Has GameStop Gone Mad?

Has GameStop Gone Mad?

Game publishers and game retailers have, at best, an uneasy relationship – so what happens when one becomes the other? It’s a growing question that should make for some interesting times in the years ahead.

Valve Software kicked off the hybrid developer/distributor model in 2003 with Steam, and it wasn’t long before Electronic Arts and Activision followed suit with their own online stores, giving them more control of (and higher margins from) the sale of their games and in-game content. Microsoft and Sony, meanwhile, straddle the fence with the storefronts that are built into the Xbox 360 and PS3.

But the latest – and strangest – entrant to this mash-up comes at things from the other end of the spectrum, though. GameStop recently announced plans to buy social and casual games maker Kongregate – the second developer acquisition from the brick and mortar powerhouse within a year. (The company bought Jolt Online Gaming, a maker of browser-based games, in late 2009.)

Kongregate has 10 million monthly players who spent 23 million hours per month on the site. That’s a lot of eyeballs sticking around for a long time. And it’s a safe bet that the company will make every effort to convert those people into customers – but it’s not likely to end there.

GameStop previously announced that it wants to be an aggregator of digital game content over time. This could mean that games from Kongregate could end up on the company’s retail site, increasing the amount of time that people spend there – and giving GameStop better intelligence on the types of games people like, which will allow them to better customize the shopping experience.

It’s a sound beginning for the strategy, but one that leaves a lot of questions nonetheless. Will people buy more from the company online just because they can play games there? Or, as digital distribution expands, are customers ultimately going to be lured by whoever has the best price?

Despite the questions, the Kongregate acquisition certainly makes more sense than the launch of GameStop’s latest Facebook game – Gangsta Zombies. To play, consumers have to pick up a promotional game card at any U.S. GameStop location. The company is also offering a $10 pre-paid card for premium in-game content.

I get it. They’re hoping to get a piece of the microtransaction pie that’s lining the pockets of Zynga and other social gaming companies. But by requiring people to drop by their store, they’re shooting themselves in the foot. The key to social gaming is convenience – and there are a plethora of other titles on the market. Having to go into a store just to be able to play a Facebook game is the antithesis of convenient.

GameStop may be indeed on the right path with its push to add in-house development to its arsenal, but it seems to be taking a few bizarre detours along the way.

Extended Play is a bi-weekly column examining trends and upcoming events in the video game world. For more articles by Chris Morris, be sure to visit his blog.

About Chris Morris
Chris Morris has covered video games for 15+ years for outlets including CNN, Variety, CNBC, Yahoo! and Official Xbox Magazine. He is a frequent on-air authority for national news outlets and has been referred to as “one of the most game-savvy reporters in the mainstream media.”

5 Comments

  1. Good article, but the criticisms are the end are based on a false premise, you don’t have to have a card from GameStop store to play Gangsta Zombies. You can play it online and spend money in online microtransactions just as easily as in any other Facebook game, but with Gangsta Zombies, there’s an added in-store promotion that enters you into a competition and gives you a bonus avatar. But there are no restrictions that require you to use the card.

    There’re also in-store cards you can buy for $10 if you want to use cash for in-game microtransactions (in case you don’t have access to a credit card), but no one’s required to drop by the store.

  2. Legend of the Green Dragon (LoGD) is a free, browser based homage to, and extension of, the original. Eric Stevens has done an excellent job preserving Able’s style while adding tons of new features, characters and monsters, as well as vastly enlarging the world to include multiple cities and an afterlife. LoGD is written in PHP and is highly extensible. Different servers can offer very different experiences, so this review refers only to the classic server. A large list of others is available here.All action in the game is performed by clicking links in a toolbar or using convenient hotkeys. Turns, in the form of forest battles, are doled out every 12 hours, which is equivalent to one game day. Combat is simple but effective and PvP is allowed, though you may opt out. A flawless forest fight earns you a free turn; a good or lucky session of LoGD can be like riding a wave, each battle perpetuating the next.As a new player you’ll choose from a fairly typical selection of races and classes. There is a bit of hand-holding in the form of a beginners island with a helpful fairy, but the majority of LoGD is left for the player to discover. I won’t reveal much more, as the distinct humor of the game makes the learning process appealing and fun. Don’t be afraid to spend money, explore strange areas in the forest, or interact with bizarre NPCs. Very little you do can cause serious permanent damage, and there is a lot to gain by finding out what various people and places are for. Analysis: Legend of the Green Dragon is a fitting tribute to a little known classic. However, the text based gameplay, fantasy setting and multiplayer environment make it important to note that LoGD is not an MMORPG, nor a MUD. Player interaction is minimal, limited to message boards and mail. The low number of levels available for advancement and limited forest fights per day make the maligned and potentially unhealthy level grind common to many MMORPGs impossible. In fact, though predating modern MMORPGs, LoGD seems designed as a response to current trends; limited by the number of turns each day, the player benefits by spending time efficiently and defeating the dragon as quickly as possible. Rather than simply rewarding those who have the most free time, everyone is on more equal footing. LoGDs simple gameplay and fun, well-writen encounters make sure the 15 or 20 minutes spent on each session are never a chore. Look for me as Moonside on the classic server!

  3. they just arent selling this game in Army bases! Think for a sec! They don’t want Americans on ACTIVE DUTY playing a game that depicts them getting shot. It is after all the same war they are currently fighting in. Obviously, its not good for morale. I dont think they have any problem with the fact that its showing Americans in a war, just that an American soldier playing this game and dying a hundred times is not going to make him want to go out to face the real thing the next day. War is not a joke and its definantly not a game. Therefore they should not be playing it like it is. Good move on the part of GameStop.
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  4. ood article, but the criticisms are the end are based on a false premise, you don’t have to have a card from GameStop store to play Gangsta Zombies. You can play it online and spend money in online microtransactions just as easily as in any other Facebook game, but with Gangsta Zombies, there’s an added in-store promotion that enters you into a competition and gives you a bonus avatar. But there are no restrictions that require you to use the card.

  5. I wouldn’t sell if I owned Kongragate, it is a great site and community.

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