So, What Happened To GAME?

“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?” 

That was Kris, April 5th, last year.

It all seems oddly rhetorical now, of course, given what we know about the GAME Group.  The situation seems to be that they’re struggling a bit – publishers are losing confidence, they’ve lost their handy sale-or-return policy with key suppliers and anecdotal (and largely unverified) evidence floating around the net this week suggests some employees were paid late recently.

Naturally, all this is difficult to quantise and without key facts from the company there’s a lot of speculation abound, but the story starts to tell a sorry tale whichever way you look at all this.  There’s some resolution at the end of all this, of course, and nobody really expects the group to suddenly vanish from the high street, but the road might not be quite as smooth as everyone would like.

Founded in 1991, GAME started off fairly small, the oddly named Rhino Group expanding to 77 stores when they took over Virgin Games two years later.  Another 48 months on and what was then Electronics Boutique Limited bought 25% of the company, rebranding the stores (which were then Future Zone) as Electronics Boutique, a name that still rings strong for some as representing knowledgeable staff and a wide range of products.

[drop2]It wasn’t until 1999, when Electronics Boutique bought out a range of stores called Game that the group was formed as it is now.  Founded in 1990, Game had 86 stores of its own.  Further expansion (BarrysWorld, ScoreGames and Centro Mail) happened in 2001, and EB quickly became a force to be reckoned with, before rebranding as GAME a year later.

The GameStation buy-out happened in 2007, but not before GAME gobbled up GamePlay and GamesWizards, leaving GAME pretty much the only high street national at that stage that concentrated on new titles.  Altogether the brand has around 1,300 stores at the moment, and continues to trade from its main website (alongside the rather more specialist looking GamePlay site).

In March last year, though, things started to slow.  As the average consumer started to wise up to what the core gamers had been saying for years – that cheaper deals could be had online – GAME’s once ready market wasn’t quite as enthusiastic.  And on top of this, many retailers new to the industry (which, for better or worse, includes the supermarkets) started offering trade-in deals, something the specialists like GAME once had all to themselves.

This, as you’d expect, made a massive difference to GAME.  Asda, for example, can give arguably better trade-in prices than the specialist does depending on the game (obviously it’s worth shopping around) and I’d suspect they’re not alone.  And if the average shopper picking up their weekly groceries can also nip into the electronics section of the supermarket and grab the same games that GAME are offering, and usually cheaper, then why would the same person make the trip to the high street to go to a dedicated store?

Of course, in days gone by, that same specialist would be able to impart knowledge, information, unbiased facts and perhaps even some friendly small-talk as you handed over your cash.  Admittedly, you’re still going to get the most from staff from a dedicated games retailer, and I know a few employees that pour their hearts into their jobs, but is this still widely the case?

What’s particularly noticeable, though, is the way the stock has slowly changed within GAME branches.  What was once racks and racks of new titles is now a much smaller area, with the lion’s share handed over to pre-owned games, some times considerably so.  If GAME are doing this, then they’re only really stocking a small subsection of each platform’s games new, and in some cases just what constitutes the retailer’s own top twenty titles.

Downloadable titles, too, has no doubt had an effect.  Steam has revolutionised the way PC games are bought and played, and who knows what’ll happen when the Vita appears, where every game you can buy on cartridge will also be available over the PSN, a service that GAME won’t see a penny of unless you buy your credit for the Network on a pre-paid card from one of their branches.

GAME, you may argue, has failed to evolve as the industry has.

[drop]News this week hasn’t been particularly fair on GAME, with some misreporting and conclusions unfairly jumped to, but what remains is a series of articles suggesting the group is struggling.  They’re no doubt not alone, but clearly a large target, and are only just admitting to their problems.  Indeed, only in the last few hours has the board commented officially.

