Thursday, July 22, 2004

Beyond the Pale

You know I'm going to have a post titled "Beyond the Pail" someday. I'm warning you.

I tend to be somewhat naive when it comes to chicanery at the retail store level. When people are pushing certain products in conversation with me, I tend to assume that they're gamers and just happen to like that particular game. Sometimes, though, events sequence in such unlikely ways that they're impossible to ignore.

Good afternoon, by the way. I had a late start today due to about ten other things--none of which I wanted to be doing.

So here's the setup. On Tuesday, I'm calling around to see if anyone's gotten in ESPN NFL 2K5 early. Now this game has generated tremendous buzz in the gaming community, both due to the price drop (to $19.95) and the vast and imaginative feature set. When I call EB, here's how they answer: "Thank you for calling EB Games, where you can pre-order Madden 2005. This is Lummox." That's not word-for-word, but it's close. Actually, he said it more like this: "ThankyouforcallingEBGameswhereyoucanpreorderMadden2005thisisLummox." It was all one word. Then he gasped for air like he'd just broken the surface in a No Limits Free Diving competition.

It certainly seemed strange. ESPN NFL coming out the next day, and they're totally ignoring it in favor of Madden. So on Wednesday I go to the local Gamestop (the one I like, not the nearby Gamestop of Death that I've written about on occasion) to pick up ESPN. As I'm standing there at the counter, a second clerk is talking to another customer about ESPN. "I don't know," he says. "Some of the reviews have been pretty iffy." Iffy? 9+ is iffy? I haven't seen one review of this game that didn't pile on the praise.

You know something's going to happen here.

"Really?" I asked innocently. "Every review I saw was a nine, at least. I must have missed the bad ones. Where did you see them?"

The clerk just kind of stares at me, not in anger but growing panic. "Hmm," he says. I didn't know people actually made that sound without more words following, but he did. Then after a few seconds, he kind of stammers "Well, I didn't actually see them myself. One of my buddies told me about them." Indeed. Maybe one of his imaginary buddies, perhaps, living in a secret lair of unknown provenance.

Call me crazy, but I think having both major game chains ignoring/slamming ESPN is probably beyond coincidence. I would imagine it gets pretty slimy in the trenches, and if you manage a game store and want to tell me about some of that, e-mail and give me an education.

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