There is no question that digital games are slowly creeping into popularity; providing the utmost of convenience to consumers at home. While a lot of people still would like to receive actual physical product for the physical money that they are paying, a lot of people are starting to drift to the popularity of digital games. GameStop, the most successful video game retailer in North America, does not want to be swept under the rug.
Last week, the company made a decided push into the digital market with the purchase of Stardock’s Impulse digital distribution service and the streaming technology firm Spawn Labs. This was to the dismay of at least one developer who has had a strained relationship with said company. While this keeps them afloat in comparison to Steam, it really does not measure up in the long run.
When asked why they would purchase a company that pales in comparison to giants like Steam, Bartel had this to say: “Of course, you can’t walk into the digital space without tripping over Steam. We have talked to 500 companies in the past 16 months to look at them as potential acquisition candidates. … The reason we went with this tech is we really felt like it was easier for us to buy a technology in which we could integrate – from the foundation level – our PowerUp Rewards program.”
The PowerUp Rewards program is the membership that GameStop offers, in which its “Pro” form costs about $15. The company is hoping to integrate digital gaming aspects into the card, such as a plan to make previous purchases available from the card for no additional cost. This would be worthwhile if you are willing to buy the card, and purchase the games through these digital outlets owned by the companies in the first place.
That is not the only step forward GameStop is taking to ensure their place in the future of games. Tablet computers are being taken in as trades in some test stores, presumably to be resold. According to Bartel, the company is also considering making its own tablet. “If we can work with our partners and the OEMs and they come up with a great tablet that is enabled with a great gaming experience and coupled with a bluetooth controller, then there’s no need to go out and develop our own, but if we can’t find one that’s great for gaming, then we will create our own.”
According to GameStop, tablets are the next great thing that will come of gaming. While current competitors like OnLive are focusing on streaming PC games to these devices, GameStop plans on making console games available on these systems. At their investor’s day, they reportedly showed off Little Big Planet and Halo: Reach streaming on tablets. While this sounds cool and all, one wonders if the companies that make these games are too keen on providing the rights for this service. Games would be streamed through a data center, from their respective consoles. There is not really any comment on how multi-player would work, if it would work at all.
This whole strategy is clearly a defense mechanism in lieu of the rise in popularity for digital games. GameStop makes the majority of its profit off of its used sales, which would not be relevant in the digital world. “We really don’t anticipate we’re going to have a model [for digital] where people can trade a game back in,” says Bartel. However, there are no plans for the company to get rid of its physical stores any time soon. They comment that as long as there are actual stores in business, trade-ins will continue to flow.
One aspect that GameStop will not be taking into consideration is the integration of streaming movies through Netflix or other means. “We are totally focused on gaming,” Bartel said. “That’s what we know. That’s who we are. We have no plans whatsoever to move into the movie streaming space.” I wonder if MovieStop (a spin-off company of GameStop) shares the same sentiment. I think it’s something that they will eventually branch out to, because it’s no secret that DVDs are becoming a thing of the past.