Hands up if you will miss your local computer game shop when it’s gone?

Anyone? No-one? Is it already gone, or bought out by a large chain that seems intent on running it into the ground? Mine has a couple of shelves of current PC games squeezed into a corner, and then a larger section of low priced budget PC titles and game guides. It’s fairly clear which they make the most money from by the layout. The only reason I even bother to go in any more is on the offchance they have cheap second hand games (which they don’t) or to see what’s going on in the console markets.

There was a time when I would have missed my local gaming shop but now? Stick a fork in it, it’s done.

Tobold writes today about the demise of retail games shops on the high street. The story that sparked this one off is quietly hilarious. Inside the Deus Ex: Revolution box is a voucher to play the game for free using OnLive, a streaming service. (This is roughly equivalent to putting a voucher for a kindle copy of a book inside a hardback.) Gamestop have decided to open up every box and remove the voucher, so as to avoid promoting competitor (ie. digital download) services to their customers.

Right. Because they removed the Steam voucher for Portal 2 on the PC from every PS3 Portal 2 box too? Nope, of course they didn’t. Random retailer is random.

I can’t help comparing the plight of computer games shops to boardgame/ tabletop shops and bookshops. The boardgame shop is I suspect doing the best of the bunch, if not in turnover then in longterm prospects. And this is because they provide gaming space, they hold social evenings in which people can turn up and find others to play with, and people who play board games NEED other local people to play with. A boardgame shop can support an entire local community of hobbyists, and the good ones are working hard to do exactly that. Of course you can buy the games online, but if you wanted to try the game out first, why not support the local games shop that’s hosting the event? And if the difference in prices isn’t huge, a lot of gamers are happy to do exactly this. It may not be a growing hobby but it does have a stable fanbase who are willing to support their retailers.

I think bookshops are doomed in the long run also, but at least you get the sense that they are fighting the inevitable. Local bookshops host reading groups, author signings, they have coffee shops and reading rooms, they encourage staff to pick out recommendations (which are usually pretty good), they sell book related gifts and sort their books into genres so that genre readers can have a shot at finding something they might like, they have regular interesting sales, and are generally appealing places to hang out and browse.

The trouble with bookshops is that it’s all too easy for customers to enjoy all the bookshop facilities and then go off and buy their books online or as ebooks. The retailer is putting a lot of effort into advertising goods for other people. This is where the publisher sponsored author tours and signing events spring from: publishers know how effectively bookshops sell their books and that they need the support.

But still, even if I do prefer ebooks these days, I will at least miss the bookshops when they are gone. Not so the computer games shops; they gave up on trying to attract my custom years ago.

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16 thoughts on “Hands up if you will miss your local computer game shop when it’s gone?

  1. This sort of links with the SWTOR limited availability issue. Stores by their very nature have limited availability. Online stores have huge levels of stock and odds are if it exists, you can buy it from the internet. If you’re looking for a virtual good (OnLive, Steam, eBooks) then the actual supply is infinite. Look at Blockbuster as a perfect example.

    I read a lot of books, maybe 1500 pages a week while I commute to work. My bookstore often has books that I want but from time to time, they are lacking. Sure they have 100 copies of Harry Potter but only one copy of Ulysses.

    The material stores that are competing against virtual goods are doomed to fail unless they embrace the ideas of experience – as you alluded to in the gaming stores. They simply cannot compete anymore.

  2. I think the main difference between videogame stores and book stores is that videogames are by their nature virtual, thus it’s a far easier transition to digital distribution than for books, why have until very recently been exclusively physical items.

    That physicality is, it seems, a big part of the appeal of bookstores, and it’s similar in a way to places like Games Workshop – interacting with people and physical objects in a way that videogames have never had.

    • Agreed… and I’ll never migrate to wholly digital books. I just like the real paper too much. Then again, I’m an artist that works digitally all day at work but carries a sketchbook and pens almost everywhere. I think the two mediums can stand on their own and coexist.

  3. Big box bookstores irk me because for all their ‘selection’ they can paradoxically carry so little. When my boys were small and bedtime stories were de rigeur I went to Chapters/Indigo to purchase the Wizard of Oz series. I found only one book by Frank L. Baum, ‘The Wizard of Oz’, and the sales clerk was incredulous when I told her that there are 14 books in all. Likewise for Doctor Doolittle; the big stores will carry the first book ‘The Story of Doctor Doolittle’ but not the other 11 books.

