It pains me to write this article. As an avid gamer through the 80s and 90', I grew up with Electronics Boutique, now GameStop (GME). From Nintendo, to the Sega Master System, to Sega Genesis, to Sony (SNE) Playstation, to Sega Saturn, to Playstation 2 and now 3, and of course, PC gaming from the late 80s to present day, Gamestop has been quite simply, where I stop for games.
I even worked for Electronics Boutique for several years while in college, braving the Christmas rush with the best of them. I still remember the regular customers 15 years later, and each and every hot Playstation title that was reserved on pre-sale. Extended service agreements? Sad to say, yes, I pushed them for commission.
So yes, this is not an article I am particularly happy to write, but I do it because I simply see no future for Gamestop. The retail front for video game software has numbered days ahead of it. I won't bore you with charts and graphs to illustrate this from market data sources. These things don't tell you a personal perspective.
The first signs of a transition away from brick and mortar stores could be seen with PC software. Beginning back in 2004, digital delivery of PC software began to take hold stemming from the MMORPG market and expansions to games like Everquest and World of Warcraft. Click, buy, download, done. Why reserve your copy at the store, drive there, pick it up, bring it home, install it, when you could simply click a button and have it now? Since the beginnings of this, PC Games dwindled on Gamestop shelves, and eventually vanished. Even in Best Buy (BBY) the selection of PC titles has dwindled to a small selection. Where is it all going? Services like Valve's Steam platform. Click, buy, download, play. Done. Convenience, now.
Consoles will move towards this type of service with their next generation and already offer it within current systems for Microsoft's (MSFT) Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. Click, buy, download, play. Convenience, now. These services will be specific to Sony, Microsoft, etc. Forget the mobile market that is dominated by Google's (GOOG) and Apple's (AAPL) respective online stores. It is unlikely that Gamestop will be able to offer their own competing download capability through the respective gaming platform's hardware.
While Gamestop does currently offer titles for download for the PC, this is a bandaid on a leaky dam about to burst and see the market cap rush out into the valley below. Look ahead, and be honest with yourself. Do you see Gamestop surviving in the future? Honestly? On the PC side of things, the future is with Valve and Steam as they offer an all in one package that combines store with social connection and competitive game matching capability. On the console side of things, the future is with the respective hardware manufacturers. You'll buy the consoles at big box retailers, you'll get the software through the cloud.
I'll miss Gamestop, or as I will always consider them, Electronics Boutique, just like I miss the video arcade I worked at in the early 1990s. I have Virtua Fighter 1 and 2 stand up arcade games in my living room that I purchased from one of the last arcades in the area to go out of business. I'm currently looking for a light up "Gamestop" sign. Perhaps I'll be able to scoop one up soon.