Is GameStop’s publishing move the future of the retailer, or just an interesting side-project?

On the surface, Song of the Deep doesn’t come across as anything particularly remarkable.

The 2D underwater action adventure is pretty, and bound to delight a certain type of gamer. But ultimately it looks like most other 2D indie games that are on the market at the moment.

Yet there are at least two notable elements to Song of the Deep. The first is that Insomniac, the acclaimed US studio behind Ratchet & Clank, Resistance and Sunset Overdrive, is making it.

The second, and this is the big one, it’s being published by a retailer.

This partnership started as a discussion between Ted Price [Insomniac Games co-founder and CEO] and I about a year ago,” said Mark Stanley, the GameStop exec tasked with new strategic projects.

We were discussing the state of the industry and the power of bringing exclusive content to customers. During one of those conversations, Ted and Brian Hastings [the other co-founder and chief creative officer] shared with me the story of Song of the Deep, which was a great passion project they wanted to put some resources behind. Together, we thought: ‘What if we could leverage GameStop’s powerful global platform to reach millions of gamers?’ A few days later ‘Project Merryn’ started and has blossomed into this amazing example of excellence in gaming craftsmanship.”

GameStop’s publishing move may come as a shock, but it actually makes so much sense we’re surprised it hadn’t happened earlier.

The retailer has plenty of attractive points for developers. It has over 6,000 stores, it runs events around the world, it publishes the most popular US video games magazine (Game Informer) – in terms of consumer reach, there are few better businesses. And Song of the Deep is going to benefit from all of this.

We are going all in,” says Stanley. We are leveraging the entire marketing arsenal within the GameStop platform. We truly see ourselves as a platform that is focused on helping millions of gamers discover great content and the magic of gaming. Song of the Deep is a perfect example of this.”

The firm also owns merchandise specialist ThinkGeek, allowing it to turn Song of the Deep into more than just a game from the outset.

Since our acquisition of ThinkGeek last year, we have learned a lot about collectibles and other merchandise,” continues Stanley. GameStop customers are some of the most passionate gamers in the world and they are constantly looking for opportunities to dive deeper into a game, a story, or a particular character. Our approach is to provide this new IP life beyond the console or PC, via collectible merchandise that is truly limited edition.”

Of course there’s plenty for GameStop to benefit from with this partnership, too. As publishers increasingly go digital, retailers are becoming thirsty for boxed software (and Song of the Deep is getting a physical launch worldwide). What’s more, Insomniac’s new game arrives in the summer, a time where even fewer games tend to hit shelves.

However, Stanley denies this partnership is simply to plug a gap in the release schedule.

Everything we do, every decision we make, is focused on making sure that the creative vision for the game is reached,” he says. In my experience, shooting for specific deadlines usually leads to taking shortcuts or killing the very creative spirit that birthed the idea behind a great game.”

GameStop has the outlets, Insomniac has the content; the match-up makes a lot of sense. But Stanley is coy about whether this will be the first of many publishing deals. We will listen to what the game community has to say about this game,” he says. And go from there.”

He has ever reason to be cautious and to not simply announce that GameStop is launching a great big publishing division. Because that could put the firm at odds with partners such as EA, Activision, Ubisoft and the rest.

Song of the Deep isn’t about to compete with Star Wars Battlefront or Fallout 4, but what if the game coincides with a new quirky platformer from Ubisoft? Or a Metroid game from Nintendo? GameStop is suddenly rivaling the companies it relies on for the big blockbusters.

GameStop has worked closely with all publishers for many years, and our store associates have been instrumental in growing triple-A franchises and nurturing millions of fans’ passion to play,” reminds Stanley.

That will not change. We are simply taking an opportunity to do something different here. Supporting great game craftsmanship in a way that has never been done before. And this supports our industry’s quest for better gaming, and more gamers.”

He adds: We are not attempting to be publishers here. We are simply taking a great opportunity to collaborate in a non-traditional way, and trust that the combination of all these great ingredients we have put in make for a great experience.”

GameStop has been expanding its business for years. With one eye on the rising tide of digital, the firm has extended into merchandise, technology, media and events. It is strengthening its foundation and expertise so that it can endure any sudden change that the world of video games might spring upon it (which it invariably does).

And so, although Stanley may be playing down GameStop’s publishing potential for now, the Song of the Deep experiment may yet prove to be one of the retailer’s more significant moves.

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