As previously reported on Gamasutra, the GameStop Expo is one of the most relevant events on the gaming calendar -- but one few know much about. Every year, managers from GameStop's some 5,000 retail stores gather to be presented the holiday lineups of publishers both major and minor in a trade show environment.
At this year's Expo, held at Las Vegas's Mandalay Bay casino/hotel, Gamasutra sat down with some of GameStop's senior management, including senior merchandising VP Bob McKenzie and marketing VP Tom DeNapoli.
During the course of these exclusive interviews, the executives discussed not only what the event means for both the games retail giant and publishers, but how GameStop has evolved and maintained its identity throughout its many mergers and acquisitions, how it plans to compete with an ever-widening direct download market, and what chances each handheld and console platform stands as we move into the holiday season.
Can you talk a bit about what you do for GameStop, and what your job is like?
Bob McKenzie: I'm senior vice president of merchandising, and I have all of the new and used merchandising areas reporting to me. They all have the opportunity to get in front of all of our vendor partners -- a lot of them are out here and seeing the new product that's coming out.
I have an opportunity to meet with many of the vendors on a monthly basis, and really plan out some of the marketing activities, as well as product launches. We also handle picking up and distributing the merchandise to all 3,800 U.S. retail locations.
So you go look at games before they are complete, and provide feedback on whether or not the store would want to carry them as-is?
BM: Yes. A lot of the time the vendors will bring in beta or alpha copies, and definitely, they look to us for feedback. Not only in our support center, but that was also one of the advantages of the E3 in the past: we had a lot of managers who took their own personal vacation time, spent their own money to get there. During the last E3 (2006) there were over 650 of our managers who went there.
The publishers really look to our people, because gaming is all we do. We have the passion, and they know that we're going to give them the honest feedback -- the good points or the bad points.
The vendors really appreciate that. They need to know -- as they're coming along with their product -- how the builds are, and if people really feel like the gameplay will be there to hold the consumer's interest. It's exciting; it's fun to be able to look at them in some of the early development stages, seeing something get a little more polished, and eventually see a final product brought on the market.
You're talking about the managers, but most of the people who work at GameStop are gamers. You collected their feedback and then gave it to the game companies?
BM: Really, it was more of an open environment, where the managers actually had badges, and they were admitted as part of E3.
How did the feedback get to the companies when that was the case, with 650 different people looking at the games?
BM: They'd be going through the exhibition halls, and do the hands-on.
Just chatting with them there?
BM: Definitely, yeah. They were pretty active on the show floor.
I actually worked at Babbages before I was a journalist, and you'll probably find, in terms of the journalists, many of them worked at one of the predecessors of GameStop.
BM: That's great. I started out at Software Etc., about 18 years ago in Minneapolis. My categories at that time were Atari, Amiga, and Apple IIGS. Seems like a long time ago!