GAME Over: the end of GAME and Gamestation?

Written by Joe Martin

March 1, 2012 | 08:29

Tags: #column #feature #joe-martin #mass-effect-3

Companies: #game #game-group #gamestation

GAME Over

It's not just the immediate ripples in the pond that you need to be aware of, however - Game Group's disappearance from the market will have far more long-term effects than just a hike in prices and unemployment.

Think, for example, of the stabilising effect that a specialist retailer has on game sales and how the wide variety of choice in its stores allows small and mid-size games publishers to eke out an existence - and occasional greatness. Think of games such as City Interactive's Sniper: Ghost Warrior, which dominated sales charts for a brief period in 2010 despite being, for all intents and purposes, utterly crap.

If you're a mid-size publisher without an established franchise under your belt then the opportunities afforded by specialist retailers are vital to your viability. Bricks-and-mortar shops may not be an utterly level playing field, but it's easier to secure a place on the shelves of GameStation than it is to appear in Tesco or Asda. Those supermarkets will only stock the current best-sellers; the Call of Dutys and FIFAs that you can't hope to topple. GameStation will let you sell to anyone.

GAME Over? GAME Over
Game suffered a poor Christmas period, which didn't help matters

If Game disappears then there will be far fewer new titles breaking through into the mass conciousness, as supermarkets will only be interested in using games that have the branding sufficient to bring hordes pushing through the doors. Tesco won't sell Mirror's Edge or Space Marine or Serious Sam 3: BFE - or any of those other great games which don't have cachet with the masses.

The future of the games industry will become even more safe and stagnated without Game to help level the playing field and allow titles from smaller publishers a route to high street gamers.

It's important to remember that Game Group has faced off against the industry to the benefit of consumers too. Despite constant pushing from pretty much every single major games publisher, Game Group has continued to allow gamers to trade in their old games for store credit towards new ones. There are endless arguments to be waged back-and-forth about the value of individual deals and how the exchange ultimately benefits Game more than anyone else, but it's a service which also saw cheaper games for many customers.

Think for a moment about the message that Game's closure would send to those publishers who opposed second-hand sales. They won't want to be caught in that position again, will they? They'll be sure to take firmer hold of their licenses, as Electronic Arts has done through Project Ten Dollar and Origin, for example.

GAME Over? GAME Over
Could new gaming platforms entice in Game's lost customers, somehow?

There are definite upsides that could come from the possible - and, at this point, apparently likely - bankruptcy. There'd likely be a much bigger push towards digital distribution from the publishers and developers that haven't made the jump yet, for example - creating more competition with the innovative indies that make platforms such as Steam so worthwhile. It's possible that the closure could accelerate advances in hardware too, as console manufacturers rush to get new, digitally-driven devices on the market to compensate for the lost revenue stream.

But before getting carried away with the possibilities for growth and the exciting changes that will occur in the short-term power vacuum, it's important to mention two things. Firstly, that none of these possibilities are certainties - that this is a case of 'anything could happen', rather than 'anything good could happen'.

Secondly, and more interestingly, that the writing has been on the wall for Game for a long, long time. We've long since known that the high street has been losing ground to digital and online models; the fate that Game is suffering now is merely proof that previous messages from industry figureheads about the viability and validity of retail were completely wrong.

It begs the question; what else might the industry be wrong about?
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