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How Redbox determines which games to offer Exclusive
How Redbox determines which games to offer
November 6, 2012 | By Chris Morris

November 6, 2012 | By Chris Morris
More: Console/PC, Business/Marketing, Exclusive

Don't look for players who rely on Redbox as their preferred game rental service to join you in a multiplayer game of Halo 4 this year. You won't find them playing Assassin's Creed III online either.

And Medal of Honor: Warfighter? For the most part, they won't be playing that at all.

Redbox kiosks, you see, are only equipped to rent one disc per rental fee and with games regularly spanning two or even three discs, that has made the decision on what to offer players even more complicated for Redbox officials.

"There's a lack of consistency in how the content is split from game to game," says Joel Resnik, Redbox's vice president of games. "Right now Medal of Honor is split on the 360, where you have the single player campaign in SD on Disc One, then you have multiplayer on Disc Two - as well as an HD patch. That's different than Max Payne 3. Then you've got Halo, where the single player is on Disc One and multiplayer on Disc Two, but to play MP you need to insert Disc One."

As a result of those complications, EA's shooter is largely not available from the company (though a very few select kiosks have some version of it available).

It seems an odd problem, but it's a real one for the rental chain. While one apparently obvious solution would be to offer the complete game for twice the price, Redbox's return policy effectively kills that idea. (Renters can return a disc to any location opening up the possibility that Disc One would be returned to one site, while Disc Two would end up at another.)

"We don't want to make it a wild goose chase," says Resnik.

redbox 1.jpgThe two-disc issues Redbox faces are, admittedly, temporary. Next generation systems are all expected to utilize Blu-Ray drives, which should eliminate multi-disc games. But Redbox isn't a company whose customers live on the bleeding edge. And in the shorter term, it means they miss out on some big titles.

That's particularly worrisome for the company as Grand Theft Auto V looms a game that will almost certainly span more than one disc. Ultimately, though, Resnik says Redbox relies on user feedback and ongoing dialogues with publishers to determine which games it will select to stock its machines.

"We've got the benefit of having consistent engagement with our consumers," he says. "As long as we understand what the split on the content is, we can ask them 'if you had this game and only had 'X' amount of content to play, are you still interested?'. Those are ways we can better engage our customers. We [also] look at the competitive landscape quite often and the reality is we have limited space in the machine

Redbox has over 42,000 kiosks around the country. Between movies and games, it averages 58 million rentals per month. The games business is fairly new, though, formally launching last June after an extended test period.

The audience, Redbox has found, tends to skew toward casual titles like Just Dance 4. But there's a growing interest in big games like Assassin's Creed III and Black Ops II.

Among high-def consoles, the Xbox 360 is the most popular platform, while Resnik describes the PS3 as having "an opportunity for growth". And while the company chose to bypass handheld systems when it launched game rentals, it's reconsidering that today.

"The 3DS has reached an installed base where it makes sense for us to look at it and very seriously consider that platform," says Resnik. "We're trying to find a way to test it and get a good read on whether we should expand our offerings to include something like that down the road. The Vita has a little ways to go in the installed base to get there, though."

As for this year's Wii U, Redbox certainly has its eye on the system, but is holding off on any commitments at this point.

"New platforms are something we're looking at, but there's no news to report at this point," he says. "We're trying to understand the appropriate time for us to enter the market for a new platform and how to clearly articulate that to consumers."

And while digital distribution is something many game rental and brick and mortar retailers are nervously eyeing these days, Resnik says the demographics of Redbox's user base make that less of an issue in the near- and mid-term.

"Physical is so simple and it has such a lack of friction from a consumer engagement perspective," he says. "It's just easy and very tangible for them. And with our consumer base being more casual, it's just an easier for them to do and it will continue to be relevant for them."

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Maria Jayne
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"Next generation systems are all expected to utilize Blu-Ray drives, which should eliminate multi-disc games"

I think this is....not true. Games are constantly getting bigger, When diskettes were created games fit on them just fine, then developers found ways to fill up more of them, until cds came about and it all went back to a single cd....until developers found more content they needed to add. Now it's DVDs, as long as there is a limitation on storage developers will find a way to need more of it.

I didn't see a reason why this company can only rent single disc games. I'm not familiar with the business model is it weight/size limited?

E Zachary Knight
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The machines are designed to only fit one disk in a case. A bigger case that fits more than one disk would not fit through the return slot. They would have to redesign and refit all their machines to allow for bigger cases.

Additionally, there would be no way to verify the presence of more than one disk. Right now, the machines read a series of QR codes on the disk itself to verify the proper disk is being returned. The machine would not be able to do that for more than one disk stacked on top of each other.

The only real solution, is to use more than one case, but you have no way of ensuring that the customer returns both cases and disks at the same time.

John McMahon
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I agree, Maria. "Next generation systems are all expected to utilize Blu-Ray drives, which should eliminate multi-disc games" is a false statement.

It's a stopgap solution to wait for the next-gen change. A solution that will take years to take affect on a mainstream level.

Redbox started out as just movies, but had an eye on games. They should have engineered their machines to be easy to update on-site or at least with minimal cost to replace with an updated machine.

I see they will need to create bigger spaces for the bigger cases or they need to rethink their policies.

Maria Jayne
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@E Zachary

Ahh i see, thanks.

I do wonder how they handle a scratched or damaged disc though, they must have a way of tracing who returns what, couldn't this same system be used to charge anybody who fails to return the complete product?

E Zachary Knight
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Maria, thinking about it, I think you are probably right. It could be done on a programmatical level. Have a certain rental be flagged as "2 disks" and only allow a return if the user inserts both disks. If they insert only one of the two disks, spit the one out.

Michael Rooney
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They could design a box that can hold more than one disk. It seems like the obvious answer is to offer the full game for the standard price, so if you want to support it create hardware that supports such a solution.

E Zachary Knight
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That is a lot harder than it sounds. See my response to Maria.

Marc Kirkland
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I wonder if future version the red box distribution machine could handle this, or if it's just not worth the added investment for the amount of money games bring in vs movies? It seems like a 2 disc game or movie would just need a rectangular case, or two square cases hinged together so that the QR codes could be red sequentially and it couldn't be split between two drop off sites? I guess maybe it's still an issue if you returned half but left the other half empty? but I assume just like if you tried to return an empty case that it would bill you and/or spit it back out?

I don't know, interesting regardless.

Aaron Hain
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This just in: video game distribution from the stone age still exists!

Jorge Aguirre
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Hey do you mind if I use this picture for a petition to get Wii U games onto Redbox?