Conflict of Interest takes a look at theory, ethics, and practice in video game journalism and the gaming industry as a whole. Because that's what the kids need.
GameSpot's interview with GameStop CEO Paul Raines provides lots of ammunition for the everyday industry cynic. Although the comments section was quick to point out that GameStop's claim to being THE PLACE for hardcore gamers was bullshit, just about everyone glossed over the really stupid parts.
The salient remarks:
PR: We’ve not seen a lot of impact from it. I think publishers today working with GameStop have a much broader set of tools at their disposal. Think about the PowerUp Rewards; our marketshare is at an all-time high. The reason is, PowerUp Rewards have given us new ways to connect with customers. Digital content is offering new ways to offer consumers a bigger experience. Instead of giving them a T-shirt, now you can give them digital content, levels, et cetera. And then lastly, we are far more integrated around the world than we have ever been. When we launch a title now, it’s more and more a global launch. And that helps. People like EA, our good partners at Activision, and some of the other companies, they need us to be more integrated globally with what we’re trying to do.
GS: Between retailer-exclusive preorder bonuses, one-time use pack-in codes, microtransactions, DLC, and the like, the user experience for any given game is splintered a dozen ways. What kind of feedback have you heard from consumers about this? Confusion? Frustration? Enthusiasm?
PR: I think that our customers feel like they’re getting more innovation from us than they’ve ever gotten. As far as other retailers copying what we do, we can’t change a lot of that. So what we’re trying to do is say, "buy from GameStop, we’re going to bring you the very best, innovative content that we possibly can, and along the way, we’re going to provide you the most benefits." Our consumers tell us they’re more excited than ever about that. Add to that our ability to sell what we think will be exciting mobile games, tablet games, we think we have the best position we’ve ever had.
It's hard to take too seriously the remarks of a CEO about his business model, but GameStop's commitment to its image as a modern day comic book store -- that place where hardcore fans can congregate for the sake of congregation -- highlights GameStop's irrelevancy more than anything else. The comic book store is an outdated concept in the same way that late night variety shows and newspapers are; the advent of the internet means that water cooler talk and niche community connections are no longer limited to a few dominant sources of information dispersion. But GameStop's conflation of customer happiness with the number of things, real and imagined, they can sell is telling.
Is being able to purchase DLC from a GameStop something permanent to the marketplace, or is it a passing opportunistic money-grab by a company without a future? I think the answer lies in the customer. What I mean is this: Will the general population, and the population that shops at GameStop, eventually become more informed about the nature of gaming entertainment? My guess is no. The advent of the casual gamer and the fact that there will always be parents and grandparents cluelessly purchasing shovelware, as well as the fact that there will always be children playing video games, means that GameStop will always have a way to function as a useless middleman in the marketplace.
|The face of progress|
I like to think about Best Buy's Geek Squad as a point of comparison. Best Buy is perfectly happy to sell you a computer and force you to check "no" to questions like "Would you like Geek Squad to install anti-virus protection for only $99.99?" I see no way that that business model can continue to exist after the digital immigrant baby boomer population dies out, clicking their final link on FoxNews.com. But then again, there will always be people too clueless about technology to say no (probably -- that's a pretty complicated one to tackle). My point is this: Gaming, for the foreseeable future, is actually maintaining and growing a clueless population. If there's a spectrum of gamers that begins with people playing Angry Birds and ends with someone programming a Chipophone, everyone to the left of WoW fans are ripe for the picking when it comes to offering pre-order bonuses, shitty resale rates, and Game Informer discounts.
It's also easy to trick children...and old people.