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GAME: A history in headlines

Michael French
GAME: A history in headlines

While GAME’s recent tumult has dominated the headlines, it’s easy to forget the many other times GAME has surprised, pleased – and occasionally dismayed – the trade. And MCV reported on pretty much all of them. MCV dug through the archive to recall the twists that built a respected retail powerhouse..

FEBRUARY 1999: Our first major GAME story adorned the cover, and marked the moment the relatively small London Stock Exchanged-listed UK retailer broke through as the subject of intense acquisition speculation. The City said Dixons, but our report forced GAME’s hand, and a week later it admitted US retail firm EB, which already had a UK chain, was sniffing around.

MARCH 1999: Weeks later, it was clear EB was the safe bet – it wanted GAME, wanted to keep GAME running, and create a dual-brand retail empire (sound familiar?) that would claim over 20 per cent of the UK market with 250 stores.

AUGUST 1999: The deal was done in months, and EB owned both its eponymous chain and GAME. The ruthless acquisition was changing the business: we revealed in-store marketing costs were up by 60 per cent. Q4 window displays commanded £15,000 a week, and £3,500 getting you a spot on the New Release shelf.

2000: This was a year of expansion for the chain, opening 60 more stores by the end of the year.

OCTOBER 2000: The year ended on a high for the chain, with investors suddenly positive about the business – it was on track to post record profits forecast in the weeks before PS2’s arrival.

APRIL 2001: This is one of the business’ notorious moments – it demanded ELSPA and Chart-Track change the way market data was shared to prevent rivals knowing the scale of its business and its market share. As the biggest player, the market had to basically do what EB said. “If the chains won’t accept change then it’s out of our hands,” said EB’s CEO. Charming.

APRIL 2002: A year later, the cracks showed in the relations between EB Europe and its US parent. Previously, a retail contract from 1995 bound the two together – but the European team found loopholes and soon announced plans to use the GAME name across all stores. A High Court judgement backed the UK HQ’d business – Electronics Boutique was left to the US market, and three years later was bought by GameStop.

JULY 2003: But independence from its American owner didn’t make it any less cheeky. It boldly tabled the idea of abolishing release dates when it went early with Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness. (Although hindsight makes you wonder if it just wanted to jettison stock of what fast became known as the ultimate turkey.)

OCTOBER 2003: With its credentials as the big boy well proven, the inevitable rumours swirled ­– who will stand up to GAME? Would it be growing independent chain Gamestation (at this point 110 stores and bought by Blockbuster in 2002)? Or growing US power GameStop, which had just bought the Gamesworld chain in Ireland? BestBuy? Sanity? We now know the answer: none of them. Not yet.

APRIL 2004: Ignoring the speculation, GAME grew and grew. It sailed past the 500 store mark globally in April, with 360 in the UK. It planned to have 600 by year’s end. It was adding DVDs to its range. It was winning MCV Awards. All it needed to do next to show its teeth was acquire another retailer…

SEPTEMBER 2004: …So it swooped for Gameplay. The online brand had its ups and downs, at one point riding the dotcom boom, making its own TV show, then signing with Dixons, before having to retreat and shrink. At GAME, though, it brought back something the chain had started to lose: hardcore gamer customers.

2005:  In January GAME told investors it would push harder into France and Germany. GAME  aimed to have over 1,000 stores in the continent by 2008.

JANUARY 2006: Guess what? Time for MCV’s yearly ‘GameStop is coming!’ cover lead. This time, however, fuelled with substance. The firm had appointed a VP for Europe. While nothing came of it (a regular remark in the will-they-won’t-they discussion around GameStop and the UK) it was further signs of the mounting expectation that GAME was set for a challenge.

MARCH 2006: In fact, the GameStop speculation didn’t stop. Rumours grew that the firm was wanted to buy Gamestation..

JUNE 2006: GAME CEO Lisa Morgan, however, was no fool. And while speculation about GAME rivals mounted, policy tweaks at home kept the business robust. These included getting rid of a pesky ‘no quibbles’ return policy – which was harming sales and aggravating publishers – and subtly rebranding to make GAME feel family friendly.

SEPTEMBER 2006: Gamestation, meanwhile, was on a mission of its own. It moved to end speculation Blockbuster was selling it by announcing a $20m investment from its US parent. With 240 stores by this point, it was putting real pressure on GAME. But GAME maintained the lead by breaking new ground for stores, and working its second-hand business.

MAY 2007: But then, the big one: GAME moved in to buy Gamestation. So much for Blockbuster’s reinvestment. It was a new era for UK games retail, with the GAME brand once again being part of a two-label retail business, this time one 600 stores strong. It also meant the GameStop spectre was finally exorcised from the UK. Or so GAME’s bosses thought.

AUGUST 2007: Short-lived scrutiny from the Office of Fair Trading cast doubt over the Gamestation deal, and reignited rumours that GameStop will step in instead – but within a month the transaction was done. The new GAME empire was born.

2008: There was no stopping the firm. The bigger, more powerful business wasn’t afraid to fight for its share of the market, embarking on some of its more notable (or scandalous) decisions. Such as buying cheap £99 Xbox 360s from Sainsbury’s, or embarking on trials to publish own-brand software.

2009: A year later, though, prudence was the theme. It was committed to running GAME and Gamestation side-by-side, but admitted it would start merging HQ facilities, and later said that it would start pruning the store count. 

MARCH 2010: The chain issued a profit warning, and Lisa Morgan resigned. It was a sobering moment, as Morgan had lead the firm through significant growth and a fair few challenges.

OCTOBER 2010: It took six months to find a replacement – former Vodafone stores boss Ian Shepherd. He spent no time messing around, telling MCV that the threat of digital downloads hadn’t hurt GAME yet, but that he would transform the firm to be ready for new market shifts.

FEBRUARY 2011: Just months later, Shepherd revealed the plan to shape up the store count, add more technology in-store and start promoting digital games at the tillpoint.

MARCH 2011: Then a month later, another GAME surprise: it confirmed plans for its own big consumer show, just days before rival show Eurogamer Expo, causing a cost and organisation clog for publishers and exhibitors. 

OCTOBER 2011: But the firm wasn’t moving swift enough – it issued a profit warning, although CEO Shepherd was still bullish about the market in general.

2012: You don’t need us to remind you of the saga that has rolled on for GAME this year. At the time of writing, the firm has just entered administration – MCV, like the rest of the industry, hopes that at least part of the business can survive. 

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Tags: GAME , Retail , mcv , headlines , history

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