Even in the early 2010s when affordable ADSL Internet made video game downloads a reality that could be done in a few hours as opposed to a few weeks from ye olde 56k modem days, there was still the appeal of going to a video game shop and slapping cash on the counter to purchase a physical copy of a game. Sure, having actual property in your hand that you could trade off at a later stage was great stuff, but there was also the social aspect.
Shooting the breeze with a shop employee about your decision or talking a random stranger into trying out a game for the first time. Video games are inherently social, and with the advancements made in online connectivity that aspect of gaming is bigger than ever before. And yet…it feels kind of lonely doesn’t it?
There’s something about sharing a couch and nut-shots during a game, having company and dropping banter that just makes gaming feel like a proper experience. As a species we’re inherently craving company, and that’s something that the US chain of GameStop stores are looking at as they work to figure out a new place in a market that is relying increasingly on digital sales over the regular brick ‘n mortar consumer option.
The idea is simple: Take a regular store, kit it out with all manner of tech and tables to attract gamers from various fields and let them have fun. GameStop has a dozen of these shops set up in the US state of Oklahama, primarily in the city of Tulsa and a few other spots as they trial what they call a social concept store. You can still buy games and merch here, but the focus is now on communal and interactive spaces that cater towards video games and tabletop gaming with themed nights drawing in specific crowds.
“I came back [from E3] in 2014 and went to the then-regime and I said, ‘We are missing out on an enormous opportunity,’” GameStop chief customer officer Frank Hamlin said to Games Industry Biz.
And I said, and I use this incredibly politically incorrectly, ‘If E3 is the Vatican, why is GameStop not the local church?’ I pitched the ability to do what we ended up doing now starting back in 2014, which is to do a real deep dive into understanding who our customers are, what customers we are not acquiring, and what is a retail experience from GameStop that truly embraces the modern gamer.
Six years later, Hamlin’s idea is finally being implemented as digital game sales continue to hammer away at their slice of the gaming pie. For now, it’s an experiment to see if focusing on the social aspect of gaming is a more viable business strategy in the long run, but one that has so far seems to be inspired by a sense of community. “The experiment in Tulsa is: Do people want to experience in real life the same thing that they’re experiencing virtually from a cultural and social standpoint with modern gaming?” Hamlin explained.
I believe that they do. I believe there is a latent, innate human need based on what you see at E3 or ComicCon or PAX, where people want to consort in real life with other people that are doing this, and that is a much more powerful notion than doing it over your headset. That’s a great way to do it to fill the gaps in between when you’re with people, but if you can have a local place that you can do this together on a regular basis that’s within reach, it seems to me a very worthy experience.
It’s a great idea, and one that has been pioneered elsewhere in the world while GameStop took their sweet time to get their act together. In the UK, the Belong Gaming Arenas focus on casual and competitive gaming, catering for a wide variety of gamers across the spectrum. Locally, The Nexus, Maverick Gaming and ATK Arena have been fantastic hubs for gaming as well, regularly bringing in people for nights of fun that emphasises just how much community there is within any given form of entertainment.
Last Updated: February 25, 2020