I began renting games as often as I could afford them. When I found out I could get free rentals through the Coke Rewards program, I enrolled. Friends and family kept bottle caps for me and for every 60 caps I collected, I was able to rent a free game. I burned through titles in a way that I had not done in years: fighters, shooters, hack and slash, action adventure. I was playing anything and everything, and I was having a blast. In one of the toughest periods of my life, videogame rentals didn't just supplement my passion for games, they redefined it.
Which is why, for me, the past year has been a sad one. Today, Hollywood Video is a distant memory. My little town use to have three Blockbusters. The only lingering presence of the once mighty chain is a few tombstone kiosks that stand outside select grocery and convenience stores, and the one thing those kiosks don't rent is videogames. The nearest remaining store is in a city 45 minutes away.
I know that change is inevitable. Progress is good, and as a person who once abandoned rental stores for Netflix, I'm well aware of the former's flaws. But, in the passing of these rental stores, I'm afraid we're seeing more than the end of a few corporations doomed by poor business decisions. I fear that we are seeing the end of an entire way of experiencing games.
Rental stores offer an experience that is unique to them. They are the pay-by-the-pound buffet of games. A lot of games are published every year, and most of us, even in good times, can't afford to buy them all. In a purchase-only environment, that means every game must count. With renting, on the other hand, that choice need never be made. For the price of owning a single game, you can instead rent eight. And let's face it, for any dedicated gamer, the five days most rentals allot is more than enough time to play through a typical release.
The loss of this unique way to experience games is creating a kind of gaming vacuum, one that has yet to be satisfactorily filled by the market. That's not to say there aren't alternatives; Gamefly offers videogame rentals by mail, as does Blockbuster, and cloud gaming sites like OnLive have a potentially promising future. But their future is not certain.