What Happened to All the Game Shops: Digital Purchases and Convenience

How the decline of the game shops could be a sign that digital services have made gamers lose interest.

Video game stores are the Holy Grail of retail stores. Bringing in tons of hardware and software sales because of the high interest and large fan base. Gamers found a place to meet, hang out, and indulge in game-related conversations for hours on end.

A game store builds community, fosters good will with other gamers, and serves as a way to grow enthusiast collections by providing new and used games to take home and enjoy.

At least this used to be the case, before the advent of the current internet sales environment. The rise of sites like Amazon, GameStop.com, and direct developer purchases have made it difficult to attract gamers to leave the comfort of their home. Why would they leave when they can just have their product to come directly to their door?

Digital Distribution

Another detrimental factor in the game shops is direct digital downloads. This began eliminating those who are not collectors, those who love filling up the spaces on their shelves, and lowers the demographics that are left to swarm into the store.

The drastic trends in recent sales shifts is worth noting: in 2012, sales of physical game discs declined 22%, as consumers migrated to digital content. This was a sharper drop than from 2010 to 2011 which was a 9% fall. 2012's total spending on physical games totaled at  $8.48 Billion which pales in comparison to 2010's $10.05 Billion. Game sales have steadily shifted away from physical and gamers can be seen gravitating more towards digital by looking at the decline. Last year showed us that as of 2014, physical sales were lower than they were in 2002 at $6.32 Billion. 

Below is a graph that illustrates the data I've mentioned above. Statista gathers market research from many sources and the graph below details physical game sale leading back to 1996 to 2013; it's enough to show the declining trend I mentioned.

Statistic: Physical retail sales of computer and video games in the United States from 1996 to 2013 (in billion U.S. dollars) | Statista

The game shop scene has been steadily decreasing over the years since digital downloads become popular. This is evident when you walk into your favorite retailer.

Personal Story

I recently walked into my local Best Buy that used to have an entire section stocked with physical games, accessories, and consoles. Now this section has been greatly diminished over time, taking up only one quarter of what it used to be. Limited new selection of games, an abundance of used games of titles that no one truly desires (such as sports title from 2 years ago), and digital download cards for points or DLC.


It's a sad display, but it is the future we seem to be heading towards. Stores local to me, one in particular, Entertainmart, had two large building dedicated to their stock. One building was full of tv shows, movies, and music while the second building was fully stocked with new and used games and gaming hardware. I went back 2 years ago and the second building with the games was closed down and the gaming stock was consolidated to the bare minimum. It has been an unmistakable pattern in game shops these days.

The only store really thriving in the game shop environment just so happens to be GameStop, which also has its online store in tow. The physical copies have declined but we can be certain it has survived this long. Though some of their stores don't feel like that friendly, gamer community that it used to be. Sales have become the main focus, with warranties, disc replacement plans, strategy guides, credit cards, etc.

We've lost the feeling of joy and brotherhood that games shops brought us.

A solution isn't clear, as repairing an ever changing process is difficult. Though we ca n hope that someone out there will bring back the original concept. Walls of games, people coming in to engage in spirited conversations and not be ignored by sales pitches. To come together over the joy that we get from games.

Sounds like a coffee shop for gamers to some degree. I know it sounds farfetched but we should be able to go back to that joy we had when walking in to get or check out the latest games.


Have been writing since I can remember, have always loved reviews (gaming mostly), and have a knack for the written word.

Published Dec. 5th 2014
  • Rothalack
    Master O' Bugs
    I pre-ordered WoD from my closest GameStop recently, because I was expecting the midnight release, you know because the manager said they were having one. That didn't happen so I also bought it online so that I could play the day of release. Then I went by to get a racing wheel for my computer and they promised me that the Xbox One racing wheel would work on my PC. That didn't work either so I returned that too. GameStop is dead to me haha.
  • Esteban Padilla
    Featured Contributor
    Having worked at a GameStop myself during college, I can tell you firsthand that even the employees knew their days were numbered. We had times where we worked with half the staff that another similar-sized location would have, which many of us suspected was so that the company could cut corners and save profits. Considering that several locations have been closed down recently, that could very well be the case. It seems that GameStop is also struggling to remain relevant, unfortunately.
  • Si_W
    You'll never get these shops back. General retailers such as Amazon take care of the physical whilst Steam will do the digital downloads (for the PC, obviously).

    The truth is that gamers will generally look for the cheapest prices, and why shouldn't they, so a physical store will never be able to compete. When you're talking console, then you also have to take into account the vibrant second hand market.

    It seems to me that only serious gamers would like a store such as the one you describe but serious gamers can also be the most fickle, complaining on steam forums about any and every game, whilst also decrying any game that isn't on 90% sale.

    The world has moved on, I don't think anyone will take that chance any more, certainly as a chain.

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