Today I want to talk about the retail experience for gamers. See, whilst more and more game sales are shifting online, there are still those who chose to pick up their games in an actual store; they have people in and everything. Although there are two chains that dominate game sales on the high street, GAME and GameStation, they’re both owned by Game Group Plc. With that in mind you wouldn’t necessarily expect a radical difference between the two but, in my opinion, they’re fairly different outlets.
GAME seems to be geared towards the general public, people who only pick up a few games a year or are picking something up as a gift for someone else. Staff are dressed so they look approachable, and the stores seem to be bright and airy. Unfortunately, whilst they do present an air of helpfulness the knowledge base seems to be somewhat lacking.[drop]For anyone who follows gaming news with any regularity it quickly becomes clear that GAME’s staff are more interested in selling than providing useful information to their customers. It would be unfair to accuse them of flat-out lying to customers, particularly without any evidence. However, if you happen to catch a conversation with another customer you do sometimes feel that staff aren’t quite clued up enough on the products they’re selling.
In contrast, GameStation is aiming at a completely different chunk of the market. They’re targeting those customers who buy games regularly, those who you could call “gamers” if you were so inclined (although I’m starting to dislike the word). The staff are still relatively friendly, it’s rare to find retail staff who are actively hostile. However, the stores are never as brightly lit, and I certainly wouldn’t call the general ambiance as airy or friendly as it is in GAME.
The big difference sits with the staff though. They seem, in general, to be drawn from the same demographics as the chain’s target market. Ideally, this is what you expect in any store. If you shop in a music store you want staff who are music fans, if you’re buying clothes you want someone who knows at least a little about fashion serving you. Why should it be any different for a game store?
Of course, my perception of the two retailers is based pretty much on my own experience, although a quick poll on Twitter seemed to back up my opinion in the general case. To be fair, my clear preference towards GameStation may be influenced by the fact my brother works there. However, I’ve been in a few stores scattered throughout the country and my experience has been fairly consistent.
There is, obviously, the fact that this whole discussion may be becoming redundant. With the significant growth of online retail and downloadable titles it seems probable that the GAME Group may further scale back their stores or even merge the two chains. Perhaps you’ll only be able to pick up games in supermarkets and HMV soon. Who knows?
Is your experience of retail game stores consistent with mine? Do you have a preference for where you shop? Do you even buy games in a store any more, or do they all come in the post? Of course, I’ve barely touched on the supermarket issue, so I’d be interested to see if you have any thoughts on that.