Opinion: Overwatch Might Just Reshape Retail Gaming

The street date of an item is pretty self explanatory. It marks the precise date and time an item can be sold to any individual (walking in, off of the street). So I find it both fascinating and interesting to note that Overwatch‘s publishing company, Activision Blizzard, is taking this launch a little differently.

As a guy that has been gaming for the past 20+ years, the retail dynamic of gaming has not changed all that much. A company launches a game on whatever date they decide. And then legions of nerds have their mom drive them to whatever video game retailer is nearest to them for purchase. Today, however, is a little differently. You can head out right now (in North America anyway) to whatever store sells video games, and grab your copy of Overwatch. Except depending on where you live in the world, the servers may not be live the second you insert your copy of the game.

Why exactly would they do this? Well, this article is an opinion piece, rooted in a lot of retail sales experience and even more gaming experience. I think this is both Activision Blizzard, and a few retail companies attempting to step away from the Midnight Launch culture that has been established but declining in recent years.

I remember how excited I was for the launch of Battlefield 3. I had loved the battlefield franchise, but had always picked the game up whenever I got the chance. Battlefield 3 marked the first time I was so into a game that I set out at midnight to grab the game from GameStop. Over 100 gamer’s were in cluster’s both smashed within the small store and outside of it, playing games, skateboarding, and listening to music. It was a blast to be around my nerd kin and to share the enthusiasm that a AAA title could provide us. But that was years ago.

The years since have sparked a drastic decline in the midnight launch culture. People will grab the game this weekend, or whenever they get the chance. More common, gamer’s will buy it digitally and have the game downloaded weeks in advance. And to be honest, that last bit is the biggest cause of the decline. No one wants to go out to a midnight launch, drive however long it takes to get home, AND THEN start the install of the game, and download of whatever sized day one patch update they are sure to have. I have had so many conversations with people saying they stopped going to midnight, because even if they get home 15 minutes later, it isn’t worth them staying up until 2am just to go through the tutorial of the game. And I can’t blame them.

So why again is this Overwatch thing a big deal? Why would I say it may change the dynamic of Retail gaming distribution? Is say that because companies will only invest in a successful idea that has been proven true by someone willing to take the risk. Midnight launch culture is dwindling, there isn’t a question about that. The question is, how do companies fix that? I think Activision Blizzard is taking a step forward in reshaping the way companies do business. If Overwatch becomes more successful than any of the recent midnight launches for Doom, Homefront: Revolution, Uncharted 4, and others, why wouldn’t they pursue this more fully with their AAA titles later in the year?

It has been awhile since a company has may me interested in something they are doing. Sure, news breaks and people make announcements, but rarely do I see a decision that might switch-up their business model. Regardless of what you think about retail gaming verses digital gaming, it’s always interesting to see the different techniques companies use to move their product.

Overwatch launches at 7pm today in my region and I for one am excited to not have to wait until 12:01am to play the thing. Some of us have work in the morning. Feel free to checkout the AA staff opinions and experiences of Overwatch while you’re out running digital errands.