Supermarkets muscle in on the games industry

November 10, 2009, Author: Neil Hughes

Word spread around Twitter and the internet like wildfire: once again Britain’s supermarkets were going to sell a top game at a cut-price. Over the last few weeks we have seen the likes of Operation Flashpoint and Fifa 10 being sold on release day for between £25-£27 by the usual suspects; Asda, Morrisons and Tesco.

Sainsburys seemed to throw their hat into the ring when it was leaked that they were to offer the much anticipated title Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 for only £26 until November 15th. Predictably Asda then announced for £32 and Tesco for £25 if purchasing another chart title. What does this trend mean for the games industry?  It’s a double edged sword over which both sides will argue passionately about.

When Activision announced a few months back that they intended MW2 to have an RRP of £54.99, the backlash quickly ensued; especially considering that the game is predicted to be the biggest seller of the year. Many punters could be heard chanting “Rip-off Britain” and for a country deep in recession, maybe it was a little unwise to announce selling the game at such a high RRP. If you look at it from this angle, the supermarkets are doing us all a huge favour, after all, “Every Little Helps”, “The Best for Less”, they continuously tell us all with subliminal messages through the PA system, as we stroll around the stores in a dazed zombie-like state.

The main issue seems to be that when a supermarket sells a game for well under the cost price at around £25, any higher pricing elsewhere leaves you with the feeling that we are all being ripped off, when the reality is they are selling you the item at a loss in the hope of further revenue from you and end up killing the competition at the same time, so this is a very small price to pay for them; the cynic in me knows all of this. They only want to tempt us in, knowing our weakness for a gaming bargain; to offer us everything under one roof in their shopping utopia.  I console myself with the fact that gamers as a whole are actually quite savvy, and using the stealth tactics learnt from playing games over the years, their mission is simply to get into the shop, grab the bargain and get out as quickly as possible.  If we stop and think for a moment; just what effect does this have on the games industry as a whole?

As many of you know I am not a big fan of stores such as Game, and think many hardcore gamers left the high-street to buy games online sometime ago, but the supermarkets’ aggressive encroachment into the games market is somewhat worrying if history is anything to go by.  Pubs across the land can no longer compete with offers such as 18 bottles of beer for £5 and are starting to close at a rapid rate.  We no longer awake on a cold dark morning to the sound of the milkman’s whistle, and the local town butchers and grocers are all but a distant memory. In many ways some of the supermarket advertising like the one with Richard Hammond walking around a pretend market street, where you buy your veg from a pretend grocer and meat from a pretend butcher actually rubs salt into the wound and insults the nostalgia for that which they killed off many years ago.

There are only a handful of games that are huge sellers each year and these are the bread and butter for your local independent games shop. The supermarkets themselves are only interested in the big sellers and I have to wander how long it will be before publishers become even more cautious about making anything that doesn’t involve a racing sequel, a first person shooter sequel, movie tie in or yet another Guitar hero. For gamers and the games industry this could be catastrophic. Does this mean we will eventually only see a handful of big budget corporate games released a year and anything else would be deemed just too risky?

This price is 'Snow' joke...

The price is snow joke

Already we are seeing that there are a handful of games that sell by the millions and retain their value whilst many others are in the two for £20 bargain bin within six weeks or so of their release. It is not too unrealistic to imagine that the power of the big supermarkets will lead to them being the lone physical retailers of games. If this was to happen we could then find ourselves with nothing but rehashed updated sequels to look forward to each year, and if we are honest with ourselves we have been seeing the warning signs for quite some time.

The first rule of big business seems to be wipe out the competition and in the long term this gives the consumer less choice. Countries such as France have legislation in place which prevents below-cost selling of goods, so fully expect British retailers to join together to bring something similar over here.  Do not, however, underestimate the power of the supermarkets.
As for myself, I’m a man on a tight budget and an increasingly expensive hobby to feed, so I am somewhat ashamed to say I will be there to pick up Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 for £25 from one of the supermarkets, but I will still feel more than a little dirty doing so, but rest assured I won’t be buying anything else and in my mind this gives me a very small victory against them. My fear is that I may win this battle but that the games industry as a whole will lose the war.

My best advice to you all is: add yourself to the “TIMJ” Clan, and we’ll see you on the battlefield soldiers!