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Game over?

Blog posted by Ste Pickford on Tue, 06 Mar 2012

Ste Pickford

It's not looking good for Game, the UK's 'specialist' high street video games retailer.

In the last few days we've learned that they aren't stocking EA's Mass Effect 3 (and other EA titles), they aren't stocking Nintendo's Mario Party 9 (and other Nintendo titles), there will be no stock of Ubisoft's Vita games or Capcom's next Street Fighter game, and even the Sony Vita hardware they're selling has 'property of Sony' stickered on it, until the moment it's sold.

It's a good job they've got such a loyal customer base who'll carry on shopping there for all the other great, hard to find games they sell, the cool and unusual merchandise they stock, the valuable fan-focussed services they offer, and the trusted expertise they provide, outside of pushing AAA titles that they don't have any more... Oh yeah, right... they're stuffed.

I dug out my old Electronics Boutique card today and popped down to see if I had any credit on it worth redeeming before it's too late. It only had a fiver on it, and the only game I fancy (Dark Souls) was 33 quid (only available pre-owned), so I didn't redeem it, but the nice lady behind the counter was quite excited to see such an old 'loyalty' card still going.

I'm not loyal to Game though. I don't like them, and I won't be sad to see them go (while not wishing redundancy on any of the staff who work there).

At best Game have been a poor servant to the games industry, and at worst have actually damaged it.

The argument always trotted out in their favour is that the games industry needs (or needed) a specialist retailer for visibility on the high street, and without Game nobody would know about new games, and all we'll see are the small number of big, safe commercial hits for sale in the supermarkets.

Well, I think that's all we've ever really had from Game. They've taken the space of a specialist shop on the high street, but acted more or less like a supermarket, and only ever focused on a small number of safe, familiar commercial titles like Fifa and COD and Mario games.

They've never really, properly stocked niche titles, they've never provided any fan service, they've never brought over mad Japanese imports, or odd RPGs, or provided visibility for any of the strange and unusual and beautiful games that will never be stocked in the supermarkets, or if they have they've done it in such a desultory, disinterested fashion that they might as well have not bothered.

I can remember dozens of times over the years when a great but uncommercial gem of a game was released, but couldn't be found in a supermarket or a Game on launch day, and I had to go online to find a copy.

They've never been a shop for video game fans.

With their heavy promotion of pre-owned stock, Game killed the possibility of 'long tail' sales of great, niche games with good word of mouth (i.e. exactly the sort of games I've made personally), which in turn has been responsible for the phenomena of all sales of retail games being compressed into the first couple of weeks after launch (as pre-owned sales take up the slack from then on), helping to kill the middle-tier of console games that don't have that massive first week marketing push, thus killing the middle-tier developers who made those games.

Maybe none of this is exclusively Game's fault, but they share some of the blame for an increasingly narrow AAA hit focused retail sector that's also killing the remaining publishers and developers who make these risky, expensive games, forcing the migration of so many creative and talented developers to digital download platforms, which is in turn killing the retailers themselves.

I love video games, and I think the games industry in the UK deserves a decent specialist retailer that provides a different service to the supermarkets and electronics stores. A retailer that supports and stocks games other than just the big budget, heavily marketed AAA titles. The existence of Game, and the way they swallowed up and homogenised rivals like Electronics Boutique and Gamestation, has killed the possibility of such a retailer ever existing.

So, any ideas on what I can buy with that fiver on my loyalty card? Quick!

 

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Comments

A £5 iTunes voucher!

 

Wait a few months and you can probably pick up Game for that amount :)

 

Ste Pickford

Good call skweek - I can buy a Magnetic Billiards: Blueprint Skeleton Key with that!

 

The problem with selling niche Japanese RPGs and other oddities is very few people buy them. Firstly they probably have small print runs due to a small fan base / lack of advertising budget. Secondly some of these oddities simply shouldn't retail at £40 which they often do to start with. As a business GAME do the right thing stocking popular games. Not saying they shouldn't stock the less popular stuff but from a business/money point of view it makes some sense.

GameStation used to sell £30 Final Fantasy albums, imported from Japan. They never sold because people wanting a FF Album would not have even thought to look in GameStation, let alone paid £30.

 

Ste Pickford

I don't think I'm suggesting that they should *only* stock niche Japanese RPGs, or stock them in preference to FIFA. What I'm saying is that the supermarkets have the big releases (and little else) covered, so a specialist retailer should be covering those niche and odd titles that the supermarkets don't stock, to provide a service for video game fans that aren't being serviced by supermarkets.

I don't think Game were doing that. In fact, I often had a better chance of picking up low key releases on release day from Asda or Morrisons than from Game, who were presumably waiting for a week or two to stock their shelves with pre-owned supermarket stock.

 

I'll admit that the last couple of years things have got a lot worse when it comes to stock in GAME. Back in 2003 the shelves were filled with new games with only a small basket in the centre of the shop selling preowned. Preowned prices were very good too on games.

Now the stores really are just the charts plus a few left overs from last month and wall to wall second hand.

 

Do what I did with the money on your points card. Buy PSN/Xbox points.

 

Electronics Boutique swallowed Game, not vice versa.

 

Game didn't buy out Electronics Boutique, EB bought out GAME and rebranded as GAME.

 

so, you made some games, game wouldn't sell them and now you hate them because you aren't rolling in dough like the big boys that are out there making games? Fair enough.

 

Just wanted to comment on how I disagree with a lot of your article and most points can be put down to one reason: recession. Look at the shops like CEX that have sprung up in today's economic climate. Game and Gamestation used to stock more interesting things however, in this market, you can't, only what sells. Secondly EB bought out game not the other way round and decided to rebrand as they thought Game were 'cooler'.

