Shopping for games is changing. Online shopping is having a huge effect on retail shopping full stop, but for game shops, the game is literally changing (cliched I know…).
There was a time around the early Nineties, when retailers realised there was a market for games. Games had generally been sold in independent game shops, but the popularity of systems such as the GameBoy suddenly got UK retailers interested. Stores such as HMV, Woolworths, WH Smiths and even Superdrug (yep, they who sell shampoo and flannels were stocking Spectrum and Amiga games at one point), all spared shelf space for Nintendo and Sega products. Then what followed turned out to be at the time, a gamers paradise in the form of Game.
Now Game stores when they first opened looked (and smelled) very different to the stores we see these days. Back then, they looked a little less like the inside of an Ipod, and a bit more like, well the inside of an arcade. My local Game at the time was in Stockport. It was dark and metallic and had a large fake tree in the middle of the store which had demo cabinets hanging from it (seriously). Every type of system was catered for and there was no such thing as a pre-owned section, but they used to stock everything a teenage boy could wish to spend hard earned paper round money on.
Now I used the example of teenage boy for a reason. Gaming and Game was a man thing. Girls were rarely seen in and never employed. That’s why the sudden change of Game to Electronics Boutique in the mid to late Nineties was jarring for many lads. It was bright, it was organised and there was no tree. You had to ask to play on a demo cab. There was a store card. There was a girl behind the counter?! But hey, they stocked Secret of Mana, count me in! This change was significant, more so than most gamers realised at the time perhaps, as it saw the start of a shift in the typical demographic of gamers in general. Retailers wanted parents, male or female in their stores buying games, and EB was a place that would welcome them with open arms.
Early 00′s, saw the rise of indie retailer Gamestation. These stores seemed to appear from nowhere, but revived that sense of games being for ‘us’, those who where there in the early days, or near enough. Imports, bargain bins, accessories, obscure pads, random leads and plugs, collectible Samus Aran figurines, smelly carpets and…. trade ins. Gamestation took what many indie shops were doing and offered some great prices on trade ins. Fair prices that took into consideration the game and its condition. Gamestation for 3 or 4 years was my refuge, I created my entire Dreamcast collection in a Gamestation. Electronics Boutique was for kids, Gamestation was it.
Then EB disappeared. Reverting back to the Game name, it came back under new ownership, bigger and well financed and with a mission statement. To be the number one game retailer in the UK. At this point, gaming was in a lull, the Gamecube had flopped, XBOX was struggling for market share and PS2 was dominating. And being hacked. Around this time, Gamestation was faltering, but what happened next had me close to tears. Game bought out Gamestation.
I remember the quotes now from some Game exec, Gamestation will not change, we intend to keep Gamestation a recognisable brand for the core gamers he said. Within the year, GS trade in prices matched Game’s laughable offers, stock was pitifully reduced and they even cleaned the carpets. Son of a…..
So that brings us to now. Game pretty much dominates the retail market, Gamestation exists but a shadow of its former self. CEX stores pop up in cities now and then, but wouldnt be considered a full on game retailer, not with the condition they are prepared to sell some games in. Game is it. And it wants every type of gamer out there. These days, people who wouldn’t have been caught dead in a game shop, frequent Game. Some welcome, some less so. To the emo’ish blonde girl I saw only the other day, buying a copy of Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom, I welcome you. To the mother I saw purchasing Splatterhouse for little ‘Jake,’ I despair…
There are though now, two factors on the horizon that could change retail game shopping even further.
Second hand / pre-owned sections make up large sections of most game retailers these days. Most stores will implore you to flog your old games to them, so they can make massive profits from the low prices they offer to trade in. Developers and game companies are not happy though. Yes, they see the initial profit from the games sale, but see nowt of the profit stores get when that same game is sold and traded in, however many times. The pre-owned market is becoming more and more under pressure to be scrapped, whether this is legal or not is not for me to talk about, but things will change, and change isn’t far away…
Downloadable games are coming, like it or not, this is how you will buy your games in the next 2 to 3 years. Dev’s want it, and those business men at Sony and Microsoft want it, as they want the profits their games reap and in some cases, rightfully so (the profits from games like Duke Nuken Forever, less so). Will Game adapt and change to become like those Apple stores you see, full of laptops and little or no stock? It seems that way, they have even begun the change by introducing sections where cards with downloadable content can be bought in store.
For many, it maybe a step too far. The joy of finding a slightly battered copy of Super Metroid for 10 quid when I was 15, is a memory I will always remember. The chances of finding that kind of bargain in the future is very slim, but are these changes for the better? Well, there is always Play.com and Amazon, but thats a whole different story….