Malik  (7/16/04)

With my purchase of Tales of Symphonia, my view of the world has been focused mainly on our source of geek stores.  So, needless to say, that is my focus for this week's Malik's Bitchings.  So, with a very large post today, I will not waste any more time with introductions...after all, you should know the drill by now.

The Price We Pay 

More times than not, people in the gaming industry like to compare games with movies, music, or other forms of entertainment when the shit hits the fan. For example, when Congress raises hell about games being too violent and causing uncalled for aggression in children, the game industry is the first to (rightly) say that games should not be held to higher standards than other entertainment (like movies, etc) due to the nature of how video games are quite similar to other forms of entertainment; I mean movies, music, TV, book, and even contemporary theater all can show violence, sexual situations, or whatever else is causing Congress to get pissy with the gaming industry. 

So, why is it that the rest of the time, the gaming industry holds itself to be higher and more mighty than their cousins in entertainment. Don't see what I mean? Well, try going to Bestbuy, Target, Fred Meyer, Fry's, and a few other stores that sell different forms of entertainment. Find a single title of whatever besides games, and then check out the price. Now go to the next store. Now the next one. Keep that up and you will see a trend. The prices of DVDs, CDs, etc, are never the same at every store. Even a new release on DVD that goes for $40 (let's imagine we're talking about a special edition movie) at one store can be found for as much as $55 at another and as low as $25 at yet another store. 

Now try to do the same thing with video games. With a few rare exceptions, such as Thief: Deadly Shadows for the XBox when it first came out, and you'll find that they are always $49.99. If we geeks luck out, we may find a new release for $49.95, and we may see the games get as bad as $52.99. However, this is not the same story as you'd get from any other form of digital entertainment (or a book, or whatever). So, I'm left with the thought; Why are we geeks getting screwed when other geeks can luck out with their chosen passion? 

At the same time, there's the question of competition. I mean with proper competition the market place only improves for all of us who are concerned. On one hand, the stores who sell us our products will have the chance to win us over. I mean, would you rather shop at the store that has a competitive nature and thus lowers their prices, or would you rather shop at a place that only offers the worst possible prices? I think the answer is obvious. This would definitely help to lower the number of stores in the already overly saturated market...seriously, there are some areas that have as many game stores per block as Starbucks...and that is not a good thing. If, however, these stores all offered different prices based on their desire to win us customers over, the number of stores could diminish and the best values could be had by all. In particular, since old games sell for a range of prices (as stores try to clear their shelves for new arrivals), but new games are always the same price, this could encourage people to not shop at the most over priced (for old games) stores and thus we can all get far more bang for our buck while telling the overpriced places like Walmart (which was recently seen as the most over priced store for games of the major nation wide chains) to either clean up their act or to lose all of their business in the larger markets (which have more game stores per area). 


Well, like I said, the varying game stores and department stores that sell games need to get into the mood for a little healthy competition. Rarely will a brave company, like Bestbuy or Fry's did with Thief: DS, step forward with an insanely low price on a new arrival. This only leads to us feeling less loyal to any store, which in turns creates a less friendly marketplace for us all. Plus, without the competition, the number of cold (emotionally) and impersonal stores will only continue to climb in the larger markets (like Seattle, where I am based from). 

It makes no sense that in almost every possible market, the competition of the various stores ensure a good blend of healthy prices and customer loyalty but giving a wide ranges of prices, but game stores will not do the same thing. This is a sad trend that must end for the sake of us geeks and our hollow wallets.

The Starbucks of Gaming 

Recently...well, this week...I got screwed over by EB in picking up a game I had pre-ordered, and this left me thinking (check the post for 7/14/04 for my bitchy thinking) about the nature of game stores. In the past, before games like FF7 and systems like the PSX made geeking more mainstream, we had all sorts of game stores (at least in my good old greater Seattle area). We had the national chains, like EB and Software Etc and FuncoLand (the later two became, and the less than national stores like the countless ones that I cannot remember the names of that we simple ma and pa style gaming stores. The later of these would be the type of store that you would feel funny entering at first since the clerks knew everyone who visited the store (so on your first couple of visits it felt like you simply didn't belong). Hell, even the national chains were small enough that you would feel like a "member" of sorts after a few visits since the management and clerks would know you after only a few visits. 

So, currently we are faced with, more or less, two chains of national stores that sell only video games (in other words, not department stores, like Fred Meyers and Walmart, or general electronics stores, like Fry's and Bestbuy), being EB and Gamestop. With these stores, the employee turnover is so insanely quick that by the time a clerk begins to recognize you they are out the door and off to far greener pastures. 

