The Scalping Of Video Games

On scalping and selling pre-orders. Oh this’ll be fun…


Let me be clear before we start; once a game is in a persons possession, it’s their decision and choice in what to do with it.

Personally, I’d always prefer that a video game is played and enjoyed for what it is, by fans of the genre or franchise, who are happy to see their large financial outlay go to the series that they love and adore. I say that, of course, as someone who has in the past bought two copies of games in the vain and idealistic hope that one of them might increase in value further on down the road – it’s a thing I don’t do any more, of course, as my stance on collectors editions and pre-order culture have soured since 2010. But I have done it – worse, I must make a shocking confession: I scalped a Nintendo Wii console once, buying it for £180 and selling it on for £380. I did that. I’m not sorry about doing it – but I regret it, given my current stance.

With that disclosure out of the way, the reason some of these games are valuable and are being scalped is simply a matter of rarity.

Final Fantasy XV has been in the news in regards to scalping. The big collectors edition retails for an eye-watering £189.99 – that’s a penny short of £190, which is less than a retail Nintendo Wii would have cost back in its heyday. For a video game and accompanying bells and whistles. Only 30,000 of these copies are to be produced, however – which means that they’re not just expensive, but they’re also rare and have additional “bling value”. Within minutes of going live, the full stock of 30,000 copies was sold out. Which is staggering when you consider that Final Fantasy XIII was pants and that Final Fantasy, as a franchise, has never been the best RPG title available commercially. Yes, I said it. Yes, I mean it. SNES Era – Lufia: Rise of the Sinistrals. PSX Era? Grandia. And Vagrant Story. PS2 Era? Shadow Hearts did things Final Fantasy wished it had thought of. Even during the XIII era, Square-Enix’s own stables produced higher-quality content, with the likes of Infinite Undiscovery, and Nintendo’s rival of Xenoblade Chronicles. And it’s already got a massive headache this generation, with Xenoblade Chronicles X being a stellar modernisation of classic JRPG gaming, and the equally brilliant The Witcher 3. Incidentally, the day that MonolithSoft and CD Projekt Red get into bed together to make sweet new RPG babies as a couple is the day unicorns will officially begin existing. Ahem. Sorry, need to get back on track. *cough*

The main problem is that with such rarity comes the speculative market seeking a quick profit.

It shouldn’t be the case that profiteers get between customers and the products they want to buy; but that’s the thing. As I said earlier, once something is in the possession of a scalper – it’s legally their property and they can choose to set it on fire in a YouTube video if they wanted to (as an aside, is it wrong I want to see that happen and then read the responses in the comments?). We can’t really do a lot about it – it sucks, but it is their property and if someone is willing to pay £450 for a game, they’ll pay it. Supply and demand.

Of course, the FFXV problem comes with a caveat; these products are pre-orders and the scalpers… well, they don’t own the product yet. Because it hasn’t actually been made in that quantity yet. So what scalpers are doing is putting a down-payment on a video game of say, £40, then selling their pre-order on eBay for as much as £500 (which I believe is against their terms of use anyway). Which I do of course take issue with – that’s stupid, because you don’t own the product and Square-Enix should, and is, moving to strip scalpers of their pre-orders. Wait for it to be in your hands before you rush to freaking scalp fans! Jeez. It’s like rappers making their debut song about how rich and successful they are. There is a set journey that needs to be taken – talk about your struggle first rappers before bragging about your fabulous wealth and lifestyles. For scalpers – at least wait until you actually have the game in your hands. Because then Square-Enix can’t do a damn thing. Do we really need to point that out or have scalpers been supplanted with the terminally thick?

Regardless, when a scalper does have their copy – and I have no doubt some will still be scalpers waiting to make a quick buck or… well, several hundred – they are legally entitled to do whatever they want with it. Still waiting for a video. Someone must have the money to burn – literally.

Thing is, we blame scalpers a lot for this. And I suppose that’s a fair enough stretch; it’s not like scalpers intended to keep and enjoy their purchase. But I believe that scalpers are a symptom of a problem, rather than a problem unto themselves. After all, how did Square-Enix reach this mysterious 30,000 copies number for their super-limited edition box? Was it all they could make of a certain item or figurine? Is it because they could only pay for one shipment of a given object? Or did they, as I suspect, magically pull that figure from the thin air being exhaled from their backsides because hey, it means we can charge lots for it because it’s going to be super-rare and a thing the terminally stupid video game crowd will throw their money and/or panties at?

