Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Is There a Place for the Game Store Anymore? Physical vs. Digital

Despite things like additional content and various lures to try and grab people into buying from stores, today places like EB, GameStop, and other physical retailers are facing very stiff competition from both online stores like Steam and the inbuilt console franchises, and services like GameFly which offer a greater amount of flexibility at what is considered to be a more affordable price.

It just seems like there is less and less of a need to have a physical game store. Aside from offering exclusive bundles (something which many people already take issue with), there's really no advantage in having a local game store set up. I will admit that personally I'm a fan of having the actual physical copy of a game, rather than just a digital download, but considering that on the PC at least that backing up a game to a disc is something that is not only legal (within certain boundaries of course) but also encouraged by online retailers like Steam, who are quick to tell you that you should backup games to discs in case you ever suffer the dreaded catastrophic system failure that is bound to happen at least once to everyone in this day and age.

Consoles are a little different, of course. Since hard drive space is more limited on a console and you can't back a game up onto a disc there's more of a demand for actual physical media. But even in this case the only notable advantage that a brick and mortar store has over, say, or any other online store that sells the physical copies of games is that you can wander down to EB or the like on the release day and likely pick up the title you're interested in. You can still get a game fairly quickly online, but the shipping will cost you more and in some cases people tend to want a new game immediately after it comes out. Game stores have long held midnight openings for large enough titles, giving people that pre-ordered the opportunity to pick it up literally as early as they possibly can without breaking the law.

Still, all of this really begs the question: aside from getting releases on release day (something that you can also achieve via downloading) there's really no advantage to driving down to wherever and picking up a game anymore. Stores used to of course be the only places that you could get games, they were a specialized group that catered to a certain audience. Stores once served as gathering places for things like fighting tournaments and LAN parties. If you've ever read tales recalling the local, privately run game stores, ones like The Acts of Gord (which you should read if you haven't already), you can understand how the game shop used to be a cornerstone of the industry: with a friend behind the counter you could get hard to find games, and good deals on the stuff you wanted.

Now though, the internet has replaced all that. Places like amazon essentially make sure that you're going to be getting the game for the cheapest price that anyone is sane enough to put it at, even if the difference is only a dollar or two. Rare games can be found on ebay or private sites: although they might cost an arm and a leg there's really no difference since having someone else get it for you didn't drive the price down any unless they were a very good negotiator. Opening a privately owned game shop is even more of a risk, since you're competing against everyone else and can't really offer the advantages of deals for trade ins and things like that. When even places like EB are having trouble moving some of their stock, it doesn't bode well for anyone that wants their own little piece of the pie.

It really does seem like the game store is soon, if not already, part of a bygone time. Whether this is a good or a bad thing, or if it even makes a difference, is still yet to be seen. But while stores struggle against the ease of access and other benefits that digital only mediums have, there are still other questions to tackle. Those, however, are better left for another day.


  1. To me Amazon is a nice way to buy games, plus I get free release day shipping so that is very nice. The only real downside to getting a game that way is I have to wait for the UPS truck which normally doesn't get to my house till like 4pm.

  2. I've been selling and otherwise getting rid of any hard copies of anything I already have or can get digitally. It saves room, which, in my current living situation, is a plus.

    That and my desire to have the box, the manual, the Nintendo "careful don't get epilepsy" leaflet, the flyer with the company's other games, and the exclusive Ryu headband has diminished greatly since I entered my third decade of being alive.


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