Reflections on DIG London 2011: Solving the 'GameStop Problem'

By Adam Ma on November 17, 2011, 4:45PM EDT

Every year DIG London brings forth a serious amount of talent from the gaming industry to help students and professionals alike better understand what it is that makes the gaming industry tick. This year however, things were a little different. There was an elephant in the room, something that no aspiring professional would ever really want to admit but has become a very real problem for everyone involved in gaming. Where is the industry going? How do developers struggle to stay alive in an entertainment sector that doesn't even know what defines a good game? Where are our current business models taking the industry? Despite how far we've come as an industry, there's still a long way to go, and while many in attendance had differing opinions on where we needed to go there was one subject that was almost unanimous in agreement: the solution to GameStop.

Unless you're the kind of gamer who only spends his cash on one FPS a year and plays it until there's nothing left to enjoy but the sequel, it's easy enough to identify where the problem is. It's become almost a staple sentence in our community, in fact. 'There are too many games coming out this month.' It seems insane to consider, but it's a fact. Too many titles and almost all of them worth our money. Part of this problem boils down to the consumer. I like to always think that going out and buying each new Pokémon game they come out with a year is helping support the industry, but when the pressure is on for each of those titles to sell more and more than the last my wayward spending has only really signed the death warrant for a development team that is trying to meet a potentially impossible goal.

So what do gamers do when there are six games to buy at the end of the year and you only can afford three of them? Reselling a title shouldn't be a necessary evil in order to maximize the amount of fun you get from a hobby, but that's where we stand today. For the longest time I've always believed that it was solely GameStop's fault that trade-in values were so skewed, but at the end of the day this is all simply an extension of supply and demand. GameStop is a part of the problem, yes, but more a byproduct of a different issue entirely. Change has to happen. The industry right now simply cannot sustain itself by releasing half a dozen AAA titles within a two month span and expecting each one of them to draw in a few million copies each.

Now more than ever does cloud gaming seem like a real solution as opposed to just another fancy way to get gamers to subscribe to an unnecessary service. From a consumer standpoint it's easy to see where there would be resistance. Everyone has grown used to the idea of owning a game, being able to put in a disc and play it at leisure, and for many the idea of playing a title only through constant internet access is more of an inconvenience than anything else. But if developers are looking to secure higher sales, and gamers are looking for cheaper prices on their favourite AAA titles cloud gaming seems like the natural solution. It provides gamers with a means of getting games without having to wait in line, deal with hard copies, or worry about pre-orders. It gives developers and publishers the chance to drop costs, ensure that no used game sales will cut into potential profits, and stop piracy as cloud servers are simply streaming game material.

It's a logical progression that would mean the end to a lot of current day gaming issues. Cheating across FPS titles would be much more difficult without hacking into the cloud server itself, and companies would likely stop concepts like the multiplayer pass, which have been intentionally built to hinder the used game market but ultimately discourage anyone who isn't interested in an immediate purchase to buy the game at all. There are a few potential drawbacks to such a situation, but at the end of the day being able to buy a game at potentially half its current cost is more than worth it.

There are a lot of contributing problems to the current state of the industry that aren't necessarily related to the way we buy our games, but it's the guiding factor for a lot of issues. Will cloud gaming fix the state of the Japanese development industry, or encourage publishers like Activision to relieve a bit of the pressure they're inciting to generate these blockbuster titles each year? Most likely not, and though cloud gaming as a future isn't going to be a reality for a very long time it's nice to know that amongst a wave of layoffs, studio shutdowns, franchises lost in development hell, on-disc DLC, and online passes that the future does have some fairly promising answers. For aspiring developers, it means thinking outside the box and finding solutions to a business model that punishes developers, publishers, and consumers alike. For gamers, it means knowing the industry will not only survive this confusing time but eventually grow stronger.

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