With the gaming industry’s slow but sure shift towards digital offerings in recent years, it should come as no surprise that brick-and-mortar retailer GameStop has been interested in expanding its standard business model. The company purchased Flash gaming portal Kongregate in 2010, and has opened over 70 SimplyMac stores that buy and sell used phones. GameStop’s most recent move is an unexpected one, as it’s working with Insomniac Games to publish the developer's upcoming game, Song of the Deep.
GameSpot reports that Insomniac fully owns Song of the Deep’s intellectual property rights and will have creative control over the side-scrolling adventure, which sees a fisherman’s daughter named Merryn set sail to rescue her missing father. It’s a small project, with about 15 Insomniac staffers preparing it for a Q2 launch on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
The game will be released digitally on these platforms, but will also be offered as a physical disc exclusively in GameStop locations. Additionally, the retailer plans on bolstering its launch with a line of merchandise featuring toys and Pop Vinyl figures. As the nation’s leading game retailer, GameStop controls some prime real estate when it comes to visible gaming marketing. Now that they’re experimenting with the publishing game, they’ll have full control over how much visibility their own project receives in their stores.
It'll be interesting to see how hard GameStop leverages this built-in advantage, as publishers--who tend to have to negotiate for that space with every release--could potentially feel slighted if the retailer is utilizing its limited shelf space to push their own title. It's hard to imagine any studio getting significant marketing space (much less a full line of toys and other merchandise) in GameStop stores with a "low-budget passion project," but Insomniac now has this unique advantage.
On the other hand, it's understandable to see GameStop throwing things at the wall in recent years. Putting their fingers in their ears and pretending that physical media will always be the world's preferred format would be ridiculous, and they have to look into other means of making money if they hope to survive.
It’s a weird, but understandable move for the retailer, and time will tell if publishing their own game will help extend the company’s relevancy in an increasingly digital world. GameStop’s stock price has dropped precipitously in recent months, and the future will likely be grim for the company unless they find a sustainable new business model in the near future. Whether that business model lies in Flash games or used phones or publishing partnerships (or a combination of those) remains to be seen, but the folks at GameStop seem intent on surviving the rise of digital gaming in any way they can.