Plus, with many of these national chains currently going, they will not just cause a smaller store to go out of business, they will often times devour the other stores (at least around here). Back in the day, for example, I had EB, Software Etc, Super Software, and Funco Land all within a 5 minute drive of each other (this area would be Southcenter Mall...for those of you who live around here). Then, one day, Super Software (a great place for used games), Software Etc (a place for rarer games), and Funco Land (the best place for out of print used games...ever) all became Gamestop, and all these stores continued to thrive...all within 5 minutes of each other...isn't this market saturation? Then, a few years later, EB went belly up at Southcenter, so there are now 3 video game stores...all of which would be Gamestops. Then, in the downtown Seattle area, there are two game stores, of which they are both EBs. 

So, my bitch is a bit two-fold. Firstly, since used games can sell for various prices depending on the chain (although all stores within the chain have set prices for everything) of store you frequent, having this Starbucks Syndrome (my word for an over abundance of a certain store brand in one small area...since you can find in many areas an average of about 5 blocks between Starbucks, at most, and sometimes as many as three Starbucks per block...or more...I've seen 5 at one location once...that's sad...who are they trying to compete against? Themselves?) you're almost forced to buy all your games at a given chain, even if the price is better (for used games...I mean I just went over the new game price game) at a different chain, unless you want to grossly go out of your way to another neighborhood to go to another chain...and if you get there and see the price was better at the first chain...well, then you have another trip back to the first chain...blah. 

My second complaint is how with the lack of ma and pa style stores, there is no incentive for customer loyalty. I mean, why would you keep going to the same store over and over (assuming you have a selection in your area) when no one who works there gives a shit if you're a regular or not. I mean at the old Funco Land of Southcenter, the manager (who was canned once Gamestop took over the game/name) got to know most of my family and would set games aside for me (without any reservation) when they came out if he thought I would be in in the next couple of days to buy it. That was hella sweet. Instead of that coolness, I now have to deal with EB selling my pre-ordered Tales of Symphonia because their clerks are a bunch of idiots who don't give a shit; and for a good reason...if you're probably going to end up at another job in the next 6 months, would you give a shit about your job? I think not...well, maybe at first, but not after you've been there for a whole week. Plus, I imagine the current chains treat their employees like crap, for the most part, since usually one chain will be the only one in town (so, if someone wants to work in a game store, they will have to take your crap or be shit out of luck). 


Sorry, but there isn't really any solution to speak of...for now. However, the only possibility to reverse this is if one of two things occurs. Firstly, if the game industry hits a major recession, then the chains will start to suffer and customer loyalty will then matter. Then things could change, but this is not a situation I want to see (the game industry suffering, that is). 

Secondly, some store could show up out of the blue and start to offer some insanely low prices in order to take down the gaming giants. This is unlikely since the few independent store currently out there have the definite problem of the major stores getting most of the business and word of mouth/media advertisements. Thus, a smaller store usually needs higher prices in order to survive the lower number of customers. This, in turn, creates fewer customers in the long run, and things once again revert to the static state of the two national chains winning all. It's a lose-lose battle for the minor stores (low prices=no income or higher prices=no the end both turn into a store biting the dust). 

A sad situation indeed.

The End of an Era 

Normally I like to get in at least three Bitchings things into each Malik's Bitchings column, but something came up this week that just shattered my thinking process...that being Doom 3 going gold. This is the type of news that almost makes me cry...not just because of the thought of another crappy game crowding the overly crowded store shelves. 

The main fact of this issue is that I'm not going to be able to fall back on Doom 3 for ideas for this column anymore when bitchable subjects start to run thin. True, I will be able to complain about the quality of this game ("ooohhhhh...scarry....that skeleton has rocket launchers on it's shoulders...someone hold's too scary!"), but I can complain about E3 showing the same footage of D3 every year with the same empty promises of this previously dubbed "vaporware" coming out in the next year. Plus I can't complain about how ID gives us a crappier screenshot every couple of months to try to actually get us excited about this sad creative vision. It's like we're at the end of the perfect era for a bitchy geek like myself. 

I mean to wrap up the recent developments; Phantom is actually no longer just a pipe dream (although it is a pretty lame idea, none the less...a PC without a CD drive or disk drive), Half Life 2 will actually (in all likelihood) come out this year and will no longer fall back to the stolen source code as an excuse for their vaporware project, Halo 2 is actually set for a real release date, Fable has a release date (more or least a set couple of weeks in September), and now Doom 3 is gold...sigh...this is the end of a really fun and bitchy era of vaporware and "phantom" projects. 


Well, unless Activision goes belly up in the next week, I don't think Doom 3 is being stopped, but there's good news in all of this. No matter what happens, I'm a bitchy geek with a voice to share what is wrong in the game industry, so I will carry on despite the major set backs of 2004 (the actual releases of the unreleasable), have no least until you see an upside-down head with robotic spider legs...then you'll know fear...Doom 3 is so scary! 


Well, it's been a hell of a weird week for me with that Doom 3 news, so I'll be glad to conclude this week and get ready for a new week of things to bitch about. Anyway, if you have a problem with my lack of faith in Doom 3, you know how to contact me, or you can hit the forums.