$/hour goes up for employees.

    Great article Choc. I had no idea JB completely ignored EA. What are they, Gamestop now?

      JB are massive in Australia, and when I say massive I mean it's ridiculous now. It has gotten to a point where if you don't do what JB want's they simply wont stock your product. If your product isn't stocked by JB then it doesn't exist.

      EA would have no pull at all over JB with this. JB would TELL EA they are breaking the street date. EA would be able to do little about this. Their only option would be to restrict supply of games to JB, but this will likely backfire, JB have about a 40 to 70% market share depending on the product, there's no way all the other retailers will be able to pick up this slack if JB don't have a product in store. It will result in lost sales for EA.

        40 to 70% market share???

        That seems like a hell of a lot. Where are you getting that from?

          Various metrics. GfK has just started covering JB again so their data is quite valuable here. But again it really depends on the segment you're looking at. They aren't that big when looking at something like pre-school DVD's, but anything geared towards the 15 - 45 year old male they command a huge market.

            I call complete and utter bollocks on those market share numbers, Cameron.

        you will find that EB has about 50-60% market share on a new release. JB and everyone else share the other 40-50%

    very good article and i couldn't agree with your more. As a manager of a gaming specialist store, all the hype and excitement building up to the launch of BF3 died when we could start selling it.

    Im heading into work now, not knowing how busy it will be...

    ya i have no problem with the game released at the same time worldwide.. but 2-3 days later is bs

    An interesting article, but it didn't actually say why it was bad for the industry.

    Part of the problem is that games are only seen as relevant when they're released. A week or two after they come out, interest drops off dramatically. The current marketing cycle makes games a disposable medium and does little to encourage interest after the release date.

    Any harm done to the release of a product by breaking the street date is because of this marketing cycle that declares that the game is only relevant on that set date.

    The main problem here is that some retailers are big enough to consistently break street dates and face the punishment of the distributors, giving them an unfair advantage over the smaller retailers. That's one of the huge advantages that the bigger retailers have.

    Now if only they could leverage this into getting the publishers/distributors to lower the damned cost. That would make this whole street date breaking fiasco a giant boon to everyone and sundry.

    On a sidenote, the BluRay release of The Lion King broke street date. Did anyone make a fuss about it? No. Because BluRay releases aren't marketed the same way game releases are.

    Its a real burden on the industry and retailers in general who follow the rules, not to mention the staff of the stores. Last minute changes to months of plans regarding midnight launches and activities are ruined by this practice, all this stuff costs a lot of money and will result in retailers just not doing big launches anymore. Hopefully the retailer responsible will be fined or something.

    "What is not acceptable is what JB HiFi allegedly did today and that is break nationally based on 1 store in a shopping centre in NSW breaking"

    Absobloodylutely. I genuinely couldn't understand it. I went to Game Broadway to purchase my copy yesterday afternoon (after I'd found out about the break) and the manager was rightly pissed off that his midnight launch plans had been ruined. I feel sorry for all involved that this has happened, and I won't be giving JB my custom in a hurry as a result. (It used to be my #1 place to buy games).

    I do think that the CoD guys are a bit smarter, have a bit more clout, and might just find a way of stopping this happening. We shall see...

    This all sounds a bit anti JB HIFI.
    According to this http://www.vg247.com/2011/10/26/battlefield-3-aussie-street-date-temporarily-broken/ it was Target who broke originally.

      No one mentioned HN broke release because of Target. They posted it on FB, basicly promoting the street break.

      The unverified rumor is that EA told JB to stop selling and JB continued to do so.

      That is why JB is in serious trouble if that turns out to be true.

      The fact that 1 Target store did it and JB sent a momo AUS wide saying GO GO GO is where this article is aimed.

    The game companies arn't gonna come down on the big chains to much, epically Jb who generally sell at less than EB/GAME because a large segment of the gaming public will not pay full RRP and will buy online from overseas bypassing the local distributors altogether, not everyone is prepared to pay $100+ for a game.

    Hey great article! I'm mainly angry about street date and everything else now, because I was supposed to get my game the day it came out / before hand. And since the launch time and street date got broken, I could have just picked up the damn thing instead left waiting for postal services -_-

    You forgot to mention that in a desperate rush to get the game when the street date is broken before the stores closes they're more likely to speed and ignore traffic laws.

      Indeed! People might be in such a rush that they could even shove a defenseless old granny out of the way in their haste!

        I don't care how old she was, nothing stands between me and Batman!

        This is why whenever i am in a rush i play the concise and accepted song for having people remove themselves from my path.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4JuS5AwR5Xg

    Quit staggering your release dates and we'll stop breaking them. Simple as that.

    Great article, another reason Kotaku AU is where I turn to for gaming information. Was just aobut to email Mark to ask for something like this as after a quick chat to my local EB manager when I picked it up I felt sorry for him and everyone else who would have been woefully unprepared for the break

      TLDR; i would have hated to be in charge of any gaming sotre around lunchtime onwards yesterday

    Beside games, JB usually start selling DVDs and Blu-rays the afternoon or the night before its actual release date. This is not uncommon, and has been happening for years now. I'm totally cool with it.

    What annoys me is when CDs (remember them?) published by indie labels don't meet their release dates. This happens very often and it's an awful feeling when you walk into a store and the thing that you want is not there. So in that regard, at least game and home video publishers are able to get their items in stores on (or before) the release date.

    Whilst I understand the reasons stated in the article, one thing that I would love to change on the whole, deals with pre-orders.

    With stores getting exclusive pre-order content and all that rubbish nowdays, I'm a consumer in the bracket that is well informed of the release date of the game and have likely also ALREADY chosen where I'm going to purchase the game from through the act of a pre-order.

