Blockbuster adds video games to DVD-by-mail program

Posted by Mike Luttrell

While rival Netflix appears to be trying to move away from its once-core rental-by-mail service, Blockbuster is ramping up its efforts, becoming the first major player to offer both video games and movies from one centralized online account.

Blockbuster has struggled to find its voice after the idea of video rental stores hit the ultimate point of obsolescence in the US. Its online efforts have been largely stymied by competing firm Netflix, although thanks to decades of relationships it has built with movie studios, Blockbuster has managed to nab some good exclusive deals that provide it with a pretty good competitive advantage. For example, several studios make their movies available as digital releases for Blockbuster weeks before allowing Netflix the same access.

So the market of renting by mail, which is still very relevant even though digital distribution is gaining more steam every day, has been largely focused on two players: Netflix and Gamefly. Netflix is the leader in movies by mail while Gamefly is pretty much the only one doing the same thing for games.

Now, after months of speculation that it would pull such a move, Blockbuster is adding an extensive collection of video games to its mail rental offerings, and it will work seamlessly for people who already have an account. Instead of trying to confuse people with complicated game vs. movie rental plans, Blockbuster is following the K.I.S.S. routine. The rental chain is keeping it simple by letting users mix and match games and movies. It's the same price no matter what kind of content you want.

$9 per month gets you one disc out at a time, with $14 and $17 monthly plans available for two and three discs, respectively. That's on par with what Netflix charges, however it is an enormous discount over Gamefly's prices. Gamefly charges $16 a month for one game out at a time and $30 for three games. That's almost double what Blockbuster's fees are. I think it's safe to expect Gamefly to start chopping its monthly fees if Blockbuster's new game rental service picks up steam.

In addition, Blockbuster is extending its perk of allowing customers to exchange titles in-store for an immediate new selection, to its game offerings. However, if you want to be able to trade in a mail rental for an in-store game rental, you'll have to sign up for an extra $3 monthly fee. The ability to exchange for an in-store movie rental remains free.

Blockbuster's online service now has access to over 3,000 games. Customers who are new to the company's online program can sign up for a free two week trial at Blockbuster.com.