Remember when buying a game was fun? Me neither. I was always in and out as quickly as humanly possible with the smallest amount of social and physical interaction as I could muster. Perhaps this was my painfully insular nature being meekly exposed by my not wanting to talk about games when I was younger, or maybe there is something more to it. I still don’t hugely enjoy buying games at a high-street store. My docile character has all but vanished, yet for some reason I still race round my local GAME like the floor is made from lava. It’s always an uncomfortable and unpleasant experience and time and time again I am choosing to undertake it in the comfort of my own pyjamas, sat in front of my very own internet machine.
High-street retailers in this country have their backs against the wall recently. Having just poked our heads above the recessional tides it appears there maybe an even larger financial tsunami on the horizon. It is a time of great austerity and many of us are having to think harder and harder about what we really can afford to spend our well-earned money on. Now is the time for great retailing to shine through the fiscal gloom. ‘Retailtainment’ has become a buzz word amongst some of the major city department stores as a way of creating an emotional bond between their products and their patrons. It is an exciting time for the go-getters, the feisty young entrepreneurs, the little man with the big ideas.
It should be the end of lazy retailing. Shop owners should be enticing me out of my PJs and into their premises with more than just big red ‘SALE NOW ON’ signs and tinny nu-metal on the PA system. My local GAME is a fairly sterile environment. There’s nothing hugely wrong with the place; the staff are all friendly and helpful, the shop is well maintained and clean and I can nearly always find what I’m after, but I have no drive to go there and even less motivation to open up my coin purse.
How did they fail? They’re selling fun for pity’s sake!
One of the major draws of high-street retailing is the social interaction one can encounter whilst deciding on a purchase. You could fall in love with your future spouse or meet up with a long lost friend whilst purchasing the next exciting installment of Dr. Kawashima’s Brain Training; you just never know. Retailing has its obvious draws as well as its obvious drawbacks. Price is the main issue with high-street stores. Games are more susceptible to price wars due to the nature of the product and the rise in popularity of price comparison websites. It is impossible to compete with a distributor who has fewer overheads to worry about even with the deterrent of postage charges and delivery lead times.
Internet retailing (especially where games are considered) has exploded, expanded and dominated the market. Any fears of the reputation of a company can be quelled by a quick Google search of their customer satisfaction record. Internet shopping is safe, cheap and easy… but it’s not the same is it? Online shopping is a commodity which compliments our busy 21st century lifestyle but I imagine few of us actually enjoy it. Despite the reduction in overheads, I imagine retailers would prefer floor space to cyberspace to sell games; brand building is a much easier exercise if we can recollect a physical memory and relate it to a franchise.
Whereas GAME, Gamestation and HMV are considered giants in the games retail world, their videogame supermarket approach is turning consumers off. As I noted before, the staff are both friendly and helpful but in an inorganic way, almost as if they have been over trained in the art of communication; their opinions have been replaced by the need to sell, sell, sell. All my positive game purchasing memories (do regular people even have these?) take place in small pokey independent game shops run by wise old gamers who used to program games on tapes and whatnot. Their musty, graying beards and original 1989 era Iron Maiden t-shirts exude a confidence that only a lifetime of habitual gaming and a lack of social options can produce; the maladjusted hardcore of the hardcore.
Despite being fairly… unique individuals, their vigor and conviction towards gaming was mesmeric and infectious to a doting and easily led teen such as myself. Retaining the belief that no game will ever be as good as Rampage on the ZX Spectrum, they managed to squeeze purchases out of me on nearly every visit. Is this method of retailing recommended now? Absolutely not, shops like this disappeared a long time ago, we live in a different gaming world now. Where once there were Virtual-On twin-stick controllers, there is now a neat stack of Nintendo Wii balance boards. Gaming changed, but games retailing has been left in the dark ages!
Of course it’s easy to see why a man who looks a bit like Worzel Gummidge’s obese cousin sat in a makeshift hovel of a videogame shop isn’t going to shift much product. Equally, the whitewashed and forced character of Gamestation leaves too bitter a taste on the tongue. It feels like I’m giving my money to businessmen who think they’re ‘down wid da gamerz’ and what-not. Somewhere along the line there has to be a happy medium when it comes to games retailing. I want to enjoy buying a game. I want to exist in a happy, mature and adult environment where I’m not treated like an idiot if I don’t know exactly what specification of HDMI cable I’m looking for. I think there is a huge opportunity in games retailing beyond selling second-hand games and retro titles.
The games market has changed. A gamer is still a gamer if they are an acne plagued teenage Call of Duty machine or a middle-aged, middle class working Mum who wants to get rid of her muffin-top for the Summer. This change has not been represented on the high-street, however, and shops like GAME and Gamestation are yet to react to this evolution in the markets. What this change will look like is beyond me, but if the UK falls back into recession, something which is looking ever more likely, then retailers will have to broaden their appeal to attract the attentions of all gamers.
We live in times of great change, both in how we play games and how we buy them. Traditional store based retailers were put under pressure from online retailers simply due to the ease of use and cost of goods; now both are under pressure from the digital download market and online ‘freemium’ gaming. A pessimist would be heading to the Job Center as we speak, an optimist would be heading for the off-license. Just like in that silly film about the dinosaurs, life finds a way; or in this case – business. There will always be space on the high-street for a games shop or two, but it’s up to sales directors and marketing managers to draw the crowds in; one good thing that should come out of this is that lazy retailing will become a thing of the past, and that is certainly something I’ll applaud when I see it. I may even buy a game or two, you just never know.