Scarcity Isn’t Always Great For Business
While companies use this practice to build hype, others use it poorly to cause problems in industries, and for customers alike.
Recently a company called Secret Lair released some official Magic: The Gathering cards featuring some familiar cards to present and veteran Magic players.
You’ve got Bitterblossom, a pretty busted card retailed at less than what the card is actually worth at the moment.
You’ve also got some goblins inspired by the Fortnite art style.
A sort of throwback and sick art style for some classic five colour cards.
And of course the most adorable kittens in the entire world.
But what’s so interesting and appealing about these cards is that Magic: The Gathering announced that these specific art styles are exclusive. This is the only opportunity you will ever get to purchase these and have them in your collection.
Naturally, they’re priced at $30 or $40 per set (Or the full bundle at $200), but I know people would get out there and get these cards. After all, there is an iconic member in the Magic community pushing these sales as well.
But there is also one other factor at work here:
Again, this is the only time you’ll ever get a chance to buy these. And even if you’re not that big into card games, you can’t help but feel a little tug.
After all, those cats are pretty adorable, right?
To me, this is scarcity done right. The community is widely aware of these cards and the only real downside is that you’re not going to get your hands on this specific artwork.
Therefore the price we’re paying is purely cosmetic or to round out a collection. These cards have been printed once or twice in the past and other copies are readily available.
The only benefit you’ll get from this is the style points when playing it in the card game or showing it off.
We have seen this marketing tactic time and time again. From service-based companies only have so many people who can work so many hours a day to products like the cards I mentioned above which are made for a specific occasion and nothing else.
Scarcity is a well-oiled sales tactic because in the right circumstances we’ll crack and cave out of fear of missing out (or FOMO). We’re emotional creatures and so when you introduce powerful emotions like fear, it can turn to desire and we feel compelled to buy it.
I was personally interested in both Bitterblossom and the throwback five colour cards. Mainly because Bitterblossom is a good deal and I already have the original art for two of those three cards.
But I stopped myself because it’s mainly for style points and I don’t particularly need to have these cards.
All that being said, I feel that while some companies have been using this appropriately, there have been others in recent years who have taken scarcity to the next level.
And it’s not particularly good.
Because as much as we use it to hype up desire and use it to persuade people to buy things, scarcity can become so over-used it could choke out customers, a company, or even an industry.
Stadia, A Story On Nothing To Offer To Customers
The first example I want to be bringing up is a gaming platform that Google has been pushing for hard. From frequent — and albeit weird — advertisements, the gaming platform was making a lot of promises.
A wide selection of games to choose from.
Playing the games you love from any device be it a tablet, smartphone or television.
A nicely designed controller.
The ability to watch a trailer on Youtube and seamlessly start playing the game right then and there. Not to mention using the State Share feature which allows you to share a certain part you’re in a game and people can immediately jump to that moment.
Being able to stream content through the platform.
Having games shared through the Family sharing feature.
And a buddy pass which comes part of the Stadia Founders bundle.
A lot of these promises make Stadia on the surface a very unique platform. Nintendo is the most inherently innovative gaming company out there and has stepped up its portability over the years. You’ve got the Wii U to a small extent and now with a more polished version the Switch.
But you’re still locked into that specific device. Stadia broke that when it promised users could hop between more than traditional mediums like a specific handheld and a television.
On top of that, it’s offering a fair amount of games as well. On launch, Stadia offered games like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Final Fantasy 15, Red Dead Redemption 2 amongst other notable gaming titles.
So how exactly is a gaming platform run by Google an example of scarcity?
In the case of Stadia, not only is a bunch of the features mentioned above not even offered yet but it also feels incomplete. With reports of lagging in the menus and in the game happening frequently regardless of if your internet speed is subpar or high-speed, it’s clear it’s not up to par.
But when it comes to scarcity for Stadia, it’s worth looking at the games that Stadia is “launching” with. And my use of air quotes there is because Stadia is only launching with games that are set to be released on other consoles too.
Meaning that Stadia itself is offering absolutely no new titles from the company itself.
While one could argue that this is revolutionary, this move is still pretty bold and has seriously backfired.
It’s one thing if Stadia was able to deliver everything they promised, but with features not being prepared until early 2020, a shaky launch overall, and no desire to launch their own unique batch of games, there’s little reason people would want to buy this.
When we look at what Stadia has to offer, the main selling points were unique features wrapped up in a platform. Sure it’s pulling from games people might already have, but it’s a minor issue.
Provided that Stadia kept up what it said it was able to do at launch.
Instead, the fact there are no games to help support its shaky features, we see this as yet another weak point to a platform that intended to be revolutionary.
Overall, Stadia is a prime example of why it’s important to have a target audience. After all, it’s key to have a balance between features that appeal to the demographic and a set of games to get people to buy into it. When you don’t have that formula, it’s difficult to create hype.
Disney +, Strangling Communities, Customers, And Industries
But an example that’s more relatable to people is likely the new streaming platform Disney +. Introduced in November 2019, the platform was already going to be pretty small.
The entire library that Disney provides right now is 500 movies and 7,500 TV episodes. While that library is extensive that’s a drop in the pond compared to Netflix with 5,579 titles, 4,010 movies and 1,569 TV shows.
