For the last few years, I have been a frequent customer at a local family-run video game store here in Japan. Today I walked in to see the shelves with empty spaces and the games majorly discounted. After 21 years of selling games, the store is going out of business.
Surprised and saddened by this, I asked the elderly owner why the store was closing. She explained that since the beginning, a large portion of her customers have been children. Moreover, in the summers during holidays, kids would practically flood the store every day buying or trading in games. However, this past summer, not a single child entered the store.
When I asked why this change had occurred, her reply was immediate: “Because of mobile phones.”
She went on to explain that these days, every child has a mobile phone. And with companies like Mobage and GREE, there are tons of free games to choose from. And if the games are fun, free and addictive, why bother to go to a game store?
I asked if she thought downloadable game services like the PSN and Xbox Live were partly to blame as well; but she seemed to think that the online aspect wasn’t the problem, but the lack of cost.
Sadly, the closing of this long-established game store is unlikely to be an isolated event. As large gaming companies put more and more money into mobile, freemium game development — which is clearly evidenced by this year’s TGS lineup — this is a scene that is likely to be repeated over and over across Japan in the years to come.