Today I posted, what I thought, was a fairly clear and uncontroversial point.
What followed was a few parts snark, a few parts well reasoned (but entirely off topic) replies, and just a whole lot of people getting off into a conversation that is entirely irrelevant to my point. This is why I don’t debate on twitter. You just can’t say anything in under 140 characters that won’t set off the same set of events every single time.* So instead of keeping up with that thread, I’m just going to go over things here. A quick note that I don’t ever plan anything ahead. I may not cover everything on my mind, I’ll at least try my best to not be too circular in my logic.
Why here? Well, inevitably I’d end up being told to defend steam or digital distribution [two things I’m generally somber on, minus GOG]. When I reply with “that has nothing to do with retailers” someone will get pedantic and cite the definition of retailer. Then you’ll also have that group of people that just want to yank my chain because they don’t understand business but seem to think they are experts [again with maximum snark]. I’ll get frustrated with how this is all wasting everyone’s time and stop reading my disqus notes for a week until enough replies and upvotes have washed away all the annoyance.
I’m not necessarily an expert, but I have been working on the publishing (and development) side of video games for about 6 years, in one fashion or another, to a fair amount of success. Generally when I talk about things involving video games or the business surrounding them it’s not totally coming out of my ass. Maybe 30-60%, but not ALL of it. That isn’t to say that people should take me as an expert, or whatever, just that I’d rather people cut back on the snark. Just ask me for clarity and if I examine my statement and find flaws in it, I’ll suck it up and bow out. I do it all the time, I like being wrong, it helps me to grow.
Retailers are, in the conventional sense, dying. The future of retail is going to be one of showroom floors where you make most (if not all) of your purchases online from the showroom and have it delivered to your home. This won’t be true of everything, and like novelty pinball/arcade halls in the LA Area, you will always find exceptions to this future. Some people are stubborn and they like the old ways best. But the evaporation of places like Circuit City or Blockbuster is not a special occurrence. Nor is the consolidation of large retailers like Sears and K-Mart. It will continue to happen and to more and more places.
The power they once had is waning and most of these companies are trying very hard to remain relevant. The biggest buzzword in the industry is “millenials” and its surefire ticket to knowing whether or not someone has any clue what they are talking about. (Hint: If someone says X or Y will garner millennials, they haven’t a clue what they are talking about. It’s the new version of social media expert.) Most businesses are already moving towards a hybrid model of digital and physical. Not on goods per se (though that is happening too) but on the outreach to customers.
This is a good thing for everyone. Well everyone I care about at least. The digital space is considerably more competitive than the analog space. A big part of this is that you don’t need tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of dollars, to compete realistically. You don’t need to pay very high rental costs, insurance, etc. Digitally there isn’t really such a thing as “shelf space”. Amazon doesn’t need to sell you the most expensive item nor do they need to hide items that are not “expensive enough”. (And yes, Amazon is a digital retailer, no they aren’t the second coming of jesus, and yes I consider digital retailers different than retailers).
You can buy physical goods through the internet. This, I think, was lost on the folks replying to me. I’m unclear why, possibly because apparently some people call boxed copies of games “retail copies”. I haven’t heard a boxed game called a retail copy in probably ten years, so it caught me by surprise.
On top of being able to buy physical goods online you can buy them directly from the creator. This is an amazing freedom that didn’t really exist for people on a global scale not too long ago. When I purchased Disgaea 5 from NISA directly I got a bunch of sweet extras along with it (yes it cost a little extra, but most of the time it’s a trivial price bump). On top of this I know that a company I adore will get most of the money I send their way. It isn’t split up a billion times before it hits them, meaning they can make better games on smaller budgets without closing shop.
Comedians do this quite a lot, with “name your price” direct sales. Admittedly this IS digital only, but it is DRM free and in HD, it’s fucking amazing. Something I hope keeps happening.
With a few notable exceptions, publicly owned companies are run with the goal of screwing you like IKEA furniture. This isn’t to say they are “evil” but the drive of capitalism means that you are a burden. They need your money but you stand between them and that money. So they’ll look for the cheapest way possible to get the most money out of you. This usually involves screwing the person delivering them the goods (ala the recent news with Shovel Knight and their price raise).
I’m not saying that private companies are angels, or that all public companies are devils, but generally when you work without middle men you can get a lot done without hurting very many (if any) people. Retailers are a bit like uPlay, they provide little actual value, and a whole lot of extra overhead. I will admit that getting stuff the day you want it is nice, but this is also becoming less relevant as shipping adjusts to the new world of online shopping.
Retailers are going to become more and more irrelevant as time goes on. The fact that people still deal with them is not a sign that this is not happening. Just because it’s cold where you live, that doesn’t mean the climate isn’t getting warmer. Business, in my experience, survives in spite of itself and not because of itself. An awful lot of adults are just winging shit and hoping nobody notices.
It’s not necessarily dying either, more accurately it’s transforming into the new world of business. Luckily this new world will require a lot more effort in order to corner and ruin. (Mostly legal actions that are more public than the current monopolistic strategies) So be happy, the outcome is in your favor.