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GameStop, Sony, Ubisoft on the growth of retail in the age of downloads


"We are looking for ways to make money," Sony's senior vice president of publisher relations, Rob Dyer, said at an SXSW Interactive panel about the rise of digital distribution. "We are not looking for a system -- whether it's iPhone, Android, whatever -- that is this wonderful socialist idea that we can give things away for free. "

That helps frame the discussion -- it was from a moneymaking perspective that representatives of Ubisoft, SCEA, and GameStop discussed retail and its role as downloadable content and digitally distributed games become more popular.

GameStop's Chris Petrovic revealed that used games aren't really dying anytime soon as DLC grows, Online Pass or no Online Pass, merely because the meat of used-game sales have nothing to do with recent releases. He said that 97% of used-game sales at the retailer fall "outside of the new-release categorization," with around half of used game sales for the PlayStation 2. The average age of a used product purchased is three years. There is "no material evidence" that Project Ten Dollar and similar initiatives are having an impact.

In addition, everyone on the panel agreed that discoverability necessitated a continued retail presence. Gift-givers browse stores, for example, rather than online marketplaces; people already visit Walmart and Best Buy and can happen upon games there. Furthermore, consumers are better trained to look at actual things on shelves than they are to scroll through lists. The box has marketing value, Ubisoft's Steve Carlin said.

GameStop is better suited to upselling DLC in-store than other retailers, according to the panel, because it doesn't have competing departments fighting for promotions. If a "big box" handed out gift cards with purchases, for example, there's no guarantee the promotion would operate across the whole store or would be an electronics-only card, or something like that. But everyone agreed that the big stores were planning for downloadable content sales in-store, merely to keep up.

Sony's Dyer emphasized throughout the panel that Sony doesn't see retail as competition for PSN. He spoke of "expanding the pie" and creating "sticky customers" who can get Sony content from multiple sources. The company is still thinking about how long to wait to release full games digitally, in order to avoid "throwing retailers under the bus" while also extending back-catalog sales of the game.

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