Despite the common preconception that digital distribution is detrimental to the health of bricks-and-mortar retail, GameStop International executive vice president Mike Mauler thinks there's a much bigger cross-over than many commentators believe.
"Retail globablly seems to be pretty strong, especially in the game industry. No matter what the economy is, no matter what the country is, if you’ve got a good game, it does well," he tells us. "In terms of where the industry’s going with digital, free-to-play etc, I personally don’t see it as cannibalistic. You’ll see a lot of articles giving the impression that a dollar spent on digital is a dollar lost from boxed product, and that’s absolutely not the case."
"I see it really as being additive, people are still spending on boxed product, new titles are doing well. Last fall Call Of Duty, Assassin's Creed and all the big titles did better than the year before. But then on top of it there’s now a digital piece. EA and some of the other guys are starting to take those franchise and do things on Facebook or browser games, and we really see it helping the industry."
According to Mauler, GameStop intends to have digital sales account for $1.5 billion of its revenue by 2014 (it was a little under $300 million last year), and he believes many of the increasing number of people being introduced to games through online social and mobile titles are also graduating to consoles – behaviour GameStop is hoping to capitalise on with the announcement of its gaming tablet.
GameStop International executive vice president Mike Mauler
"Facebook’s a great example of that: we’re seeing a lot of people getting introduced to games on Facebook that never in a million years would have gone to Xbox 360, but they like what they see, they like the content and they want something more immersive. So then they go the next step and get into console gaming. So we’re pretty excited about [digital games]."
And it works in the other direction, too: "When the customer’s in our store, buying Call Of Duty, that’s the best time to pre-sell the digital content that’s going to come out two months later," he explains. "It's much better than getting hit by random emails, because every publisher’s doing that and you basically sit there on your computer and go delete, delete, delete… And so the best time to be able to talk to that consumer about something digital that’s related to what they’re buying, is actually when they’re in your store and they’re curious."
But we wonder whether a customer would appreciate being sold additional components for a game having just laid down £40 / $60 for the boxed copy – wouldn't this be akin to the annoying insistence of electronics store staff trying to get you to buy insurance for the expensive piece of technology you've just bought?
"It’s a grey area," Mauler admits. "If you say, 'In three months there’s going to be a map pack', I don’t think the consumer feels that they’re getting less value for the game they’re buying at that moment. If you were to say, 'Thanks for buying a game, but would you also like five extra levels for £10 today?' I think then it gives the consumer the impression that what they’re buying in the boxed product just isn’t as valuable."
Does the idea of being recommended upcoming DLC at the counter appeal to you or would you feel like your purchase was in some way devalued? Let us know in the comments below.