It seems that if you look around, video game retail on the high street doesn't have a lot of time left. In the US Gamestop has announced mass closures of its locations, in the UK HMV and GAME have only just been saved from administration and the GameStation brand has been completely eliminated.
It makes sense that they're in trouble too. I'm a good cross section of a gamer that spends a fair bit on his hobby. I like to jump between titles, trying something new every few weeks. I'll dip my toe back into League of Legends every six months and crack through a Mount and Blade campaign once a year, but other than that I'm out for new experiences and games.
Despite this though, apart from picking up the odd MegaDrive (Genesis to you lot) and N64 title in my local retro shop, I haven't bought a game in a store in years. Everything is preordered via an online retailer, or more likely bought through Steam, Humble Bundle, GoG or one of the many other digital download platforms that are out there now.
I'm sure there are still people buying games in shops as they'd be crumbling far faster than they are if people weren't, but some big changes are going to have to be made if they want to survive for more than a few more years. They're going to need to make it worthwhile to go in-store again, give us some reason to drive and park and walk to their outlet, instead of just inputting our card details in Steam and clicking “install.”
While nothing huge has happened yet, we're starting to see little changes which help a bit. One has been to embrace digital culture a little more by selling Steam wallet cards. These can be bought at a lot of different outlets, as they begin to see that offering something that can be used online is a simple way of integrating their more traditional services with the newer ones. It isn't going to be enough on its own though.
There have also been announcements of early game demos in certain stores as part of a “store lock-in,” thanks to special partnerships with publishers. However this seems more like a nice offering by a publisher than some sort of sustainable business model. It would make more sense to just make the demo available online.
No, if high street retail wants to make it through the next decade and still have its head above water; it's going to need to go far more drastic. The question is what?
It's difficult to say, as almost every idea imaginable involves the games makers themselves providing the retail business with privileges that could just as easily be given to an online retailer or distribution platform like Steam. Why would it restrict itself to only those that live near a store?
This is the core problem of high street retail. Its available market range is simply minute compared to that of an online one. So what do high street stores need to do? Here are a few ideas that I think could make a big difference:
Get online: Of course they all have websites already, but I'm talking about focusing on online instead of the stores. Turn the shops into digital warehouses where there are QR codes that give you an online discount code for the website. Stick tablets in the shop like they did in that temporary EBay shop in London, where people can buy online while in-store.
Focus on hardware: Software can be bought and used anywhere, but hardware still needs shipping. If you want a new headset, the fastest way to get one is to drive and buy one. That means going in store. No need to sell much in the way of consoles themselves; until the new ones come out pretty much everyone who's going to buy one already has the one or two that they want. I'm talking peripherals: super high end headphones and aftermarket gamepads; gaming mice for the PC gamers, fancy keyboards, gaming chairs. People don't know how much better their gaming experience can be made by proper peripherals until they've tried them, so have high end systems setup ready to go and show people what they're missing.
More midnight launch events: While these aren't for everyone, some people love them. They're willing to sit in line for hours, days even for some games and hardware, so do it for everything. Have tonnes of launch events, with special deals for those that wait. Competitions for random people in line to win big prizes. Make something exclusive and people will flock to it.
It'll probably take more than all of these ideas put together to save high street games retail, but these would be a good start.
But should they be saved at all? If like me you're all buying online now, is there much more than nostalgia linking us to the game stores of old? I used to enjoy going in to see what new titles were available and checking out the box art, but now I know when something is going to be released almost a year before it hits shelves. That excitement is gone.
No, I think while game stores could do a lot to try and win me back, unless they surprise me, I'm done with them. There's no reason for me to return.
As it stands anyway.
But what about you guys? Do you want stores like GameStop to survive and if so, what do you think they could do to turn their fortunes around?