As some of you may have recently read, gaming retail giant GameStop is set to close between 150 – 190 of their brick & mortar retail stores. While the company cited a lack of game sales as the reason for the downsize, GameStop’s stock has also been on very unstable ground, with their share price taking a nose dive of over 31% over the past year. Whether the move to close the physical stores will be a boon or bane to the gaming industry and customers as a whole, remains to be seen.
With the shift to more of a digital sales arena over the past few years, an associate of mine & I started thinking about the direction that developers & the remaining brick & mortar stores could go in the future, in regards to the sales of games. We kicked around some interesting theories, one of which really stuck out in both of our heads.
Imagine if you will; the complete phasing-out of physical copies of games. What would this do to the industry? We all know about Xbox Live, and PSN, and the ability to download games directly on to their respective consoles. However, some of us still don’t have proper internet access – how could developers respond to those who still can’t download games onto their consoles directly? In response to this, Ben suggested that console developers could conceivably come up with a way to have specially-coded USB drives, which would only work with their hardware/firmware. Those drives could be distributed with the console(s) upon purchase (with spares sold and coded by retailers). Then, when a new game for that console is released, digital files for each system/console could be sent out to each merchant company, who would then distribute them to their brick & mortar stores. Those files could then be loaded on to customers’ USB drives as a purchase.
There are several reasons why this might be beneficial across the board, so let’s examine a few:
Less overhead for developers & merchants
If gaming were to move to a USB & Digital-only sales strategy, it would drastically cut down on money spent by both developers & merchants alike. Developers would be spending less on packaging & shipping costs, as well as the development of the discs themselves. The savings, in turn, could be funneled in to the production of higher-quality games, without limiting them by media size. Merchants would not need as much physical space for storage & display. This would not only cut costs for them, but potentially allow for more streamlined traffic in & out of the store(s).
Services like Xbox Live & PlayStation Network would see an increase in traffic.
Both Xbox Live & PSN have moved to a more revenue-based system, and bringing in a digital-only sales system could increase the marketplace traffic on those two systems, resulting in a surge of downloadable games being consumed. This would also spur more developers (both traditional and independent), to market their games in a digital format. With the popularity of Steam for PC gaming (as of February 2015, Valve reported 125 million users & rising), the move toward digital-only sales would be a great way for XBL & PSN to evolve in the marketplace and one clearly being embraced by gamers.
Gamers would need less physical storage space
I touched on the issue of physical storage space in my article on backwards compatibility back in November of 2015. Some of us just plain don’t have the space for copious amounts of game discs & cases. Therefore, if those of us who don’t have internet at home were to avail ourselves of a USB-style game purchasing system, we could free up a lot of table & shelf space in our living areas. For those of us who have significant others who are not necessarily gamers, this could be a big help. I know my girlfriend would appreciate it.
Less technological limitation of console hardware
If console developers were to move to this type of system, the need for a physical disc drive in their consoles would become obsolete. Why is this a good thing, you ask? Well, for one, console hardware would no longer be limited by the laser, but would be working off HDD speeds (the bitrate of a blu-ray is 20 – 40 mbps, while the bitrate of a solid state drive can be up to 150 mbps). Less potential points of failure translates into fewer potential repairs. Additionally, this would also create room for a larger/faster HDD, beefed up cooling systems for higher speed processors and graphics cards, etc., in a machine the same size. These things would all allow the system to run games more smoothly, at a higher quality and for longer periods of time.
To paraphrase Occam’s razor, “The simplest explanation is usually the correct one”. Reduced overhead for manufacturers and distributors that can allow cost to be redirected into higher quality games, more traffic being driven to proprietary marketplaces increasing subscription revenue, reduction in clutter for the avid gamer relieving their space issues and making significant others happier, and allowing much more powerful systems to be packed into the same dimensions without major technological advancements are hard to argue against, but if you’d like to try drop me a line in the comments section below, your feedback is always appreciated.