Network N's James Binns explains why games can still create profit at retail

Opinion: PC retail versus PC games – the problem and the opportunity

Selling PCs is getting harder. A big chunk of what we use our PCs for – computer stuff like photo sharing, music discovery and communication (email, Twitter, Facebook) – has been eroded by smarter phones and tablets that do the job faster, better and in more places.

PC games have always been a big part of why consumers need to keep upgrading and buying new computers. Games drive value in the PC hardware market as they push system performance. Right now, PC games are super exciting because the console market is near the end of a cycle with Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 looking decidedly long in the tooth.

PC gamers are true power users when it comes to systems. PC gamers love better mice, keyboards, headsets, steering wheels and other peripherals. And in terms of software sales, games have a faster turnover than utilities.

PC retail channels hardly sell any PC games. That’s not because folk aren’t buying PC games. The bust in selling boxed PC games to core gamers has been replaced by a boom – with this audience getting their games delivered digitally by retailers like Steam and Green Man Gaming.

For PC retailers this presents a problem and an opportunity.

The problem is that PC games won’t explain themselves in your stores. You can’t rely on a wall of shrink wrapped software boxes with exciting images to evangelise PC gaming, or for software publishers to cough up for in-store promotional materials. PC games publishers also do a really bad job of explaining what type of PC you need to run their game – offering just an incomprehensible list of system requirements.

PC games have ended up invisible at retail. This presents an opportunity for store teams to better understand the biggest games on PC and what systems will make a game run okay… and which will make a game fly. It’s not a huge education job – spend time understanding some of the world’s biggest games, like League of Legends, World of Warcraft and Minecraft and be ready to offer a gaming context about what gear is right for what type of user. A conversation that focuses on benefits “Will-this-PC-run-that-game” has to be better than just trying to answer a feature question like “Dual-core-or- quad-core”.

James Binns edited computer magazines in their glory days in the 1990s and now runs

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