Xbox hates retail, right?
Before last week’s U-turn, Xbox One was going to destroy the pre-owned market, cripple retail’s one profit-making area, and accelerate the move into digital. It was going to kill GAME and GameStop.
MCV has never bought into this argument.
For starters, Microsoft has a £429 console to sell, that no matter how hard you try, you just can’t download.
Also, over the course of the last ten years, Microsoft has turned to the High Street to push every aspect of its business. From new dashboards to Xbox Live. In fact, Xbox has been more active than any of its rivals in pushing digital game sales via physical stores.
And last week Xbox proved its commitment to the physical world of shopping by teaming up with GAME to launch its own store.
“Retail continues to be of vital importance for the Xbox platform,” said Microsoft’s retail, sales and marketing director Jon Grimes (left).
“It’s so important for consumers to be able to touch, feel and experience our new products – the console, the games and the entertainment content – prior to purchase.
“Our Xbox shop can provide consumers with great product information and advice, with well-trained and knowledgeable, informative staff – it’ll be a key part of our Xbox One launch programme.”
"Retail continues to be of vital importance for the Xbox Platform"
- Jon Grimes, Microsoft
Based in the trendy new Boxpark shopping area in Shoreditch, the Xbox store is more like a corridor than your typical expansive store. But it’s sleek, features multiple play points and even talks about wider services such as Xbox Live, Xbox Music and Xbox Video. There’s even an area for SmartGlass content shown using Surface tablets.
And this is what makes the Xbox store such an interesting concept, because the outlet is less about selling points cards and controllers, and more about playing with the products. It’s the Apple-store concept that the games industry has been threatening to develop for years.
“The store is here to showcase the Xbox experience and capabilities,” explained GAME’s stores director David Howard (left).
“We will be promoting the services Xbox delivers and selling both physical and digital content and we want to give gamers the chance to get hands on with everything Xbox-related.
“This is a much more experiential store, focused on one brand and what that means to gamers.
“The rest of our store estate is dedicated to providing an impartial view of all content, delivering for the gamers of the UK.”
"The Xbox store is here to showcase the Xbox experience and capabilities."
- Dave Howard, GAME
The idea fits in nicely with GAME’s new strategy of creating a gaming community. Although selling new and used games remais at the heart of its business, GAME CEO Martyn Gibbs and his new team have developed a blossoming business based on discovert, not simply selling. Its lock-ins and midnight launches are now more about creating theatre and developing a fanbase than actually selling products.
And this Xbox store fits right into that, says Howard.
“Since forming GAME Retail Ltd we’ve looked at and implemented a lot of new ideas to benefit the gamers of the UK. In every case we’ve trialed our ideas and the successful ones have been adopted.
“Our strategy is to build the UK’s most valuable community of gamers and bringing them specialised and unique offerings like this is a big part of that.
“It allows for even closer working with our partners, a more tailored in-store experience and a real focus on just one platform. This is about delivering something for gamers of the UK that no-one else can bring to them – an exclusive Xbox experience.”
So are stores like the Boxpark Xbox shop the future of games retail?
Probably not this Christmas. The sheer number of games, not to mention two new consoles, coming to market over the next six months will mean the focus remains on shifting as many boxes as possible.
Although for platform holders preparing to launch new consoles, a place for gamers to go hands-on with the new technology will remain critical. The best way to get consumers to understand any interactive entertainment product is to, well, interact with it. And Microsoft plans to utilise this news shop to push Xbox One.
“Retail sales professionals are vital for the launch of any new console,” said Grimes.
“Boxpark – alongside all GAME retail outlets – will be a key part of our retail strategy to bring the new console to market later this year.”
Will we see more? A Nintendo or PlayStation shop perhaps? Quite possible. GAME is working on other store concepts right now, although they're not tied to individual brands. And as for more Xbox shops, Grimes stressed that this is “very much a trial, an experiment, we’ll see how it works.”
In the short term, the next few years ought to be good for retailers. New consoles generally cause an upturn in sales, and this Christmas promises to be a one of the biggest in quite some time.
But once this period has subsided, once we enter the tail end of the cycle again, it will be outlets like this Xbox store that will be key to retail’s relevancy and survival in a hostile and digital market place.