Pre-orders, as we know, have been down across the industry for a few years. And Square-Enix is not a stranger to shoddy pre-order schemes, as the Deus Ex: Mankind Divided “Augment Your Pre-Order” nonsense demonstrates all too well. So they have to keep upping the ante, as it were, to make pre-orders an increasingly attractive proposition in the middle of a market and a generation where the customer base has been burned on multiple occasions with new game releases. So pre-order limited editions are getting more extravagant and more ridiculous as a result; anything to separate a gamer from a large portion of their income. Which is historically speaking not going to end too well; after all, in the dying embers of Ancient Rome, the games at the Colosseum got wilder and more ridiculous and grandiose. It’s a distraction from the pressing issue – which is aside an okay demo, we don’t actually know if Final Fantasy XV is going to be a good game.

Square-Enix has distracted gamers from this pressing point with shiny trinkets and pretty objects, enough to have 30,000 people part with £190 each (Which, incidentally, is a grand total of £5,700,000). I don’t know if Final Fantasy XV will be a great game – I hope it is, because personally I’d like just once to see a Final Fantasy game which -is- the best RPG on the market. But at a time when so many games release with so many problems, and when much-hyped games like Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain have largely fallen flat after people realised Konami is Konami and Konami is the worst, when Dark Souls 3 is launching on an engine already proven to have real issues running on this generation of consoles, paying for a game in advance is a ridiculous notion. And these people aren’t just paying early, they’re buying into a very expensive version of a game. Hmm. That’s kind of dumb, isn’t it?

Scalpers aren’t great; I mentioned as much in my rant over Amiibo. But Square-Enix isn’t entirely blameless; they have created a speculative market and they knew they were going to do that. They knew a few of their orders would eventually just sell on their copy at a profit. To say Square-Enix was surprised is to lie to my face; they knew, they must have. They created an artificially limited amount of copies of a limited edition to sell at a premium, because duh of course they’re going to do that. They want your money; they want to lock you into a purchase early. That is the point of a pre-order, and I suspect Square-Enix will be making a profit on each sale.

However Final Fantasy XV turns out, one thing is clear: Square-Enix are getting away with this. Fans are outraged at the scalpers, rather than Square-Enix and its arbitrary limitation on supply. What I expect to see in the coming few years is more outrageous limited editions being sold for extraordinary sums of money, despite the sum being asked being more than the sum of the parts. The industry is desperate to make pre-orders attractive and to part you and I with our money as soon as is humanly possible. So we’re simply reaching the end-game of this whole thing. Outrageously expensive limited editions created in small batches to create value – which will be lost immediately and irreversibly the moment you open the packaging. Oh yeah, collectors who like rare collectable things like this will expect them in unused condition in case of future resale!

Personally? If I buy FFXV, I’ll buy the basic game. Sure, it won’t come with all the bells and whistles. But ultimately, I am buying something for the game inside the box. If that game isn’t very good, then it doesn’t matter how expensive the limited edition was – it’s value is utterly worthless except to a small and hardcore niche of collectors. I mentioned the whole not opening the limited edition thing, right?

Scalpers will always exist – this first wave, because that’s what it is – a first wave of nincompoops breaking eBay’s terms and conditions so they’ll lose out on their sale and certainly their original pre-order. They have always existed. They will continue to exist for as long as there is capitalism at the heart of commerce and rarity crafting new speculative markets to exploit. The question we should be asking is – why do scalpers exist at all? Why is the industry creating the perfect conditions for their brand of commerce to survive and thrive and make money?

Without the conditions to thrive, they will starve and die out. Take it from someone who has been battling persistent mould in their bedroom for the last six or seven months; it’s a problem, a big problem even – but it’s also the symptom of another problem, and that is what needs to be fixed in order to be completely rid of the mould. Strip away the current scalpers, and you’ll still be left with an industry charging obscene amounts of money for super-limited editions of games making profits on each sale. And scalpers will always return if there’s any hint of making a quick buck or a couple hundred.

Treat the root problem; the scalpers will cease to be an issue. But you know, now I’m just talking crazy nonsense, right?

Right?!

 

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