GameStop held its annual conference for managers last week in Anaheim, California at the Anaheim Convention Center, and in conjunction with that allowed thousands of consumers in for a very special day to see the hottest upcoming games and gaming related products.
GameStop managers had a lengthy series of presentations from all the major companies in the game business, laying out the upcoming titles and what exactly GameStop employees should be doing to sell them when eager gamers descend on GameStop stores this fall. It’s a terrific training opportunity for GameStop and for the game publishers, who are all well aware of the critical role retail employees play in the sales of games and DLC. A good GameStop employee can make a significant difference in pre-orders, sales and sales of DLC. Multiply that by thousands and you can see why GameStop is getting an increasing share of the retail game business, helping to offset the decline in retail game sales.
The Expo also featured a number of competitions for gamers eager to try their skills against each other at games like Titanfall and Halo: The Master Chief Collection. It’s pretty clear that Microsoft will be doing very well with Halo: The Master Chief Collection, as the game will be irresistible to the millions of Halo fans out there.
First of all, Halo: The Master Chief Collection will include every Halo map ever sold, including all the maps from the Halo versions for the PC. When you add them all up, that’s over 100 maps, which is a terrific deal for $60. The technical aspects of the game are also going to delight Halo fans: For one thing, all of the games are hosted on Microsoft’s servers instead of on individual Xboxes, which means those frequent game interruptions looking for a new server are a thing of the past. And searching for games will have new options, allowing you to search for desired game types across all versions of the game. It all means you’ll be able to play the type of game you want far more easily. Plus you get six Halo 2 maps remastered in full HD, and a beta key for Halo 5 in December. This game will definitely sell some Xbox Ones.
There were other impressive games on display at GameStop’s Expo, and one of the most impressive was Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor coming at the end of September from Warner Bros. Interactive, developed by Monolith. The game is an open-world sandbox set in the world of Middle-Earth, with a painstaking attention to the lore and a wide range of combat skills. The combat is reminiscent of the Batman series, translated into a gritty fantasy combat in the grim region of Mordor.
The most impressive thing about the game is the Nemesis system, where the game tracks a cadre of nasty Uruk-hai that you encounter as you kill them — or they kill you. Since your character is already dead and re-animated through magic, you keep coming back — but the nasty orc brutes keep getting better, and they remember their encounters with you. The system ratchets up the drama as well as the difficulty and you must get increasingly crafty with all of your abilities to ultimately succeed. This title looks like it will really grab you and keep you engaged for a good long time. Judging from the lines waiting to play, it looks like a winner.
There were plenty of gamers crowding around titles like Evolve, Destiny, and more. Many of the elaborate booths and set pieces had been used earlier at E3 or at PAX Prime, and were once again put to good use. It’s all about generating more excitement among the players, giving them some hands-on time with new games and sparking more social media mentions.
GameStop will probably hold this Expo again next year, and perhaps move it once again to a new venue in order to bring in a different audience. It’s a great way to defray the cost of the manager’s conference — no doubt the ticket sales go a good way towards offsetting the venue costs. For publishers, it provides an added reason to be there. The publishers get to train and excite the managers, and then get a chance to get thousands of consumers pumped up for a very low additional cost. Everybody wins.
It is important for GameStop to keep pushing the boundaries with new initiatives and events like the Expo. The underlying fact that everyone knows is that retail sales of games are in decline, and will only continue to decline as bandwidth improves around the country and publishers work ever harder to sell games digitally, thus reaping all of the revenue without having to give up a share to GameStop. GameStop isn’t taking it easy, though — the company is investing in mobile and other electronics stores, experiencing strong growth in game publishing through Kongregate, and continuing to push DLC sales and preorders and accessories. The company surprised many analysts with a better-than-expected quarter last time, and hopes to keep up that sort of surprise.
Game retailing may be slowly dwindling, but GameStop is not going to do the same without a fight. It’s an interesting battle to watch — and don’t be too quick to bet against GameStop. So far, they’ve been pretty good at swimming against the tide.