Gregg Mester admits the video game industry is changing.
Games like the ones he sells at Level Up Entertainment at the Hamilton Mall could be available in his customers’ homes without a disc, much as TV is readily available through streaming and music through digital downloads.
Still, the store’s co-owner said physical copies are needed for some games, and he compares customer preference for discs to some music fans’ preference for vinyl records. He’s keeping his eye on trends in the industry and believes he’ll always have an audience for retro games and game systems.
What’s happening in the video game industry is part of a larger trend as consumers “cut the cord” from traditional providers. Brick-and-mortar shops, cable providers and the music industry are all dealing with variations on the same issue.
Streaming sites such as Netflix, music-downloading services such as iTunes and easier video game accessibility have transformed how people get their entertainment.
Mester expects a change in the gaming industry sooner rather than later.
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“I definitely think it’s in the near future. They’re already moving toward direct downloads with most PC titles,” Mester said. “There is a direct link that cuts out the middleman like a small business like us, or GameStop or other stores,” he said.
Many gaming consoles, such as the PS4 and Xbox One, allow gamers to download single-player games. Streaming sites such as Netflix and Hulu have become home-watching alternatives to cable. Amazon launched its Prime plan so shoppers can flip among its TV series, movies and other media.
Even the Apple Macbook Air, released in 2012, comes without CD/DVD slots — making digital downloads more necessary.
Amit V. Shah, president and owner of South Jersey Techies LLC, said the need for instant access crosses multiple platforms.
“As we’re talking, there are different videos that people are streaming and they’re not connecting to their home. And this is just another piece of basically cutting the cord and not needing long-term plans with a provider,” Shah said.
Retailers such as Blockbuster Video went out of business amid similar technological shifts, while others found ways to adapt and survive, Shah said.
The music industry used pay models such as iTunes to replace illegal music-sharing sites such as Napster. Verizon Fios has implemented cheaper monthly plans to co-mingle with video streaming sites.
Shah believes stores and entertainment providers will remain relevant because customers want human interaction.
“I think there is always going to be brick-and-mortar stores. It’s just the culture,” Shah said. “You need an online presence to survive, but there are still those small companies that do well.”
Level Up’s Mester said advancements in technology and the millennials using them are the main reasons for the shift toward streaming.
“These kids grew up with this medium, and it’s just a faster way of letting the product come to them as fast as they possibly can,” he said.
Tom Whaley, an employee at Tunes music store in Northfield, said younger consumers have an increased interest in vinyl, even as they download much of their music.
“I think vinyl is doing well at generating new interest and more so than CDs, because people would rather stream than buy a CD if they aren’t into collecting music,” Whaley said.