updated 02:35 pm EDT, Wed August 24, 2011
GameStop squelches competition with box plans
GameStop drew widespread criticism from gamers Wednesday after it confirmed that it had been altering copies of Deus Ex: Human Revolution to silence competition. Store field operations manager Josh Ivanoff sent a memo asking staff to "immediately" open boxes and pull the OnLive coupons for a streaming version of the action RPG from all standard copies. While the note only said that GameStop didn't want the coupon to "go to any customers," GameStop spokeswoman Beth Sharum tried to portray it to Ars Technica as an act of subversion by Square Enix.
"Square Enix packed the competitor's coupon with our DXHR product without our prior knowledge and we did pull these coupons," she said.
The practice hasn't necessarily been consistent, since some with regular copies had still found the coupon in copies they bought at GameStop.
The practice raises questions of anti-competitiveness at GameStop, and possibly legal issues. Retailers only occasionally have a say over what's included in their copies of games and are usually limited to 'positive' changes, such as special bundles or exclusive download codes. The current strategy actively removes content customers would want.
GameStop has an obvious, immediate anti-competitive incentive to remove OnLive; the streaming gaming service keeps customers out of physical retail stores. More directly, however, it has its own upcoming streaming service and will be eager to exploit its dominance of game retail to slow down a competitor.
Outside of these issues, it also leaves GameStop potentially being found responsible for interfering with a deal between OnLive and Square Enix. Gamers themselves, apart from losing a streaming deal, also face a tougher time returning a copy.
OnLive gives gamers not just a way of playing the game without needing full-power hardware or a physical copy but of playing on devices where it wouldn't have been possible before. Its MicroConsole brings PC games to the TV without an elaborate setup, and versions of the OnLive Player are coming to iPads and Android.