A few weeks back Colure and I decided to embark on a small adventure for my birthday: visiting any and all legitimate, non-Gamestop used video game stores in the Greater Orlando region. I knew of one, and a few phone calls and google searches confirmed two others, one of which was part of a newer chain that had a few stores open in the region. The other had a name and logo that was practically begging Gamestop to sue them. That's not a whole lot of stores, but then again I didn't expect to find much more.

I've always had an affinity for independent used video game stores. As a rule, they were always more likely to have more unusual products, and the selection just seemed vast. I've been trying to frequent them all my life: when I was a kid in South Florida, it was the Video Game eXchange; in middle school, I always counted on Microplay. For college years, it was Cybertron. But all of those stores had the same ending; none of them lasted.

These sort of stores have always struggled, and there's plenty of reasons why. One Cybertron employee once summarized the problem by saying that their biggest issue was that people were trading them crap they couldn't sell. It's a fair point. My eyes might light up when I see a stack of TurboGrafx games, but how many people actually care? Other issues come into play when gauging how much new stock to take in, and how much you can expect to turn around. Gamestop has done well for itself in this regard, but it's a big name brand with deep pockets - chances are good that the casual customer is much more likely to dump their old games with them. A Cybertron customer would probably just ebay it. Maybe Gamestop customers are fine about just getting store credit, but at Microplay? No dice - it had to be cash.

But as much as these stores have struggled in the past, I really think that nowadays it's a sort of business that's impossible to do, for two big reasons.

1) Internet - It is impossible to compete with the internet in two critical categories - price and selection. Price is incredibly low, selection is virtually unlimited. How do you compete with that? There's a lovely little shop in Winter Springs called S+F Video Games that I visit once every few months or so. I'd go there more often except that their selection is fairly so-so; you're not likely to find the older game you had in mind, and the times they do have something worthwhile, it's marked up higher than it's worth. If anything, my visits there just inspire me to hit up ebay for something, and that's not good.

The solution for a lot of stores is to utilize the internet, whether it be selling on ebay or operating your own storefront. That's certainly a step in the right direction, but it still presents difficulties - instead of just competing with other stores, you have to compete with the guy cleaning out his attic, who doesn't really care what he gets for any of the things he's selling, just that he gets some money. That's stiff competition, and while it's something I think these stores have to do, it's still no guarentee of survival.

2) Virtual Console - Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network could be counted in this as well, but I want to focus on the Wii's Virtual Console, because the Wii has both the largest user base, and the biggest online store for old games.

The Virtual Console is, simply put, the worst thing that could ever happen to used video game stores. You can't compete with it. It reduces your potential customer base down to collectors and aficianados - losing perhaps the most profitable customer in the process, the nostalgic guy. Because why would he go to your shop if he can just get it from his home? Virtual Console games are cheap. Rarely do you see one that's being sold for more then the actual cartridge. Furthermore, they all run on one console, with no need to actually dust off old hardware and pray it still works. They're more reliable, cheaper, and in almost every tangible way, better. How do you compete with that?

Honestly? You don't. You can't. And I'm not sure how these sort of shops, which have always struggled to make a buck, can hope to stay in business.

It's a depressing thing, but that's the reality of the situation. Which is a little tragic. So much for my childhood dream of owning one. I really love visiting those stores, and I don't particularly like using ebay to buy things, but yet, more often than not, it's ebay that my money goes to. I'd rather have the actual catridge than a virtual Wii version, but if the latter has a copy of Secret of Mana for 8 dollars, then that's the one I'm going to buy.

And if I can't be a reliable customer to these stores... then who can?


Colure said...

So depressing!!!!

I say you just open up your own video game MUSEUM some day. Heck, we're getting there with all the stuff we've got...

Kevin said...

Yeah this post is definitely a downer, mainly because I can't offer any solutions. Things change and not all businesses can keep up with the times. This is sadly one of those scenarios.

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