When Blockbuster closes do gamers lose?

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Lately, there have been some pretty interesting discussions about Blockbuster going bankrupt and its effect on gaming. My favorite concept goes something like this:

With Blockbuster and most other brick-and-mortar gaming rental stores going bankrupt, gamers have become afraid to try new or different types of games, which has contributed to stagnation and the overemphasis on sequels that has been permeating the gaming industry over the past few years.

I’ve heard this concept being debated on message boards and mentioned on such outstanding video shows as The Game Overthinker, while I think it holds some water, it’s a small amount of water.

No, I don’t think that the loss of Blockbuster and other brick-and-mortar game rental stores is contributing too much to the emphasis on sequels. The theory behind this statement is that gamers would try out new games for a low rental price and decide they like it, then they would go out and buy the game and be invested in the intellectual property. That would make sense except this is 2012 and I have a ton of ways to try new kinds of games without investing money in them. There are trials and demos of nearly every game that my Xbox 360 can play available through Xbox Live and the same goes for the PS3. PC gamers can also download demos with little or no effort. The Wii isn’t nearly as demo friendly, but they are working on that and it’s improving.

If you doubt this then I’ll make a suggestion. Go play the demo for Catherine, it would do you good to try new kinds of games and Catherine is pretty unique. I’m sure your gaming device will have some way to try it without any money. If you have a Wii, then go buy Xenoblade Chronicles, which needs no demo, and remember what it feels like to play a really great game on a Nintendo device.

One of the ways people ended up trying new games was by going to Blockbuster and renting a game they had never tried before. They usually did it based on box art or the screenshots on the back. When I went to Blockbuster I knew exactly what game I was going for. Last year I spent a few months pestering the local Blockbuster about renting Catherine. Renting games based on the box doesn’t guarantee the player will become involved in the series. The game has to be good and I know plenty of people who felt like they wasted money at Blockbuster on a crappy game that had decent box art.

What would really help gamers try new games is if Microsoft was less interested in making me watch ads on my dashboard/home screen and more interested in bringing to my attention great games that I would want to own or try. The PS4 could place more emphasis on this as well. Gamers won’t be upset with you for suggesting great games and they won’t care if you suggest free demos either. These don’t even have to be new games. They can be old and available to download at a reduced price. Steam does a great job at this and Microsoft and Sony should take their cues from them. I’ve noticed that Microsoft has been pushing cheaper DLC deals on older games, but what good does the DLC do me if I don’t own the game? It is nice though when I turn on my Xbox and am offered an older game for a cheap price.

I will agree that sequels are a problem in gaming at the moment, but all three console manufacturers posted some pretty bad financial news over the past few months and sequels are also very prevalent in movies right now for the exact same reason. All the big movies that came out over the past few months were sequels, remakes or prequels; The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, Total Recall, The Amazing Spider-Man, Ice Age: Continental Drift, Prometheus, Men in Black 3, The Bourne Legacy and Wrath of the Titans. Movie studios and game publishers have both learned the same lesson, sequels are a guaranteed profit with a built-in audience and new intellectual properties are a gamble, e.g. John Carter.

When a new and innovative idea comes around it’s hard to tell if you should invest your money or not. I understand this completely, but gamers have become too focused on the same kinds of experiences lately e.g., grey/brown shooters, so when a new game concept comes out we need to make sure to check into it and take a small risk. I’m not saying buy the game, but at least check out a review, play a demo or watch a trailer. We don’t need Blockbuster for those kinds of things, but we do need gamers who want to try new things, and that shouldn’t be that hard.

Losing Blockbuster is bad for me, but not for the other 90 percent of gamers that have a mixture of other things that fulfill that same function. I would like to see more new IPs in the next few months, but Blockbuster closing doesn’t factor into that very much. The real issue is gamers who want the same thing over and over again, and that rewards publishers for trying to make the same things over and over again. Blockbuster was just one place where gamers had an opportunity to try something new. With the loss of Blockbuster, we lose that opportunity, but there are still plenty of others out there to take its place.

 

Dan Hoyt has been an avid gamer his entire life. When he’s not playing games, he’s working out by walking his dog, hiking and doing martial arts. He likes to try new kinds of alcohol and discuss politics. He’s a graduate of The University of Kansas and has spent years as a journalist.

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