So, has GAME learned anything since its recent brush with annihilation?
For various reasons I happened to be in Ilford on Saturday, and whilst looking round the soul-sapping Exchange Shopping Centre I noticed that the Ilford GAME had managed to survive the cull of 277 GAME stores last month. Curious to see what lessons had been learned after the company’s brief sojourn into administration, I had a quick look round, only to find that GAME’s extortionate prices remain stubbornly intact. Of note, a preowned copy of the lacklustre Wii game Disaster: Day of Crisis was on sale for £14.99, whereas just a few weeks previously the price had been slashed to £1.98. Obviously, I expect the prices to have risen again after GAME’s apocalyptic pre-administration fire sale, but their preowned prices are just ridiculous, and smack of the money-grabbing culture that’s become so indelibly associated with the brand. I mean, at the time of writing, the same game could be bought on Amazon BRAND NEW for just £9.78. Naturally, I’d expect store prices to be slightly higher than online because of the higher overheads associated with running a shop, but GAME’s prices seem to be in cloud cuckoo land – and they’re not even competitive with other stores on the high street.
Take Assassin’s Creed: Revelations for example. GAME Ilford had a preowned copy on sale for £32.99, but a few hundred metres away in CeX, the same game was on sale for just £18. And GAME Ilford were charging an astonishing £44.99 for a PREOWNED copy of Silent Hill: Downpour. Who on earth in their right mind is going to pay £44.99 for a second-hand game they could easily pick up for much less brand new? (Incidentally, I just checked the CeX website, and it’s selling Disaster: Day of Crisis for £4.)
I realise that it’s very early days for the newly arisen GAME Group, and it will take a while for any changes made at the top to filter down to the store level – I’m sure that for the time being, all anyone cares about is shoring up the brand and avoiding any further job losses. However, GAME’s management are going to have to do something pretty drastic to turn around the fortunes of the company, because at the moment GAME is associated with exorbitant prices, poor customer service and limited game selections. If there’s a future for specialist game stores on the high street, they need to undertake a radical re-think about the kinds of services a game store should provide.
If GAME have any hope of surviving against the might of the internet retailers, they need to provide gamers with a reason to visit a store rather than just buy online. One way they could do this is to build on the social aspect of playing games by setting up the stores as a kind of social hub where gamers could meet and exchange news, as well as competing against each other in tournaments. In the world of D&D-style role playing, Games Workshop have been doing this successfully for years, and there’s no reason why GAME couldn’t try something similar. Kids and adults alike hang out for hours on end, week after week in Games Workshop stores – imagine if GAME could do the same thing. They could set up a coffee/juice bar and perhaps give free drinks to people who pay a membership fee, and all the while there would be rolling tournaments of the lastest first person shooters or driving games. Sure, not everyone will make a purchase, but if they’re given the incentive to come back week after week, they eventually will, and if they bring their friends too, there’s even more chance that one of them will buy something. Sadly, when I worked for GAME in Watford many years ago, my store manager seemed to do everything he could to STOP the store being a pleasant place for young people to hang out in – in fact, he actually unplugged the controllers for the PS2 demo pod to stop kids from “loitering” in the shop. That kind of mentality needs to change.
Second, GAME need to work on their back catalogue – there’s no point just peddling the biggest new releases at the recommended retail price, as they will always be undercut by the supermarkets and online giants like Amazon. If each GAME had a huge library of older games, there would be more reason to visit the store in the first place and, importantly, more reason to linger. It’s like book shops – I know that I can find the best sellers at cheap prices in WH Smith, but I’d much prefer to browse among the curios in a Foyles bookshop, even if they’re more expensive. And, like Foyles, why not have a display carrying staff recommendations or something along the lines of ‘If You Like That, Try This…’. For example, if someone came in to buy the latest Final Fantasy, staff could pick out a related game, like Dragon Quest, and display them together – chances are the customer might walk out with two games rather than just the one they originally came in to buy.
And speaking of staff, GAME need to capitalise on the specialist knowledge of their employees rather than just encourage them to peddle Reward Cards like a broken record. It used to be that all staff members could borrow games to play at home so that they could increase their knowledge of the products on offer, but this was axed several years ago. But how are staff supposed to give advice on which games to buy if they haven’t even played them? The management need to bring back the option for staff to play the latest games, even if it’s just a weekly after-work games night, and staff should be rewarded for their subject knowledge.
All of these suggestions are pretty basic, but they’d make a huge difference if they were implemented. GAME needs to reinvent its stores as social ‘destinations’ rather than just anodyne environments in which to purchase overpriced new releases. If the management don’t do something fast, I’ve no doubt they’ll be heading into administration again within a year, and this time they might not re-emerge.