Game over for GAME?

Woeful financial performance has left GAME in the uncomfortable position of having to be nice to publishers, or not get any games to sell.

NowGamer is reporting today that UK videogame retail chain GAME has “lost credit assurance with most of its publishers” after a poor financial year in which overall sales of boxed games in the UK fell by 7 per cent. GAME in particular suffered a pretty dismal festive season with sales down 17.6 per cent over an eight week period compared to the same time last year, despite the huge sales figures of games like Modern Warfare 3 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. According to NowGamer’s unnamed source this means GAME can’t get any stock of upcoming big game titles like Mass Effect 3 unless they pay for it in advance with real cash, whereas previously they could get stock with quantum voodoo shekels backed up by assurances bound with Satanic blood pacts. No dinero means no games, which is a pretty big bloody problem when your whole business revolves around, y’know, having games to sell.

The source also revealed speculation within the company that GAME might actually withhold staff wages in a desperate attempt to boost year end figures. GAME have since declared that all staff pay is up to date as of yesterday but I wouldn’t have put it past them to try something like this. For over a decade the retail outlet has had a practical monopoly on high street sales of games in the UK, even going so far as to buy-out its former competitor Gamestation and turn them into a subsidiary. To maintain the illusion of choice they were allowed to keep their brand name and stores, but they were effectively GAME stores in different costumes. As a result GAME had immense leverage over any publisher wishing to sell their games in the UK.

So it was hardly a surprise when allegations emerged last year that GAME might have been using its immense retail clout to bully publishers into doing things its way or the highway. Specifically by threatening not to stock the PC versions of their big games if they were Steamworks enabled until they’d been out for at least a month in brick-and-mortar stores. The complete absence from the UK Steam store of Warhammer 40K: Space Marine, a Steamworks title and available to pre-order on Steam in other countries, gave some heft to the story. UK Steam users couldn’t even download the demo for it – freely available elsewhere and even linked-to on the official Space Marine site – without a wee bit of internet trickery. Relic and THQ both refused to explain why.

GAME’s current predicament stems from the fact that they’ve been willing to do almost anything to stay relevant except, it seems, actually be competitive. Ever since they practically abandoned PC gaming in the early 2000′s the company has floated along on a wave of complacency and smug self-assuredness, believing its dominant position made it impervious to the ebb and flow of the market. Accusations about trying to keep games off Steam for as long as possible, true or otherwise, were entirely in-character for them.

Now GAME is seeing its overall market share get nibbled away with each passing year by online retailers offering games for cheaper, and by supermarkets like Tesco and Sainsburys selling games alongside your weekly shop of bread and milk. Dedicated games retail outlet are fast becoming a dinosaur, a relic from a forgotten age before the internet and digital download services made things more convenient for us. GAME have steadfastly refused to adapt to the market, preferring instead to try and adapt the market to its outdated business model. Unless it takes a long hard look at how it does things and makes a real effort to change it will continue its downward spiral into irrelevance, shortly before its prices finally become competitive in a grand closing-down sale.

Source: NowGamer

Matt McDermott

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