Don't look for players who rely on Redbox as their preferred game rental service to join you in a multiplayer game of Halo 4 this year. You won't find them playing Assassin's Creed III online either.
And Medal of Honor: Warfighter? For the most part, they won't be playing that at all.
Redbox kiosks, you see, are only equipped to rent one disc per rental fee – and with games regularly spanning two or even three discs, that has made the decision on what to offer players even more complicated for Redbox officials.
"There's a lack of consistency in how the content is split from game to game," says Joel Resnik, Redbox's vice president of games. "Right now Medal of Honor is split on the 360, where you have the single player campaign in SD on Disc One, then you have multiplayer on Disc Two - as well as an HD patch. That's different than Max Payne 3. Then you've got Halo, where the single player is on Disc One and multiplayer on Disc Two, but to play MP you need to insert Disc One."
As a result of those complications, EA's shooter is largely not available from the company (though a very few select kiosks have some version of it available).
It seems an odd problem, but it's a real one for the rental chain. While one apparently obvious solution would be to offer the complete game for twice the price, Redbox's return policy effectively kills that idea. (Renters can return a disc to any location – opening up the possibility that Disc One would be returned to one site, while Disc Two would end up at another.)
"We don't want to make it a wild goose chase," says Resnik.
The two-disc issues Redbox faces are, admittedly, temporary. Next generation systems are all expected to utilize Blu-Ray drives, which should eliminate multi-disc games. But Redbox isn't a company whose customers live on the bleeding edge. And in the shorter term, it means they miss out on some big titles.
That's particularly worrisome for the company as Grand Theft Auto V looms – a game that will almost certainly span more than one disc. Ultimately, though, Resnik says Redbox relies on user feedback and ongoing dialogues with publishers to determine which games it will select to stock its machines.
"We've got the benefit of having consistent engagement with our consumers," he says. "As long as we understand what the split on the content is, we can ask them … 'if you had this game and only had 'X' amount of content to play, are you still interested?'. Those are ways we can better engage our customers. … We [also] look at the competitive landscape quite often – and the reality is we have limited space in the machine
Redbox has over 42,000 kiosks around the country. Between movies and games, it averages 58 million rentals per month. The games business is fairly new, though, formally launching last June after an extended test period.
The audience, Redbox has found, tends to skew toward casual titles – like Just Dance 4. But there's a growing interest in big games like Assassin's Creed III and Black Ops II.
Among high-def consoles, the Xbox 360 is the most popular platform, while Resnik describes the PS3 as having "an opportunity for growth". And while the company chose to bypass handheld systems when it launched game rentals, it's reconsidering that today.
"The 3DS has reached an installed base where it makes sense for us to look at it and very seriously consider that platform," says Resnik. "We're trying to find a way to test it and get a good read on whether we should expand our offerings to include something like that down the road. The Vita has a little ways to go in the installed base to get there, though."
As for this year's Wii U, Redbox certainly has its eye on the system, but is holding off on any commitments at this point.
"New platforms are something we're looking at, but there's no news to report at this point," he says. "We're trying to understand the appropriate time for us to enter the market for a new platform and how to clearly articulate that to consumers."
And while digital distribution is something many game rental and brick and mortar retailers are nervously eyeing these days, Resnik says the demographics of Redbox's user base make that less of an issue in the near- and mid-term.
"Physical is so simple and it has such a lack of friction from a consumer engagement perspective," he says. "It's just easy and very tangible for them. And with our consumer base being more casual, it's just an easier for them to do and it will continue to be relevant for them."