GameStop buys Impulse, Spawn Labs

Bricks-and-mortar retail monster GameStop took further bold stops into the realm of the virtual today, announcing that it's acquiring Stardock's digital distribution platform Impulse, as well as cloud gaming company Spawn Labs.

Impulse will continue to run, becoming integrated into GameStop's online store. The deal is due to close in May and full Impulse integration is expected "within the next few months." Financial details of the deal have not been disclosed.

Spawn Labs has cloud gaming technology somewhat similar to OnLive and Gaikai, allowing users to play games without actually running them on their computer. However, Spawn's tech runs games from the player's own games console, meaning they can play their Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 games remotely on a simple laptop. It also enables handy things such as watching, from your computer, a chum playing games on their console, or playing your console games on your PC in your room when your flatmate's hogging the big telly.

Stardock notes that it's only the Impulse, Inc. division being sold, and the rest of Stardock will carry on as per usual. Key Impulse staff will remain with Impulse, Inc. while shared employees will be absorbed into other Stardock projects. Stardock doesn't anticipate any layoffs, and is in fact still hiring.

The Spawn Labs team "will work closely with GameStop's existing R&D group to develop GameStop's growing suite of digital game products and services," GameStop says. It seems they may be looking to move beyond the tech's current use, perhaps more into the realm of OnLive and on-demand gaming. The announcement says that "Once the Spawn Labs integration and testing on a new consumer interface is complete, users will have immediate access to a wide selection of high-definition video games on demand on any Internet-enabled device."

These are far from GameStop's first steps into the digital world. Its online store already offers a small selection of digital game downloads, and the company has a number of online interests including hugely popular Flash games portal Kongregate and browser gaming site Jolt.

The acquisition of Impulse will give GameStop a friendly front and client for its digital distribution, as well as a large library of games. Stardock's Steamworks competitor Impulse Reactor is included in the deal, a suite of tools for developers and publishers handling DRM, microtransactions, achievements, friends lists and the like. It's not beyond the realms of imagination that GameStop might use its retail muscle to gently persuade publishers to create special versions of digital releases with Impulse Reactor features.

"Our customers are gaming in many locations and on many devices, and we need to deliver the same great immersive experience that they have come to expect," said GameStop President Tony Bartel in today's announcement.

GameStop CEO J. Paul Raines added, "With these important acquisitions, we will continue to make appropriate investments related to our multichannel strategy. GameStop is uniquely positioned to be the leader in both the physical and digital gaming space."

Should retail up and vanish tomorrow, it seems that, for better or worse, GameStop will still be around in some form.