One of the popular things for analysts and other people who read the gaming industry’s tea leaves to say is that brick-and-mortar retail locations are going to become a thing of the past. And, you know, that’s probably right. Like movies, music and even books, video games are probably going to leave physical media behind. What’s sometimes annoying is the wildly speculative nature of these prognostications. “No more game stores in two years!,” or the like. The reality is that the shift will either be so gradual that it surprises no one or that it’ll happen so quickly that everyone will be flummoxed.
Still, it helps to anticipate the day when things go all broadband. That’s apparently what mail rental company GameFly did, and it led to their purchase of download site Direct2Drive. The former sends discs to subscribers through the mail and the latter lets PC and Mac owners download new and back-catalog releases. Direct2Drive has been a part of the IGN network of gaming sites, with the thinking being that users could download a game or a demo right after reading a preview or review.
The acquisition makes GameFly more of an analogue to Netflix than any other entity in the gaming business. Netflix offers access to content on two ways, on disc and via streaming. A few companies already exist in the digital download gaming space, whether it’s heavyweights like Steam or on-demand newbies like OnLive or Gaikai. But, they don’t have a physical component for customers who may not have broadband fast enough to avail themselves of downloadable games. As is the case with download hubs of every stripe, the coming challenge is going to be one of catalog relationships. But the new entity emerging from the acquisition had good relationships with game-makers and publishers on either side, so that shouldn’t be a problem. GameFly probably won’t be shutting down physical stores right away, but this move positions them to weather the future a lot better.