Is GAME flailing?


Written by Chris Price
05 Monday 05th March 2012

GAME have been assuring publishers that they remain a solvent prime retail location as they struggle with securing credit insurance. But a drastic move from major publishers in pulling the new SSX, Mario Party 9 and the colossal Mass Effect 3 from their shelves has now spilled the action from the business pages into the public consciousness.

Consumers responded in their usual ‘measured’ fashion (through the anonymity afforded by forums), citing the final breath of the company. The perception of late has been that GAME has been over-pricing software, holding a monopoly on special releases and aggressively up-selling on each purchase. But while their current struggles aren’t yet the full gone conclusion, I for one would miss GAME – and the knock-on effect of the potential loss of a highstreet chain could be very bad.

I've always received very professional service at GAME stores, but like many others I have found online bargains and day one deliveries to my desk irresistible. I worked at a Gamestation store during the time it was taken over by GAME and I saw our sales approach shift in line with GAME's more discally focused rhetoric, with a focus on viewing every individual who comes through the doors as a potential sale.

So why is it important? The problem is potentially far bigger. The videogame retail industry is a food chain. GAME is a specialist store, and specialism adds integrity to the sale. This is most crucial for those who aren’t privvy to gaming - the gift-buying audience and the golden seam of the casual demographic. The other options are half an aisle of blockbusters in the supermarkets and a couple of pages of Argos catalogues. The experience of shopping in stores such as the CEX chain (which veers wildly between pleasant and hostile) misses the professionalism afforded by a major chain and the face-to-face aftercare support that is missing from online sales.

There’s no doubt that without a high-street gateway to purchase and guide customers through a product, there will be a decrease in sales to the casual market that is in many cases subsiding the more hardcore titles. The knock-on could marginalise the medium, increasing the requirement for more intrusive digitial advertising.

Perhaps this is the time for independent retailers to seize the initiative - but they, like many others, are struggling against the prevalence of supermarket chains who are often selling titles on release lower than their purchase costs. Reliance on a second-hand market is labour intensive yet necessary, and they will be suffering against online retailers too. Right now, the ability to weather the country's financial climate will be surely sapping small stores across the country. Indeed, an indie games store seems very much a labour of love rather than a financial opportunity, and the need to diversify to stay competitive might see the end of the traditional gaming store.

But there is a larger element, which is possibly a tactical move in retaliation to the GAME groups’ support of the second-hand market. EA and Nintendo have been expressly vocal about this as of late. The ability to offer high street awareness and television advertising as part of sales package offers an extremely lucrative deal, one that made GAME a force to be reckoned with, allowing them to exert pressure upon the publishers. This is weight that many digital retailers will fail to match, and will likely put the ball back in the court of the publishers, potentially allowing them to push prices higher and maintain their RRPs.

It’s unlikely that chains will disappear from the streets, with Gamestop potentially waiting in the wings to pick the bones clean. But how best to move on from here? Strategic partnerships with brands not commonly associated with the gaming industry. Increased specialisation from their high street stores? Coffee shops offering digital purchases? Wi-fi portals in key social hotspots to support the likes of 3DS and PS Vita consoles (I deft you to try finding a solid public wireless signal to play your portable on in central London). All elements that could be potentially tied into their online store, creating a seamless online-offline experience, marketing to the consumer in a digital age – what the consumer wants, where the consumer wants it.

One thing is certain - with such a large element of the gaming ecosystem rattled, the knock-on effects are far reaching – and will almost certainly change the way we buy video games. Not only is it important for the gaming eco-system that they remain, it’s also important for the diversity of our high streets. But like Mary Portas says, the high street is changing. Whether GAME becomes a casualty of not keeping up with technologies, a company crippled by not keeping up with trends, or a martyr of the second hand market it’ll be sad day. But then again, I still miss Woolworths.

Do you think the High Street still needs GAME?

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  • killustrated
    Wed 07 - Mar - 2012, 16:30
    EA is getting too big for their boots. They want special treatment when it comes to the promotions and sales of their games and Game is standing firm in what they believe in. As for the part about SSX not being stocked, this is untrue, Game are selling the title however this will probably be the last EA title they will stock for a while. The prices do differ from online and high street stores, probably to do with the logistics of distributing the games to the branches, something that online retailers don't need to worry about.