MCV Retail Survey 2009

James Batchelor
MCV Retail Survey 2009

Wondering what retailers grumble about behind the tills? And what they think is brilliant about our industry? Wonder no more, as MCV prints the results of its annual retail survey – featuring results from 93 UK outlets...


What has been your highlight of the year for games retail?

No real surprises here as UK retailers plump for the release of the fastest-selling game of all time as the highlight of their year.

More than one GAME employee described the chain’s midnight launch for Modern Warfare 2 as “mental” (in a good way), whilst one HMV boss called it “absolutely staggering”. Which pretty much sums it up: The title generated £1.76 million on its first day, according to GfK-ChartTrack data.

The popularity of every other highlight was dwarfed by Activision’s epic, but respect is due to Eidos’ Batman: Arkham Asylum, which beat the likes of FIFA, Wii Sports Resort and the PS3 price drop in our survey – although judging by our respondents’ praise, that may have been just as much for the game itself as its sales.

Which games publisher had the best quality and attitude towards retail in 2009?

Congatulations to EA, which manages to pip Activision to the post in terms of UK retail’s favourite games publisher of 2010 – no small feat considering the popularity of Modern Warfare 2. A hugely successful run of new games including FIFA 10, Need For Speed: Shift and Tiger Woods: PGA Tour 10 would have helped, but so would have the publisher’s trade relations, which are always heavily complimented in our annual survey. However, with Activision just one per cent behind, the crown could be up for grabs in 2010.

Which distributor would you commend for outstanding service?

Koch and Gem both perform well in this year’s survey, but it’s Centresoft which runs away with the top spot. That’s perhaps unsurprising, considering the calibre and number of clients that the firm works with – including Activision, Sega, Electronic Arts and D3P.

Its work during the massive launch programme for Modern Warfare 2 won particular praise from the retailers that MCV spoke to. The boss of one UK chain of indie stores told us: “We all know it was a massive launch in terms of the amount of money it took, but there were huge volumes of Modern Warfare 2 those guys needed to get right, and it went like clockwork. We were actually slightly fearful of some error because of the nationwide demand, but they worked incredibly hard – seemingly 24 hours a day – to make sure it was smooth.”

Gem won 34 per cent of the vote, and the firm was particularly complimented of its relationship with indies. “We experience great communication from Gem – there always seems to be someone on the end of the phone when we need them,” one store told MCV.

Koch was praised for its handling of Nintendo hardware – not least the black Wii. One Scottish indie told us: “The best thing about the service is that it rewards those of use who have been good to Koch in the past. We did brilliantly on the black Wii.”

[Due to store managers at national retail chains having little contact with boxed product distributors, this result discounted their comments. It reflects the comments and opinions of the independent retailers we spoke to, as well as those of the MCV Retail Advisory Board.]

Which third party peripherals firm has provided you with the best sales?

A very close run thing between Venom and Mad Catz in this category sees the latter taking the crown by just three per cent.

Mad Catz was particularly praised for its official Street Fighter peripherals, with one indie boss telling us: “There’s something about Street Fighter fans that means they see the series as very collectible. For that reason, we get as many Street Fighter spin-offs and add-ons as we can – and the Mad Catz controllers have been our most successful product in that sense.”

Other successful Mad Catz products mentioned were its licensed Rock Band and Rayman Raving Rabbids peripherals.

Venom won particular acclaim from independents, with one online indie telling MCV that the firm was “unique, as it offers stuff that caters for both male and female gamers, which is handy as we’re getting more and more women customers.” Venom favourites included the firm’s Twin Charger Station for Xbox 360 and the House of the Dead: Overkill Hand Cannon on Wii.

Other popular accessory firms this year includes A4T, 4Gamers, Turtle Beach, Grioteck and Logic 3.

Some High Street retailers, such as GAME, Gamestation and Blockbuster, occasionally vote for their own-brand peripherals. However, these were discounted from the final results.

What is the biggest problem facing retail right now?

Okay, so we probably didn’t have to do a survey to know which bête noire was going to come out on top here.

Supermarket pricing was mentioned by a third of the retailers we spoke to – often with a furious tone. Unsurprisingly, the indies were the most angry, with one prominent sole trader from Yorkshire telling us: “It’s just been done for market share. Once they’ve killed off the competition, the prices will shoot back to an expensive level again. Consumers just don’t understand that.”

Other bugbears included the recession, with a number of HMV and GAME staff noticing an anecdotal decline in the amount of stock they sold compared to the last couple of years.

The age-old problem of piracy garnered 11 per cent of the vote – not least because of the still-increasing popularity of bitTorrent sites and the R4 cartridge.

“We appreciate that Nintendo and ELSPA are doing all they can,” said another indie, “but R4 is still crippling that side of our business.”

Digital distribution took almost a tenth of the the vote. It will be interesting to see where the category sits in next year’s MCV Retail Survey.

What will be this year’s christmas No.1?

After such a mammoth release, it’s little surprise to see UK retail back Activision’s Modern Warfare 2 for the Christmas No.1 spot. It’s looking like a wise bet, too – the game took the top position in the GfK-ChartTrack All Formats chart again this week, and is looking difficult to budge.

One GAME store boss summed it up well: “There’s nothing left to come out that can challenge it. So unless the supermarkets start slashing prices on existing contenders, it looks a dead cert.”

Not everyone agreed, however, with Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed II and EA’s FIFA 10 each fancied by around a tenth of respondents to make a surprise bid for the top spot in a fortnight.

