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When the GAME’s no longer fun

Towards the end of the evening while volunteering for SpecialEffect at the Twitch LDN meetup recently, I got into a conversation with a couple of others about GAME. This shop was a highlight on our highstreets here in the UK during the 1990s and 2000s while we were growing up and, although there aren’t as many branches as there once used to be, stores can still be found in shopping centres around the country.

I’d like to point out here that this post consists of my own opinions and doesn’t reflect the views of anyone currently involved with company. I have no affiliation other than as a past customer.

Every British gamer of a certain age has at least one fond story about a GAME. Perhaps it was where they met a stranger who became a good friend; the place they found a copy of a title they’d been hunting for forever; maybe even the company they had a part-time job with when they were a teenager. For myself, it was where I bought The Longest Journey and fell in love with the series – and also where I laughed at the assistant who told me I’d really need a copy of the guide to go with Fable 2 otherwise I’d get lost in the world of Albion.

I asked some of my blogging friends for their own memories and they had plenty to share. Both Chris from OverThinker Y and Luke from Hundstrasse said they spent a lot of time there as kids and it was a highlight of childhood shopping trips. Tim from GeekOut South-West told me he used to buy toys and other non-video-game items from GAME. And Nathan from Hurricane thought process worked in his local branch in the past, and still remains good friends with the staff who now give him personal recommendations.

GAME, shop, store

When you consider all that nostalgia, it’s strange many of the opinions I received about GAME in the present day weren’t so positive. Almost all of the people I spoke to mentioned the word ‘overpriced’ and said they rarely visit the shops any longer. Rob from I Played The Game! only goes because it’s the one major dedicated video game store on the highstreet nowadays; and Pix1001 from Shoot the Rookie said she didn’t like the current focus on second-hand mobiles, as the shops are now full of people who have no interest in gaming.

I know what my blogger friends mean. The last time I went into a GAME was shortly after the release of Horizon Zero Dawn and I walked straight back out again out of principal after seeing they were charging only £2 less for a pre-owned copy. I won’t go anywhere near their online store because it’s just so confusing and cluttered: it’s always a struggle to find what I’m looking for and when I do, there’s never just one simple listing or cost. It almost feels as if I’m being tricked into paying more for the same product.

Now most of us understand that physical copies of releases are always going to be more expensive than their digital counterparts. And the stores need to turn a profit in order to survive, as well as paying ridiculously-high rent for retail space and giving a proper wage to their staff. But price is important to many gamers in the current economic climate of rising bills and falling pay-rises; we can no longer afford to hand over £50 or more on a whim and every purchasing decision is given plenty of consideration.

The one thing that GAME therefore has over its online competitors such as Steam or Amazon is a physical presence. As pointed out by Nathan, you might be able to find video games cheaper elsewhere but you don’t get that instore help or ‘shopping experience’. Since the Fable 2 incident, every member of staff I’ve spoken to has been genuinely lovely and knowledgeable, and there’s no more of the girls-must-be-shopping-for-somebody-else approach there used to be in the past.

GAME, store, shop, video games, shelves, aisles

But even that real-life presence seems not up to scratch at the moment. Stores are full of promotions for mainstream releases such as Call of Duty and FIFA – the sort of titles which generally don’t appeal to me or a lot of the people I know. As said by Tim, GAME likes to think of itself as a shop for gamers and the staff clearly love the hobby themselves; but the products they push are those which are popular but more ‘casual’ in nature, and this alienates individuals with more diverse tastes.

It always gives me the impression that the store is trying to reach out to parents who aren’t so knowledgeable when it comes to gaming. Those promotional posters may as well be replaced by big neon signs shouting ‘We know just what your kid wants for their birthday even though you don’t – and it’s this shiny thing right here!’ Pretty ironic when you think about it, seeing that most of those popular-but-casual titles on display have a red PEGI 18 sticker attached to their cases.

Maybe I’m being hard on GAME. But I miss those days when walking into a shop was an adventure in itself; when you could spend hours among the aisles because every shelf held epic quests, brave battles and courageous goals to save the world. Those times when you actually came away with a purchase, even though it may have been slightly cheaper elsewhere, because the shopping experience had won you over and you’d found a game you couldn’t wait to get home to play.

To use the words of Khinjarsi from Upon Completion: “I’m not suggesting GAME will go into administration again any time soon, and it seems to be managing ok since it survived [in 2012], but holding onto that core group of gamers seems to be something it is struggling to do.”

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14 thoughts on “When the GAME’s no longer fun Leave a comment

  1. I worked for GAME for two Christmas periods so I can once again offer a bit of insider insight here!

    Basically what you’re describing here is the conflict between the employees’ individuality and the corporate stuff that comes down from On High. As you say, a lot of GAME employees are knowledgeable and passionate about games, and very often have their own particular areas of expertise and enthusiasm.

