Xbox 360 and “Scarcity” as Marketing

  This is a reprint from my old blog with the original timestamp.  

Ok, so I’m going to deviate a little from the norm. I’ve typically posted here about Shadows. So instead, I’m going to talk about the Xbox 360 and marketing. I waited in line at CompUSA and Best Buy to try and buy one last Tuesday. I’m not a big fan of waiting in lines, but I figured what the heck I’ll give it a try. CompUSA shut down the line about 15 people in front of me. At Best Buy it was three people in front of me. Let me tell you, that sucks. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised given my general unwillingness to spend the night in front of a retailer so I can get a new game machine.

What I am most fascinated by is Microsoft’s approach to this on a marketing level. Frankly, I’m kind of pissed about the whole thing. I am pretty sure the shortage was fabricated (or at the very least could have easily been avoided with some better planning) and, therefore, people like me that didn’t get there early enough wasted a lot of time for no really good reason. (I’ll take a little bit of the sucker label for this one too.) But I’m betting that before the end of the year there will be tons of Xbox 360s in stores. If I’m wrong on this I might actually have a very tiny degree of belief that the launch shortage wasn’t faked. But I think I’ll be vindicated in this – so much so that I’m writing it down.

Now scarcity is a great marketing tool. There was a news truck outside of Best Buy while I was waiting in line. (Of course there is such a high degree of news bandwidth now that they’ll cover almost anything – and nothing is more entertaining than a bunch of geeks standing around in the cold waiting in line for somthing shiny or weird.) But I think it can backfire. I think if more people could have gotten Xbox 360s out of the gate there would have been that many more evangelists out there – especially outside the hard core guys. With this “scarcity”, only the diehard fans got Xbox 360s – which is great for Microsoft if the console is spectacular and they love it. But if only the hardcore fans get it, only the hardcore fans will talk about it. And they are the most likely to be the harshest critics. If a broader group of people had gotten them (including slightly more casual gamers [read: unwilling to wait in line for hours]) the reivews and coverage might be more broad and balanced. I think in the current blog coverage on the Xbox 360, some of this is starting to bit Microsoft.

If I see enough lukewarm reviews, I might decide to wait for the Playstation 3. Or I might just stick with PC games (which are better IMO anyway). I’ll probably just end up waiting until I show up at some store and they happen to be in stock. I’m certainly not excited enough any more that I’m going to actively look for one. I am curious to see what, if any, impact this play has on the long-term success of the Xbox 360.

Well there is my wandering, random markething thoughts for the day.

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So, what do you think ?