Who knew a shiny piece of cardboard with a picture of Pikachu wearing a funny little hat would cause so much trouble? Everyone did, apparently, except The Pokemon Company. This has happened before, and it will definitely happen again if Pokemon doesn’t change its ways. What’s frustrating about the situation is that the solutions are so obvious. It almost seems as though that company wants there to be a bloodbath over promo cards. This is a lousy way to treat fans, and the things Pokemon has done to address the problem are only making things worse.
If you’re not caught up on the Pikachu Van Gogh drama, our own Joe Parlock did a great write-up on the situation. Basically, Pokemon partnered with the Van Gogh Museum to produce a promo card featuring a Pikachu version of one of Van Gogh’s most famous self-portraits. If you visited the Amsterdam museum you could get a free card by completing a little activity book, or pick one up in the gift shop, included with the purchase of some new Van Gogh Pokemon. The first day they were available, a mob of fans and (mostly) resellers descended on the museum like a shoal of piranhas, turning the place over and generally acting like fucking animals. This week, the museum announced it would no longer offer the promo card because of the risk it was creating for employees and patrons. Absolutely dire.
Luckily, the promo card was also made available on the Pokemon Center website for free with any purchase from the collection. Just kidding, the same people that would wreck a museum gift shop also used their bots and scripts to buy up every last item within five seconds of the listings going live. Within days social media was full of pictures of people showing off the dozens of Pikachu promos they managed to get, and bragging about how much money they’re going to make from them.
As Joe correctly identifies in his piece, we can blame the scalpers for being terrible people (and we should) but Pokemon creates opportunities for people to be terrible. Of course people are going to treat promo cards like lottery tickets when you make them ridiculously exclusive. Of course people are going to act like animals in a museum when they know how much money they stand to make. I’m not excusing them, but this wouldn’t happen if Pokemon took reasonable measures to prevent it. Something as simple as an online queue system, which plenty of other companies already use, would make some difference, and show people that the company actually cares about this issue.
Since then, things have gone from bad to worse. The Pokemon Twitter account posted an apology, stating that the collection sold out instantly due to “overwhelming demand”, as if the demand couldn’t have been predicted. A large amount of Pokemon Center orders, perhaps even most of the orders, were canceled over the following days. When people reached out to customer service to try to find out what happened to their order, they received a bizarre message explaining that, upon review, it was determined that their order was placed prior to the official launch of the collection, which is a violation of the terms & service, resulting in their order being canceled.
No one has any idea what this is supposed to mean, and no further clarifications have been made. I myself made a purchase – a notebook to match the promo card, and nine days later the order was canceled. I assure you I didn’t use any trick or time travel to make the purchase before the collection went on sale, and the implication that it’s somehow my fault that the Pokemon Center oversold and had to cancel so many orders is just adding insult to injury. Surely everyone who had the order canceled should be offered a way to get things they tried to buy, but Pokemon is just going to leave all of us hanging out to dry.
The final development, at least so far, is the announcement that the Pikachu promo is coming back to the Pokemon Center at some unspecified time, included with any purchase over $30… while supplies last. Pokemon is either bumbling into the same mistakes it made last time and should be pitied for its poor management, or this is just another example in a long history of it wanting and cultivating the kind of frenzy we just saw.
After everything that’s happened, this is not an acceptable solution. Pokemon has the option and the ability – considering it owns the printing house that produces Pokemon cards – to print the Pikachu promo to demand. Wizards does this with Magic: The Gathering’s Secret Lair, and there’s no reason Pokemon can’t do it too. Set a time frame, just a day or two, and communicate it early so that everyone knows what to expect. Let every purchase include the card, and print as many as it takes to fill every order. Crash the scalper market and send a message to the kind of people who think it’s okay to ransack a museum for shiny cardboard.
This “while supplies last” nonsense is going to create even more resentment, while further enriching the people who already have ways to make hundreds of online orders simultaneously, just so they can sell the cards for a profit. The only limit to the supply is the amount that Pokemon decides to produce. It’s the definition of artificial scarcity, and for a card that is supposed to be a free gift to celebrate fine art, it disgusts me to see how this has all played out.
Next: Pikachu Van Gogh Promo Card Pulled From Museum After Scalping Debacle