The fate of retail is grim. Best Buy is shuttering stores and showrooming threatens to destroy whatever’s left of the physical goods ecosystem. With digital downloads from Steam, the App Store, and the rise of web and social gaming it seems physical retail for games is going the way of the Compact Disc.
Yet, a strange thing is happening to music–At least in hip-hop circles (where I almost exclusively dwell).
Hip hop is the nerdiest music on earth. Super rap fans will wax nostalgic about who used what obscure sample first, the never ending saga of beef, and even the jacket color a rare 12 inch came in. Many of hip-hop’s biggest fans are obsessive collectors. To the untrained eye, there may be little difference between an episode of Hoarders and a look inside Just Blaze’s apartment.
Regardless, are 12 inch records a relic to be lost in the era of digital downloads as the entire economy shifts from atoms to bits?
The record label, Get On Down, is a product of the deluxe hip-hop album reissue trend from outfits like Traffic Entertainment started in the mid-2000s. These are completely remastered albums with hard to find remixes and brand new liner notes. Since most consumers download, stream, or steal their music, Get on Down needed to create another reason to purchase the product. As a result, they came up with a new formula: including exclusive collectibles with the album.
How about a Biz Markie jigsaw puzzle? An MF Doom Lunchbox? Or this incredible wooden case containing a perfect replica of one of hip-hop’s most prized items, the legendary Purple Tape? It’s like the Ark of the Covenant, except your face won’t melt off when it’s opened. Well, unless you’ve never heard Incarcerated Scarfaces. ‘90s babies prepare.
Get On Down’s production of limited edition collectibles dials right into the obsessive collector gene in hip hop fans. Other labels have similar strategies, such as Chopped Herring’s super limited vinyl pressings from artists both old and new. Fans are spending $40 for a new single and hundreds of dollars on eBay after the limited run expires.
Games can learn a lot from this new era of hip-hop music. The physical disc a game resides on is near meaningless in 2013. Still, that doesn’t mean gamers don’t want physical goods. Activison’s huge success with Skylanders proves that. Disney’s massive bet on Infinity is more evidence. For older gamers, look at the many successful Kickstarter campaigns featuring detailed plastic miniatures. Most people can’t be actually playing the games associated with these figures. They are collecting cool plastic belonging to an artist they like. Sound familiar?
There may be a backlash against digital games and virtual goods leading to an era of limited edition physical goods aimed at a small, but obsessive audience. Fans still want to own a piece of an IP they can touch.
In the past, collector’s editions have come with such ridiculous props as night vision goggles and console skins. It’s time to get serious about physical goods as an integral part of a game’s IP. High quality miniatures is a good place to start. Looking at Get On Down’s product line, you can see how they fit the physical product to match the artist. Each game deserves it’s own carefully crafted set of physical goods.
In the future, physical retail may only be an expensive collector’s edition without a disc–Just an ornate box containing high quality figures and a download code.