Canadian video gamers let down by Rock Band's bungled release

Canadian video-game rockers looking to make music with Rock Band over the holidays didn’t even get a lump of coal in their stocking. While the highly anticipated game was scheduled for release in North America on November 20 and appeared in the U.S. on that day, copies of the title didn’t start appearing on the shelves of Canadian retailers until December 21.

Hewitt Gilbert, a gamer in Calgary, ordered his copy of Rock Band in August, putting down a $10 deposit at an EB Games location. “I knew that if I wasn’t at the top of the list, I wasn’t going to get the game before Christmas,” he told the Georgia Straight.

Rock Band (rated teen) was developed by Harmonix, the company that created the video game Guitar Hero. Rock Band allows players to take on one of four roles in a rock band: guitar, bass, drums, or vocals. The game, which is priced at around $200 for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 editions and $160 for the PlayStation 2 version, ships with a replica Fender Stratocaster, a microphone, and a modified drum kit. It’s published by MTV Games and distributed by Electronic Arts.

On the phone from his home, Gilbert said he had no idea that the Canadian release date of Rock Band had slipped until November 20, when he called to see if his copy had arrived and was told that the new availability date was December 20. “They told me that not enough copies were available for the U.S., so EA and Harmonix were pulling from the Canadian allotment to fill U.S. orders.”

While his local EB Games received Xbox 360 versions of Rock Band on December 28, Gilbert is still waiting for a version he can play on his PS3. A call to the EB Games location at Oakridge Centre in Vancouver confirmed that only 12 copies of the Xbox 360 edition were received—on December 31—not enough to fill the store’s preorders.

When contacted by the Straight, a spokesperson for EA explained that demand for the game is strong in the U.S. and Canada, and that the company is shipping copies to retailers as quickly as they can be produced.

Mary Ann McKenzie, entertainment marketing manager for Future Shop, told the Straight that some urban stores, closer to courier depots, received games as early as December 21. “Most stores received it by the 24th,” she said, but quantities were limited. “We could have sold 10 to 20 times the amount of the stock that we received.”

Victor Lucas, creator and cohost of video-game television show The Electric Playground, said that if there’s a shortage in the U.S., the Canadian market gets shortchanged. “The video-game industry looks at Canada as a small territory,” he told the Straight. “We are 10 percent of the market, and we get 10 percent of the product.”

Part of the problem, McKenzie said, is that while music and movie publishers have street dates—the date when a product is made available to consumers—video-game publishers use ship dates, when the games are shipped to retailers. That creates a problem for retailers wanting to convey to the consumer when games will be available. “We are strongly advocating that video-game publishers adopt the street-date model of distribution,” McKenzie said.

That would mean gamers anticipating the next big thing wouldn’t be left singing the blues.