The last bastions of video game retail stand defiant in the face of changing markets but Oliver Huxtable asks how will this battle end and what will it mean for the way players access their games?
For many of us, the high street branches of our local Game stores have been seen as a Mecca of media for those seeking escapism of the electronic variety. Hours could be eclipsed as a youngster staring longingly at shelves stacked with the latest in releases, housed in a bustling store of dedicated customers and enthusiastic sales people. Nowadays the scene is different – plastic Amibo figurines preside hauntingly over empty shelves as a lone sales assistant stalks the aisles in search of customers.
Undoubtedly, the retail sector is in a state of crisis. As new forms of distribution join the market and online retailers take centre stage, the effects of this have been felt particularly hard by the video game sector, which has seen once unswayable giants of physical media distribution such as Game and Zavvi enter administration and almost lost from the high street altogether. But just what caused this radical decline of an industry, once appearing recession-proof, and what does it mean for the future of gaming as a whole?
As of 2012 it has been reported that the supermarket sector had taken over from both Amazon and dedicated gaming stores as the leading distributors of video games in the UK. This could be attributed to their revised sales strategies, such as taking a leaf from gaming stores and hosting midnight launch releases for the latest blockbuster titles. A more casual friendly gaming scene has also allowed supermarkets to stock more family friendly titles which, combined with changes in the economy, have seen more people being drawn to less expensive retailers. It has also been reported that these supermarkets have often been selling these latest releases (notably ten pounds cheaper than gaming stores) at loss leading prices in a bid to draw more customers.
The online retailers revolutionising the retail landscape for the past decade have made their presence known within gaming retail with the meteoric rise of Amazon forever altering the way gamers could access their content. The internet has been the fastest growing sector for games retail for some time and looks set to continue and improve that lead as prices on these sites for new releases remain vastly superior to the high street sector. This paired with their far greater catalogue of stock has not gone unnoticed by platform holders Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, who all now release consoles with dedicated stores, allowing the owner to download games directly to their hard drive without ever having to leave their living room, albeit at a price set by the platform giants instead of any retail trend. Services such as PlayStation Now also provide a subscription model which allows players to gain access to entire generations of games for a monthly fee. This ease of access has contributed towards creating an audience which expects a wealth of content at near instant availability.
Alex, manager of Game World Leicester, is concerned over a platform holder having that much control, “it just shows you how much they’re planning on charging if basically they stopped producing physical media. That’s how much you’ll be forced to pay. It’ll be like, do you want this game? Well you’ve got to pay through the nose for it.”
Dominant control over a market by a singular corporation has never proven to be anything short of a blight and this model could envisage a potential future where the only source of purchasing video games is from the console you play them on and the publishers behind it.
Alex added: “So basically, in the future, if it all goes all digital, there’ll be no boxes and circuit boards and it’ll probably be wireless so you’ll end up with just a black box with the Xbox of PlayStation on it.” With the decline in customer consumption of physical media, consoles of such a nature are a very possible future. Sony already experimented with a diskdrive-less handheld console, the PSP Go, released in 2009 and leaked information on proposed ideas for the Xbox One included a download only design.
These console stores, which sell games with a one-use digital code, will also eliminate the second-hand market which operates on a system of trade-ins and which has always provided a back up to cash-strapped and youthful gamers. When the sight of nostalgia-ridden stores laden with treasure troves of decades worth of memorabilia have been removed from our high street to be replaced by the cold glow of a screen displaying a price and a contract, gaming will have lost more than just a financial battle – it will have lost its cultural heritage and heart.