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GameStop's Nix: PC Titles Not An 'Afterthought'

In an interview with Gamasutra, GameStop GM for digital distribution Steve Nix talks about his efforts to promote PC games at the retailer, both in-store and through digital downloads.
As a former digital distribution and business manager and business developer for id Software, GameStop's VP and general manager for digital distribution Steve Nix has seen the industry from two very different perspectives. And besides "get[ting] to see a lot more games now, which is quite a bit of fun," Nix says his new position at the predominant U.S. video game physical retailer has given him a new appreciation for how the retail side treats the game market. "The way we purchase games and promote games makes a lot more sense now," Nix said in a recent interview with Gamasutra. "When I was a developer, outside looking in, you look at the retailers in general and wonder why they made the decisions on buying a certain amount of my game or promoting the game in store and merchandising it." "So all of that makes a lot more sense to me now... Having a little bit more insight into that process has been really eye-opening for me." Nix said he now realizes that retailer attention is less about the specifics of a game's design and more about getting consumer attention well ahead of a game's launch. "There's a crucial window within probably nine months to a year before your title goes out," he said. "Just make sure there's great consumer awareness of your title at that point that's really driving interest, and that gamers are letting retailers know they're interested in your game. That's going to really help you out to have a successful launch. It's really about customers telling us what titles they're interested in." As a long time PC gamer, Nix said he's been frustrated to see PC titles passed over in favor of console versions when it comes time to promote an upcoming launch. "What I've seen over the years from being on both sides of the business, is that a lot of times when people are thinking about their upcoming titles -- and GameStop is often one of the first groups to see a new game once the publisher is talking to anyone about it -- ...PC is almost always an afterthought in this conversation." But Nix said GameStop is doing what it can to turn this situation around, through programs such as the recently announced in-store sale and promotion of downloadable PC titles, which he says will soon include all 1200+ titles currently on the company's recently acquired Impulse download service. "What we've been doing already with our publishing partners is in the very first meeting, when we start talking about a new game that's coming out in the next year or something, let's talk about the PC, and let's talk about how we can make sure the PC version is a good version... let's make sure we'll be promoting the PC title on the same level as the other version," he said. "This really gets PC out there again and lets customers know it's still a great platform to play on, and that people can buy those games from GameStop digitally or physically." PC titles have often had trouble finding shelf space in GameStop's retail locations -- some smaller stores have "no PC section at all," Nix admitted -- but Nix says the program to sell PC downloads in stores will help those games get some visibility among the 500 million customers the chain sees every year. "We may not have carried the box in five years, [but] they can now pay for that in the stores and go home and start playing," he said. "We're still going to carry physical PC, and there are lots of customers that really want that game box and their manual and that disc and everything and put it on the shelf." "But for some of the more intermediate titles, titles that have been out for a little longer, where they're real enthusiast customers aren't as much of an issue, I think we'll see a shift to digital for sure." Nix also said GameStop's experience selling console DLC in stores show that in-store associates can be helpful in pointing out downloadable products suited to the customer -- products that customers may not have even known about online "A lot of times, even on the internet, discoverability isn't really good for games. It's hard to understand if this is a title I'd be interested in. … I think being able to go in, talk to a human being, say here's the kind of games I like, what are you seeing and what are games that I might like, that's hugely valuable for a lot of customers, and that's what we've proven with the DLC business."

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