The picture painted by a recent report that retailer GameStop might fund special video game content from major developers that would be available only to its customers was, in the eyes of hardcore gamers, tantamount to dystopia. A world where the largest physical games retailer has its hands in the creative process behind new titles -- perhaps in an effort to pump up pre-order numbers and fence off more and more of a game's core experience -- fast became a perceived display of corporate overreach.
GameStop CEO Paul Raines wants to quell those fears. The company is indeed in the early stages of talking with game publishers about funding exclusive game content that will be available only at one of the retailer's brick-and-mortar outlets. The strategy is an extension of what it's been doing for years to boost sales and pre-orders by making certain weapons, character unlocks, and other peripheral content available only through a GameStop purchase or pre-order.
But Raines says the company won't be tampering with larger aspects of development in a way that would have you missing out on 10 percent or 20 percent of the next Call of Duty if you don't shop GameStop.
"You won't see us involved in the creative process," Raines told Time. "That's not something we do well. We love to play games, and unlike our competitors, all we do is gaming. But we will not be involved in the artistic or creative process. That's not really our domain.
"I think we'd be foolish to tell developers how to develop games or publishers how to bring product to market. That's what they do extremely well. What we'll do well is put capital at risk and help distribute and connect with PowerUp Rewards customers," Raines said, referring to GameStop's frequent-buyer rewards program. "That's really the extent of what we're talking about. I think the day you see us in the creative side is when you can tell me we've officially lost our minds."
What this business strategy does amount to is unclear at the moment. GameStop is in the earliest stages of trying to hammer out these deals and is doing so because digital downloads are on the rise, generating an estimated half of the $1.5 billion in May game sales, according to NPD Group. While buying a disc used to mean you could pop it in and play, that's no longer the case. Sony and Microsoft have made it a requirement that PlayStation 4 and Xbox One games be installed on your hard drive for performance reasons, even if you own the disc. That means that as time goes on, GameStop purchases will become no more efficient or practical than a digital download through Sony's or Microsoft's online store.
That's why GameStop needs to continuously boost the value proposition of walking down to a brick-and-mortar outlet to pick up a game instead of downloading it from the comfort of your home. By getting involved with development and taking over some of its costs, GameStop can better position itself to get the most valuable bonuses and exclusives, helping it remain the No. 1 destination for game purchases.
"It's very early on, but I do foresee a world where we can help facilitate great content," Raines said. "The upside for developers will be much stronger guarantees around distribution and audience with our loyalty program and so forth."