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GAME Over: the end of GAME and Gamestation?

GAME Over

You probably don't care about old-fashioned, bricks-and-mortar retail stores, do you? If you're reading this article, on this site, you're likely to be more interested in digital distribution than physical games. You buy your games through Steam, Direct 2 Drive, GamersGate, Green Man Gaming or Get Games, resorting to boxed copies only when you want a Collector's Edition or some rare import. Even then you look to Amazon or eBay first, rather than Game.

If the UK's largest games retail chain, Game Group PLC, closed then you probably don't think it would affect you. But you're wrong. Let me explain why.

Game Group PLC is bigger than most people know. Its manifestation on the streets of the world isn't limited to just those purple-and-grey stores where your non-gaming relatives buy you your Christmas presents. Game Group owns GameStation too; giving it an effective monopoly that markets to both casual and hardcore gamers separately. Online, the group trades as GamePlay as well, giving it a third stream of income and added importance.

GAME Over? GAME Over
Game Group PLC has over 1,300 stores across six nations

Game Group isn't just a titan of the European games retail industry though; it's the only titan left. Through action and in-action it has time and again set the agenda for the games business; publishers such as EA have established convoluted plans almost solely to undermine the ubiquity of its second-hand sales market, for example.

Game Group PLC is a kingmaker, able to damn or reward publishers by how much presence it gives them in stores and gatekeeper to the pockets of the 2.5 million people who step foot in those shops every week.

And now, the biggest specialist retail chain in Europe isn't going to be stocking copies of EA's Mass Effect 3 on any platform, nor honouring pre-orders despite having previously held exclusive rights to the N7 Collector's Edition of the game.

So, we're not just talking hypothetically here - the UK's largest games retail chain really is in danger of closing as its lenders, RBS, Barclays, HSBC, Caixa and the Bank of Ireland, pile more pressure on the company. Share value dropped by 15 per cent yesterday alone, despite the fact that Game had finally managed to secure stock for the entire launch line-up for Sony's new PlayStation Vita. Things aren't looking good.

GAME Over? GAME Over
"Shepherd, how will we get our glut of DLC and promo items now?"

But how would it affect gamers if and when the group as a whole collapses - and should you be happy or sad that the high street is about to get a little emptier?

'Easy,' you're thinking to yourself. 'I'm happy it's closing! The staff there never gave good advice anyway and the prices were terrible!'

Sure, it can be tempting to react with mean glee and bright eyes to the news of a possible closure, but remember for a second that while those staff might not have always given good advice (although, of course, many of them did), they are still people. Losing your means of supporting yourself and those close to you is not something that any of us should wish on anyone, ever. Trust me.

And the prices? Well, who says getting rid of Game and GameStation will improve the cost of games across the rest of the market? Surely it's far more likely that, with one less competitor in the market, the competition will take the chance to stabilise price points at a higher figure? It's currently only the biggest blockbusters, such as Call of Duty, which we see maintaining high prices even months after release - but it doesn't have to stay that way...