A Gamestop-Xenoblade Retrospective

xenoblade ninety dollars

Since the PR and subsequent hype/outrage about Gamestop has moved to its offering of Metroid Prime Trilogy for $85, it’s a decent point in time to look back on last week’s outrage: the $90 sticker price for a used copy of Xenoblade Chronicles.

Throughout most of 2013, it was impossible to find a copy of Xenoblade in stock. Period. I made an entire post mocking/bemoaning that fact, as well as some commentary on how digital networks like the PSN, XBLA, and eShop can prevent that in the future. I bought a copy in June for $70 from the only Gamestop in 100 miles of me that had it in stock and considered myself lucky that I wouldn’t have to pay $110 or more, as was common on eBay.

Gamestop’s announcement roughly two weeks ago should have been a cause for some celebration: a retailer was guaranteeing availability at a price point below what the market was commanding – i.e. $110 or more.

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Data taken from videogames.pricecharting.com; July 2013 price – $101.04

Are the complaints about Gamestop valid? Not really. Tons of retailers are the exclusive suppliers of their good, and Xenoblade, like any other product, is highly substitutable. This isn’t antitrust or monopolistic.

Contrary to popular belief, economic scarcity is not when something is too expensive for Joe Gamer to afford. That’s simply the price responding to market signals.

The fact is, anyone who wants to buy Xenoblade right now should be thanking Gamestop profusely. The reason why? In the brief interlude since Gamestop’s announcement, the price of Xenoblade on eBay has fallen by over 25%.

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Data taken from videogames.pricecharting.com; August 2013 price – $75.33

I followed a handful of auctions today for Xenoblade, and their closing prices were astounding, ranging from $60 to $85. Heck, a like new copy bundled with the art book sold for merely $61, including free shipping.

Gamestop turned $90 into a price ceiling for all other Xenoblade sellers; after all, there’s no reason to spend $100 on a game that Gamestop will guarantee you for $90. This is actually a boon for any gamer who missed out on Xenoblade the first time around.

If a person doesn’t want to spend more than the MSRP, then that’s fine. Each person has the right to spend money however he or she wishes. It’s not a rule that the market price must be within reach of a person’s willingness to pay. Even if a person doesn’t want to pay $90, or $60 for that matter, for a game, the Earth will continue revolving around the Sun.

The past 2 weeks have instead shown consumers’ willingness to bite the hand that feeds them. Xenoblade wouldn’t even be released in North America without Gamestop, and the supply was largely dictated by pre-order numbers. One can’t expect a retailer to stock tons of copies of a niche game in anticipation of a future explosion in demand, months after release date. That’s absurd.

The only real ‘losers’ in this situation are speculators. As I mentioned back in June, the ability to buy digital copies of games can separate speculators from the consumers market, something that wasn’t possible with Xenoblade, as the Wii Shop Channel doesn’t offer full games for digital download. Is anyone really going to complain that speculators were hurt? Speculation, by definition, is a risky venture. No one should be batting an eye that the heyday of $110 used copies didn’t last forever. That’s business.

And if Gamestop ordered a reprint? While it’s disingenuous to sell newly-reprinted games as used, it’s hardly illegal or unethical. And it’s hardly the first time that a reprint has occurred. Is anyone really blaming Game Quest Direct for making rare, niche games more widely available to the average consumer?

In any case, a reprint means that supply increased, so the equilibrium price decreased. The uncontestable fact remains that Gamestop’s move lowered the market price of Xenoblade by a significant amount. That benefits both consumers and Gamestop.

And if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to sit back and watch the console wars explode this fall. Oh, and start posting about things other than Gamestop. (Even when they do a good thing, they get lambasted for it. Sheesh.)

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2 responses to “A Gamestop-Xenoblade Retrospective

  1. I was lucky enough to be able to find the game new for $50 on Amazon about a year ago. I snatched it up then, because I expected the prices to skyrocket like this. It’s a niche title released in limited quantities, and I’ve been an Atlus fan long enough to know what happens with the prices of those. Dealing with a high price is one of the risks of not getting a game near launch. Yeah, they usually drop in price after a while, but not always, and JRPGs are one of the genres most prone to having a higher demand than supply.

    I’ve got mixed feelings on the high price of this. On the one hand, as you stated up there, it’s just standard market forces doing their thing. Those who are most willing to pay get the game they want, and those for whom it’s too much, well, there are plenty of other games to sate them. On the other hand, my inner businessman is telling me that if the demand’s driving up prices that high, there’s probably more money to be made by getting more copies out there and selling them at a more expected level. But eh, Gamestop probably knows what they’re doing better than I do.

    • There’s definitely a lot to this that nobody outside of Nintendo and Gamestop knows. I’d bet that there’s something in the contract the two signed, making Gamestop the exclusive retailer, that talks about quantity manufactured and the potential for re-prints. Given that, though, I’d have to assume that this is Gamestop’s most profitable move.

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