When a brick-and-mortar retailer decides to go digital, one possible strategy goes something like this: Buy a smaller digital company or two, and hope to make them big.
That’s what GameStop did last week when it acquired Stardock’s Impulse game download service and Spawn Labs, whose claim to fame is a device that acts like SlingBox for video games.
But in an interview with Gamasutra’s Chris Morris, Gamestop revealed a more fascinating wrinkle in its digital strategy. Later this year, it’ll start accepting tablets for trade-in, and it eventually wants Impulse’s download service and Spawn Labs’ streaming tech to be a part of other manufacturer’s tablets. If that doesn’t happen, Gamestop may build a tablet of its own.
Gamestop president wants to sell tablet games that are more expensive than the 99 cent offerings that dominate smartphone app stores, but cheaper than $60 console games. The company may try to stream existing console games to tablets as well.
Those seem like empty promises for now. After all, there are operating systems to navigate, each with their own competing app stores, and the transition from retailer to hardware maker is no cakewalk. It’s worked out nicely for Amazon and the Kindle e-reader, but Barnes & Noble’s Nook has been less successful.
Still, in embracing tablets, GameStop seems to be admitting that its lucrative used game sales model is fading, and that it needs to find fertile ground. Buying Impulse and Spawn Labs wouldn’t be enough, because they already face competition from Steam and OnLive, respectively. I see the same issues with Best Buy’s acquisition of Napster for digital music and Walmart’s purchase of Vudu for streaming video. They’re fine services, but they don’t dominate the market like their retail overlords.
Instead of just betting big on an existing service, GameStop wants to stake out new territory on tablets. This is going to get interesting.