GAME for sale? Only one careless owner

And what rough beast, it's hour come round at last, slouches towards the stock market to be reborn?

Amongst all the assorted excitement, hubbub and outcry that’s come in the wake of Mass Effect 3′s release, it’s been easy to forget the woes afflicting UK games retail chain GAME. When last we heard of them they were unable to stock Mass Effect 3 due to their ongoing credit assurance issues, which opened the door for other retailers to stock the previously GAME-exclusive Mass Effect 3 Collector’s Edition. Some people thought this was EA bullying a retailer down on its luck but it was the latest in a string of no-shows on GAME’s shelves, including titles from Ubisoft and Nintendo. Without credit assurance GAME cannot simply get a bunch of stock in on credit and pay for the ones they manage to sell like in the good old days. Now they have to buy the stock with cash first, and GAME don’t have a whole lot of cash left to do that with.

So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that GAME might be looking for a saintly buyer to snap them up and deliver them from oblivion. At least that’s what respected business and financial news organ Bloomberg are reporting, based on article in the Sunday Times. According to the original article GAME have hired Banque Privee Edmond de Rothschild to advise them on the sale, along with financial service company Deloitte LLP to oversee any insolvency proceedings. Bloomberg got in touch with GAME to see if there was any validity to the story and were met with a firm “the company doesn’t comment on press speculation.”

If this is true it adds a bit of spit and polish to the tarnished silver lining of the big cloud over GAME’s head right now, and a ray of hope to UK gamers who think any dedicated gaming presence on UK high streets is preferable to none whatsoever. I personally don’t want to see no gaming outlets at all but I do not want it to be GAME as it is now either, let alone how it was in its heyday. The reason we’re facing a sudden absence of dedicated games outlets in UK towns at all is thanks to the brutal way GAME established itself as the big dog. By pricing independent stores out of business and swallowing any competition it couldn’t bury, GAME robbed us – the consumer – of freedom of choice. We were made to feel we had to support GAME because it was the only game in town, and some of us developed a bizarre form of Stockholm Syndrome towards it as a result.

GAME are only suffering now because they became complacent. When they secured their virtual monopoly on UK brick and mortar games sales they assumed they could get away with whatever prices and tactics they liked, even going so far as to allegedly bullying publishers with its market clout. They were thus totally unprepared for the rise of online and digital distribution, which gave freedom of choice back to consumers, and now they’re paying the price.

Complete oblivion is only the worst-case scenario for GAME however. I’d prefer to see them bought out by some group that isn’t actively contemptuous of its customers and doesn’t treat them like walking bags of money. Unfortunately the most likely buyer is US chain Gamestop, who are themselves no strangers to pestering their customers to buy strategy guides and other guff. It wouldn’t be the first time they tried to get into the wider UK games market either.

In an ideal world GAME would balkanise into smaller franchises and independent stores. While they couldn’t compete with companies like Amazon on price they could compete in other ways, like by serving as social places for gamers and friendly gateways for new people who want to get into gaming. I don’t want to see dedicated games retail outlets disappear entirely just yet, though it’s inevitable, but I cannot bring myself to champion GAME either. It’s in this state because as a company it got big, fat, greedy, complacent, and contemptuous of its customers, so I’m all for new ownership if it can change that. It’s more likely however we’ll end up with “meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” and that wouldn’t be any healthier for the UK games retail sector than GAME collapsing altogether.

My thoughts are, as always, with the front line staff in these trying times. I hope everything turns out okay for you guys and girls.

Source: Bloomberg, via Joystiq

Matt McDermott

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