    So my decision has been made for sometime, so I would like to be able to pick up the game when the store I've pre-ordered form gets their stock, regardless of it's release date.

    I have no intention of changing stores where I'm buying it from, so stores that are nearby regardless of whether or not they have their stock aren't going to miss out on a sale.

    Just a few errors in this.

    JB Hi Fi don't have a distribution centre. Each store recieves it's stock directly from each supplier.

    99.9% of DVDs don't have a street date on them.

    The real reason EB love doing midnight launches is they won't price match anyone because usually no other stores nearby are open at that time.

    Seriously, I love Kotaku and usually Kotaku articles are good, but this reeks of bias against JB Hi Fi and it has plenty of errors!

      ""The real reason EB love doing midnight launches is they won’t price match anyone because usually no other stores nearby are open at that time.""

      Partially, but all the EB games stores I've dealt with, have credited me back the difference of the price match if I have gone back to them when the other stores are open.

        So they make you come back later to give you some money back. Great. How many people are going to come back yet again to get their $20 back? I'm sure most people don't go to get reimbursed which would be why they make it harder for you!

          Yes it's abit more difficult, but if someone is as dedicated to heading out to a midnight launch to pick up any game, then returning to the store within the next 7 days shouldn't be that much of a challenge.

      wrong!
      99.9% of DVDs and blu-rays do have a street date on them, every major dvd and blu-ray release has a specific streetdate and they are followed to the letter. minor dvds and blu rays are shipped to arrive on the day of the release so they dont have a streetdate plastered over the boxes, they will just arrive on the release date or a coupe of days after so no one notices.

        You're right, most DVDs and Blu Rays DO have release dates, but they aren't actually embargoed. The release dates just exists mostly for marketing purposes, but the stores can sell them as soon as they have them, usually the Monday on the week of release.

        To the best of my knowledge, the only embargoed title has been the Star Wars collection on Blu Ray.

      When I went to the midnight launch of CoD: BlOps I saw people there who were using Kmart catalogues to get EB to price match. I'm pretty sure it worked too, but they only matched for the people who had the catalogues.

    Poorly researched article, DVDs and Blu-Rays break street dates all the time it's just that noone cares because dvds arn't marketed around preordering and release day specials, while games are all about getting it first.

      Also people don't care about the release date for DVDs/Blu-rays because if they really wanted to see a movie they would have already done so at the cinema.

    Guys just to verify why JB seems to be so slammed in this article. In this instance it appears that JB HiFi with BF3 has gone ahead with a national break without a reason to do so.

    Target stopped selling once contacted by EA but JB didn't and in fact broke nationally. That's the unverified rumor. It just happens to be the game that triggered me to write this was BF3. I had been thinking about this issue for a loooooooooong time before BF3.

    This is the first time if it turns out true that a store has completely ignored the requests of a publisher to stop selling. Yes breaks happen but they are generally publisher sanctioned AFTER the publisher verifies that all stores have stock.

    This was not sanctioned by any means.

    God reading some of these comments it just shows how small-minded people are...

    Great article. It was a good read with some really good points.

    And, for those saying it doesn't affect consumers - you're idiots. Of course it does.

    As stated in the article, if distributors start sending out games the day before/2 days before release, it means stock can be held up meaning that you wouldn't even get your precious game on release date.

    Working in wholesale, it's common knowledge, especially when shipping to NT or WA, that items can take quite a while and have a decent chance of being delayed or even misdirected.

    Will you still be saying "it doesn't affect me" when all of your local stores don't get the game until 2 days after release and you get the joy of listening to everyone on the internets talking about how great the game is?

      If that's the worst case scenario then I'm fairly certain most people aren't going to care. Hell, plenty of people on here wait a couple of weeks for their ozgameshop orders for new releases.

        Baring in mind that those people are aware it will take a while to ship, and the trade-off is the lower price.

        People who buy retail, specifically pre-ordering, demand it ON-THE-DAY..
        If they don't get it, they get pissed.

        ordering online and pre-ordering for launch are 2 very different beasts, my friend :)

          If EB have an awesome exclusive CE for a game that I want then I pre-order it. I get the text when it's in (day of release, day before release, whenever) but I don't go rushing out to get it. Sometimes I will pick it up later that day, other times it'll be a couple of days before I go and get it and I'm sure I'm not the only like that.

            yes, which is what any ration person would do... But you have to remember, when it comes to their favorite games, people tend to become VERY irrational.

            For instance, imagine if Uncharted 3 became delayed at retail...

            not to mention the who-ha kicked up whenever a title is delayed, even with good reason.

            While you, me, or whoever else can, most of the time, practice patience - a lot of other people can't and will tenaciously protest that "a release date is a release date, no later"

            What i am getting at that while some people won't be affected, there will still be a large number of people who will

              Sometimes receiving the game on release day isn't acceptable i.e: The DLC code doesnt work on the day? expect 200 calls of bitter anger.

              Who are you calling a "ration", honky?

              I still don't think many people will care because that's only a worst case scenario and unlikely to ever be the everyday scenario plus with digital distribution and import options becoming increasingly popular you'll probably find that those who buy retail all the time becoming the minority.

                LOL - the honky was a nice touch :)

                I don't think retail buyers really are a minority... but more so possibly pre-orderers, possibly.

                But as i said, when it comes to major titles, people tend to lose their shit. I mean, if the next Earth defence force gets pushed back, most people won't blink - but if the next COD does, Jocks are going to lose their collective freakin minds lol

                BUT - that's just my humble observation :)

                  I said that they'll probably become the minority not that they are the minority now.

                  Don't you ever listen you buffoon?!!?!

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