As much as video games have changed over the past few decades, console game retail remained quite predictable for a long, long time. Whether you wanted a game for the Atari 2600 or the PlayStation 2, you generally hopped in your car and drove down to Wal-Mart, or Toys R Us, or EB Games.
It’s only taken a few years for game retail to turn completely on its head. Our choices go way beyond physically shopping for games, and even the practice of buying at an online retailer feels like an archaic ritual versus downloading or streaming games.
The advancement of technology is always exciting, but game retail’s rapid transformation is especially interesting because a new generation of young gamers is growing up in the shadow of this new market. In another generation or two, we might see the shape of the industry change completely, based around how kids learn to buy their games.
Veteran game players can weigh the benefits of digital purchases against retail buys: we’re familiar with both facets of the market, and fall back on one according to our needs. For instance, we know that if we want Mario, or Pokemon, or Halo or God of War, we’re going to find the biggest, most polished titles for sale at the likes of GameStop and Target. It’s an indelible habit for us, because when we adopted the Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Genesis, we picked up Mega Man and Sonic with the same purchase and took them home, too.
By comparison, today’s youngest citizens tend to have their first encounter with video games after mom or dad thrusts the iPhone and Angry Birds at them to hush a temper tantrum brewing up in a bank or the grocery store. Provided the youngster’s love for games blossoms from that moment, will he or she default to the digital market when it comes time to buy new titles? It seems possible, as mom and dad certainly won’t have any issues with Junior spending 99 cents on a new game as opposed to $60. But what effect will such a massive cultural shift have on childhood constants, like Super Mario? Will the heroes of game retail gradually fade into memory while the iOS breeds a parade of more affordable mascots?
It’s possible, but it’s also easy to forget that the generation that grew up with the 2600 and the NES is currently having children of its own. And though it might make a librarian blanch to hear it, a favorite video game can be passed down like an old storybook. The heroes and heroines who have been with us since the 8-bit era will continue to take up residence in the hearts and imaginations of today’s kids–after some allowance money has been exchanged, of course.
Which is another reason why it wouldn’t hurt Nintendo to allow more of its mascots into the digital realm. Gamers will always be able to sniff out Nintendo’s A-list properties no matter where the company hides them, but considering that a new generation is making digital purchases as easily as we ran into the stores of the past, Mario can benefit from increased visibility.