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For much of the industry’s life, the trend in big-budget gaming has been towards more, more more: Graphics have improved, virtual worlds have expanded, and stories have become longer and more cinematic.
That’s all well and good for players who have time for a long-term commitment to a videogame. It’s not so good if you’re a rental company like Redbox, which trades in impulsive flings.
The company today released numbers outlining what it sees as an underserved segment of the console-owning audience, “recreational gamers.” They’re older and make more money, but are more likely to have kids and have on average 6 hours of playtime a week versus a hardcore gamer’s 15, according to a third-party study commissioned by Redbox.
Along with its traditional fare of DVD and Blu-Ray rentals, Redbox began stocking games in its 35,000 kiosks — generally found in supermarkets and convenience stores — three years ago. Its videogames director Ryan Calnan said in an interview with Re/code that the company is working with game publishers like Square Enix and Deep Silver to feature their games like Thief and Saints Row IV, respectively.
Why those games, specifically? Calnan said they’re both “easy to pick up” and are “known franchises” (although the Thief series went dark between 2004 and this year).
“Saints Row, that takes you two minutes to figure out the control system,” he said. “The pick-up-and-play game is the one that really drives rentals for us.”
They may be casual-friendly — a trait more commonly associated with Nintendo’s party games or those available on mobile and social platforms — but these sure ain’t small games. Saints Row IV clocks in at a 7 gigabyte download on Xbox.com and takes about 26 hours to complete on average, according to GameLengths. Naturally, Square Enix, Deep Silver, et al. are hoping that a rental today will drive a purchase next week.
Redbox claims between 20 and 50 percent of its renters go on to buy the retail game.
But what about new digital game rental services like Sony’s in-beta PlayStation Now, which don’t require inquisitive players to schlep to the grocery store? Calnan said he’s not concerned.
“If you look at the recreational gamer we’re referring to, they have very strong attachment to the physical disc,” he said. “I don’t see it as being cannibalistic.”
Indeed, the NPD Group said in May that 74 percent of gamers would prefer a physical game disc to an equally priced digital download. The caveats: That’s buying, not renting, and the preference for digital is growing, up 5 percent since last year.