If you’ve been reading the internet these past couple of weeks, you might have come across an acronym you don’t understand, and then immediately started using it in whole sentences as soon as you saw other people using it. It’s okay. This is something we do, with the internet. We sometimes use acronyms we don’t understand completely, or even understand at all. Acronyms are a part of our culture. I kid you not — I make acronyms out of everything I do, these days. “Gee Tee Tee Bee!” means “Goin’ To The Bathroom!” Enough about me, though.
The acronym we’re going to talk about today is “SKU”. If you read gaming’s most beloved tabloids or browse the scummiest videogame forumhives, you’ll see this acronym popping up a lot lately. People are using it in complete sentences! With punctuation marks, even! Many of them have a basic idea what it means, though few of them know what it stands for.
In short, it stands for freedom. In long, it stands for Stock Keeping Unit. According to the Wikipedia: “A SKU or Stock Keeping Unit (sometimes pronounced as a word, “skew,” or as individual letters, S K U) is an identifier that is used by merchants to permit the systematic tracking of products and services offered to customers.”
In other words, a “SKU” is a very strictly, labcoat-wearing-like, retail term. It approaches the idea of sales with tweezers and a microscope. When someone on a forum says, of the new black Xbox 360 Elite, that “multiple SKUs is going to create problems at the retail level”, they mean it’s going to confuse consumers who are not absolutely certain which box on a shelf contains what they want to buy.
For your reading pleasure, try this article at Kotaku. Use your browser’s search command on “SKU”; witness its use in the comments section. Ponder deeply how many of those usages might have been cut out or rewritten entirely to sound less like something a robot or a lecturer in the Chinet ballroom of a three-star hotel by the airport might have said during a seminar.
Also witness the amazing poise of mister Shane Kim, who convinced 75% of the internet that 1080p was “TOTALLY IMPOSSIBLE D00DZ” back in 2005, as he somewhat gracefully dodges the accusation that this “elite” Xbox 360 is just Microsoft playing catch-up with Sony. Also witness the rigid, stone-facery of the Sony PR man. (He’s the one who talks about SKUs.)
So why has this acronym suddenly popped into the videogame blogosphere? Because we like feeling elite? Maybe, maybe not. Keep in mind that a lot of the guys who get interviewed by videogame blogs are not actual game developers — they’re videogame PR guys, and unlike, say, movie PR guys, who more often than not have at least seen a couple dozen movies in their lives, videogame PR guys tend to come from strict retail backgrounds. Nintendo’s Reggie used to manage a Pizza Hut (or something), for God’s sake. Spewing “SKU” left and right is these guys’ revenge for you guys’ talking about mysterious things they don’t understand, like “graphics” or “gameplay”.
In closing, “SKU” is something you’d hear during your on-the-job training to be a stockroom monkey at a Target store at the start of that magic teenage summer that will indirectly make you a life-long smoker. It really doesn’t belong in human conversation, even on the internet. I say this as a man who shuddered and moaned when everyone started talking about “IP”s — Intellectual Properties — though maybe that was because I found it hard to believe any videogame had ever been “intellectual”. Really, though, you can keep “IP”. Use it all you want. Just promise not to say “SKU” anymore, people.