Monday, 16 November 2009

What is the future of games retail?

As soon as Steam kicked the door off of my internet and let me download my games as many times as I wanted on to any computer, I started to believe that boxed retail copies would face a similar fate to bees, a slow and mysterious disappearance.

Thinking such things made sense at the time. High street game retailers could not compete with online stores like Amazon and Play, but even they were being trumped in many cases by digital download distributors, such as Steam and Direct 2 Drive.

Then Modern Warfare 2 reared its big chunky brute head and made a lot of people upset with the marked up recommended retail price that the developers thought was justified. You can still just about hear the screams of anguish echoing around the ozone layer of gamers who though such a price hike was unacceptable. Then Sainsbury’s happened.

On the day of release the supermarket giant sold Modern Warfare 2 for the lovely sum of £26, just about trouncing everywhere else in value for money, and caused stampedes not too dissimilar from that of a free JLS concert.

The really sad thing is that high street games retail, the way I see it now lies in the hands of supermarkets who can afford to take the price hits on offering cheap new games. They do this because when people visit them to buy a game, very often the punters will stop and buy other luxury items such as bread and milk, which GAME and HMV do not tend to keep in stock.

Of course this generally means good news for gamers, but not necessarily for traditional games outlets. Supermarkets are starting to catch on that selling games in some of their bigger stores is actually quite a nice piece of business pie that they are eager to stick their massive corporate thumbs in.

Placing games in super markets might also possibly snag a new market of games customers, when you get mum, dad, grandma, granddad, Uncle Bob and Auntie Jane wandering around, who may spot Christmas and birthday presents when trying to find the couscous.

It really got to me though when I realised that the best place for me to buy games locally was ASDA, even though I have a high street full of shops. There was a time when we had a dedicated games shop, as well as a Virgin store and a Woolworths. Unfortunately, my town seems to be the place where shops come to die, with the only things really thriving being greetings card, charity and mobile phone shops these days. Perhaps this is typical of the times?

So who can really say where the future of games retail lies? Digital distribution has the advantage of no box and printing costs, where as supermarkets have the advantage of being dead, emotionless, hollow businesses who will happily stamp on the little guys when it comes to undercutting them. It is up there with the big mysteries of life, like, do yetis exist? Is there a colour we haven’t discovered? And how would Jordan really look if her cosmetics budget was limited to £50?

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