We've long railed against this industry's tendencies towards pre-ordering here on this site. Most recently, we saw five different collector's editions for Watch Dogs, one or two of them filling the reward of pre-order special editions. This has been common for some time: pre-order a game from a certain retailer, get some bonus swag thrown in for free. Usually it's a character skin or perhaps a shiny, golden weapon. But every so often, it might prove to be something meaningful -- a map or two, free DLC, gameplay content not to be found in other versions of the game.
When that happens, publishers and retailers wheel out the phrase "giving consumers choices". But that's utter rubbish. What they've done is slice bits off of the top in a truly anti-consumer move, and muddied the waters of convenience. These days, it's not uncommon to pay full price for 95% of a game.
In short, when retailers get involved with anything other than game distribution and sales, it's a little suspect.
Imagine our joy, then, at discovering that GameStop is preparing to get its sticky fingers even stickier. The world's largest games retailer is apparently looking to become more involved in the development processes of big games. GameStop execs recently met with investment company R.W. Baird to talk about their place in the games industry currently, along with plans for the future. Baird analyst Colin Sebastian has recently revealed, via VentureBeat, "that the brick-and-mortar chain wants to find ways to give customers more value when they preorder games."
“[GamesStop] indicated that software publishers are more enthusiastic about partnering with it,” Sebastian stated in his note to investors. “For example, by offering exclusive content on each major game release, and longer term, future models may include GameStop offering exclusive gameplay.”
Contacted by VB for further comment, Sebastian went on to suggest that GameStop is considering “getting involved at the time of game development where there could be some content exclusive to [the retailer] included in the game.”
It makes sense in business terms.
GameStop have made big money off of the PS4 and Xbox One, amassing an impressive software share in large part due to the fact that the retailer consistently brokers deals with publishers to ensure that it can offer special items and downloadable content for customers who reserve titles and pre-order. Throw in its trade programme and rewards policy and it's easy to see why it's been able to corner the market in new-gen software sales. Retail giants like GameStop are finding themselves severely threatened by digital distribution when it comes to the console market. It's why prices on virtual marketplaces remain ludicrous high, particularly when compared to the digital PC market, and a large reason why Microsoft's digital plans for the Xbox One fell through.
Initiatives such as this are just one way of staving off the death of physical retailers.
But for us as consumers, it's something of a nightmare scenario.
“We are working with our [development] partners to build in a longer lead time,” GameStop PR spokesperson Jackie Smith told GamesBeat. “And we are working with them to get both physical and digital exclusives for our customers.”
Make no mistake, though, this isn't about customers, it's about GameStop attempting to exert its will over the industry to a greater degree. The company already has a foothold in the media with GameInformer, it's big enough in the States that it could legitimately destroy a game release if it told publishers to co-operate or face not being stocked, and as long as this is allowed to continue, the future of the industry will continue to be held to ransom by retailers and businesspeople.
It's important to remember that these are early days and GameStop hasn't revealed or indeed begun to implement this suggested strategy... that we know of. But the implication is sinister to say the least. A closer relationship between the creative aspects of this industry and those only concerned about the bottom line at the end of the process is not a beneficial thing to creatives or consumers. The truly nightmarish scenario is a future where no version of a game except perhaps for an exorbitantly priced bundle straight from the publisher is the "full" package, with retailers funding huge chunks of secondary content, side-quests, entire vehicle and weapon sets, and consumers becoming more confused and railroaded into retail options. Soon you're buying a game based on which retailer has successfully bullied enough people rather than out of any positive influence.
"I'm terribly sorry sir, if you wanted to buy a car with seats in it, you should have gone to the other dealership."
"But theirs don't come with wheels!"
Exaggeration? Perhaps. For now. But the reality of an industry in which GameStop hold all of the strings is coming fast, and this is just the next step on the ladder.