Electronic Arts, the world's biggest video game distributor, is taking heat from customers and retailers alike for its bungled release of the year's most anticipated title, Rock Band.
The full version of the video game— whichcomes witha plastic guitar, drums and a microphone that allow players tosimulate a band experience— was to be released in Canada on Thursday.
But retailers were operating under a cloud of confusion and could not say if they would even have the game in time for Christmas.
Several EB Games outlets said they expected shipments to arriveThursday, but were unsure when or how many they would receive. Best Buy and Future Shop stores told customers the game would be delayed until Dec. 28.
The game waslaunched in the United States last month, but its Canadian releasehas beendelayed repeatedly. Up until about a month ago, retailers still did not know its release date or pricing.
Angry retailerson Thursday placed the blame for the foul-up squarely on EA.
"There are going to be a lot ofupset customers this Christmas," said an employee at an EB Games store in Toronto.
A spokesperson for EA saidWednesday night thatRock Band was the most complex game ever released, given that it was shipping with a bundle of peripherals.
"Demand has been incredibly strong in the U.S. and Canada and we're shipping Rock Band to retailers as quickly as we can make them, but we suggest lining up early if you want to get one in time for the holidays," he said.
Customers did line up Thursday morning, only to discover stores did not have any shipments or solid information.
A spokesperson for Harmonix, the game's maker, on Wednesday said EA had underestimated the demand for the game — the same explanation offered by Nintendo for shortagesof its popular Wii console.
EA had a direct measuring stick for demand of Rock Band, which is an evolution of the highly successful, Harmonix-created Guitar Hero franchise. The various Guitar Hero games have combined to sell more than569,000 units in Canada in 2007, according to figures from tracking firm NPD Group Canada. GuitarHeroIII itself has sold more than 240,000 copiessince its debut in October.
The EA spokespersoncould notsay how many units of Rock Band had been shipped into Canada.
OneEB Games store in Toronto had been told bythe companyit would receive 50units, which come in large boxes packed with the instruments. But the store was takenaback this week when EA cut the expected shipment to less than 20.
Similarly, another EB Games store was expecting fewer than 10 units on Thursday, which would not come close to matching its pre-ordered numbers.The store was told by EA it would receive another four or fivesporadically over the next few months, but not when they would arrive. EA also did not give the store a cut-off number for pre-orders.
Gamers were alsoangry with EA, with many losingfaith in the company and its release dates.
"Just 'cause a site says it'll be 20th, at this point, I'm not going to believe it," wrote one gamer on the official Rock Band forum."UntilI see it posted on the announcements pagehere or it's sitting in front of my TV inthree days, I'm going to continue believing it's been delayed."
"Do you think that Canadians are getting the respect they deserve from these companies?" wondered another.
The Rock Band website was taken down for "upgrading" early Thursday afternoon.