    As regards computer game shops, well, I would miss my local Microplay. The manager is a lovely, nerdy, knowledgeable man who sets aside 2nd hand games that I have been searching for. Whenever I am in his shop we have a great conversation, and I feel like it’s a haven of nerdiness in an otherwise terribly bland and ‘grown-up’ city like Ottawa.

  4. I think the local electronic game shop is dead. Totally dead. It’s a shame but at least we have digital distribution. But the feeling of walking into a store and talking about games with someone who has similar interests to you is over. It’s a shame, because that is what made retail great. The big box stores in the US turned software into a commodity. So that warmth and exchange is gone. Even at the store that are still open, they are run by companies who don’t care about games or gamers so it’s a lost art.

  5. I think Game in Britain has been a decent shop over the years but I won’t particularly miss it. Still it’s not fair to lump every retailer in with Gamestop.

  6. I have no love for GameStop really, but I will miss them should they go. While I buy nearly everything online (and thus am part of what is killing them) once in a while I need to see something in person before I buy.

    For example, when we got out Wii, I wanted to get some GameCube controllers so we could play GameCube games as well. But on Amazon it was tough to tell which controllers were worth buying and which were crap. BestBuy didn’t remember there was such a thing as a GameCube at that point, Toys R Us remembered but didn’t have anything related to them, and Fry’s, which still had a GameCube section, was sold out of controllers.

    But up the street at GameStop, they actually had (and still had the last time I went) a selection of new and used GameCube controllers. I have also wandered through their store now and again to browse the used console games and occasionally buy some cheap GameCube game for kicks, like Simpson’s Road Rage.

    GameStop was also the only source I could find for a copy of Tetris for my DS.

    Plus they host Pokemon download events! Win!

    So, GameStop has a spot in my gaming ecosystem. But if it went away, I do have options like Fry’s, which generally has everything GameStop has plus all the other nerd attractions. They just aren’t as ubiquitous as GameStop, so never get Pokemon events.

  7. It’s been a year or so since anywhere in the city where I live stocked PC games. Makes no difference to me, though, because it’s been a lot longer than that since any MMO I was interested in chose to send retail boxes to the U.K.

    I reckon I’ll struggle on somehow when the game shops shut.

  8. GameStop is a bit like the Borg, only less interesting. The local electronic game shops I used to frequent are all GameStops now, which gives me a convenient excuse to buy all my games online.

    Bookshops are a different matter – I’d really miss my favorite sci-fi and used bookshops if they closed. (Although I confess I spend more through Amazon than I do at local bookshops these days.)

  9. When I read that the London rioters looted every shop in a street except for the bookstore, I knew that bookstores were in trouble. How do you survive if people don’t even want your product for free?

    • Well that’s part of a larger issue of people feeling like society doesn’t want them, and them having a different set of values. Literacy is not among them.

      That’s not to say they’re alone in their disregard for books; it does appear to be spreading. That said, I think while videogames, the internet and e-readers are still relatively new, it will be difficult to make predictions, simply because there’s so much upheaval. Sometimes a new medium does make an old one obsolete, other times it sits alongside it, and others it merely relegates to niche status.

  10. I think stores that focus on secondhand books will be around for ever, but games – not so much. Only the very best book and record stores are still around in my neighborhood (Portland, OR) and they survive because of two things: having stuff you’ve never heard of, and staff that know every-goddamn-thing about their products.

    Perhaps there’s a niche for gaming stores that offer that mix of comprehensive knowledge and esoteric rarity? None of the interesting little ‘off the beaten path’ games even sell physical copies, so maybe not.

    Anyway, I certainly won’t miss GameStop, but I won’t miss Borders either, or Virgin Records stores. If I want soulless mass-market commercialism I’ll go to Amazon.

  11. I think the board game shops are in trouble as well for a lot of the same reasons as the bookstores. People can come into the shop for gaming and so forth, but a good number will order them online for less when it comes time to buy. The shops mark up the games to make more from the less price-sensitive shoppers, giving even more incentive to buy online. Board games may also continue to migrate to electronic platforms. As much as I like board games, I would not open up a shop selling them in this day and age.

  12. I think what might work, would be a combination of ebook + brick&mortar store. Have a few interesting books (topX sellers) there + a cafe and maybe a 1% discount if you buy your ebook inside the shop. Then put a bardcode next to each book to buy it with your phone/tablet.
    People would stay inside the shop for the coffee and the minuscle discount surrounded by books, so they might get motivated to shop more of them.

    … but organising readers and writers groups is probably cheaper and safer.

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