Game, you used to be cool…
..but you gotta make your mind up if you’re modern or old school.
Back in the days of yore, UK gamers had GAME (and by association Gamestation, owned by the same group). Of course, we’ve had a plethora of other game stores in the past, in various shapes and sizes. Today, we still have Game. It (somehow) survived the economic crisis so far, and now is largely ‘it’ for gaming shops in the UK. We have a few local ones surviving, but for the large part you’ll only find full priced video games, consoles and merchandise in Game, or in HMV (a chain selling music, tech, games, movies and lame merchandise) and, most unfortunate of all, our supermarkets. As many of you may recall, Game went into administration in early 2012, shutting a large number of branches of both Game and Gamestation, reshuffling staff and stock, removing some staff and rebranding as it came out of administration later that year. It’s a story I, and I’m sure many of you, followed closely as it happens.
Game came out of the ashes, renamed surviving Gamestation stores as Game, had a shuffle around and carried on where it left off. Sadly, it hasn’t changed very much since. It certainly hasn’t really attempted to try to compete in a world that’s predominantly online. And, perhaps most crucial as the next generation of consoles comes in, it has largely failed to connect with gamers. It has tried in recent months, most notably with the launch of GTA V. Midnight launches were seemingly well attended, and my local Game branch has a long list of launch events coming up. But, really, it’s a captive audience – there’s nowhere else to go if you want to attend a midnight launch. So is it too little too late? I’m not suggesting Game will go into administration again any time soon, and it seems to be managing OK since it survived, but holding onto that core group of gamers, the ones who will be buying those next gen games, seems to be something Game is struggling to do.
It’s problems are many, even disregarding the long and drawn out administration period. Even before that, it was clearly struggling to compete in a world dominated by Amazon and Steam, where the games are many and the prices cheap. The need to pay rent to maintain retail space (something that is known to be ridiculously high in the UK) meant, and still means, that Game can’t really afford to drop its prices to compete with online stores. Sadly, price is everything now. People can’t afford to hand over the best part of £50 on a game on a whim. Prices in-store don’t fluctuate as much as they do online and nor are they as good as online prices. The general price difference between Game, game.co.uk and Amazon, for example is this:
Diablo 3 for Xbox 360
Amazon: £37.79 at the time of writing
Game.co.uk: £39.99 at the time of writing
Game in store: £44.99 when I was last in store, last week.
At the face of it, it doesn’t look significantly different price wise. But when you factor in the cost of getting to a Game store (fuel, cost of public transport), how many people are going to go instore to get it? Game do offer a loyalty card, but it leaves a lot to be desired. Before the administration it would cost you £3 to get one. Now it’s free. At least there’s that. Each to their own, but I’d rather save the cash – nearly £10 isn’t worth quite so much in loyalty points. I spent so many hours as a child in Game and it’s sort-of predecessor Electronics Boutique, flicking through the shelves of PS1, PS2 and PC games, amongst others. And, if I was really lucky, I’d get to play on a console in store. Now you’ll be hard pressed to see even game footage instore, let alone play a game in store. With their high priced games, there’s no way I’m going to play impulse buying anything. And I’ll walk out if you persist in trying to sell me COD. The thing is, Game can afford (at least theoretically) to do this. It has very few real rivals on the high street anymore, and those it does have aren’t much better price wise. HMV has never really been good for games, and has also gone through administration. And your only other choice is then supermarkets. Which should be avoided like the plague really. In a nutshell, Game isn’t trying very hard, and it certainly doesn’t make clear what benefits there are buying there over anywhere else.
