GAME’s downward spiral

March 2, 2012, Author: Stephen King

The games retail market has a well established history in the UK. For me it all began with Electronics Boutique (EB); my first real experience with games retail. However, almost as soon as EB blessed us with a place for gamers to shop, things changed and all the stores were rebranded as GAME.

It turned out that this was to become the largest games retailer in the UK, and was a change for the positive for the customer. The UK retail market had cast the shackles of its previous American owners (Gamestop) and had developed its own identity.

It kicks off
Despite circulating rumours of the difficulty the GAME Group had been having making a profit, what was to happen next was the furthest thing from my mind. The reports started to come in stating that GAME had lost their credit insurance with publishers.

This essentially boils down to one simple fact; GAME could no longer guarantee that games will be available from day one. Many of us at this moment in time will be claiming that they saw this coming a mile off, and to be honest, I think a lot of people did. There were many warning signs along the way; some of it opinion, but there were some very clear indicators that GAME’s current predicament was inevitable.


The root of the trouble
So where did it all start to go wrong? In 2007 the GAME Group succeeded in purchasing Blockbuster’s Gamestation brand. A great acquisition in my mind as the one thing that GAME had always struggled with was dealing with the retro games market; of course this was something that Gamestation stores were synonymous for.

However, rather than combining the stores all under the one banner, both stores remained with their individual identities. It could have been argued that this was to allow the already recognised brands to continue what they were doing best; however, things took a turn for the worst.

As time went on, Gamestation began to stop selling retro game items in the majority of their stores, and gradually Gamestation’s identity was erased and replaced with the more current market identity of the GAME stores.

To my mind, it seems pointless to keep two stores open under different banners, but have them sell the same things. It looks as though this has taken a toll on the company with having double the staff and double the stores to pay rent for. A move that to most would seem odd, but they have continued to sell under both logos.

Another obstacle that the GAME Group have really struggled to overcome is the online games market. Amazon.com hit the internet in 1995 and, along with other retailers such as play.com, they began to revolutionize the way we shopped. Oddly, it seems that GAME did not actually perceive this to be too much of threat until recently when both the GAME and Gamestation websites saw massive overhauls. At this point though, it is too little, too late; the online retailers already have their hooks in the market.

When quizzing one of my friends about their experience with GAME’s online presence, he stated that he had no problem with the sites, but the fact that the stores associated with the sites would refuse to price match. So, not only does a customer have to choose between GAME and Gamestation, they now have to deal with the websites; all of which try to behave as separate entities.

So, it has come to this….
This brings us to the most recent events and with the PS Vita launch fast approaching, all eyes were on GAME. Would they have the stock? Would they be able to manage people’s orders? It turns out that it went pretty well and as far as I could gather there were no reports of any issues, but the worst was yet to come. As of the 29th of February, staff members from several GAME and Gamestation stores have confirmed the existence of a memo stating that the new SSX will be the last EA title to stocked by the stores.

It would appear that GAME have failed to reach an agreement with EA, and will now miss out on several large releases. Most notably, and to much outrage, Mass Effect 3 will not be available to customers; even those who have preordered their copy.

Failure to launch...

GAME seem to be doing their best to compensate customers by giving them back their deposits and even giving them a further £5 credit for the stores, but for some customers this was the last straw. After a read through GAME’s official Facebook page you can see that people are unhappy. The most disappointed of the bunch are those who ordered the special N7 edition of the game, which is now sold out across the board. EA have yet to comment on the news, but GAME’s omission from the list of UK retailers that will be stocking Mass Effect 3 is rather telling.

What’s the worst that could happen?
Out of all of this there are a couple of sad facts. Firstly, the UK’s largest games retailer will disappear, not with a bang, but with a whimper. Secondly, and most importantly, many people could end up losing their jobs. As someone who has experienced unemployment through no fault of their own, I can empathise. Things have truly gone from bad to worse for GAME, and sadly I think the end is near. I apologies for the pun, but surely the epitaph is already written:

GAME over….