News first broke yesterday when it emerged that the group had lost certain insurances from publishers (with some speculating this included Konami and possibly EA) and meant that the normally safe sale-or-return scheme (where GAME could just send back any unsold games) had been removed.  GAME, basically, had to foot the bill upfront.  This, in turn, meant that there were rumours new releases wouldn’t be available this week, but that appears to have been smoothed over.

MCV, a bastion of balanced viewpoints (at least in this particular case) reports this evening that the owners have “concluded discussions with its lending syndicate and agreed revised terms for its facilities” and whilst GAME are now having to “‘operate within lower limits of its existing facilities than was previously available” it does mean they’ve been given a lifeline.

They’ll continue to trade, basically, although this is going to be off the back of an £18m loss before tax for the year to the end of January.  “We’re pleased to reach agreement with our lenders, but should be under no illusions about the challenges in our market or the hard work that is required to deliver our strategic plan,” said CEO Ian Shepherd.

There’ll be an update to the group’s strategic plans, too, which may involve the selling off of GAME’s international businesses, which currently relates to approximately 50% of the branches.

Whilst it’s apparently fashionable to think that the industry would be better off without GAME, that’s largely not the case.  The supermarkets might be cheaper now, but that’s because they’re competing for the market against GAME who hold as the last real specialist high street presence, and whilst the indies might temporarily thrive if they were left without the likes of GAME around the corner, who knows what might happen if they vanished?

I do wish GAME well, I might not shop in there as often as I once did, but that’s largely a change in my own circumstances rather than anything particularly directed at the retailer.  I do like to go in and browse, though, and seriously can’t imagine not having that option. The group might not be in top form right now, but publishers and gamers alike need them – heck, the industry needs them – and hopefully they can come through this in a much stronger position.

This is a personal blog and the views may not reflect those of TheSixthAxis.



  1. GAME has just lost it well at least my local GAME has. Its impossible to find anything in there. The prices are stupid so having a poorly laid out shop isnt helping anyone.

    • very true.

      its the price that gets me, even places like blockbuster have better value?!?!

      I just stick to online, is where i get 90% of all my games now

  2. Hope the situation doesnt get worse and they disappear =[ always liked shopping in game, its where i get 99% of my games.

    • really, even when they are massively overpriced compared to everywhere else pretty much?

  3. I havent bought anything out of a Game store since the end of the PS2 days , funnily enough that coincides with when i got the internet and since then its been HotUkDeals all the way.

  4. The problem with Game is that they are very expensive. They tend to charge up to £40+ for preowned titles. And dedicating more shelf space to preowned is not adivisable as it could put people off from buying in there if they only want to get a new copy.

    If the Game Group do end up going under, i would be forced to look at the supermarket’s tiny selection of games or buy online. They need to change their approach. Make the preowned games be cheaper and implent a price cap at £30 as i flat out refuse to pay £40 for a used copy. Offer better deals and trade in prices. Have an even amount of shelf space for both new and preowned.

    I have a feeling they won’t last another year neither will HMV. :S

    • This is exactly why. GAME’s in store prices are too high – simple as that.

    • sorry Lone Steven, i fear you ask the impossible with what you say….

      you want GAME to cap pre-owned at £30 but yet give better trade in prices…….
      Soul Calibur 5 and FFXIII-2 tomorrow will trade in for the next 2 weeks at £35 trade…. you cant get any better than that for trade ins. how can you expect £30 pre-owned from that??
      Better deals… again im confused and belive me i HATE jumping to games defence BUT
      £35 trade in price fix means you played a new release for £5 of you cash, and you can perpetuate the cycle forever if you complete the game in 2 weeks.
      Double Reward points for pre-ordering.. yeah that pesky apparently rubbish reward card will earn you £2 back for your new release.
      all this meaning your NEXT new release would cost you… wait for it £3 and if you pre-ordered it another £2 back on your card. trade it within 2 weeks and its another £35 trade!

      so like i said i hate defending GAME but your looking at the £39.99 and going OH NO ONLY £10 less than RRP! instead of looking at £40 investment at GAME and you could essentially try ALL important new releases for 2 weeks for a meer £3… whats the average rental these days?

      then for people who like guides they often have deals on guides.

