The launch of Capcom's unique mech shoot 'em up Steel Battalion and its gigantic custom controller is set to turn into a farce, as limited stocks leave pre-orders unfulfilled while copies flood onto eBay.
Sources have informed us that only around 2000 copies of the game, which is only sold along with its controller and costs £129, have been shipped to retail in the UK - and that there are no plans for any further shipments in the future.
Although this figure was estimated by Microsoft (which has taken over publishing duties for the title in the UK from Capcom) to be enough to cover pre-orders of the game, many customers can expect to be turned away from at least one major retailer today empty-handed - because foul-ups in its pre-ordering system led to it ordering too few units to fill its own pre-orders.
It's not expected that any retailers will have sufficient stock to put copies of the game on open sale - so the only option for gamers with no pre-order, or those whose pre-order hasn't been fulfilled, is to turn to online auction sites such as eBay.
At time of writing, there are eight copies of the UK PAL edition of Steel Battalion available on eBay - and the game doesn't officially launch until tomorrow. This is explained by a number of retail sources who told GamesIndustry.biz that staff at some retailers, anticipating that demand for the game will not be met, have been buying multiple copies of the game at staff discount prices and then putting them onto eBay immediately - often at the expense of consumers who will be told on Friday that their pre-order cannot be filled.
"There was limited stock on allocation so we made the decision to allocate stock to retailers that ran pre orders," explained Microsoft UK's Xbox PR man Nick Grange. "The orders have been well over our initial expectations so unfortunately and unavoidably there may be some disappointed customers."
Obviously Steel Battalion was always going to be a tricky prospect for retail and distribution, thanks to the high cost, bulky packaging and niche interest nature of the game. However, before too many excuses are made, it's worth remembering that Sega launched the cult title Samba de Amigo on the ill-fated Dreamcast (complete with £100 maracas controller) without any of this sort of messing about…