Are you confident in the health of your business as we move into 2010?

It's reassuring to see that over nine tenths of UK games retailers are confident that it will still be standing – and thriving – this time next year. An HMV store boss echoed the cautious confidence that many we spoke to felt.

“Obviously, sales have been down on last year – you don’t have to read MCV to be able to tell that,” he said. “But internally, we still know that games are doing a roaring trade compared to many other products. If we’re selling this many during a recession, just think how strong the industry is going to be when we’ve recovered economically and a new generation of consoles have arrived. I’m looking to the future.”

However, eight per cent of respondents – sadly, all of them indies – said they were not so sure about their future. “It’s too tough to be confident about where we’ll be next year,” said one defiant Northern indie. “But we’ll keep on looking to places other retailers don’t go so we can make good margins.”

Just one retailer said that they weren’t confident in their future – you’ve guessed it, another indie. All at MCV hope the market proves them wrong next year.

Do you predict your Christmas takings will be?

Well here's a conundrum. Despite many retailers that MCV spoke to admitting that the recession had hit their business hard this year, almost half said they would take more cash at the till this Christmas than they did last year.

The reason? You’ve guessed it: Modern Warfare 2.

“We’re already up on last year’s fourth quarter takings,” said one East Anglia indie. “The Modern Warfare launch was something else. We made a bundle on it, despite those stupid supermarket mark downs. We’re mainly benefiting from people that weren’t out to get it on launch day; those that have heard its an ‘event’ they need to be part of and have come into our store a couple of weeks after it hit shelves.” 

Others predicted that Assassin’s Creed II and the late release of Zelda: Spirit Tracks would help top up their coffers.

If you could have another job in games, whose would it be?

Typical. The one question that causes the most debate is our silly ‘...and finally’ poser. In a dream parallel dimension, 16 per cent of respondents said they’d like to test games for a living (we’re not sure they’ve looked into the hours or pay, but fair play to them).

Other popular answers included GAME CEO Lisa Morgan and Nintendo boss Satoru Iwata. Our favourite answer, however, was given by a tenth of those asked: “I’m happy where I am.” GAME, CHIPS and HMV bosses will be pleased to hear that many of these came from their own, satisfied staff.

Retail Survey: How We Did It

The methodology behind the MCV Retail Survey

Our end of year survey is formulated by canvassing the UK retail community for their thoughts on the state of the games industry. From those working at the coalface at shopfloor level right up to senior buying and managerial level, we invited a diverse cross-section to offer their views on the landscape for games retail in 2009 and beyond.

We directly questioned the following stores for their views:

1up Games (Edinburgh), 360 Games (Leeds), Asda (Bodmin), Asda (Gwent), Asda (Gosport), Asda (Kilmarnock), Asda (Portsmouth), Asda (Rayleigh), Blockbuster (Braintree), Blockbuster (Camberly), Blockbuster (Chesterfield), Blockbuster (Cobham), Blockbuster (Ely), Blockbuster (Gosport), Blockbuster (Henley-on-Thames), Blockbuster (Manchester), Blockbuster (Melton Mowbray), Blockbuster (Ossett), Blockbuster (Liverpool), Blockbuster (Loughborough), Blockbuster (Taunton), Blockbuster (Wolverhampton), Chips (Letchworth), Chips (Orpington), Chips (Hereford), Chips (Guisborough), Discover (Stranraer), Everything Play (Online), Game (Antrim), Game (Barrow-in-Furness), Game (Basildon), Game (Birmingham), Game (Bishop’s Stortford), Game (Braintree), Game (Broadstairs), Game (Cambridge), Game (Cannock), Game (Chelmsford), Game (Chelmsford – Debenhams), Game (Clacton-on-Sea), Game (Crayford), Game (Edinburgh), Game (Derby), Game (Hempstead), Game (Milton Keynes), Game (Peterborough), Game (Taunton), The Game Cave (Telford), Game On (Saffron Walden), GamePad (Bude), GamePark (Aberystwyth), Game Player (Crawley), Gamestation (Elgin), Gamestation (Gainsborough), Gamestation (Ipswich), Gamestation (Livingston), Gamestation (Norwich), Gamestation (Wrexham), Grainger Games (Berwick-upon-Tweed), Grainger Games (Billingham), Grainger Games (Byker), Grainger Games (South Shields), Grainger Games (Stockton-on-Tees), Grainger Games (Thornaby), HMV (Aylesbury), HMV (Blackpool), HMV (Bradford), HMV (Brighton), HMV (Bury St Edmunds), HMV (Cambridge), HMV (Chesterfield), HMV (Harrogate), HMV (Heathrow Terminal 1), HMV (London – Brent Cross), HMV (Mansfield), HMV (Reading), HMV (Southend-on-Sea), HMV (Stevenage), HMV (Welwyn Garden City), HMV (Wigan), HMV (Yeovil), The Norwich Space Station (Norwich), Solid Gold Games (Aberdeen), Startup Software (Online), Take The Game (Lincolnshire), That’z Entertainment (Thurrock – Lakeside), Voodoo Consoles (Melton Mowbray)

We also extended the invite to the MCV Retail Advisory Board, which includes: Asda, DSGi, The Hut, ShopTo and Sainsbury’s.

Note: For key categories (e.g. questions on publishing, distribution and peripherals) only those votes given by retailers/buyers/ops staff with a comprehensive view and experience of the market were counted.


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