Video games are a medium that has evolved at break-neck speed ever since its inception. How they look, how we interact with them, how they are made, the stories they tell, even their definition has always been in constant flux. One of the newest changes coming to gaming is how we get our games. While PC gamers have been downloading games for a while, for us console gamers, digital distribution is relatively new. There are many pros and cons to this new way of obtaining our games, but one fact is clear: digital distribution is the future of gaming. Whether that happens in a few months or a few years doesn’t change the fact that it is coming. It will be a big change for many gamers, but it will be a hard pill to swallow for retail stores, especially those whose only products are games. Just ask Gamestop.
Right now GameStop is the king of video game specialty stores, at least in the US. There are a few other contenders out there, but GameStop overshadows them all. Despite the fact that every time you call they annoy you with various pre-order opportunities or the fact that many, many people have had bad experiences with the business (I have had a few bad shopping trips there, but have been lucky that the one near me is run by a nice guy) GameStop still makes loads of dough with its pre-order incentives and, especially, its trade in program and used games section. So what could make this giant of video game sales quake in its boots? Soon, the evolution of the video games they make millions of dollars from will make them irrelevant. But, GameStop isn’t going to fall into obscurity lying down.
GameStop recently announced a new product that gamers will be able to buy in their stores. Gamers will be able get off their couches, put on pants (I assume all gamers play in their underwear), drive to a GameStop and purchase some downloadable content for their systems. While this might seem ludicrous, (the adjective not the rapper) for young kids without credits cards or people who prefer cash, it will be great. This program, whether proven successful or not, shows that GameStop doesn’t have its head buried in the sand when it comes to digital distribution. GameStop saw that DLC was a very profitable part of gaming that was completely bypassing not only them but all of retail. With this new program GameStop at least gets it foot in the door of DLC. But will GameStop be able to do the same thing when people are downloading whole games instead of just extra content.
GameStop has a few things that could help them survive as digital distribution becomes more and more pervasive. Younger kids without credits cards will still need a place to go to get their games. Some people just hate credit cards and it is hard to insert 20 dollar bills into your Xbox to buy stuff online. As unbelievable as it sounds, many people still do not have their consoles hooked up to the internet and thus are completely cut off from digital distribution. People will still need controllers, peripherals, and other things that you can not just download.
Unfortunately for GameStop, most of those positives I just wrote about are going away. While there will always be kids who want games, the average age of gamers has been rising for years. High speed internet is going into more and more homes and will be going into more and more consoles that were previously not connected. If you couldn’t tell by all the people in credit card debit, credit cards are becoming the norm, if they aren’t already.
Comic books shops have dwindled because of bigger retailers, the internet, subscription services, digital comics, and more, but they are still around because many comic book nerds like to be around other comic book nerds. The charm of comic book shops has kept them alive. GameStop, for a lot of gamers, just doesn’t have that charm. People do not look forward to going to their local GameStop and are looking forward to the day they can get their games without leaving the house. Gamestop hasn’t gotten to the top without being smart, and I am sure they have a few tricks up their sleeve, but in my eyes they can only delay the day they are no longer relevant in the gaming world.