    However, GAME Corporate sets specific targets for stores to accomplish with regard to big releases. It might be a certain “attach rate” for guidebooks (as you experienced with Fable 2), Season Passes, DLC or perhaps even special, retail-exclusive limited-edition knick-knacks. And then there’s the “pure profit” things the store also likes to sell such as its extended warranties, service plans, disc protection and membership programmes. As such, those same employees who might be passionate about, say, obscure Japanese RPGs (ahem) are obliged to try and promote FIFA points cards, CoD season passes and all that other crap that everyone hates. And these things get checked quite frequently, whether it’s through visiting regional managers or “mystery shoppers”.

    It gets particularly noticeable around the peak of the holiday season (Black Friday, Cyber Monday, the immediate run-up to Christmas and the period immediately following Christmas), when the stores are jam-packed and the employees simply want to get everyone through their transactions as efficiently as possible while still pandering to the whims of their corporate overlords. There unfortunately simply isn’t time to have a passionate discussion about the virtues of Hyperdimension Neptunia under such circumstances.

    I don’t actually think of GAME as too horrendously overpriced in a lot of cases. They do frequent “3 for 2” deals on older preowned stuff, and the titles that keep their value tend to do so regardless of where you go for them; it’s not just a GAME thing. I had a look in my local the other day (the one where I used to work) and there was a copy of Danganronpa v3 for PS4 for £35; that’s actually quite reasonable, as I’ve seen second-hand copies of that going for £40+ in some places.

    The one thing I’m not a fan of — and the one thing that most GAME employees aren’t a fan of either — is the shift towards offering more in the way of merchandise than actual games. I don’t know a single GAME employee who is proud of that wall of Funko Pops in every store now, and everyone hated selling those goddamn Christmas jumpers just because it was always impossible to find the right sizes, hangers, security tags and even prices in some cases.

    I don’t go in GAME as much as I used to in years gone by, but I like to drop by now and again and if I want a new release RIGHT NOW I’ll still tend to stop by. It’s one of the last places you can buy video games on the high street — the other being CEX, but that’s all second-hand stuff, so a slightly different market — and thus I’d like to see it stick around for a little while yet.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Since drafting this post, I popped into our local GAME to pick up a giftcard for a present and was surprised at all the merch that had appeared since the last time I’d been there. It was Funko and jumpers galore! It didn’t feel like it was about the games so much any more and I totally understand why employees wouldn’t be entirely happy about this. 😦

      It’s surprising, because when you conjure up this image of working in a video game shop in your head it’s this idealised picture of getting to talk about your favourite releases all day. I’m not sure I’d be able to convincingly sell CoD season passes so fair play to those that have to; next time I’m in a GAME, I’ll be sure to not brush the assistants off so quickly.

      I want don’t it to totally disappear from the highstreet either because I’ve got a lot of good memories from when I was younger! It’ll be interested to see what the company does to keep that feeling alive with its move into the Belong Arenas.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I did a big feature on this a little while ago – Why Does Everyone Hate GAME? https://amostagreeablepastime.com/2017/06/26/why-does-everyone-hate-game/

    It was interesting to speak to ex-GAME managers about how the store has changed, with much more interference from on-high, and a move towards treating customers as moneybags to be shaken down. This seems to have coincided with a general souring of customer opinion towards the shop – unsurprisingly, really.

    It looks like the Belong Gaming Arenas are doing well for them though, and with the decline of physical game sales, I expect that one day most GAME stores will simply be gaming arenas with perhaps a few games for sale on the side. I expect they’d make more margin from selling coffee than games!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh no… if I’d known about your post, I would have made sure I mentioned it! Thank you for linking to it here.

      Our local store now has Belong posters up but other than that it’s still the same, except for an increase in the amount of merchandise available. I’ll be keeping an eye on it though; hopefully it’ll go the way you’re guessing at because I think I could get into this whole arena-and-games-for-sale thing! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  3. In honesty, the arena you’re talking about is great. The one we have here is very well received in Bristol. It definitely feels like the right step in an increasingly digital marketplace.

    I personally could see them getting into no-nonsense PC gaming hardware. They’re such a recognisable name, that people would trust them. Couple this with their arenas, a link sale from gaming-in-an-arena to gaming hardware isn’t too unfathomable… Perhaps more so than the more corporate Currys/PC World’s?

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  4. GAME (why do they insist on the capitals?) were described by the stock trading analyst I read recently as ‘the High Street Walking Dead’. Apparently they’re existing but little else.

    My big trouble with Game is the prices they have. Everything is the maximum it can be. New releases are £50 no question whilst I can buy exactly the same thing from Tesco down the road for £42-45. Buying online is also cheaper and sometimes means you get the physical a day early.

    As touched on above it does seem that the need to please shareholders overshadows any enthusiasm the staff may have for gaming. It’s a real shame as every store now feels like a hollow husk of what it could be.

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    • Capitals = down with the kids. We’re just getting old and nothing makes sense any more. 😉

      I’ve not bought anything in GAME for myself since the Horizon Zero Dawn incident because charging only £2 less for a pre-owned copy made me so angry. I think I ended up buying it from a toy-shop around the corner for £7 less than the full price – and that was a new copy.

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    • The stepkid wanted to go into HMV last month to look at the Pop figures and I was surprised at how much it had changed! It was so empty – there must have been only one or two other couples in this huge shop and the staff looked bored. I wonder how long it’ll remain on the highstreet…

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