Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Gamestop Buys Impulse

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 1, 2011

Gamestop, perhaps seeing the writing on the wall that their brick-and-mortar business model is becoming, if not obsolete, at least marginalized the way video stores and record stores have been, has bought Impulse, formerly the online games distribution branch of Stardock (reasonably indie makers / publishers of the Galactic Civilizations series, Elemental:War of Magic, etc.).

More information here.

Impulse is direct competitor with Steam, though I don’t believe it’s a very close one. However, I’ve preferred it to Steam for a while for four reasons:

#1 – It allows me to split my game installs between two hard drives, which is important since I have two hard drives, one of which is approaching capacity (especially with newer mainstream games) — and Steam games make up a pretty substantial chunk of what’s installed on there.

#2 – It’s far less obtrusive than Steam. Running a game bought through Impulse is more like running a game bought through retail – it doesn’t take several seconds to get permission from the distribution service or check there for updates first before letting me play my game. While that’s only a few seconds of inconvenience on the Steam side, it’s enough to irritate me.

#3 – It’s indie-friendly. Possibly even more indie-friendly than Steam, which has a tendancy to lowball the indies and release the games as shovelware within weeks of initial release.

#4 – It was started by Brad Wardell, whom I’ve respected ever since he was making an indie game for the OS/2 (I read about it in Computer Gaming World!). I had a good phone conversation with him a looong time ago when he was first launching TotalGaming.net (I think) as a subscription-style service. Okay, I got a little miffed at him when he went on the attack when a game reviewer friend of mine wrote a good-but-not-great review of the first Gal Civ 2 expansion (which, it turns out, was because she’d been given a buggy, incomplete early beta to review, and had thought it was the final). But overall, he’s struck me as a good guy, and passionate about games. And he’s responsible for Gal Civ 2, which with the expansions has pretty much replaced Master of Orion 2 in my heart for favorite space-faring strategy game of all time.

Anyway, with this buyout, it’s now no longer associated with Wardell, so #4 goes away.

Will Gamestop screw up the other two? I hope not. I think it’s got potential to be a good thing. Can they overtake Steam’s lead, or at least give it a really good run for its money? Iffy. They’ve got a lot of cash they can throw in that direction, so the potential’s there.  But they have also proven in the past that they don’t give a crap about the PC market, and have never been at all interested in indie gaming. I think there’s also the potential to turn it into Games for Windows Live – a useless, dessicated wasteland that reeks of “soulless half-baked money grab.”

We’ll see. I’m leaning optimistic, but not very.

Filed Under: Biz, Mainstream Games - Comments: 8 Comments to Read

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,


    I’ve always preferred Steam to Impulse though I can’t disagree with any of your points in favor of Impulse. I just like the fact that Steam feels like a genuine service to me. I like having updates installed automatically, patch notes a click away, and my entire library of games accessible from one screen.

    Also, I love Steam Cloud. I don’t think the true awesomeness of Steam becomes apparent until you move to a new computer, install Steam and sign in, and all your old games are right there, along with your save games, with no discs or transfers necessary on your part.

    Not to mention the new games Steam steers me towards that I might otherwise never have heard of. I wouldn’t have known about Recettear, World of Goo, Torchlight, etc. if not for Steam. I would have missed them until far into the future, it at all.

    And Steam sales! Holy crap. Every weekend, and sometimes all through the week, those guys at Valve offer the best deals I’ve ever seen. Whole game series for $20. A AAA title from last year, $10 only this weekend.

    I don’t see how Steam releases indie games as “shovelware”. I assume you’re referring to the 75% off sales? I guess that would suck, but honestly, I would never have bought World of Goo at $20. At $5 I jumped on it. So the World of Goo guys got $5 they never would have otherwise. But we’ve talked about price points before.

    Even getting your game on Steam has to worth a huge advertising campaign. Even the indie releases get front page status for at least a couple of days, and Steam has nearly 4 million people view that front page EVERY DAY. That is some major exposure and awareness for your game that might otherwise languish in obscurity.

    Where is the information coming from on Steam low-balling indies? I’m genuinely curious as I have no experience on that side and would like to use it as distribution method for a game at some point in the future.

    Big thumbs up to Gal Civ 2. Best 4×4 game ever. I love how easy it is to mod in your own aliens and the joy of galactic expansion. Being a passive aggressive asshole to your neighbors in space when they can’t call you on it. Now, if only I could find the 20 hours of so of freetime to play just one map again . . . .

  • getter77 said,

    I suppose I can drum up theoretical optimism for this move, but genuine personal optimism? Nope.

    Gamestop would need to go at this like a freight train in terms of better business practices and generally copy as many of the good aspects of GoG and GamersGate as possible.

    I did find it amusing that Stardock’s upcoming titles are still intended to be squarely in the Impulse camp, at least that’s what is being said so far.

  • eedok said,

    First Kongregate, now this. Though it hasn’t negatively affected Kongregate yet

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    It usually takes at least a year before the honeymoon ends and the parent company starts exerting more control.

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,


    And the purchased company never thinks the honeymoon will end, but it always does.

  • Demiath said,

    This news is obviously very troubling, given the reputation of Gamestop and their questionable business ethics (everything from handling of pre-order exclusives to those trade-in practices, as far as I understand it).

    As for Impulse itself, while I like the service as such I’m embarrassed to say that having as many games as possible available in the same client is the number one priority for me these days, so even if I find a good deal on GamersGate or Impulse etc. I’ll still wait for the inevitable Steam discount. I know there’s a shortcut option in Steam for non-Steam games if I merely wanted to have them all on one big list, but from a psychological standpoint it’s still not the same thing (and I obviously can’t conveniently install and uninstall non-Steam games from within Steam).

    Arbitrary mental blocks such as mine will surely be the death of whatever healthy competition there is still left in the digital marketplace…

  • Xian said,

    I am not a fan of Gamestop as I have had some bad experiences with them in the past such as trying to pass off a used game as new – it was a DS game and there were saves on it already.

    I think that they are looking ahead to the future with this move. At some point in time digital distribution is going to surpass and even become the preferred way of obtaining games, not just for PC but the consoles as well. It might not happen until the PS5 or Xbox v4, but this move lets Gamestop get an already functioning framework for digital distribution to build upon. They could cling on to their brick and mortar stores and website sales of physical media, but eventually they would wind up like Tower Records or many of the other music stores that have been forced to close their doors. By buying Impulse, they get in at the ground floor of the digital distribution era and have an alternative system in place if or when their B&M stores go into decline.

  • Joelle Nebbe said,

    I prefer Impulse for much the same reasons as you, with the same OS/2 rooted loyalty to Stardock.

    – more control on installs
    – prices usually just as good, sometimes better
    – indie friendliness (although gamersgate is getting interesting there too)
    – only gamer friendly DRM, often none
    and a key one for me CAN RUN ON TWO MACHINES AT ONCE!

    And I know that the new platform will add he cloud sync, user chat etc. to Impulse so if they stick with these pluses they can have a winner