Leading UK retailer GAME has come under fire for breaking the street date of Eidos' latest Tomb Raider title by a full two days - but the company says it was simply responding to moves by its competitors.
GAME stores across the UK began selling Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness on Wednesday morning, with some stores even going so far as to post hand-written or printed signs in their windows advertising that the game was now available.
The reaction from other retailers was swift, with many other stores putting the game on sale immediately - while still others, mostly independent retailers whose stock presumably arrived later than stock for the big chains, were furious in their condemnation of GAME's move.
One independent retailer we spoke to described the breaking of the street date as a "shameless land-grab" by GAME, which is by far the largest retailer in the UK with some 45 per cent of the market.
For its part, GAME claims that its move was prompted when it learned that some of its competitors were planning to put the game on sale as soon as they received it, fully supported with in-store POS material.
"We have always worked very closely with publishers to uphold release dates," a GAME spokesperson told gi.biz yesterday afternoon. "This is a completely unusual situation, and it has not happened before.... We will support street dates but not at the expense of losing customers."
Although GAME sticks firmly by the official explanation, that it was responding to planned moves by competitors in order not to lose valuable week one sales, the company obviously lays some of the blame for this debacle squarely at the door of publisher Eidos.
"There has been weeks of speculation about when, or even if, Tomb Raider was going to be released," according to the GAME spokesperson. "All of this confusion and speculation has obviously left customers frustrated, particularly those who pre-ordered the product."
Indeed, Eidos only confirmed in the middle of last week that the game would not be released until July 4th - up until then, the company had been adamant that it would appear by the end of June. A certain measure of frustration on the part of both customers and retailers is only to be expected, then.
"When you work at a retailer, you have customers coming in every week and asking when the game is out and when they'll be able to get a copy of it," continued the GAME spokesman. "All of these things came to a head... Customers were extremely frustrated."
"Our first duty is to serve our customers," he explained, going on to argue that it would have been unfair to customers who had pre-ordered the game if GAME had not reacted to its competitors moves and broken the street date.
Nobody at Eidos could be reached for an official comment at time of writing - we'll update you as soon as we get a comment from the publisher. Given that GAME is effectively, if not overtly, blaming Eidos for this entire affair, we wouldn't expect the company to maintain silence over the issue - although GAME's incredible sway in the UK games industry may dictate otherwise, of course.