The Future of Video Game Retail

Can physical retail outlets keep up with increasing digital competition? Errol Kerr investigates

Errol Kerr
1st May 2018
Image: Gerry Hart

Grainger Games, the poster-child of used game sales and the place where I bought probably over 2/3 of my games before 2016, is gone. With it goes the memories of many a gamer in their youth who spent hours upon hours looking at various game boxes, merchandise and used consoles wondering which one to grab next.

In its place stand many things, but in the slow decline of the physical games market, one silver bullet is responsible for the damage that’s killed Grainger: online games markets. That’s right: Steam, G2A, even the Xbox Live Marketplace. The fact that we as gamers can just log in, grab a videogame that we’ve seen online and play it there and then without a disc is the primary reason we’re seeing a decline in the physical game marketplace.


One Silver bullet is responsible for the damage that’s killed Grainger: online game markets


Thing is, this won’t be the only games store that’s declining. GAME, Gamestop, Insert-Game-Store-Name-Here, they’ll all be suffering. The fact that not only can you buy a game’s merch online but the game itself and have it installed faster than it might take to get to and from a shop? It’s going to be hitting their wallets. Hard.

I foresee an attitude similar to how we look at music today: Digital games are good, but owning a physical copy is better. You can see this with the staggered release of Sonic Mania: Originally released as an online-only purchase, Sonic Mania Plus is to be released as a physical disc with more content. I know for a fact that a game like Mania, with its design based on a game from the Sega Genesis era, will sell so many hard copies. Thing is, collectors editions are moving away from hard copies now, too. Looking at recent sales of Destiny 2 and Halo 5: Guardians, their top-end “collector” box sets didn’t have discs whatsoever, only a download code. It makes me wonder whether it’s not just the purchase of hard copies of games that’s at risk, but the existence of hard copies themselves.

Are we moving into a future that’s entirely based upon what you can download onto your hard drive? Companies would find it so much easier and much more cost-effective just selling you data rather than data encoded on a disc – but is that what we want?


I forsee an attitude similar to how we look at music today: Digital Games are good, but owning a physical copy is better


Not necessarily. Looking at the Xbox that I own and the Switch I can only dream of owning, downloading a game onto your hard drive takes up so much space, the likes of which practically needs you to purchase external hard drives or other save cards. Much like the memory cards of old, you still need a larger storage space – and these things cost as well.

In the case of the Switch, a healthy future for games coming out on the cartridge that they’re released on. Since a lot is stored in that physical cartridge to allow for the Switch’s processing to be competitive, it allows the Switch to perform somewhere near as well as other consoles.

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