On November 12th, 2015 at 6pm EST Amazon became the first retailer to offer pre-orders on Fire Emblem Fates Special Edition. At 6:04pm EST a Disqus comment section on a popular “In Stock” tracker was started. At 6:10pm EST Best Buy became the second seller to offer pre-orders.
Two hours later, Amazon sold out. A user complained, but was reassured that Best Buy still had pre-orders available.
Four hours after that, Best Buy sold out.
And thus, a community of people all struggling to obtain Fire Emblem Fates Special Edition was born.
What began as a few users asking questions about whether certain retailers restocked pre-orders quickly evolved into a community of people all brought together by their collective inability to purchase a game. At first blush that might seem reductive, but consider the five-minute friendships you’ve made waiting in line for the bathroom or for a train. Waiting, being in transition or trapped in limbo, often forces us to turn to each other and make friends.
Over the next three months this group grew and changed in ways that even a seasoned ethnographer might not have expected. Though some did stick to the script of asking “is [insert store] going to get more?” many “core members” of the community became the kind of friends that all had a chatroom together. They digitally wave goodbye as some went to school or work. They provided emotional support on a long time member’s bad day. Movements were organized to bombard Nintendo with requests for more copies.
Reading the comments felt as though I was a stranger a bar full of regulars. It was like being the lowliest scout around the campfire. These people knew each other. They cheered each other’s triumphs and shared in their low times.
Personalities emerged. Some took on cartoon or anime personas. Others took on ones from the game itself. People expressed their love and adoration for each other. Then the (relation)shipping began. Then the mods intervened. Then the members rebelled. These were not people who wished to be trifled with. They wanted their game and they wanted it the way that it was intended to be bought, from a store and not some dirty, dirty scalper.
I anxiously awaited launch day, February 19th, and the inevitable disintegration of this community. Surely they’d disband once the game could simply be bought in a store, Special Edition or not. Launch day came with a flurry of action. At midnights all across America commenters were posting about which stores had unexpected stocks, and lamenting the distance for their homes, offices or schools. Others dutifully reported that Amazon had a small stock on “back order.” Many remained skeptical. Many hearts and dreams were crushed. A few wishes had been granted and copies were obtained. Touchingly, many were sad that particularly dedicated members had not gotten a copy.
And then, the thread survived.
Fast forward three months to the present day. Since that humble beginning over 176,000 public messages have been exchanged between members of the In Stock community.