Physical vs. Digital Games and the potential fall of GameStop

GameStop president Tony Bartel stated recently, “we want to help ensure that our industry does not make the same mistake as other entertainment categories by driving the perceived value of digital goods significantly below that of a physical game” (Source: Polygon). Essentially, it sounds as though Tony Bartel is very much against the idea of digital games for obvious reasons: it is going to hinder GameStop significantly. GameStop thrives off the sales of physical games, especially used games. It raises the question of physical vs. digital games and the formats that consumers are willing to choose.

I am personally part of the camp of physical games (mostly). I still buy physical copies of most games, I love getting a new box, a new disc, and popping the disc in. I always will, I can’t say I won’t and I tend to buy a vast majority of my games from Amazon, rather than a retailer like GameStop simply because it is easier and I don’t really like a lot of the practices GameStop has. Regardless, I still buy digital games, but only games that are exclusively digital or games that I have gotten through Playstation Plus. Playstation Plus raises another question: how much are services like it hindering retailers like GameStop?

Frankly, I think it could be quite a bit. When games like Bioshock Infinite, DMC, and Borderlands 2 eventually pop up on Playstation Plus, how is that not going to hinder sales at least a little bit? Sony also pays these developers/publishers directly to get these games on Playstation Plus, so it isn’t like they aren’t making some kind of profit. I know for a fact that I’ve waited it out for certain games to come out on Playstation Plus instead of purchasing them, simply because I am not rich, I don’t have a lot of money at all to buy all the games I want to play. It’s an incredible service that has to at least hurt GameStop a bit.

But are digital games as a whole a good move for the industry? Is it a good move to move away from retailers like GameStop? I don’t think it is. For one thing, digital games aren’t forever, until Sony and Microsoft manage to properly set-up backwards compatibility with digital goods, I will not support their digital stores fully. I want my games to transfer over because I paid for them and as far as I can tell, systems these days don’t do a good job of lasting forever, a safety net is required. I feel far more comfortable owning a physical copy of a game and knowing I can put it into my system, I realize that may contradict my last statement on system’s breaking but I see no reason to go “digital” when I enjoy physical copies as someone who likes to “collect” games in someway. The only way I would go digital is if prices actually got cheaper.

Digital services have failed (besides Steam) at actually giving consumers prices that are worth going digital over physical. I don’t think GameStop has anything to worry about just yet. They are still thriving because Sony and Microsoft still don’t really understand what they are doing with digital games. If Sony and Microsoft do want to somehow detract from GameStop and get money more directly, (which I think any business does, removing the middle man always produces more profits) they have to lower their digital prices and I can’t see how it isn’t possible to knock a few dollars off without the price of a box/disc being manufactured.

Another obvious fear of digital games is the lack of competition. Without multiple retailers shoveling out physical copies, digital retailers are all on their own. Sony only has one distribution service and no competitor. Microsoft only has one distribution service and no competitor. Competition in any marketplace and in any industry is the key to good prices for the consumer. Let’s say that Microsoft and Sony somehow were victorious in driving out most physical copies of games, (which I doubt will be for a long time…or ever) the consumer could potentially be the loser. Microsoft and Sony will charge what they see fit because nobody is competing with them. Obviously, this is worst-case scenario and unlikely, but I still think it is worth bringing up regardless as an idea to discuss. Competition is good in a free market (the one we only sort of live in) and is absolutely necessary. I’d rather both physical retailers and digital retailers coexist and compete because that will benefit the consumer in the end.

The idea of digital games in concept is an obviously smart idea, it is the future of video games, whether consumers like it or not (I’m sort of in the middle somewhere). App store games sell tons, but they are also much, much cheaper. Sony and Microsoft need to find that middle ground if they actually do want to drive physical retailers out of the way, not that I’m necessarily in support of that. But business is about finding the cheapest price for the consumer, and, whoever provides that cheapest price is going to be the business consumers’ favor.

Author of this post (and the only author ever on this blog):

Jesse Jordon is an aspiring writer who writes this garbage on these blogs to make you learn something I guess. (Wait, why am I mixing 3rd and 1st person point of view when I’m the only one writing this?) He’s trying to be a video game journalist but is probably failing at that. You can follow him on Twitter @jjordon96 (if you want I guess). You can also purchase his first self-published book On Human Empathy for only $5.00 (you can buy literature or coffee, it’s up to you to decide. I’d go with the coffee personally).