Can Retail Gaming Survive?

2012 marked an important date in the UK’s retail gaming scene. The year saw over 200 GAME stores close and over 40% of their workforce lose their jobs. Those heady days of driving down to the nearest store with your mates and rummaging through the bargain bins for deals were forever changed – and perhaps for the better.

All was not lost however, as GAME was bought out and still remains, albeit in a diminished form as one of the last well-known bastions of the retail gaming space. But even prior to 2012, retail gaming was on its way out, facing stiff competition from online retailers who could offer better prices and much more range.

So what can be done to ensure that these stores remain and also to distinguish them from the fierce competition?

I’d argue bringing back support for used game sections. Amazon and its like have won the price battle, but the unique pleasure of going into a store and finding a classic gem or two is unrivalled. Simply buying used online doesn’t hold the same weight. The last time I bought a physical copy of a game was nearly five years ago and it wasn’t even a brand new title, it was a copy of Volition’s Punisher on PS2. Sadly these second hand sections are largely absent (or very small) in most stores now. Never underestimate human beings need for immediacy, nobody likes to wait and even with Amazon’s one day delivery, nothing beats a quick trip to your store and holding a brand new, factory sealed game in your slightly damp open palms. Developers don’t necessarily like it, as used games give all their money to the retailer, but there’s no harm when it comes to games no longer on the ‘new’ shelves.

Similarly, hosting live events for launches of new games is vital to keep interest and attention of potential customers and is something that local retailers have really dropped the ball on. The most infamous case was a few weeks ago, where a GAME store held a Street Fighter tournament in the build up the new release. The kicker? The event was based on how quickly each participant went through the story mode. Not only is this incredibly embarrassing but it shows that the employees running the store have little to no clue about marketing – i.e. knowing your product’s audience or video games in general. That would have been a perfect opportunity to generate a lot of buzz and attract more numbers to the store but instead an opportunity was completely missed.

With the new generation of consoles, the future is moving slowly but surely to digital only. While GAME certainly has a selection of downloadable titles on their website it is woefully sparse and puts them behind most other services. A drastic measure to remove stores entirely and push revenue into making dedicated websites addressing the current move to digital heavy content seems like the only valid move to truly level the playing field – not that that’s likely to please those who would lose their jobs.

In recent years both Microsoft and Sony have cottoned on to the nostalgic urge of many gamers to take a trip through down memory lane on their old systems to relive old classics. Backwards compatibility was a big selling point for me when considering whether to purchase an Xbox One. However this move is still very much in its infancy, and something PC owners have been struggling with for years, as software updates break compatibility. Only recently was I actually able to get System Shock working thanks to the new owners of the franchise announcing the third entry in the series and re-releasing the original with updated controls.

The retail space needs to acknowledge this move to digital only libraries in their stock. I used to be someone who preferred physical copies but that has ceased to be the case in most instances. It’s so much easier switching through games when you own them digitally but whilst it is more expensive to favour digital in addition to the case that on most platforms, digital resale is non-existent.

Similarly, I have to admit I am a fan of deluxe editions of games but in recent years have let that trend fall by the wayside simply from lack of space in my flat. While I am always partial to a cheap, badly sculpted figurine to sit alongside my latest purchase I have to eventually concede that there just isn’t enough space for them all. The pricing of digital games needs to be much more competitive if I am to switch over. It seems odd to pay a lot more for digital games over retail when there are far less costs involved.

Competition is healthy and it would be a real shame to see a dedicated high street retailer disappear entirely. Whilst the price difference, undercutting digital stores due to number and competition may buy some time for the retail gaming space, it would seem that it is inevitable that it will eventually cease to exist, or at best undergo a substantial change. Necessity is the mother of invention and in this case retail gaming must adapt or die to the new challenges posed by the digital future.

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