Is GameStop's Consumer EXPO a Desperate Attempt to Save the Business?
Or is it a brilliant decision that will ensure consumers return to the world's largest video game retailer?
On the cusp of the 2012 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), which is scheduled to take place next week, GameStop (NYSE: GME) has announced that it will hold a similar expo of its own. But unlike E3, which is only open to those who work in the video game industry, the first-ever GameStop EXPO is open members of the company's PowerUp Rewards program. And since anyone can sign up for PowerUp Rewards (which includes a free version), the GameStop EXPO is essentially open to the general public. The retailer promises more than 200,000 square feet of video game kiosks, which will include demos of games that have not yet been released.
That key feature -- the ability to play games before they're available to buy -- has made the Tokyo Game Show an enormous success, which garners more than 100,000 public attendees annually. Germany has had a similar level of success with its Games Convention and Gamescom expos.
In America, Penny Arcade Expo is the only comparable event that is open to the public. But that expo (commonly referred to as "PAX") is more about the overall experience of games, live music, and other distractions, whereas GameStop's expo appears to focus primarily on demoing new games. This key difference could give it an edge in the marketplace, all the while reinforcing the GameStop brand in the most positive way possible.
Another key differentiator: GameStop EXPO isn't being held in Los Angeles. While Penny Arcade Expo began in Seattle, Washington and launched a second annual event in Boston, Massachusetts, most other prominent gaming events have been held in California. E for All, the first major attempt at a public gaming event in America, was held at the Los Angeles Convention Center -- the same building that houses E3 (almost) every year. Like so many other gaming events, E for All failed to catch on. Only 18,000 people attended E for All during its debut show in 2007, compared to the more than 40,000 who attended E3 in the previous year. Remember that E for All was open to the public, but E3 was not (and probably never will be).
By holding GameStop EXPO 2012 in another location -- San Antonio, Texas, to be exact -- the retailer will hit a fresh market without taking the show too far away from the E3 crowd. It also helps the show stand apart from Penny Arcade Expo.
What's strange is that GameStop currently plans to hold its EXPO for just one day: August 29, 2012. And it will be open for only five hours: 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Anyone who has ever been to a video game event, whether it's Penny Arcade Expo, E for All, or the king of them all, E3, knows that you can't possibly see everything in just five hours. Heck, there were times when it was hard to cover all of E3 in three full days!
But maybe that's the point. While some might assume that short hours are due to a limited game selection, it is more likely that GameStop is doing this to build hype while simultaneously gauging the consumer response.
According to the official GameStop EXPO site, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), Sony (NYSE: SNE), Nintendo (NTDOY), Activision (NASDAQ: ATVI) and Electronic Arts (NASDAQ: EA) are already scheduled to attend the show, with "dozens more" promised. With all of the major publishers on board -- and with August 29 just a couple days away from the start of the fall gaming season -- it is highly unlikely that GameStop EXPO will feature a weak video game lineup. At worst, it might not be as exciting as E3 2012. At best, it could actually be better.
If the response is overwhelming and thousands of people want to attend, don't be surprised if GameStop decides to extend the EXPO show hours.
Long-term, the GameStop EXPO could be a great way to keep the GameStop brand alive. It could ensure that the GameStop name remains relevant long after digital distribution takes over. It may also have the power to keep consumers coming back to GameStop, which could ultimately force game publishers to continue making physical media far longer than they had hoped.
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