23 Apr 2010

The Dying High Street Retailer

Back when I was a kid, my dad used to take me shopping for videogames. I can only half-remember the store – a brightly lit and almost empty room with shelving lining the walls and and a small island with a till in the centre. We’d go and spend maybe £3 on a cassette tape game, take it home and try it out. Sometimes the game was good, sometimes it was bad, but the journey itself was enough for me back then.

Fast forward to today and the world has changed. Independent videogame stores have now been replaced with common retail chains in almost every town. But now, even this role of a high street videogames retailer is being called into question.

Earlier in the week the retailer Game Group announced that profits had dropped by a third since last year. At the same time the CEO and COO of the firm have both decided to leave the business. It’s like they can both sense the writing on the wall and have decided to leave before things get really bad.

Thinking about it, the market that they’re in these days is hugely different from how it was even five years ago. I’ve cut down dramatically on the amount of games I buy every year. I have XBox games that I’ve not even opened because I’ve been spending so much time playing Warcraft.

The places I can buy games from has exploded as well. Supermarkets, music and DVD stores are all stocking the latest titles. The internet poses it’s own problems, with cheap prices and home delivery slicing away at the market. Services like Steam make the high street pretty much redundant – Valve have managed to build up an online gaming service with an extensive catalogue and a solid community in a way that’s almost self-sustaining.

What gets me is the complete blunder that the high street seems to be making at the moment. They’re selling a commodity product, but instead of rattling off a list of why people should buy from them instead of their local supermarket or online store, they seem to be in retreat. There doesn’t seem to be any strategy beyond relying on new games and consoles in order to have something customers want to buy. This is flawed – if you set yourself up so that I only want to buy from you when a new console is released you’re setting yourself up for a fall.

It’s not that I’m opposed to buying from the high street – I just want a compelling reason to do so. If I can get better service from an online retailer I’ll use them. If I can get a better returns policy from a supermarket, I’ll buy my games with my groceries.

By contrast , earlier this month I was in Cardiff. One of the things I always try to do when visiting the city is visit Cardiff Games – a small shop that sold a range of tabletop RPG and board games. When I went there last, the shop had closed down completely – I’m not sure why, but I can’t help but feel that it’s part of a change in geek culture. Where once we’d meet up at game stores, chat and share what we thought about the latest games it’s now all done online through messageboards, forums and blogposts. we can make our purchasing decisions based on a Google search, with a skip over to someone like Amazon or Spirit Games to place an order.

I wonder that since so much geek life is now carried out online, are the physical representations of them in forms like high street stores set to fade away? Not because we don’t want to use the store, but because we actively embrace an online existence?

Will there always be a place for geekdom in the real world?

Like this? Try these other related posts:

Tags: , , , ,

7 Responses to The Dying High Street Retailer

  1. Vrykerion says:

    The Arcade is dead! Long live the Arcade!

    But honestly, I feel the arcade’s dying out were the first sign of this, and while I know plenty of people have tried to resurrect them (Dave & Busters for one), you can’t really bring back the culture because so much of it has moved online with things like Xbox Live, PSN, and just message boards for communication.

    However, none of those will ever provide the visceral experience of letting loose a Fatality or Ultimate Combo, or cinching the race in the last few seconds with a crowd behind you cheering or “ooo” & “aaah”-ing.

    Luckily, Game Stores seem to be doing well, unfortunately it’s because of their cutthroat trade policies ($50 game? $3 credit toward another $50 used game = $44-$47 pure profit).

    Still miss the arcades though. 🙁

  2. slackerninja says:

    Well it depends on the market’s culture trends really. Japan’s retail is still doing okay, here in India we’re just witnessing a retail boom. Ditto with most of Asia. We’re more cautious and hence more careful about purchasing online. I think there will always be a place for physical retail as there will always be those who prefer the experience that B&M brings to the table. And besides, IMHO GAME & Co. are suffering simply because they’ve expanded too fast too soon and has nothing to do with people buying more online. Human nature dictates that we’ll either:

    1. Go where the deals are.

    2. Go where we’re more comfortable.

    99% of the time rule 1 > rule 2 so let B&M get their business model in place and get their buying to be more prudent and things should get in place soon enough :).

  3. Wulfy says:

    I reckon in 5-10 years there simply won’t be games stores anymore I’m afraid. You can get nearly any game online now, and I must say I prefer it. The only thing I buy in boxes is a WoW Collector’s Edition, and even those I get from HMV!

  4. Linda says:

    It is inevitable that almost all will go away.

    First it was computer software retailers. Then music retailers. It is starting to hit movie/DVD sales/rentals.

    Blockbuster hits are sold by deep discounters (e.g. Walmart). No physical store can compare with the choices of digital.

    doomed. sad, but still doomed.

  5. Gazimoff says:

    @Vrykerion – I think you’re right, but I’d rather see a store do well because it provides genuine added value, instead of taking advantage of it’s customers and ripping them off.

    @slackerninja – Thing is, when both 1 and 1 are true (it’s a better deal, and it’s more convenient), how’s anyone else going to compete. Currently some of the online stores have this hands down.

    @Wulfy – you should see a photo I have from HMV two weeks after wrath launched 🙂

    @Linda – I have a feeling you might be right. Apart from those niche stores that are supported by collectors etc.

  6. beep says:

    I generally prefer going straight to a retailer for my games rather than shopping online, mainly because I like chatting to the sales guys about the latest games, getting a feel for who liked what and what the general consensus of the latest titles are.

    This is something you can’t really get from an online market store.

    If you have a regular shopping haunt, whether its an independent store, HMV, GAME, Game Station etc, the you get to know the people that work there and you get a nice little rapport going.

    I’ll trust the opinion of a gamer I can stand in front of and discuss a title with far more than remotely captioned 200 word reviews.

  7. Len says:

    Dang that’s a shame about the Cardiff Games, I used to like going in there and freaking out the menfolk!