 

I find it amazing that someone who is a veteran of the industry is so misinformed, uneducated and naive about a subject that you should at least have some authority on.

Let’s start at the beginning of your post, as you say you are not a loyal customer of Game, you prefer understandably to get the best price for the product that you want and are willing to spend the time to find it, if you don’t shop at GAME why feel the need to comment on its demise?

Your next claim is that GAME have in some way damaged the Games industry, no proof of course just a statement.

As you say they haven’t really ever stocked the Niche Japanese titles, I can’t for example walk into GAME tomorrow and pick up a copy of Catherine for example.

As a businessman you should understand simple supply and demand, when arguably the biggest JRPG of them all can’t even muster 500k sales in Japan (I couldn’t get UK numbers) then why as a business would you spend money on titles that are at best going to hit the thousands.

Your claim that GAME has never been a shop for video game fans is probably the most inaccurate thing in your post, it has, it sales in years previous to this turbulent period speak to that. What I will agree however is it has never been a shop for video games Geeks (of which I am myself one), but once again there is a reason for that, in the modern market that is such a small percentage of the market, whilst we like to think of ourselves as the bastions of the video games industry if we all stopped buying games tomorrow and instead took up Hockey neither market would notice us.

And now the big one, the one that everybody loves to bash – Pre-owned.

So you claim that pre-owned has killed the possibility of “long tail” sales, it’s nothing of course to do with the fact that RRPs remain high even long after their release, not to mention as someone else has already stated the fact that a non triple A titles expects to be able to sell for the same RRP as the latest multimillion budget offering.

The failure of the “Middle teir” developer is generally down to themselves, releasing your game during the Easter or Xmas windows is suicide, a sensible publishers realises this and tailors its release to the game it is producing. As Sniper Ghost Warrior Proved.

A game with appalling reviews, reached number 1 in the summer by releasing in the usual summer drought.

Not to mention there are other avenues for these “middle tier” games to make money, as Limbo proved by not only capitalising on the summer window but using XBLA, PSN and Steam as routes to market.

The loss of the “Middle Teir” and Niche titles, is first of all as i said down to bad marketing decisions, secondly down to simple economics and lastly and I think most importantly, two companies, neither of which are GAME, if you cant work it out its Nintendo and Apple. They have managed to successfully create the casual gamer, and from a developers point of view that means your cash is split to ways the big bucks on COD 2012 and Game Party Time 2012, which leaves nothing for the middle, that funding that would have gone to the quirky but talented team who wanted to make the next “gamers” game has instead gone to the mass market at either end of the scale.

Whilst understandably publishers hate it due to the reduced sales in classic or platinum versions of their previous games, if it wasn’t for pre-owned the sales that we see of new software would reduce, when I was a kid I got games at Xmas and Birthdays that was it, the rise of trade ins has meant that mum can spend £10/£20 on buying a new game every week instead of £40 thus increasing the number of titles they can afford.

So on to your last comment the fact that the UK deserves a specialist retailer, the way that GAME have swallowed up their rivals like EB (as someone else has already pointed out, you got that the wrong way round) and Game station.

It’s funny but I can’t think who this retailer was or who they would be if they are not GAME, realistically there are two most likely outcomes for GAME, either they pull through, or someone such as Gamestop purchases them.

GAME is often accused of “bullying” publishers due to the market share that they enjoy on most new releases, using this sales power to negotiate deals, now imagine, as a publisher a world where the people you are negotiating with don’t just have the Market Share in the UK but in pretty much every territory outside of Japan?

 

Ste Pickford

Thanks for all the comments, especially those who disagree and have taken the time to explain why. I admit that the perspective of a developer (and not a publisher) is limited, but I'm not convinced that the demise of middle-tier games is down to bad marketing decisions or economics, as bad marketing decisions have always been made at all levels of the industry.

The point I was trying to make about the middle-tier games is that they do have an audience, and they do sell enough copies to be profitable, but the rise of heavily promoted pre-owned meant the revenue stream from their sales dried up for developers and publishers, with lifetime sales revenue only being recycled within the retail sector instead of feeding back to the developers and publishers making those games, as it used to. That's what killed the middle-tier - not that they weren't selling enough, just that their sales weren't compressed into the first week.

 

"They've never really, properly stocked niche titles"

Why? I work at Gamestation and I love my jRPGs as much as my wRPGs and the rule with back catalogue games was "you only get what you pre-order" though nicely we tended to get more then the pre-order. Now who do you think pre-ordered these games? Just me, nobody else in the town wanted to buy the games and if they did they would enter the store several months after release saying people selling it on eBay were selling them for a high price. They DID stock the games, but they never bought loads of stock so the price was more then the AAA title AND nobody bought these games. I'm one of few out there who bought Hyperdimention Neptunia and Altier Totori or No More Heroes on PS3, even though I used to pre-order at least 4 copies of each for people to buy and now it's gotten to the panic stations and the selling of all the pre-owned stock we have two copies of Altier Totori on the sale. These two copies were the games I pre-ordered and they sat on the shelf for months and months and where soon moved new to pre-owned in hope of getting rid of them and they never sold. In fact even at half price they still sit there wanting to be bought. I'm sure this happened in several stores not just the one I work at, it's not a good business strategy to stock games (in store) that won't sell. But you don't care about the company anyway you'll soon understand when these 'niche' games are only stocked by online retailers who have no competition and thus hold the power to price them how they like, the supermarkets will still stock the next Fifa game for £20, but for tales of graces f on ps3 expect to seeing it for £50+

But, I tried to sell these types of games but it never happened. I'm sure I'll enjoy going on jobseekers for the second time in my life.

 

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