UK online retailer ShopTo is refusing to sell Activision games following a row over Call of Duty: Ghosts, Eurogamer can reveal.
The dispute revolves around rules that govern when retailers can post games to their customers. ShopTo is angry at Activision for refusing to allow it to send Call of Duty games more than a day before launch.
ShopTo claims it has shipped each year's Call of Duty game on the Monday or Tuesday for release, as per its contract with Activision, but with the release of Ghosts, due out as expected on a Tuesday this November, enough is enough.
"Activision's policy of only allowing e-tailers to despatch one day before release date effectively destroys an e-tailer's pre-order campaign," ShopTo boss Igor Cipolletta told Eurogamer, "as many deliveries inevitably arrive post-release date.
"This has the undesired effect of previously loyal and satisfied customers thinking that, if we can't 'get it right' for one of the biggest games of the year, why should they trust us with any future orders?
"Their friends and acquaintances, by word of mouth and social media, (despite possibly not having ever ordered from us), would see us (and possibly e-tailers as a whole) as unreliable. This despite all the time and hard work my team and the myriad of other publishers put into other titles during the year.
"Of course this Activision policy is not for every title, but due to the volume and fever pitch Call of Duty seems to generate (both positive and negative), it causes the most damage to us."
At the time of publication, Call of Duty: Ghosts is not listed on the ShopTo website, and thus is unavailable to pre-order. Neither is Deadpool, the upcoming Activision superhero game, or the new Skylanders game, Swap Force. Games already released by Activision remain unaffected, however.
Cipolletta said he would be willing to reconsider his decision if Activision changed its shipping policy. "We strongly believe they are not providing a level playing field between e-tailers and high street retailers, as the latter can have a midnight opening," he stressed.
While Activision declined to comment on our report, Eurogamer understands its UK office is unlikely to budge on its terms after growing frustrated at broken street dates in the UK, particularly from online retailers.
It's a huge decision from ShopTo and a brave move considering the expected enormity of Call of Duty: Ghost's UK launch. By not stocking the game the retailer is losing out to its rivals, including GAME, Amazon, Asda, GameStop, Sainsburys and Tesco.
Unfortunately, our experience with the Call Of Duty series in the past four years is that our campaigns have been extremely difficult to engender a supportable level of customer satisfaction and in regards to profit, a complete failure.
ShopTo boss Igor Cipolletta
Eurogamer has obtained a copy of Activision UK's retailer contract for Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. It highlights the street date as 13th November 2012 at 00.01 GMT, and includes a number of conditions that must be agreed to before it will deliver the game in advance.
The key condition is that retailers must agree to post their online orders so consumers will not receive them before the release date. Failure to comply, the contract warns, and Activision may refuse to re-stock the offending retailer, and may refuse to supply them with product in advance of any other future street dates.
While many gamers enjoy the benefits of broken street dates, for publishers they are a growing problem and for Activision, which publishes arguably the biggest game in the world, they damage the effectiveness of their costly midnight launch events.
In November last year, ahead of the release of Black Ops 2, UK online retailer Simply Games promised customers it would break the official street date for those who pre-ordered the game the Friday before release. It later removed the offer, blaming it on an administration error, but Activision's then UK managing director Peter Hepworth vowed to take "appropriate action" against any shop that sold Call of Duty early.
"We take street dates very seriously," he told MCV. "The vast, vast majority has held the line. Everyone wants the big community event at midnight when the sales come through. I am aware of some exceptions. We are looking at appropriate action. But we are pleased to say we have got the support of all of the retail partners, and they are not causing these issues. They want to help us celebrate it at midnight tonight."
But ShopTo's Cipolletta accused the global Tuesday Call of Duty release of being a "stock market trick that show investors the sales from Tuesday to Sunday rather than from Friday to Sunday".
"It doesn't really help any e-tailer, merely the market share of the publisher," he said.
He called on Activision to sell the game in the UK on the Friday, as it says other publishers do with their big releases. While ShopTo and others typically receive Call of Duty stock on the Friday before the big Tuesday release, Cipolletta said selling Call of Duty is an already unprofitable business, and processing orders over the weekend would cost the company even more money.
"Unfortunately, our experience with the Call Of Duty series in the past four years is that our campaigns have been extremely difficult to engender a supportable level of customer satisfaction and in regards to profit, a complete failure.
"Because of the highly competitive nature of the market we have been unable to make any profit. But added to this, what really hurt us (and therefore our customers' satisfaction) was that we have been unable to guarantee 99 per cent delivery by the release date.
"We can normally achieve this with the support of other publishers, as they understand and appreciate that Royal Mail takes 1-3 days to deliver 1st Class to our UK mainland customers.
"Our wholesale unit price, added to the fact that the game has a worldwide Tuesday release date, means the processing and shipping requirements of this stock does not accommodate an e-tailers needs. With the requirement to pay staffing costs over the weekend, this would destroy any profit, as we cannot increase our selling price as we risk having zero orders. Essentially, if we receive stock late on a Friday, the processing time we have is halved and our processing costs double."
He added: "We have seen this year that Disney has listened to retailers regarding the release date for Disney Infinity. I really don't see why with Activision we can't have Friday release like any other triple-A title such as FIFA, Battlefield, Injustice, Dishonoured, Far Cry 3 and more."
Eurogamer analysed the UK's traditional Friday video game release window in a sweeping investigation published last year.