From the Collection #2: Pokémon NFC Figures
It's been a while since the last instalment of this series about all the gaming kipple we've collected over the years that fills cupboards and boxes away from the disapproving glances of partners. We started this series with some stuff that predates our video gaming 'lifestyle' choice and now we jump to the latest additions to the collection, which we frequently get out and lick, these ADOWABLE Pokémon near field communication (NFC) figures, designed to be used with the Wii-U game pad. Following on from the outlandish success of the Skylander's series Ninty are trying to cash in with this technology. Simply, you pop one of these figures on your Wii-U game pad and they pop up on the screen in the latest Pokémon Rumble game, one of the lesser Pokémon spin-off series. No doubt about it, it's a cash in (in previous Pokémon rumble games a similar feat was achieved through simple passwords alone) but we're huge fans of My Pokémon Ranch (153 hours 'playing' a screensaver essentially) which also uses these chibisised Pokémon so as soon as we saw them announced for Japan back in 1985, we knew we'd pick them up if they ever hit these shores.
But here's where the happy bit ends. I'm going to use these figures as a jump off point to further bemoan the ongoing idiocy at the heart of today's video game high street retail sector. Firstly, this series of 18 figures are being sold blind so you have to buy multiple of them to.. ahem Catch 'em All(tm). In addition, there are two limited edition figures only one of which you get with special versions of the Wii-U game and a couple of alternate colour ones hidden out there. This is fine. I don't have a problem with this, a number of toy manufacturers from Lego to Power Rangers have realised that blind selling cheap toys is a lucrative initaitve, but I can see why some people (parents) might be peeved. Our issue is that as far as I can tell these figures, and the special edition of the game, are only available in the UK at GAME stores. I honestly don't know why somebody at Nintendo Europe things GAME exclusives are a good thing, especially since their stores started closing down en masse. Take London as an example, England's capital city, a metropolis of some 8 million people. Now, I understand that not all of them are fans of the Pokémon series but by making these figures a GAME exclusive, you instantly reduce the visibility of these figures by excluding the hundreds (thousands) of gadget retailers, toy stores, supermarkets and department stores and making them available in essentially two places in central London (GAME in Camden and one in Hamleys. The flagship Oxford Street store closed down last year. There is one in Westfield but that's a day trip and hardly central). Fair enough you might say, you don't want your product everywhere but two places in London. This would have been fine at least if there was any kind of marketing campaign (assuming Nintendo want to sell these things) but there was nothing that I saw. In fact the first I heard that these would be available in the UK was last week on Serebii. The day before launch. Now Serebii is an excellent website but it's a fan-run affair, yet they scooped this 'news' before the Official Nintendo Magazine (in fact ONM regularly source news from this website) and a lot of other sites didn't even run the story. Way to build up a market for your product Ninty, who by the way, still seem to think that news only reaches our shores when trading merchants bring back tales of the New Worlde.
Another problem I have with these GAME exclusives is that you have to go to GAME. We've posted many times before about the consistently awful customer experience and service in these stores but then another fucking Pokémon promotion comes along and we end up enduring this kind of stuff (word for word quoted):
In the Hamleys branch of GAME on Sunday (Launch day +2 for these figures and the new game)
TGAM: (nervously after scouring the store) Um, hey do you have any of those NFC figures for the new Pokémon Rumble game?
GAME: No. [pause] What figures?
TGAM: The ones with the near field communication for the Wii U Pokémon rumble game (resists saying that came out two days ago and is exclusive to the store you work in).
Spotting an empty box on the shelf we point
TGAM: Those ones.
GAME: Let me check.
GAME: No. We're sold out.
From this lovely experience we're filled with confidence in GAME as a retailer. First, their staff clearly aren't given much in the way of a head's up about what's new out or they just don't care. Gamers across the pond regularly complain about retailers trying to push bundles and product on customers. We are blessed with the opposite problem. Alarm bells are also ringing because they're sold out on day two. You might think that selling out is a good thing but it means that a product has been under ordered. For a product with little to no marketing enough people (or maybe one hardcore collector) made the effort to hunt them down and for every person who wanted them or would have opportunsitically picked some up after they'd sold out is lost sales. And because they aren't available elsewhere that means tough shit basically. Which equals poor sales figures, product invisibility and frustrated customers (hi!) some of which may make Ninty think twice about bringing these kinds of products to the EU market. A market which until recently, already gets the short shrift in temrs of games and merchandise that just isn't thought to be 'viable' here. Why do we care about GAME's business model? I honestly don't know but we wish someone in their management group would pay attention to this shit. Also, we still think that having game retailers is a good thing for the wider recognition and enjoyment of gaming.
Camden GAME (Launch day +3)
Having made a special effort in our lunch break (we share one) to travel across the city to Camden in the hope they have some in stock (the automated product stock option on the answerphone didn't recognise 'Pokémon' nor did anyone pick up the phone). Fortunately, there's a box of gatchas on the side and we pick up 3, resisting to buy them all in case this is the last chance we get to ever get any. We wait at the counter nervously because there's a grotty yoof hanging around and eyeballing us and nobody behind the counter. He then steps around the counter. Turns out it must be non school uniform day at GAME.
TGAM: (Proudly in as much as 30 something year old sweaty and out of breath man can buy Pokémon products) Just these three please.
GAME: I was saying to my friend earlier, I used to collect these when I was younger. I can't believe how much of a rip off they are.
TGAM: But..... yeah... they use the Wii U near field stuff though.
GAME: Yeah Wii U.
So some excellent customer service there insulting the customer and then complaining about your own prices. Excellent. I don't even care about the NFC stuff I just want pretty things but it's clear that he didn't know a) What these things were b) The sales pitch I imagine in my really boring fantasy world that GAME managers train their staff with with new products c) That these are new. Or basic customer service. Or where his work shirt was.
So all in all a pretty awful retail experience all around. Funny seeing as the unexpected success of Skylanders ,and the subsequent acreage of space allocated to these figures in GAME stores, has somewhat saved GAME from total closure. You'd assume they'd be all over the next opportunity to make money hand over fist. Instead they seem content on not letting their staff know about the new product they have exclusively, how it works, or for that matter doing any marketing. This is what gets my goat the most. How is it that going to buy a brand new product in a capital city from one of the best loved video game companies based on one of the top selling video games franchises ever still feels harder than sourcing a bootleg CD from a local band that occasionally plays down the local pub? And I'm not even the target fucking demographic. God knows how kids know about or get their hands on these things. We found out from a fan site, dragged our partner all over London, took a long lunch break and caught two buses to get our hands on these.
So there we have it. That's the story behind these. The ongoing saga of the business of video games barely managing the business side of things. Who knows if these will be available after next week or if we'll ever see a second or third series? I've got enough for now to get on with- arranging them in a line, choosing a favourite, smelling them etc. So catch 'em all. Whilst you still can.....