To their credit, Disney + is focusing on making new content. After all, Phase 4 of the MCU revolves around people subscribing to Disney + as there will be episodes on there that fans will need to watch to stay caught up.
Furthermore, they are introducing new titles like Mandalorian 01 and are still making live-action films of classic films like Lady and the Tramp with some mixed reviews.
But they’re at least making content. How is that restrictive at all?
It’s not so much the content they are introducing but it’s how Disney has operated in the past and how it’s being operated now. And Disney + is a way to show off some of the dangers of that.
First It’s Putting A Grip On Customers
While Disney does have less content on the platform, there is still plenty to be excited about on there. Disney said in the past they’re focusing more on the quality of the content than the sheer quantity.
Though Netflix does have its fair share of quality content as well.
But from that statement alone, there are some unusual things about what Disney and Disney + are doing.
First is the live-action remakes that Disney has been relying on upon over the years. While the nostalgia is great, these new remakes have been less than desirable. There’s been plenty of mixed reviews about that content.
The remakes overall can be seen in various ways. They could be cover-ups to the racial stereotyping they had in the past. Or maybe something else. Regardless I don’t think quality comes to mind in terms of those specific films.
While Netflix cycles through content, Disney can’t afford that luxury. They’ve only got so much at the moment
Furthermore, we know when content is removed from Disney, there is a specific reason. That reason is that something an actor, actress, or movie staff said or did doesn’t line up with Disney’s values.
From hate speech on social media to getting wrapped in sexual scandals, these things Disney doesn’t tolerate.
And while the public should also have that stance, Disney goes a step further. By removing episodes or halting the production of films entirely.
I get that this issue is a grey line. I agree with the idea of punishing those who do bad things of course. But I find it weird that Disney is the only company that has censored actors, actresses and films in this fashion.
Even though what an actor does on set is different from reality.
I say that it’s weird because when someone does those sorts of things, anything they produced remains there. However, the context around it shifts.
Bill Cosby’s shows are still in existence. Though the thought of watching any of his content now is drastically different than before.
Why this policy matters though is that it creates rifts in episodes. As Shannon mentioned in her post, episodes of an otherwise good show are missing because of an employee's actions outside of what they did for this show. Not only does it deny those who saw those episodes previously, but it denies the children whom this platform is targeting as well.
And this behaviour of having content vanish because “it’s Disney” is a theme that’s crushing even industries and communities.
How Disney + Is Ruining An Industry
We all know that video streaming services have completely replaced the rental industry. But with Disney + being rolled out, the platform specifically is destroying another industry:
Disney has a lot of dark aspects, but one I want to touch on is something called the Disney Vault.
It’s a place where movies don’t go to die but are locked away only to be used by Disney and those it deems worthy of. In all likelihood, it’s going to be only on Disney related products.
Why this is a problem now is that Disney is no longer comprised of exclusively Disney films. Over the years they’ve merged with Pixar and in recent years Blue Sky (the studio behind all of the Ice Age stuff.).
But what’s even more dangerous is the merger with Fox. Because of that merger, films are slowly being sucked away into this vault and are being rolled out through Disney +.
If you want to see any classics from Pixar or Fox, either you need to have a copy of it yourself, buy it somewhere or check on Disney +.
This is the reality that many cinemas face today as explained in a Vulture post in October. Any cinema that wants to show off Pixar, Fox, or Blue Sky films will likely be denied.
This is a problem because not all cinemas are massive and are part of the cinemas that get the blockbuster hits. Some get by heavily on old films and showing them off during special occasions.
Take the cinema Vulture showcased in the opening. It’s a cinema whose main pull is showing off all the various horror classic films that Fox produced over the years. Now that those are in the vault, cinemas are going to have a tough time doing a monster movie marathon with Fox films.
Even larger and more profitable cinemas will have dull periods. That’s the movie industry in a nutshell. Because of those dull periods, cinemas need to push other screens of older movies to hype up interest. This becomes harder to do when the library of films is arbitrarily blocked for no apparent reason.
By extension of this scarcity, it also impacts communities, especially smaller ones. If a cinema shuts down because it can’t show off as many films people would pay money for, then there is less to do in town. Not only that but the money cinema’s make get pumped back into the community allowing it to grow more and stay afloat.
When you cut off local businesses, there’s less money coming back to those communities making it harder for people to live and stay entertained there.
I’m not saying cinemas alone carry the backbone of an entire city’s prosperity, but without a cinema, there are fewer ways to find entertainment outside of your home and support the community you live in.
Scarcity Comes At A Price
In these two cases, I can see some of the reasoning behind the two companies building up scarcity.
Stadia promised to be bold and innovative and believed that no content would further grow that image in a positive manner.
Disney’s vault creates opportunities for Disney + to thrive upon launch, but also for the future.
But with poor execution, technical issues, and other unusual practices, these scarcity tactics feel more restrictive than hyped reasons to buy into those two companies.
Even if many people are supporting these things, that’s certainly fine. But scarcity comes at a price no matter what. Whether it’s done well or not. And that sting becomes harsher when you companies push scarcity too far.