High street video operation Blockbuster is looking to enter retailers' traditional selling area by renting out PC software titles in its stores worldwide.
According to a source involved in the project, Blockbuster will roll out a trial operation to rent PC games from 12 stores in the UK before being launched globally. The aim will be to rent PC games before they are available on the high street.
The initial titles offered will be limited to arcade games. Fifteen games publishers are already believed to be involved in the project, including Acclaim, Eidos, Electronic Arts and Mindscape.
The system will rely on obtaining a key code to unlock the game for a set amount of time and the software will be digitally watermarked to prevent piracy.
But the option to try before you buy has raised concern with publishers and retailers as the move will cause a change in the buying pattern of the PC title market.
One source said: 'The Blockbuster trial has not started yet, but is a double-edged sword. People will like the option to try before they buy, but may end up not buying.'
He added that with a lot of budget labels appearing, consumers may try the game but then wait for it to appear in a budget range.
Gerry Berkley, head of games at HMV, said: 'It is a concern. It is really up to the publishers. If they support rental and it damages retail sales, then the market will withdraw support.'
John Steinbrecher, CEO of Electronic Boutique, added: 'I know there was an attempt to do it in the US, but it didn't work. If it didn't work there with a larger market, I doubt if it would work here.'
The consequences of Blockbuster's move were seen as a threat to the games industry's boom period. 'Dedicated gamers can finish a game like Quake II in a few days and once they finish they don't touch it again. See what happens at Christmas, if it makes a dent in sales, that will be interesting,' said Jeremy Davies, an analyst at Context. Blockbuster refused to comment.
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