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.
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.
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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Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.