Gamestop is a target of much hate for gamers and studios alike in this day and age. The employees are usually notoriously dick-ish when it comes to pushing preorders or console warranties, and developers hate their sale of used games as the store makes a huge profit by selling a game again they’ve already sold once, while those who made it get nothing.
It’s the second part of that dynamic I want to talk about for a second, because as much as it pains the studio, used games are a big help for consumers. Even a brand new title purchased used is still 8-16% off the new price, and older titles sink even further in price.
But if Gamestop goes the way of Blockbuster, and succumbs to the digital age where everything is sent directly to your console, will consumers have any choice BUT to pay full price for games?
At first, the answer would seem to be no. If physical copies of games cease to exist (and within ten years I predict they will), then how does one buy one used? The consumer will be forced to pay full price for every title.
Or will they?
I think there’s a market here that has yet to be smashed open to any significant degree by anyone. Something Netflix, Redbox, Blockbuster and even Gamestop are circling, but no ones figured it out quite yet.
The demand for video game rental is huge. Far larger than anyone realizes. But unfortunately, because there is SO much demand, the supply for such a service is, for lack of a better term, complete shit.
The only real way to rent games now are through Blockbuster, which has about a 10% chance of having the game you want if it’s been released within the last two months, or GameFly, who will impress you greatly by giving you a few games in a timely fashion, but soon it will take weeks or months to get any title you want on the top of your queue.
There is a great need for a timely delivery rental system of games, be it through the mail or via direct download. Mail would be a tricky concept to execute, as Netflix’s “keep it as long as you want” philosophy wouldn’t work here. You’ll probably get around to watching a two hour movie in a week or so, but it’ll probably take you the better part of a month to put in 20-40 hours to beat certain video game titles. This would result in the same shortage that makes Blockbuster’s shelves empty or Gamefly’s lines long.
Rather, I believe in the future rentals should be done via download. If streaming gameplay becomes more of a reality (we’ll see if OnLive delivers), it could be done that way, with a time limit that a player must “insert coins” figuratively speaking if they’d like to keep playing.
The other way to do it, is a kind of self-destructing download, where the game would sit on a player’s hard drive until the rental time period was up. This would seem to be the best solution, but once you start downloading games, piracy becomes an immediate concern. The console industry has avoided mass piracy successfully unlike the movie, TV and music industries because it requires so much more work to execute. You must download and burn games (an ordeal in itself) and then illegally modify your console, the result of which can mean your banishment from your system’s internet forever if you’re discovered, successfully turning your system into a $300 brick.
There isn’t an easy answer to this problem, but it is one that needs answering. The $60 price point for games that’s been unfairly established by a conglomerate of huge corporations is nothing short of price fixing, and there needs to be an alternative to that, whether it’s through used games (which we see currently) or rentals (a market that will hopefully continue to develop effectively).
So to answer my original question, do we need Gamestop? As the industry changes quickly, unless they capitalize on new distribution methods, the answer is no, we won’t, even if used games become a thing of the past. Soon people who still cling to the belief that they need a physical copy of something will be looked at as dinosaurs by the next generation. After the disc, there will be no new physical format, only files and bits of data. The sooner the industry and the public realizes this, the better.