With the silly season of games releases well and truly upon us, more & more gamers are turning towards renatl companies in an effort to enjoy the latest releases, without shelling out hundreds of pounds each month to keep up.
Media rentals are no new thing; hark back to your childhood and the local video shop, with its strange smell and mysterious curtained off area at the rear. But now its all mainly done on-line, with more companies throwing their hats into the on-line games rental market each month, and now on demand services like Onlive & GaiKai emerging.
So what impact do these services have on the industry we love? Does renting games have the same negative impact as the much maligned pre-owned market, or does it benefit the industry, offering gamers a chance to play games they usually wouldn’t?
I was lucky enough to put these questions and more to Nick Palczynski, managing director and founder of Boomerang Games Rentals, one of the UK’s leading games via post websites.
Thanks for agreeing to this Nick, first off, tell us a little about yourself, your gaming habits and how you came to be involved at Boomerang
I set up Boomerang about six years ago. As a gamer, I had used video shops to rent games and of course bought games as well. I felt that the rental options available were pretty limited and not great value.
With the current generation of consoles just launching at that time, games looked like they were going to get more expensive, so I felt that gamers would be looking for an alternative to purchasing. I decided to set Boomerang up to address these issues.
I don’t have a huge amount of time for gaming these days, Boomerang and my four year old and 11-month old kids see to that! So, I prefer stuff that I can play in short bursts (no pun intended), typically it’s a shooter. At the moment, you will find me on Gears and soon on Battlefield 3!
Many of our community wonder if rental services like yours have deals with publishers and developers so they get a cut, or is it more like the pre-owned sales system in place at stores like Game & Gamestation?
It’s a good question and one I get asked quite a bit.
We buy all our stock direct from official UK sources, so yes the publishers get paid for the games we rent out. We also give customers the option to purchase a game they are renting if they want to, which means that we then buy more stock of that title in many cases.
I think the problem with pre-owned sales is how some retailers are seen as pushing these above new product, to the detriment of the publisher. Our service is very different and
I believe introduces gamers to titles that they might not have bought. This in itself adds value for that publisher, as that customer may, for example, go on to purchase the sequel.
If not, do you ever foresee a time when developers take steps to combat rentals, much the same way as they do pre-owned sales? As at moment Developers seem to consider rental companies with say 7 day trials of online etc
To a certain extent, things like online passes could be considered as having that effect.
However, I believe that if a customer rents a game from us and then buys a pass from the publisher, it’s a win-win. This is because, the customer gets to play a game for less that it costs to buy, we have a happy customer and the publisher gets the online pass sale. So, I think that these things can work together to ensure everyone gets a good deal.
How many copies of a title would your company usually stock? Or is it all dependant on user demand?
It does depend on demand for a particular game, however, I can’t go into specifics!
With more & more companies (like Blockbuster now) entering the Online games rental arena, and Amazon finally taking over Lovefilm, how hard is it to get your brand out there? Do you believe that things like your priority services and the excellent service Sam does on Twitter make you stand out enough?
It’s getting more competitive there’s no doubt about that. We have customers coming to us from other services, because they have heard that we offer a great service, and great customer service is what we do best.
Of course, we don’t always get it right, so that’s why we give our customers lots of different ways to get in touch, so that we can sort out any issue they might have as quickly as possible.
My aim is to continue to improve what we offer and add value for our customers however we can, and yes, hopefully offer something different from the competition.
What effect do you see services like Onlive & GaiKai having on companies like yours, with their content being available instantly?
Another good question. My personal view is that digital and physical product will co-exist for a few years yet.
I think Onlive is very interesting and will appeal to certain people. However, I think we offer better value and better access to newer titles, at those lower prices. Also, there will be gamers who want to experience the game as the developer intended, with the better graphics and of course with their friends on Live and PSN, for example.
I think it will probably co-exist alongside all the other ways to play.
As with all rental services, there is an element of trust with your user base. What steps do you take to prevent people abusing the system? And how often are discs inspected for quality?
It’s fair to say that we don’t get all our discs back in the same condition that we sent them out! However, we regularly check the discs when they come back in and recondition any that are below standard. We want to make sure that when a game arrives from us, our customers can play it without any hassles and have a quality experience.
To put that into context, we currently have less than half a percent of discs we send out reported as not working properly. In other words, on average, you should be able to rent more than 200 games from us before you get one that’s a problem. We have a lot of customers who have been with us for 5 years and never had a problem disk!
Boomerang has a “keep” option available to its users (where users can buy a game they are renting, with all Passes, DLC included, usually at a discount), what sort of uptake does this have? And what factors do you consider when pricing your titles?
Primarily, we are a rental site and so, the uptake on the Keep it option is a relatively small but important part of our business. Customers who use this option really do like it.
Pricing is subject to a number of factors, the first is rental demand. If rental demand is strong then the Keep It price will perhaps be a little less competitive, however, as demand drops, we aim to be very competitive. Of course, the thing to remember with our ex-rental games is that the box, manual and any other contents are all in pristine condition and all access codes are unused. This can make our games very competitive for those customers who want to use the elements that need a pass, as they don’t have to spend more money to buy this separately.
Do you believe that rental companies actually have a positive effect on the industry? Giving gamers the opportunity to try titles they usually wouldn’t etc
Yes, in some small way, I think they do. The Video Games market is big and overall, anything that lets customers experience and try games in different ways, I believe, is a good thing. Many of our customers rent games from us almost as an extended demo. They will try the game and if they like it, they will buy it.
So, developers and publishers who release quality games, have nothing to fear from rental.
Do you find most of your customers tend to rent just the big “triple A” titles, or do they use services like yours to try the smaller less well known titles.
Naturally, the big releases have higher demand than the more niche titles. However, I think the difference is less extreme with rental. The reason for this is that with the big “Triple A” titles, a proportion of our customers will buy this game on Day 1. Most of our customers buy games as well as rent. This means they can also use our rental service to try the games that they wouldn’t have perhaps bought. They may then go on to buy them. So, some titles, will get greater exposure with us than perhaps with a traditional retailer.
Of course we rent out the big “Triple A” titles as well. A lot of customers on our Priority and Unlimited packages, just rent brand new releases.
And finally a more personal request, are there any plans for you guys to release an iPhone app for users to manage their rental lists on the go?
Next year, we are planning to add some mobile friendly elements. So for example, enabling customers to manage their rental lists on the go.
We’d like to thank Nick again for taking the time to do this for us at Midlifegamer.net, and also for helping to support our recent EuroGamer charity bash.
Boomerang currently offer a 21 day trial to new users to try out the site, with packages available for as little as £3.99 per month, you can check them out here
Obviously there are many rental services out there, and if its something you’re looking at getting into, then it shouldn’t be too hard to find the right service for you.