The woes of the GAME Group have been very well publicised. At the beginning of March their finances reached a critical boiling point that saw EA, Capcom, Namco Bandai, Nintendo and finally Microsoft withdraw their new releases from GAME’s stores until some of their debts had been repaid. A fire sale on their websites and in stores hoped to raise some much needed cash while talks went on behind closed doors. After these talks failed, GAME Group went into voluntary administration and the disappearance of their stores from the high street seemed inevitable. As we all know now, this didn’t happen.
Opcapita LLP stepped in to purchase the UK branch of the company for a measly sum of money, although when the amount of debts was taken into account, it wasn’t that small after all. The other international branches of the company were abandoned to their own devices, their futures uncertain. This week, GAME Australia went into administration with all trade-ins and returns halted, the validity of warranties and pre-orders looking shaky, and the gift cards and loyalty program altered in favour of the company. Whether GAME Australia finds a knight in shining armour remains to be seen, but the drastic changes that were supposed to be implemented in the UK branches are non-existent. This business model didn’t work the first time, surely it won’t work a second time?
Back when GAME and Gamestation were two different chains, GAME’s strategy was to get rid of their main competitor, regardless of cost or practicality. The end situation was that Gamestation would either disappear or that GAME would buy them out. Over the next few months, wherever there was a Gamestation, GAME would place a store too. They would match or beat Gamestation’s offers, regardless of whether this meant selling games at a loss. The plan worked and GAME bought out Gamestation, but none of the excess stores were shut down. The result was that there were two or three stores within walking distance in the same city – something that was completely unsustainable. Although I feel sorry for the 2,104 staff at the 277 stores that shut, this was something that should have happened years ago and is something the group finally got right.
Things in the UK are pretty much back to normal. As the debts have been paid, all new releases are finding their way into GAME’s stores. Most of the releases that they had missed out on are also available in stores now, although Capcom still seem to be holding select titles back. Re-establishing supplier relationships was vital for the chain’s survival. Their fire sale left them more than a little short of stock, so much so that our local store’s attempts at restocking benefitted us too (for those not in the know, I work in a local indie game shop). Their staff would come down during their lunch break and buy the cheapest old sports titles at £3 each i.e. the ones that we couldn’t shift for love nor money. They would then trade them in at GAME. They were that desperate that we even took some of our excess stock up to trade in with their blessing.
The one thing that they really haven’t learned is that excessive pricing won’t sustain a business. When I blogged about the fact that GAME must be saved back on March 1st
, most of your comments were in regards to their high pricing. This is still an issue. Most of you will know that I do a deals article every Tuesday. Over the months I’ve seen GAME’s prices go from competitive to exorbitant. Over the last month, GAME has been running a ‘Deals of the Week’ promotion. In three of those four weeks, only ONE title was worth mentioning. The fourth week? Not a single one. They need to start being much more competitive.
To make things worse, their shops are often more expensive than their website. Knowing this, there’s no way that people are going to buy in store when they can get the same game cheaper online. This also stops the implementation of an effective "click and collect" service. This is a service that I’ve used many times at Argos, where I would reserve something online and then pick it up in store later that day. Not only did I know that the store had my item in stock before I went into town, I knew how much it would cost too. Most of our Friday or Saturday customers are looking for something to play over the weekend. Imagine being able to browse the website from home or work and then reserve a game to be picked up on your way home for the same price. It would save waiting for the game to be posted from their cheaper website now, wouldn’t it?
There is one more thing that I would love to see happen at GAME, and I think that Eidos’ Life President Ian Livingstone put it perfectly:
Maybe they need to reinvent themselves, [...] how they engage with consumers on a much more intimate level. The way we used to do it at Games Workshop; we didn’t hire traditional retailers in our shops, we hired gamers who could talk enthusiastically and knowledgeably, and get people interested in the games they were selling. I think if GAME is supposedly a specialist retailer it needs more specialist staff in my humble opinion.
I’ve been told several times by staff at GAME that they are told to say certain things. They can’t say that a game is terrible, for example. We pride ourselves on the fact that we will give an honest opinion on the goods that we sell, and we’ve been told by our customers that it makes a difference. They would rather come to us for a decent conversation than go to GAME where they are reading from a crib sheet. They also need staff members that know what they are doing. Although our local store is pretty good, I went to the Carmarthen store on February 10th, the day that Fallout: New Vegas
Ultimate Edition was first due for release. Not realising that the date had been changed, I asked a shop assistant whether they had the game in stock and how much it was. She’d never heard of the Ultimate Edition, she didn’t even know it existed. She thought that I wanted the Collector’s Edition complete with DVD, graphic novel, poker chips and caravan cards, which wasn’t in stock unsurprisingly. I gave up at this point.
I once wanted to work in GAME. I even got an interview a couple of years ago. During that interview, I wasn’t asked a single question about my knowledge of games. Not one. It was at this point that I realised that the chain was turning into a selling machine, rather than the place where I used to be able to go for information. For the sake of gaming on the high street, I hope that this changes soon.