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Posts Tagged ‘GameStop’

el-camino-back“Chicken or the Egg?”  “El Camino – car or truck?”  “Used games – great for building audience, or scourge that will bring down the industry?”  These are all Sisyphus-ian questions that only get more divisive with educated conversation.

The heat got turned up on the used games issue this week, with Amazon’s announcement of their new used games trade-in program.  Gamestop stock immediately plummeted 14% on the news, and then the real fireworks started.

Dave Perry, a guy whose opinion I respect, named names and called out the ECA on not addressing the issue with big retailers.  Dave Jaffe and GamePolitics’ Dennis McCauley also weighed in, at opposite sides of the spectrum.  Let’s face it, this issue has been simmering for over a decade now.

I hardly ever buy used, simply because I’m usually buying on release day.  I’m willing to bet this is true for most hardcore gamers.  But as Nintendo has proven time and time again in the last 3 years, casual gamers are a much bigger audience.  And there’s no way a parent will choose a $60 brand new game over a $45 used copy of the same title that’s guaranteed to work, and is available at the same store.

It would be easy to say that all this hand wringing and carrying on is worthless.  After all, used games is an issue that WILL go away eventually.  When was the last time you bought a CD?

But the seismic shift in audience we’ve seen over the last few years means the switch to all-downloadable will be even harder to flip.  Before, we could count on at least a healthy majority of console owners being tech saavy, early adopter types.  But the more casual gamers, and the people (read: parents) that make those purchasing decisions expect to walk in to a brick-and-mortar retailer or hop onto a site like Amazon and get a physical piece of media at the end of that process.  You can’t put a download-only title under the tree on Christmas morning.

For the time being, we will have to continue putting games on discs, putting discs in boxes, and relying on retail to move them off shelves.  And like it or not, there will be SOME form of reconsumption without any additional compensation to the developer.  Especially in rough economic times.  Even if the ECA strikes an unbelievable deal with every retailer under the sun tomorrow, you’ll still have rental, players swapping games with each other, and E-Bay for starters.

gta-lnd1The onus on developers is to build additional value into new copies, and create compelling downloadable content that can generate revenue from used game purchasers.  Microsoft Game Studios was really on to something when they packaged each new copy of Gears of War 2 with a unique, one-time-only redemption code for downloadable maps.  And GTAIV’s Lost and the Damned DLC will no doubt generate a ton of revenue for Rockstar, from both owned-it-since-launch-day die hards and used game bargain hunters that just picked it up this week.

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After a few successful trials with Halo 3, Gears of War 2 and WOW: Wrath of the Lich King, 7-11 announced this week that they’ll sell a selection of titles an on ongoing basis at locations across the country.  I think this is a great move, and not just because I *love* Slurpees.

As the industry continues the march towards mainstream entertainment, we have to address the issue of availability/awareness at retail.  In particular, where is the best place for casual gamers to make their games purchase?  GameStop has served its purpose for hardcore gamers, but I can’t really see the type of gamer-parent that buys a Wii and 2 pieces of software a year wanting to spend any more time than absolutely necessary in the country’s most successful chain of pawn shops.  If your employees feel like they need to write a strategy guide to help consumers shop in your store, you’ve got a problem.  And I’ve long held that blind commitment to a subpar retail channel has held back comic books from truly connecting with an audience that clearly loves the product.

Of course, there’s an argument here for online distribution, and I’m happy to see active channels on all three home consoles in this genereation.  But I’d really be interested to see what percentage of casual gamers ever even set up an Xbox Live account, or mate their Wii to their wireless router.  Beyond that, you’ve still got the issue of getting new hardware to these people.  Brisk sales of Wii Fit, Guitar Hero and Rock Band mean that’s not a trend that will come to an end any time soon.

Big box stores usually have adequate supply on hand, and don’t seem as willing to put their customer through preorder shenanigans as specialty retailers.  They come up really short on knowledgable staff, though, and that can be critical for people making infrequent, less-than-informed purchases a few times a year.

Staff knowledge will obviously be a huge obstacle for 7-11’s effort, but with such a limited number of titles on offer, it’s got to be a much easier mountain to climb.  And after all, what better way to noramlize game purchases than put them right there with lottery tickets, magazines, and Doritos?  It’s worked in Japan for decades.

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On Monday night, hordes of dedicated fans lined up outside their local Gamestops, Best Buys, and Wal-Marts to get their hands on Madden ’09, the 20th installment of EA’s powerhouse franchise.  This year’s version shipped on the 360, PS3, PSP, and weirdly enough, the PS2 and Nintendo DS.

I always get a chuckle out of how many systems get a visit from the Madden fairy each year.  I can understand releasing on PS2 – there are still plenty of active users, and EA just can’t turn their back on an installed base of that size.  But the DS? Who the hell plays Madden on the DS?  The same people that made Nintendogs and Viva Pinata: Pocket Paradise million sellers?  But I digress.

This year’s game is a big step up, and they’ve finally figured out how to take advantage of the PS3 and 360 equally.  Most importantly (at least for yours truly), the new Madden adjusts difficulty to each player’s Madden IQ, determined through a few in-game tests and then constantly adjusted after each match you play.

EA got some mileage out of the 20th anniversary, mostly in the mainstream press. It felt a little more subdued among dedicated gaming blogs, though.  Joystiq’s Kevin Kelly tried to manage a smile at the big Rose Bowl launch event, Kotaku covered a smaller, more low-key local event, and Deadspin’s correspondent, um…  basically had the worst time imaginable.  All in all, the launch just didn’t have that “Christmas morning” feel that we’ve had in past years.  In fact, it’s the first time in over a decade that I didn’t know anyobody that took Tuesday off work.

Make no mistake – Madden ’09 will still be one of the top 3 sellers this year.  It’s the most enduring franchise in gaming, and to EA’s credit, this year’s game really pushes the series forward.  But I think we’ve seen so many megawatt launches over the last year (Metal Gear Solid 4, Halo 3, Mario Kart Wii, Smash Bros. Brawl) that it’s tough to get too excited about one more.

We’ve come to normalize and even expect pretty frequent AAA releases.  As a fan and avid gamer, that’s great news.  We’re consistently seeing good games release throughout the year.  As a marketer, is a bit daunting.  Clearly, we’re all going to have to raise the bar.

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