Redbox rolls out video game rentals via kiosk

As promised, kiosk-based Redbox is rolling out its game rental service (it's been in testing in some areas for quite some time). While today is the official launch date, a few games were showing up as being available in kiosks in my area yesterday. The specific machine nearest my office had twelve titles across all platforms (seven unique titles). Hopefully that's just a 'starter selection' and a wider variety will be offered soon, though I suppose slots are limited. Games are being added to existing kiosks, from what I can tell.

The cost is $2.00 per night, plus tax where applicable (13 cents in my area). My gamer friends and I have been discussing whether or not that's a good deal. It seems like it could add up pretty fast and for the most part we'd decided it was a good price for a 'paid demo.' In other words, if we were on the fence about buying a game we could rent it for a single night and then decide if we wanted to buy or not.

I figured if I was going to write about the service, I'd better try it out, and I had the perfect game to do it with. The infamous, 15-years-in-the making (sort of) title Duke Nukem Forever came out this week and it's getting terrible reviews, most of which point out how offensive the game is. I wasn't going to buy this title but had to admit I was curious (in that "train wreck" kind of way). I figured it was worth $2 to see just how bad the game is.

In case, like me, you've never used a Redbox, here's how it works. You can go stand in front of a kiosk and figure out what you want to rent, or you can reserve a title through their website. I did the latter, and once I got to the store I just swiped my credit card and a few seconds later the game popped out. Just the game disk, no extras.

A typical new AAA console game retails for $60 new. According to a post at Kotaku, if you rent a game from Redbox and keep it for 30 days, you can keep the game. That's an interesting angle if you're someone who typically pays full price for new games. Rather than make a trip to a department store or a Gamestop, you just hit up the Redbox kiosk in the local supermarket. If it turns out the game is no good, or just really short, you take it back early and save some money.

The only downside is that a lot of games now include some kind of code in the box that unlocks features of the game. They do this to try to make renting games less attractive; the code only works once. Generally you can buy access to that locked content for $10. If you're renting a game from Redbox for 30 days rather than just buying a copy, you won't get access to that code. I've been told (but have not been able to confirm) that after 30 days Redbox will send you the box and the manual (and presumably the unlock code), but you still have to do without for a month.

I'm not sure how well the service is going to do. A lot will depend on availability, I suppose. I reserved Duke Nukem Forever from my office, and 10-15 minutes later when I arrived at the Redbox kiosk I browsed available game titles out of curiosity, and Duke wasn't available for walk-in rentals. It's hard to believe there were a lot of people aware that games had hit the service last night, which leads me to wonder how many copies of each title is in the machine. If it's just 2 or 3 (or 1) then it's going to be really tough to get new releases if the service becomes popular. (It could also be that the full complement of games hadn't been stocked yet.)

Still, it's always nice to have options, and if you're just in the mood to check out a game for a couple bucks you can't beat the convenience. At least not here in Eastern Massachusetts where Redbox kiosks seem to be in just about every grocery store and a lot of other places besides, while Blockbuster stores (an old stand-by for game renting) have all but disappeared.

So what do you think of that $2/night price, gamers? Is it a fair price?

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