Say what you will about GameStop, as many have and will, but you can accuse them of being anything less than shrewd business. To that end they're expanding their mostly console and portable video game stock to include Android tablets from Samsung, Asus and Acer, starting in a few select stores today. The tablets will be pre-loaded with seven free games including Dead Space and Madden NFL 2012.
The first tablets on sale are the Acer Iconia Tab 100, Asus Eee Pad Transformer and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. The tablets won't cost any less than they do at other retail locations, and if GameStop's regular pricing structure is anything to go on, they'll probably be more expensive than at least a few. But gamers hungry for a new mobile experience can practice the time-honored tradition of trading in old consoles and game discs for store credit, which can be used to purchase a new Android tablet. GameStop has already expanded its trade-in and used programs to cover general gadgets like the iPhone and iPod, and presumably, you'll soon be able to trade in your Samsung Galaxy Tab or Acer Transformer as well. GameStop may integrate these tablets with its mobile streaming service Spawn Labs at some point in the future.
This may seem like an odd move for a company so well-established in the lucrative game console retail space, but if you take a look at some of the games coming out for Android lately, it makes a lot of sense. Check out the graphics in Shadowgun or Modern Combat 3, and you'll see almost the rival of any Xbox or PlayStation 2 game. Who knows what can be done with upcoming hardware like the quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 found in the Transformer Prime, and with HDMI output already on many Android devices and native controller support coming with Ice Cream Sandwich, Android tablets are beginning to look a lot like gaming hardware, to say nothing of specialized smartphones like the XPERIA Play.
With downloaded games making up a bigger and bigger chunk of the digital market, GameStop finds itself in the same position that bookstores were five or six years ago. They can continue to make most of their profits off of software which will soon be available at the click of a mouse, or they can diversify and begin delivering the one thing that can't be replicated with a broadband connection: hands-on, instant hardware gratification. It could be the difference between GameStop being the next Barnes & Noble (appropriately, since they used to be owned by them)... or Borders.