If you head over to GameStop's website, you might notice a new section has appeared: Download Now. If you were to be the inquisitive type and actually click on that new section, you'd see that it's completely dedicated to downloadable content. The world's largest brick-and-mortar video game retailer has just made a very large step into the realm of digital distribution.
Browsing the new downloads section, it's reasonable to say that this is a pretty substantial venture for the company. They are currently offering thousands of pieces of content digitally. These range from full games, to expansions and add-ons. Customers can also get free trials of games. It should be noted that the games offered aren't just dozens of solitaire and Bejeweled variations. While those types of games are certainly part of the line-up, newly released heavy hitters like Medal of Honor and Fallout New Vegas are also available through this service.
However, there are a couple hitches to the program as it stands. The main issue being that for the moment, GameStop gift cards are not accepted for digital purchases. This is because the initiative is being run by a third party and not GameStop themselves. In terms of missed potential, this seems like a pretty big one, especially with the holidays coming up. Thousands of relatives who want to give a "cool" gift to the little ones but don't know their Lancer from their Needler usually opt for a gift card. Gift card compatibility is a problem GameStop should probably fix pretty quickly.
The other main flaw is that the service launched without console support. All of the available downloads, as of this writing, are only for PC. A graphic on the website does say that Xbox Live offerings are coming soon, but this really should have been something they launched with. GameStop has distanced themselves from PC gaming fairly substantially over the years, with many locations having little more than a small shelf dedicated to PC releases. GameStop's physical store space is dominated by console gaming. There's no reason their digital space shouldn't be at least a little similar. It will be an uphill climb for them to reconnect with PC gamers who have already moved on to Steam, Direct2Drive and now OnLive.
Like it or not, digital distribution is growing rapidly. While it may not happen tomorrow, those who demand goods to be delivered to us tangibly will be in the minority before they know it. Their attempt may not be perfect, but this is probably a wise move for GameStop if they wish to continue to stay relevant as the generations roll by.
Will you be purchasing any of your digital fun from GameStop? Would their usual pre-order items and incentives be enough to pull you away from the mighty grip of Steam, or will this program flop harder than a Tim Schafer game? (Sorry, Tim. We love you, but you know it's true.)