Tuesday, 20 September 2011

"The Future is Disc-less?" Week Part 2 - Game Store, No More?

I've already touched upon the fact that game stores aren't exactly enjoying having to compete against their online counterparts. The internet was already enough of a mire for them with sites like Amazon and other distributors offering comparable prices on games while having things like free shipping. The coming of Steam and other digitally driven media delivery systems only increased the woes of the brick and mortar game store. It's not hard to imagine the reaction that a retailer like EB or Gamestop will have to a console that a person buys and then never has to walk into a game store again to purchase any title for.

We've actually already had a small taste of the unwillingness of game stores to sell systems that cut them out of the loop. The PSP variant system the PSP Go is a portable platform that actually cannot play disc related content at all: everything that you can play on the system is meant to be downloaded from the Playstation Store and then played from the internal hard drive. You simply load in different games from a library that you build on your user account: having access to all the older titles you've purchased in case you want to replay them, but also making space for newer releases when necessary. Of course game stores were less than thrilled to be selling something that didn't help them sell games which are their main mode of profit. Some retailers outright refused to sell the Go, citing that they would be hurting their own business by doing so.

So, what happens when suddenly it isn't just one offshoot of a portable system that doesn't need the retailer anymore, but every system? If a disc-less future is what's in store, then stores are either going to have to undergo massive changes to how their infrastructure works or risk fading into the past due to being completely obsolete. Boycotting the consoles will in the end prove to be ineffective because gamers will ultimately buy their goods from someone who is willing to sell them, even if it means going directly to the manufacturer themselves.

So, what can game stores do in the face of this paradigm shift? Some game stores have sold both online games and DLC via simply offering packages with a coupon for redemption online. This approach is somewhat novel, but doesn't have a lot of long term sustainability in the face of simply getting the games and DLC from the comfort of your own home. The answer might be in the game stores themselves abandoning their physical location in favour of a purely online model in order to compete. Gamestop is already planning an online distribution service. Even this option though seems somewhat tepid in the face of just buying a game directly from the publisher, something that disc-less gaming would no doubt encourage.

It would seem that under these circumstances -- at least at the moment -- that the best and perhaps only trump card that retailers might have are the exclusive content packages that they buy the rights to. I can foresee a future where store exclusive DLC becomes an even more prominent measure, because that will almost literally be the only defining factor that can be offered in terms of place of purchase. I've already gone over the pitfalls and foibles of making gamers choose certain content over other content, and if it does get to the point where retailer exclusives do have a significant impact on game progression then it's only going to exacerbate the problem. The issue here is though, that I can't really see any other way for the current game stores to stay competitive if everyone does indeed go disc-less. Whether or not they will be able to come up with a solution innovative enough to sustain them is their job, but they'd better hurry, because it seems the clock is ticking either way.

1 comment:

  1. I have a feeling that once we start to get disc-less consoles the days of game store exclusives will be gone. I believe the publishers and such will just offer up those deals to people who preorder the game from the publisher themselves are on the consoles store service.

    Since I am pretty sure the preorder bonuses with store exclusives is mainly to show good faith to the store. As the publisher can still get us to buy early by offering such deals on the digital front. Then since we have to buy digital anyway there is no need to appease Gamestop as they won't be the main place we buy from anymore.

    As I am sure most people that buy from the Playstation Store and Xbox Live Marketplace pay for the stuff through that, and don't get the points through a place like Gamestop. I believe Steam you have to buy it through that as well, as I never see any thing to buy stuff through Steam at Gamestop, or any of the other stores that sell the PS Store/Xbox Marketplace points.

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