Buying Halo Reach: South Africa's Retail Gaming Industry Is In Trouble

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Yesterday saw the release of Microsoft’s biggest title of 2010 by far, which as you all know, was the latest entry of their flagship series, Halo Reach.

What is Halo Reach to the gaming industry? It’s money, and lots of it. The game had already surpassed 2 million pre-orders worldwide, and at an average price of around $60 globally, that means that the game had generated over $120,000,000.00 (roughly R900,000,000.00) before it was even released. So why then, on the day of its release in South Africa, is the local gaming industry not only ill-equipped for the event, but uneducated as well?

My experience over the next hour or two was enlightening to say the least. Bare with me as I take you on my journey through retail-shopping-land and the discovery that South Africa’s retail gaming industry has a lot of work cut out for it.

As most of you well know, I receive a lot of games direct from distributors in order to write reviews, which of course, comes with the obvious perk of not having to buy it myself.

For the release of Halo Reach, I was supposed to receive a review copy but still needed to buy an extra copy for my wife. After the review copy didn’t arrive, I decided that I was happy enough to spend the money to support the game, so we went out to buy two copies instead.

I headed over to the Menlyn Shopping Center in Pretoria, which as you may know, is one of the largest malls in the Southern hemisphere, and an extremely popular one at that. If Halo was going to be raking in sales from your everyday gamer, surely this would be one of the places that the business would be going down.

I had last minute urge to try and get my hands on a legendary edition, even though I knew my chances were slim, so I chose to visit all of the gaming stores in the mall to see if they had any stock.

Out Of Reach

BT Games was closest to the entrance that we used, so we headed there first. When I asked the staff about stock for the legendary edition of Halo Reach, they knew what I was talking about (expected from a dedicated gaming store) and informed me that they didn’t have stock, but did have the normal version. So I promptly thanked them and went on my way.

Next up was Look and Listen, which was just around the corner. They had a few promo boxes of Halo Reach on the shelves, and when I enquired about the legendary edition, they said they would only be getting stock of it later in the week, but did have the limited and normal version available.

So far so good, believe it or not. What came next was a shocker, and inspired me to right this very article.

Hay What? Ha-Lo

I headed over to Musica next, which was also just a few steps from the Look and Listen. Looking at the shelves, there was no sign of Halo Reach, so I enquired about stock at the counter. After checking the computer, the sales person then made a point to confirm with me that Halo Reach, was in fact, a DVD movie.

Yes, the biggest Xbox 360 title of the year, and he hadn’t even heard the name, nor did he even know that it was a video game. Great stuff, Musica. They hadn’t received any stock, of a game like Halo Reach, on launch day. Why didn’t they have their stock yet?

Next up, I visited the rather large CNA, which has a big section of its store dedicated to gaming. When I arrived I noticed large Halo Reach Promo boxes and cardboard pop-ups in the windows. This looked promising. After being completely ignored by the staff for a few minutes and with no sign of the game on sale, we hunted down a sales person and asked them to check what they had available.

Believe it or not, she too didn’t really have a good idea of what we were talking about, but proceeded to tell us that they hadn’t received any stock yet. That’s two stores that hadn’t received any stock. Strange, considering BT and Look and Listen both had stock.

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I proceeded to Top CD, which if you don’t know, is a chain of stores based only in Gauteng that is very similar (and in fact older) than Look and Listen. While I don’t always agree with their pricing, their gaming section is usually pretty jacked-up and the staff is always knowledgable and helpful.

The manager of the store actually approached me to ask what I needed and when I mentioned Halo Reach, lo and behold, he knew exactly what I was talking about. Unfortunately, it was only a few moments later that he informed that there stock had not arrived either, later mentioning that with the distributors, it just happens sometimes.

Strike three. That’s was the third major store in the mall to not have received their stock, but more on that in a bit.

I finally headed over to Incredible Connection and upon mentioning Halo Reach, I was met with yet another baffled look on the sales person’s face. He proceeded to do the now-very-tedious task of checking the store computer, and after staring at a list of Halos, told me that they didn’t have any game called Halo Reach.

That was, of course, moments before I pointed out the words “Halo Reach” in the list literally milliseconds before he closed the program. He disappeared off to the back room to check for stock, while I stood around noticing that they too had the promo boards, but had stuck them in a dingy little corner of the store.

He returned with a copy of Reach in his hands. Great news, they had Halo Reach, but why in the heck was it not already sitting on the shelves on its day of release. They were the cheapest in the mall, so I left with two copies, simply baffled by my experience. Screw the legendary edition, there were bigger problems going on.

This experience made a few big problems very evident.

Show Me The Money

First is down to the stores. When a huge chunk of bow-tied money comes your way, why would you not have bothered to educate any of your staff about the title? I’ll bet the sales guy could have talked the shit out of my ear about the latest Twilight Movie.

Second, if you were fortunate enough to actually receive stock on or before launch day, why the hell is it not up on your shelves with a big sign saying “you can throw your money at us here”.

Down to my third point. What on earth is going on with our distribution channels? How is it possible, that out of six major retail stores that pull in major business, only half of them received stock, even when a store that didn’t was a 5 second walk away?

Quick, Blame Someone!

In this case I believe that the finger has to be firmly pointed at Microsoft South Africa, right? Not only have they failed to provide stock to all of the retailers that ordered, but it quickly becomes obvious that they didn’t make a big effort to let them know that hey, by the way, Halo Reach is our biggest launch of the year.

They aren’t solely to blame though, as the stores themselves should be educating their staff on their products, especially when it is expected to be very popular.

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In Comparison

When we attended E3 in Los Angeles this year, we were flabbergasted by the monumental amount of Red Dead Redemption advertisements placed all over the city. When we say “monumental”, we mean that we couldn’t drive more than a few blocks away from one, without seeing another one up on a billboard or plastered onto a bus stop. We guess-timate that over the whole of Los Angeles, there were easily around 250 – 500 of them, no kidding.

South Africa clearly didn’t get the newsletter that mentioned that the gaming industry has completely surpassed the film industry in terms of revenue generated, and that if they put in a bit of effort, they could start selling a ton of units.

Instead of hearing “Hey, did you know that the latest Halo is out today”, I was hearing “Halo what?” and with a title as popular as this… it’s no wonder that our country has taken so long to get services like Xbox Live.

What do you think about the situation in South Africa? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts and opinions.

Last Updated: September 15, 2010

Nick De Bruyne

Video games writer, editor and critic since '08. Living and breathing video games, movies and cars since the 80s. Follow me on Twitter if you love tons of gaming talk, and @pennyworthrevs for fun stuff and links.

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