My second issues is customer treatment. I shall play *girl gamer* for 2 blue mana (because I play blue). I am a gamer. And I am also a girl. Just because I am a girl in the Xbox section of game (my console of choice for this current gen, for better or worse), does not mean I am shopping for someone else. I’ve picked up Saints Row? It’s for me, not my brother. I’ve picked up Fallout? That’s also for me, not my boyfriend. Yes I have a DS. Doesn’t mean I should be buying “Airy Fairy Shopping Sim 44”. I actually appear to have more gaming knowledge than many Game employees I’ve come across. Feel free to ask if I’m looking for anything in particular (I’m not, I’m here to laugh at your prices). Feel free to suggest games (I won’t buy them but thanks anyway). But do not treat me like I haven’t a clue what I’m talking about. It is, thankfully, a problem that is improving. In fact the last time I was in Game I had a half hour long conversation with one of the shop assistants about Skyrim, Pokemon, the next gen, Game itself and a wide variety of other gaming stuff. It was the highlight of my day. You don’t get that ordering from Amazon. But it’s still a rare occurrence.
Game’s other issue is this. It doesn’t provide a good enough reason to shop with them. You get loyalty points, so what? When I can save cash, why should I choose Game? Gone are the days of good preorder bonuses and special editions, although this is a problem across the industry and not solely for Game. But here’s an example. When in my local branch the other day, I noticed the “Game Special Edition” of Saints Row IV. Whilst not significantly more expensive than Amazon, it offers this as incentive. 2 DLC skins. That’s it. 2 slightly different colours to wear. That you have to download. I can’t connect to the internet with my Xbox in my room. And I know lots of people who aren’t online for whatever reason. It’s hardly much of an incentive. Of course, this is only Game’s fault, nor is it specific to Game, but when the only difference between stores is the colour of a helmet, why bother? Ultimately these “special editions” end up not so special when the DLC they have is later released as general DLC. Take for instance, the release of Mass Effect 3. Ignoring the big balls up Game made of the preorders for this game, there was no real reason to pick one store over another for preordering because a large amount of the “exclusive” DLC became part of larger expansions for the game.
Back to that balls up I mentioned. Although largely forgotten about, the way in which Game dealt with the loss of preorders (which boiled down to a lack of stock) for Mass Effect 3 was atrocious. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, here’s a plot synopsis. People preordered (from Game) the special N7 edition of Mass Effect 3 which came with DLC (naturally) and some other real world stuff. Shortly before release, Game emailed those customers saying that their preorder would be cancelled and they should find somewhere else to order from. These emails went out at all times of day, throughout the day. People were at school, at work or otherwise not always able to see that email. By the time a lot of those people got that email it was too late to replace the N7 edition as everywhere else was selling out fast. What Game should had tried to do here, and this is something mentioned at the time, was coordinate with other places, such as Amazon, to reserve enough stock across the various retailers to meet the numbers Game was unable to fulfil. Those who preordered did later receive refunds and some compensation (in the form of Game Loyalty points – an interesting move in itself), which was received to mixed opinions (ask Trunco and MaskedGentleman). And this wasn’t the only case. Streetfighter X Tekken also met with this problem, but Game did even less to refund its customers. At that stage Game were basically drowning and later went into administration.
Although it came back, it seems Game never really recovered from its problems. You go into a Game store now (including ex-Gamestations) and there’s barely ever people in there buying things. My local ones are usually empty. It is failing to cling onto the people it needs to in order to stay afloat, and yet insists it stays the same. In it’s current state, it’ll probably be able to cling to the UK gaming scene, mostly because there’s nowhere else. Game faces challenges from the online world, although it certainly isn’t the only store facing hard times and difficult decisions.
I have a lot to thank Game, Gamestation and Electronics Boutique for. They provided a wealth of entertainment (and childminding) as a child and through into adulthood, and are definitely partly responsible for my interest and love of gaming, If we lost Game from our streets forever, it would surely be the end of an era, and a sad sight to see. I’m no economist and I don’t pretend to be, but from my (limited) gamer viewpoint, it has some way to go before it can reclaim it’s throne atop the game shop kingdom. I do enjoy the odd poke around the stores, but when I have little cash and more choice, I go elsewhere. It has, at least in my little part of the world, become little more than a laughing stock.
This post is made up of Khinjarsi’s opinions and viewpoints, and do not reflect those of anyone involved with GAME, Gamestation or other Upon Completion bloggers. Khinjarsi has no links to GAME or Gamestation other than as a customer and window shopper.