      GAMES main vice in my opinion is the fact they will try to sell you more… dont get me wrong i dont mind would you like the guide with that. but if i take or refuse the guide. I HATE how about this… how about this. they need to can that stuff and concentrate on what matters.

      going off how you want it… i would work it as this… to sell a pre-owned game at £30 i would trade at £25… now the problem with that is im not getting any stock, HMV are trading at £30… CEX are near enough there aswell. so im loosing stock. its not returning. because who wants to trade in with me at £25 for a new release!

      only game used ive seen at £40 is COD-MW3 but thats still £5 cheaper than new, with no online restrictions… and i think when i was last in the pre-owned version was down to £32.90.
      everything else is £37.99. its high i agree but when your trading back in at £35 where can you go… granted after the first few weeks you see the prices dropping to £34.99 and £32.99 as they devalue there stock holding through lowering trade in values but still this kind of thing takes time.

      im only guessing… i have no idea how they run there buissness, i can only go off as a customer point of view that allot of the time GAME have the better version of the game… with better offers on buying it…
      its only cheaper at supermarkets if you plan on keeping the game.

      just my thoughts on that. i maybe wrong but ill stick by them in these tough times.

      • I hope your Bass playing is as good as your thoughts/points

      • Finally, someone gets what a great deal this is. I’ve always opted for this approach when it comes to playing games. I very rarely keep a game in my collection for more than 2 weeks. Instead I buy one game for £40 and I can then play a huge chunk of new releases over a few months, only chipping in about £5 for each additional game. Given I like to play most of the new games to review on my blog, it definitely keeps the costs down :)

        During the crazy Oct-Nov period last year I: Bought RAGE for £35, traded it at HMV the following week for Batman AC (£2), Battlefield3 (£2) the following week, Uncharted3 (£1) the next and finally I got (£2) Skyrim. Total expenses: a little over £40 to play 5 new games… coincidently the same price it would have been to walk into a game shop and buy Skyrim outright.

        I’m not a huge fan of their staff but it would be a shame to see GAME go down the pan

      • Yes it only perpetuates IF you complete a game in 2 weeks. And then only on certain games. Not everyone WANTS to rush through a game for the chance to trade in at a higher price.
        Plus you cant really have a go at GAME for trying to upsell stuff to you that you have every right to say noto. It’s the way that Customer Service works in a specialist environment.

      • haha, and people wonder why publishers are trying to kill of the preowned market… these floods of recycled games plummets the profits for them. I feel buying a game new for around £30-£35 is acceptable, any games that you feel you just want to try, rent them.

        People work hard on titles so i like to reward them. games like MW or another NFS, i just rent. MGS, Uncharted, AC, LA Nior etc, i buy and keep. Hopefully there are enough people like me to keep the new games coming, and maybe more chances for new IP’s

      • I think my bass playing is alright lol
        to be fair i think i make some valid points.
        people may not complete a game within 2 week HOWEVER the price isnt going to drop from £35 trade to £18 in 1 night. and the loyalty offers are still there. ok so or shop2 maybe alble to get me the game 3 or 4 quid cheaper. but i ignore that because of the way i play games.
        GAME/gamestations approach is perfect for me… with the exception of upselling. buy my release which i can enjoy trade it in before the deadline get the majority of my credit back. perfect means at most im only investing £1 or £2 in my next titles. rather than shelling out whatever price for each game.

  5. I bought a few games from there the other day i got Socom special force,Dead space 2 and Killzon 3 for 20 quid bargain i thought all brand new games aswell also grabed Child Of eden for £5pre owned.My brother works at HMV was the managr of Zavvi before they shut our local store and he was told along with the other staff that HMV are struggling especially when it came to music sales.

