Have the first shots in the long-brewing Digital Distribution vs. Retail Wars been fired? About two weeks ago, GameStop.com abruptly stopped taking pre-orders for THQ’s upcoming Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War II, and scrubbed any mention of the game from its site. While no one has been able to get an official reason out of either GameStop or THQ, the speculation is that the conspicuous disappearance is connected to the use of Valve’s Steam service as copy protection—GameStop is probably peeved that in order to install DoW2, gamers will have to install Steam and be presented with an option for fabulous deals on PC games that doesn’t require hauling their asses down to the mall and digging through all the Barbie Horse Adventure games on GameStop’s depressing PC corner shelf.
One disappearance could’ve been a coincidence, but now a pattern is emerging. Both of the other current PC games that require a Steam install, THQ’s Saints Row 2 and 2K’s NBA 2K9, have also gone missing from Gamestop.com. Oddly, Sega’s Empire: Total War is still proudly offered up for pre-order despite it being widely known to heavily integrate Steam features (achievements and multiplayer matchmaking), but that could be due to a cross-promotion in which gamers who pre-order on Gamestop.com get a free download code for Rome: Total War.
Reached for comment, a THQ representative said only that Dawn of War II is available at every other retail outlet. Meanwhile, a 2K representative says that as far as they know NBA 2K09 is on sale at GameStop, and doesn't know why it's not showing up on their online store, suggesting that it may be a matter of GameStop needing to update. However, we note that the game has been out since October 21, 2008, and the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PlayStation 2 versions all appear as normal, so the circumstances remain highly suspicious. This won’t remain a mystery much longer, though, as more and more PC games are turning to Steam for its relatively unintrusive anti-piracy protection, and GameStop might soon find itself in a position of having to sell Steam-requiring games or get out of the PC market entirely. Not that they’d be missed.