Every year, the gaming media descends on widely covered conventions like GDC, E3 and the Tokyo Game Show, where great floods of humanity swell and surge while the biggest names in the industry try to convince us that have the skeleton key to gaming bliss. But these are not the only conventions eager public relations masterminds and confident executives attend, and the unseen and largely uncovered conventions have more power to direct the casual consumer than E3 ever has. Last week, Las Vegas hosted just such an event, as every manager of every Gamespot in the nation was treated to his own private convention attended by developers with more than just promises to offer.
I have been twice a manager for a major videogame retailer, once with Gamestop and once with EB in the year prior to its merger. I have attended three of these manager conferences, and I assure you, it works to the advantage of both the retailers and the publishers who attend to consolidate this force of counter-jockeys in one strictly controlled environment.
Along with an endless series of seminars on the latest promotions and processes dreamed up by the retailer in its run-up to the holiday season, the three-day convention is capped by a blend between E3 and a forced-attendance marketing presentation. The thousands of nationwide managers are treated to the latest upcoming games and products backed not simply by the typical enthusiasm and hype of gaming PR companies but sales incentives for getting reservations, exceeding sales projections and maintaining high attach rates, which can turn into thousands of dollars in bonuses for sales leaders. As it turns out, managers of retail outlets aren't just suggesting you reserve the latest game and cover your immediate purchase with insurance for your own peace of mind.
According to the Dallas Morning News, which covers the Dallas-based Gamestop Corporation closely, the two key words at this year's convention were "casual gamer," and with them plans to revamp store layouts and continue riding the success of games like Guitar Hero and consoles like the Nintendo Wii. According to Gamestop VP Dick Fontaine, who along with current CEO and Chairman of the Board Dick Fontaine helped rebuild the company from bankruptcy in the mid-'90s, the casual gamer has "evolved," and this season the focus will be on serving that growing segment of the gaming population.
It's a smart move for Gamestop, which is pressing the advantage built from absorbing its main competitor, Electronics Boutique, whose former CEO Steve Morgan now serves as the company's President. Gamestop has managed over the last decade to match the growth of the gaming industry and focus its business model on a profitable strategy of used items and product protection plans.