  6. For Game it’s a number of factors, the main being consumers have become more internet savvy and can easily save a decent amount of money purchasing online.

    Add in the fact that a good percentage of each stores stock is pre-owned and priced ridiculously close to the cost of the same title new. Then you have a very small back catalogue selection and there you have in my opinion a damn good reason not to shop in a Game store.

    And I haven’t even gone into staff constantly trying to push pre-owned, guides etc.

  7. I’ve said many favourable thing about GAME, but their stores are relics, retail just doesn’t happen like that anymore, to evolve though they need time & money, 2 things I’m sure they don’t have.

    Did some research earlier and found something surprising.
    Across a handful of popular titles GAME were priced £37-£40 (obviously there’s quite a few offers with a load of games around half price etc too) but Tesco were generally £40-£42.99 getting on for 10% dearer can imagine that if GAME ever disappears altogether Tesco would only be too happy to edge closer to the manufacturers RRPs of £44.99-£54.99 too only dropping below this a couple of times a year for the big launch day offers.

    I think the best thing GAME Gp can do is to sell off parts of its operation, disposing of international stores seems a cert, merging the UK brands of GAME & GameStation seems probable although they do attract widely different demographics and closing down many stores.

    Existing stores then need to sell games in a different way, shelf space isn’t enough people need to be able to play & touch the games, of course they’ll need to do so in such a way that their stores on full of school-kids wasting time on machines, but they need to find a way.

    Pricing isn’t the issue that most people think it is, people do pay more if the experience is there (experience doesn’t mean shelf space & minimum wage staff) and as I’ve found GAME may not be the dearest that people simply assume it is. GAME need to find a way to add value to the box they shift that separates them from the boxes the supermarkets shift. Carphone Warehouse have done that very successfully with phones, Apple do it in Apple stores… Be different… Be special, it’s the only way.

    Getting the money to turn the ailing juggernaut around is a different matter altogether though.

  8. I hope they can recover from this, but I expect they really have to change strategy.

    I’m not exactly sure how they’ll manage this. I feel they might be quite brutal to their retail sector, but they need to maintain a sizeable presence despite losses, in order to hold mindshare for when people look online. My view would be to consolidate their excessive numbers of smaller stores into a lesser number of larger ones that have less risk via smaller stock, only fractionally smaller numbers of staff (fewer managers, though!), but manage to be a more pleasant shopping environment for not feeling cramped with just 3 people in there.

    Likewise, they’ll be in a tough position of having to try and cut prices to match competitors, but in such a way that they can start pushing more sales and increase profit. Will dropping £2 from their traditional £39.99 point, and being more sensible with pre-owned resale value get them enough extra throughput to actually increase profits?

    Who knows, but they need to do something!

  9. It’s Hitler’s fault, its all Hitler. Him and that nasty Nazi party are to blame for Games’s demise, nasty evil German/austrian historical Nazis.

    • You’re not as funny as that guy. :(

  10. I’ve been buying most of my games online for years, usually with it ending up being In the end, I’ll mix and match. I was in a branch of Asda looking up 2 games online. Uncharted 3 was bought in Asda, and Arkham City was bought on Amazon. I must have saved £20-30 between the two games.

    Even if Game are not the dearest, they certainly abandoned the major console gamers years ago by focusing on the Nintendo DS and Wii. They might as well start stocking VTech toys and be done with it. My PS3 collection at home has more shelf space dedicated to it than what I’ve seen in most Game stores.

    • “My PS3 collection at home has more shelf space dedicated to it than what I’ve seen in most Game stores.” I used to think Game’s biggest problem was their prices but I think this is more like it. I go to game to find niche titles that I can’t find anywhere else and they don’t have them. Buying online is often the only option.

      • I tried finding a copy of No More Heroes (PS3 version) the other day in Edinburgh.
        Nowhere in the city centre has it. Therefore I ordered it online.

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