Gaming stores: The future

The threat of online distribution fully cutting out the need for physical discs looms even more every year. OnLive, Steam, Xbox Live for PC, and more have already started the trend. OS X Lion has its own app store with games, and so will Windows 8. It’s expected the next generations of video game consoles will also at least offer the same route as well. Does this spell the end for gaming stores?

Not quite. Here are some side issues that may delay people internet-only purchases.

  1. Resale value of physical media – If you get bored and tired of a game, you can resell it or swap it with a buddy. Currently, you can’t resell a digital game. You can delete it, but that’s about it. Given there’s no legal way to get back some value from selling a digital game, that’s one reason why gamers may not bother with buying digital only.
  2. Hard copy – If the digital version gets wiped out or something, at least you’ll still have a physical hard copy just in case. Though some companies are clever enough to tie purchases to an account and allow users to re-download what may have once been lost.
  3. Internet speeds – Not everyone has super high bandwidth, and it may either take so long or they’ll hit a data cap faster. Not very ideal.

Those are the chief reasons: resale, reliability, and internet constraints. However, even those may not always hold true as I pointed out that online distribution services are starting to offer back-up in case you lose it, and even resale isn’t too big of an issue if digital versions are substantially cheap enough to warrant a one-time use possibility (through cheaper face value or maybe gaming rentals or gaming subscriptions). Most people are optimistic to expect in the long run, there will be better coverage of high-speed networks and maybe legislation on data caps and all.

So given that, a gaming store may no longer have physical games in the future. So what will game stores do to possibly go out of business? Here are some of my own ideas I’ve thought up of, supposing I ran a game store.

  • Hardware and accessories – This is the place for new and used machines, accessories, peripherals, and maybe even PC components for PC gamers. Online shopping’s caveat is getting your stuff fast without paying extra for shipping. Gaming stores will be ideal for instant receiving if you need it that day, or even in-store pick-up for online orders. You’d think they’d have less incentive for in-store pick-up since you’d probably pay less online, but they’d rather you go through their channel and you might buy something else while you’re there.
  • LAN stations – Gamers like to get together and play on a Local Area Network for the increased reliability and speed it offers. What if the game store offered easy set-up space and capabilities, or even had gaming rigs set-up that you could log-in to? The convenience might attract a good number. It will sacrifice some space though, so maybe reservations would be ideal if they’re super busy for walk-ins.
  • Try-before-you-buy – Spend some time with a game before you purchase it. Nooks with beanbags and flatscreens gives you an opportunity to see if it’s worth buying or not. It could be limited to preselected parts of a game, or maybe the whole game itself, but with limited space, and other customers, these spots have to be vacated at some point. At least extras like this, encourages more customers to come to the shop.
  • Gaming experts and workshops – Employees that are very knowledgeable about their specialty with games can offer tips and tricks, recommendations, some gameplay help, and more. Workshops, free or paid, will go in-depth with these, and may also be free with a purchase.
  • Competitions – Complete live with other gamers in head-to-head matches to see who reigns supreme in the area. Win neat items from the store. Qualify for state and national rankings.
  • Gamer Garage – Pay to access a full-featured garage-area to trick out your hardware. Lots of professional-grade tools for DIY tricks on your stuff. Or if you’re not kind of guy, pay a pro to do it for you. Parts are sold in stores for the DIYers at a reasonable price.
  • Memorabilia, exclusive edition, guest stars etc. – Having all the special edition deluxe items is always too tempting for some people, and a store you know for sure with them is indeed a good bet to go to. Guest stars on specific games, can do autograph signings at stores too.

That’s basically it. With games trending to be internet distribution only, game stores can survive by offering an experience or services that an online retailer just can’t compete with. Sometimes people just like having a cool place to go, and this could be it.

Another possibility worth thinking about is a mega-media store, like HMV or Borders. All the media consumers love to consume in one spot. We’re not talking about the couple of shelves of each genre at Walmart or Best Buy. I mean a real mega-store. Again, the Internet doesn’t have to destroy mortar businesses; businesses can adapt to facilitate the trend on the Internet, and get their stores to offer more value to customers. It can work.

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