Steam gift cards are GameStop's latest push into digital sales

Used video games, iPhones, iPads, iPods and video game consoles can now all be traded in for credit on Valve's popular Steam computer game download service.

Used video games, iPhones, iPads, iPods and video game consoles can now all be traded in for credit on Valve's popular Steam computer game download service.

GameStop today confirmed a deal with Valve to start selling $20 and $50 Steam vouchers at all of its retail locations in the U.S.

The deal dramatically increases GameStop's computer game library — if you count the more than 1,800 games Steam currently sells. It also grants Valve access to a piece of the used game market it previously couldn't touch.

It's a savvy partnership that could be seen as GameStop's apology to PC gamers.

For years, the world's largest video game retailer has been steadily shrinking the footprint of computer games in its stores. As the number of computer game boxes shrunk to a single wall, then to a single shelf in most stores, the people who bought those games stopped coming in, said Steve Nix, GameStop's general manager of digital distribution.

GameStop, realizing that they were missing out on a vocal segment of the gaming community, began casting around for ways to get those computer gamers back into its stores.

Selling codes that can be used to purchase digital copies of computer games from Valve's Steam distribution service seemed like a perfect match, Nix said.

"We've been working hard to encourage PC gamers to come back to GameStop," Nix told Polygon. "Eighty-four percent of our customers claim to be PC gamers, they just may not be buying those games from us. A lot of them use Steam and think it's a great service."

The outcry for Steam gift cards was so vocal that a few months ago Nix set up a meeting with Valve to discuss the idea, he said. It wasn't a hard sell for Nix, who worked with Valve when he was at Ritual Entertainment and oversaw the inclusion of id Software games on the store when he was on the id payroll.

GameStop uses a proprietary system that allows stores to print out pins on receipts which can be redeemed for credit in digital stores, for downloadable add-ons or even full games. It's the same system they're using this week to sell copies of Diablo 3 and have used for the year to sell games like Battlefield 3 and Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, Nix said.

"We are the largest distributor of games and they are the world's largest PC digital download platform," Nix said. "It makes sense for us to work together."

Under this new system you can walk in with a used iPod, Nix said, and walk out with money for your Steam Wallet.

Steam is just the most recent service added to GameStop's growing arsenal of downloadable content.

During their March earnings call, executives for the company said they saw more than a 57 percent increase in digital sales and that they estimate that global digital sales will hit $39 billion by 2014. And GameStop, they said, hopes to be responsible for $1.5 billion of those sales.

The company saw a lot of success with Call of Duty Elite's digital subscriptions, accounting for two-third of the one million Call of Duty Elite subscriptions sold in the first week, they said.

Nix was quick to point out that this new deal with Steam doesn't mean that GameStop is backing away from its support of its own online store. While the Impulse branding will soon be retired in favor of GameStop's name, the service is doing very well, he said.

"This is not going to change our plans at all," he said. "We've announced 100 percent growth last year in that business. We are very bullish on the future for it."

Nix doesn't think that the future of PC gaming box copies will be as bright though.

"I think for PC it is going to go more digital," he said. "There are customers who really, really enjoy having the physical copies and, man, I used to be one of those people. But once you learn how nice it is to have a digital copy, that you can change machines with no problem, I think the convenience of not worrying about a game disc far outweighs having a physical box on your shelf."

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