Death of a Blockbuster: A Unique Method of Reviewing Video Games?

Today the Blockbuster Video at the corner of State and Huron in downtown Chicago is going out of business. As a newly devoted aficionado of both Netflix and Gamefly, I feel somewhat guilty about this since this used to be my stop for both movies and games before I discovered the joy of rentals by mail. The staff were always nice and helpful, but I suppose this is just another indication of how far we’re moving away from brick and mortar establishments when it comes to items like movies and video games. But enough commentary.

The location began their closing sale almost a month ago, and everything in the store (including fixtures and the like) has been marked down, made unavailable for renting, and put on sale in order to clear out their inventory. As you can imagine, this is an excellent opportunity to buy video games, particularly in downtown Chicago where there are no nearby GameStops and a rather lackluster FYE (game-wise) in the Loop.

Originally the PS3, the XBOX 360, and the Wii all had separate complete rows full of both new and old popular games, but over the last month the sale has been successful enough that all video games are now on a single rack that has been split into three categories for each of the systems. I can personally attest that the PS3 row used to be good enough that I felt little desire to buy or even use GameFly since they basically had everything I wanted. Yesterday I visited the store one last time hoping to pick up some other gem like my ridiculously cheap copy of Grand Theft Auto IV, and I realized that seeing what’s left after a month of a clearance sale and on the second-to-last day of business revealed a lot about which games people want to buy and possibly even a very rough editorial on the current state of the gaming industry. Above all, I believe that looking at these shelves a day before the shop’s doors close forever reveals what games players are actually interested in.

There are, however, a couple of things to keep in mind. This store is basically located at the junction of the River North and Gold Coast neighborhoods, which are both two of the wealthiest districts of the city. The Gold Coast in particular is considered one of the most affluent neighborhoods in the United States. Children are not as common as they would be farther out since this area has many young, single people and the population density is very high. Also, as is common with rental stores, there are more likely to be multiple copies of new games than older ones.

Above: The PS3 shelf

Somewhat surprisingly, the PS3 shelf was very empty. I actually expected this to be more true of the XBOX shelf since everyone says it’s so much more popular, but I suspect that, quality aside, many people in the area simply have a PS3 because it originally cost more and thus seemed more like a status symbol. (Keep in mind that both systems originally had their own rows.) What was mainly left was a sampling of rather old games (such as Resistance: Fall of Man) and a lot of copies of Bioshock 2 and multiple copies of Army of Two (both the 2008 and 2010 releases). I’d been in the store a couple of times before the sale started, and I can attest that this is about how many copies of Bioshock 2 they had in the first place. If this is any indication, it seems that many players (like me) were ready to just let Rapture sleep with the fishes. I’m honestly surprised that InFamous and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 were still available, but by and large the rest of the games seem like the games you would expect to be left behind after a month-long sale.


Above: The XBOX 360 shelf.

XBOX 360
By comparison, the XBOX 360 shelf was packed. And, sports games and other niche titles aside, there’s really an astonishing lot of quality titles here. There are still two copies of Grand Theft Auto IV (one could make the argument that most people have already played it by now), at least four copies of massively praised Mass Effect 2, a copy of the stellar Orange Box collection (never expensive to begin with), one copy of the addicting Dirt 2, and one copy of the entertaining hack ‘n’ slash Darksiders. Dante’s Inferno, while divisive, makes a surprise four-copy appearance here (surprising in that all copies for the PS3 had been bought), and this year’s XBOX exclusive Alan Wake sits lonely at the top. Also surprising is that our old friends from the PS3 side–Bioshock 2, COD: MW2, and Army of Two–make yet another appearance here, seemingly revealing that players have found little to interest them in these titles. It seems that, at least in this neighborhood, interest in the PS3 far outstrips that in the XBOX360 since these are perfectly buyable games, especially during a sale. On a personal note, I’m surprised to see Split/Second here since this was the very game I came to buy for myself for the PS3. I was told that it sold out on the very day the sale started.


Above: The Wii shelf.

And so at last we come to the Wii, the emptiest shelf of them all, which is well in line with its present market dominance. I don’t own a Wii, and my friends’ children are usually playing decidedly non-adult games on them when I get a chance to see one in action, and so I have very little to express here except deep amazement at how popular the system is. Unless I’m greatly mistaken, it looks like the locals have largely picked the shelf clean of all the best titles and left the chaff. I’ll leave the Wii commentary to you.


While well-reviewed, it seems obvious here that Bioshock 2 was far from the big hit that it was hoped to be. After having almost a month to pick up the game at a reduced price, players still didn’t feel any desire to take the game home with them. Similarly, the oft-praised Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 apparently isn’t that big of a hit here in that the only copy available for either the PS3 or XBOX360 when they were still available for rental still sits waiting on the shelf. While completely sold out for the PS3, Dante’s Inferno had an almost embarrassing four copies available in the XBOX shelf for a game that’s been out for a while and the deeply praised Mass Effect 2 had a similar showing. Again, much of this could be attributed to the mass quantities of games Blockbuster buys for rental purposes, but, from memory, they couldn’t have had more than two other copies of either game. As such, I think what we’re seeing is a group of games that were flashy upon release, but their appeal has faded over time, simiar to movies that you don’t mind seeing in the theater but wouldn’t rent or buy when it’s released on DVD.

Also, if this sale is any indication, the PS3 is certainly coming into its own. In this neighborhood, at least, the PS3 seems to be more popular than the XBOX and the tide might be shifting a bit in terms of favored consoles. Or, again, maybe it’s just the neighborhood. As always, though, the Wii reigns supreme, and I wouldn’t be surprised if virtually all copies for this system are gone by this afternoon if they slash the prices even further before closing the doors. What are your opinions? Is it truly possible to draw conclusions about the gaming industry from sales such as this?

Edit: A very good point that’s been brought up in the comments is that one possible reason why good games are still available is that many people probably already got them at release. I kind of referred to that in my aside about Grand Theft Auto IV in the XBOX paragraph, but I didn’t flesh it out at all.

And now for something completely different…
If you haven’t already, be sure to check out this awesome video of violinist Teppei Okada providing the soundtrack to a game of Super Mario Bros. with his violin. Special thanks to WhiteSaber for the link.


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