It used to be that sales at the local video game store will attract droves of customers (myself included) hoping that get that game that was always just out of my price range.
Nowadays, sales are the only way to attract customers at all. Every time I walk past my local Electronics Boutique (EB) they’re got a 30% off deal. A two-for-one deal. A special trade-in deal. Sales are no longer an event, they’re a standard.
There are too many (cheaper) options now. You can sit at home and download from the ever-growing Long Tail-esque Steam library. Or you can buy brand new games from ozgameshop.com for less than half the price you’ll have to pay at EB. As the digital age rolls on, the physical retail shop is looking frighteningly archaic. Just selling a fantastic AAA title isn’t enough, because it’s also available online cheaper and faster.
The point I’m trying to make is that, in its current form, video game retailers will not survive. Eventually, they’ll be overtaken by their digital counterparts. They’re beaten on price, they’re beaten on convenience and they’re beaten on product range. Two thing remains to them upon which they cannot be overtaken; live social interaction and selling physical souvenirs.
For the former, I think the retailers need to stop just being a retailer; they need to be a service. For example; have a dedicated ‘lounge’ section, complete with beanbags (not chairs because beanbags are awesome) and multiple TV and console set-ups. There’s a number of things you can do with this:
(a) Just have it as a lounge section where people can just play and hang out (sort of like a mini Mana Bar).
(b) Use it to showcase hot new titles (or unappreciated lesser known titles)
(c) Troubleshoot customers on technical issues (like Apple Geniuses)
(d) Troubleshoot customers on in-game issues, such as getting stuck on a nasty boss battle.
(e) A try before you buy service. If the games you’re selling aren’t cheap, the customers will want to be damn well sure that it’s worth their money. If it’s not quite what they’re looking for then cross-sell and recommend something else.
The other thing is turning physical copies of games into souvenirs and collections. You also can’t just sell games as ‘only’ games anymore. One aspect I miss is that by downloading games (and movies and albums and books) I miss out on the chance to hoard together an impressive collection of games for my shelf. But of course, I’m not rolling in money, so I can’t justify paying double the price for just the box.
Unless there’s a really cool limited edition package. I’m talking batarangs, Master Chief helmets, a gas mask and so forth. I think all games sold from now on needs some sort of cool collectible freebie. But not every copy of a game is allowed to have the same collectible. There needs to be a Kinder Surprise of videogame collectibles (which also encourages people to buy multiple copies). Maybe include multiple versions of game cases.
Of course, I realise that this is largely a manufacturing issue, and that these collectible games could be sold online for cheaper. Therefore, each and every store needs to create their very own set of collectibles or free bonuses available only to them and their customers. Yes, it’s hard and costly. In the long-term it’s the only way. Games have to go beyond just mere physical presence, they have to become souvenirs.
But of course, eventually collectibles will become standard and online retailers may start including their own. Doesn’t that mean that in order to remain collection-worthy, you’ll have to up the ante on every new game release and innovate constantly?
Yes, it does. Just the way it should be.