If you’re in the UK you’ll be aware that the high street’s only specialist video games chain GAME hit the buffers recently. If you’re not then you might have caught my post about it a few weeks back. Either way, some limited rejoicing is probably in order because on the brink of liquidation, it’s been bought out and will resume trading. Well, I say “bought”, but given that the company is £85 million in debt, the actual price was probably pretty nominal.
The reason why rejoicing is to be officially limited is because it seems to me there are still some pretty big questions that have been raised by the failure of the chain which have yet to be answered. GAME was certainly insanely profligate, buying up rivals and retaining their stores even if it meant outlets only a few yards apart on the high street, but is that the only reason for their failure? You’d have a hard job arguing, I think, that the advent of bigger downloadable content, online retailers and deep discounting by supermarkets hasn’t had anything to do with it. Indeed right after GAME collapsed, the UK’s biggest supermarket, Tesco, tried to aggressively position itself in the marketplace as its heir apparent.
But some smart retail brains clearly think the chain has a future, otherwise they wouldn’t have been willing to take on those millions of pounds of debt. I’m guessing this is partly down to the release of a new console generation somewhere in 2013 or thereabouts – there will certainly be significant high street demand for that. Beyond that things look rather more difficult, especially if the rumours about Sony demanding consumers pay a mark-up to play used games turn out to be true and Microsoft and Nintendo follow suit. That would probably virtually destroy the trade-in market, and then you’ve got the spectre of full games being available as downloadable content eating into physical disc sales. I guess someone thinks they can make £85 million profit before DLC takes over the market.
I hope this isn’t true, and I think there’s a glimmer of hope of the horizon. It seems to me that alongside its acceptance into the mainstream, increasingly video gaming is becoming like most other mass-market media split along a line between dedicated hobbyists and the general public. You see the same thing in art-house cinema versus the multiplex, in massed ranks of airport paperbacks versus deliciously dusty specialist booksellers. I can see a future where the casual market still wants to buy new games in a physical store and is interested enough to want advice from keen hobby gamers. In my personal experience the staff of GAME, who’ve been the ones to suffer most through this whole saga, and many of whom will now hopefully keep their jobs, fit that bill, being enthusiastic and knowledgeable without being scary or overbearing. It seems they’re well placed to send GAME into the one market niche where it might survive, and prove into the bargain yet again that a firms’ greatest asset are it’s people.
I wanted to take this opportunity to apologise publicly for the atrocious puns I employed in the titles of both my articles about GAME stores. Sorry. I know it was wrong, but I just couldn’t help myself.