The origin of Gamestop’s fabulous profits is pretty straightforward. After relating Wednesday’s strange and sordid tale of "stock shortage," I’ve been deluged by mail industry-wide about life with their "partners" in the retail space.
As I began to collate these woes, I started to get the sense that there was a kind of Mexican Standoff taking place, except one of the parties is pointing hundreds of guns at the other - one weapon per retail outlet. There is literally no bargain to be made, and without a shelf to sell your software from it’s not so much "their way or the highway," it’s their way or oblivion. So they’re free to do things like, oh, suggest "market correct" pricing, or nudge the release date. Note that they are doing this while at the same time planning to stock your product at a low threshold and then preferentially sell the used version. I’m surprised that these camps don’t fight with knives at shared events.
I don’t think breaking the ability to play used games is the answer, like they were talking about in this ancient rumor, but I understand why they would experiment with that kind of Doomsday Device. For me, it’s not any more complicated than "used titles don’t support the people who make games." The sale doesn’t exist. I don’t expect this to be a concept that the Madden Gamer seizes upon and makes his way of life. But as people who genuinely respect the medium and those who toil to refine and elevate our leisure hours, it’s worth keeping in mind.
Going completely digital is a growing option for PC centered titles and its native developers - for example, I’m typing this post while Command & Conquer 3 drips down to me via EA’s digital solution. I’ve also been a huge proponent of Steam. But even in the next round of consoles, you’ll see those massive hard discs put to work storing full products. Marketplace, EDI, and the Shopping Channel are the first chapter of a story that ends poorly for Gamestop.
Actually, on the subject of digital distribution, the new episode of Sam & Max is out and it’s Goddamned excellent.
I am a GameTap subscriber, a tap which has substantially increased in value since I began gripping the spigot. (That is a phrase I hope to see used one day in their promotional materials, i.e. "Grip our increasingly valuable spigot!") I make use of their vast archive of classics, but original content was largely the draw - I haven’t had an opportunity to do more than dip a single toe into Myst Online, but I’ve played every one of the Sam und Max adventures virtually the day they arrived. Between the two of them, Telltale and GameTap are the only people making anything that could even remotely be considered "episodic" in nature, and I hope they’re being richly rewarded for it. I like to think that a person who speaks like this does not want for life’s comforts, but I don’t hold out much hope. I imagine that in reality they’re working like sled dogs, pulling a great cart long distances, until their pure hearts simply burst.
Hearing that this "season" of the game is en route to consoles was (to keep going with the heart thing) like a soothing balm gently applied to the aorta. I love the idea of someone tooling around in the online store for whatever system, grabbing the demo on a lark, and being transported to a place where dogs wear suits and a rabbit might pull you over and fucking rob you.