GameStop reigns over physical video game distribution. It would therefore seem safe to assume that the retail giant is sweating buckets over the rise of downloadable games, but that’s not the case. In fact, GameStop has very successfully implemented digital downloads into its inventory; gamers purchased $290 million worth of downloadable PC and console-based content on GameStop’s online store through 2009. What’s more, the company is looking to convert the most solid reason for the continued success of brick and mortar game stores: Mom and dad.
“We’re introducing mom and dad to DLC,” stated GameStop’s recent fiscal report. “Lots of consumers who’ve never even understood what DLC is are now getting introduced to it; they’re liking it and buying more and more of it.”
If GameStop really does increase its efforts to introduce non-gaming audiences to digital downloads, it could spark an interesting shift in game retail. Currently, if a person who’s generally ignorant about games gets a gift request from a friend or family member who’s into gaming, the gift-buyer typically asks for help at the closest GameStop. What will happen if GameStop eventually conditions those gift-buyers to purchase codes and cards instead of a fully-assembled game at retail? Will we see the numbers for physical video game retail drop even further?
The brick and mortar market probably won’t implode, but it makes sense that GameStop would be trying to wean some of its patrons off the practice of jumping into a car and driving to the closest store. GameStop has seeded thousands of stores across North America; now it’s time for the chain to temper its presence. Over the next decade, the demand for retail-grade games will persist, but we’re also going to see more publishers offering their next big thing through digital distribution. Soon enough, GameStop won’t need thousands of stores. That’s not to say the chain will cull half its staff and stores, but even a small, gradual reduction will be a savings in the end.
That’s admittedly speculation. Either way, GameStop’s brisk drive to adopt digital sales is admirable. By adapting now, the chain will stay on top of the retail mountain and will continue to be a familiar source of games for parents who need to procure a quick reward for their children.
GameStop’s plunge into the digital market also works as a reminder to companies who remain stubborn about online distribution: CDs, DVDs, and game cartridges are no longer the sole storage mediums for video games. Our favorite pastime is changing, and some of our habits have to change along with it.