GameStop’s Concept Stores Of The Future Are Very Sad

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GameStop, once the centre of the video game retail universe, is in serious trouble. As physical game sales decline (and with them trade-ins, the company’s bread and butter), they’re desperate to find new ways to get people in the door and spend money.

A little too desperate, maybe. While the company’s efforts over the last few years have been centred on flooding stores with merch and Funko Pops, some concept stores GameStop are currently trying for the future move away from this into more social approaches.

As detailed in their trip out to see some of them, there are three different store types all being trialled in Oklahoma (primarily Tulsa), all with one thing in common: they’ve drastically scaled back the amount of floor space devoted to selling stuff, and have instead turned them into social hubs, with spaces for tabletop gaming, long tables housing online gaming PCs and TV areas full of retro games.

The different types of stores all have variants on this theme—some are more focused on retro games, others on “pop culture”—but the overall design goal is the same. Turn GameStop into a place where people can hang out around video games, instead of a place you walk into and are subjected to preorder hell.

While using all this stuff would be free, customers would need a PowerUp Rewards membership to play, with staff trained to check IDs for age-rated games. Note that these are concept stores, where GameStop is just trying stuff out, and there’s no guarantee that anything like this will ever be rolled out worldwide. Which…might be for the best.

I get that the company needs to try new stuff, but this ain’t it, chief. You can install all the free gaming PCs and tabletop areas you want, but at the end of the day nobody is going to want to hang out in a GameStop. Everything that’s being offered here is already being offered somewhere else, somewhere people already do these things.

In the interview explaining the design of these concept stores, chief customer officer Frank Hamlin says “I came back [from E3] in 2014 and went to the then-regime and I said, ‘We are missing out on an enormous opportunity…And I said, and I use this incredibly politically incorrectly, ‘If E3 is the Vatican, why is GameStop not the local church?’”

Sadly fitting that a retailer on its last legs would cite as its main inspiration a trade show that has also seen better days.

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