If you’re looking for a copy of Xenoblade Chronicles in North America, you better be willing to pay $110 or more. That’s the running price on eBay right now for the NTSC version for a used copy. Nintendo of America isn’t printing any more copies of the game, and Gamestop, the retailer with an exclusive distribution deal on Xenoblade, is almost completely sold out. When I called my local Gamestop, asking about any copies in nearby stores, the reaction had several stages. First, the bafflement that I was asking about Xenoblade. Second, the stern warning not to get my hopes up. Third, the foregone conclusion that none were in store.
Finally, I was told that no stores within a 100 mile radius had a single copy in stock.
In the spirit of that paucity of copies, I’ve invented a new game: the Xenoblade-Gamestop Availability Check. For ages 13 and up (Xenoblade is rated T for Teen.)
Warning: The Xenoblade-Gamestop Availability Check is meant for players with a sense of sadism or masochism. Either works.
How to play, you ask?
Step 1: Go onto Gamestop’s website, search Xenoblade, and click the “pick up in store” option.
Step 2: Type in either your home address, or the name of a major city in the US.
Step 3: Click search. If the results show a Gamestop within 100 miles with a copy of Xenoblade, success!
The sad part is that so many major cities fail this game.
Moreover, even when cities pass, how long will it take before they’re gone? I bought my own copy at Gamestop less than 24 hours after it was first traded in, stumbling upon it only by ridiculous luck. And now I’m part of the reason why Boston, MA fails the game.
The story of Xenoblade‘s sky-high price and impossibility to find isn’t unique, unfortunately. The tracking website pricecharting.com shows that this phenomenon exists for a number of games. Metroid Prime Trilogy is regularly bid up to $80 or more. The cheapest listing on Amazon almost breaks $100. Conker’s Bad Fur Day on the N64 pushes $65. Rule of Rose and .hack Quarantine both push $80, and both are rare. Megaman 7 on the SNES is $110, Earthbound is $150, and Harvest Moon is $120. Suikoden II on the PS1 is $115.
Please note that these are for used copies. I’m not citing new prices, because for most of these games, a new copy is solely the domain of a collector.
In the run-up for the release of Kingdom Hearts 3D, prices for used copies of The World Ends With You began running up to $40. This, for a game that by all rights should’ve been $20 for a new copy…except the Square Enix store was out of stock.
Are high prices a problem? Not necessarily. There is a collector’s market for everything, and some things are going to be more valuable than others for reasons of quality, rarity, and demand. But it is a problem when the second-hand market becomes too intermeshed with the collectors’ market, as is the case with a number of games.
Xenoblade is a highly acclaimed game that had only a limited printing in North America, and whose demand is relatively high. It wouldn’t be an issue if the used price hoved around $40 or so, but the demand from collectors is now indistinguishable from those who simply want to try the game. That is a problem.
The major upside to having online stores like the eShop, PSN, and Xbox Live is that they create an upper bound on game prices. So long as a game is available on the network, consumers have a (relatively) cheap option that distinguishes them from a collector who focuses solely on value. However, while there are a number of older games available, it’s a very limited selection, and does little for us moving forward.
We need to have some way of preserving gaming history so that everyone can access it without deep pockets.If someone wants to know why Earthbound is such a big deal, they have two options: Pay $150, assuming they have a SNES, or pirate it. It’s an easy, if illegal, choice.
For more recent games like Xenoblade, there’s a second option: Have a second printing. When Radiant Historia flew off the shelves in early 2011, forcing secondhand game prices to rise above the $35 price of new DS games, Atlus Games, the publisher, made a simple decision: They went through a small second round of printing. It eased the upward pressure on Radiant Historia, allowed Atlus to make money off of all the new copies they sold, and gave gamers who missed the launch a second chance at securing their own copy at a reasonable price.
Honestly, I’m shocked that Nintendo of America has not done this with Xenoblade. Yes, Best Buy and Walmart introduced listings for Xenoblade on the Wii U, but it’s probable that they are using it as a placeholder for Monolith Soft’s unnamed title X.
There are only two reasons I can think of for NoA’s inaction. First, they want to keep the focus on the Wii U, which is struggling to build an install base. Reprinting Xenoblade would run counter to that.
Second, and what I also consider likely, is that NoA is contractually forbidden from a second printing thanks to its deal with Gamestop. When Gamestop announced that Xenoblade would be exclusively offered through its stores, there was most certainly a contract stating that between it and Nintendo. It’s not a stretch to imagine that Gamestop also has a say in whether Xenoblade can go through a second printing. And since Gamestop profits immensely from selling traded-in copies at $70 a pop, it’s safe to say that they wouldn’t want a second printing. Profit margins are higher on used games, and the demand for Xenoblade lets them charge an exorbitant price.
When the cost of letting people download games via consoles’ online stores is next to nil, there’s no logical reason for why a collector’s market should mean that games are financially unconscionable for gamers who want to play them some time after release.
In the meantime, however, what cities do you know of that fail the Xenoblade-Gamestop Availability Game?