2008 has been a really mixed year for all of us. What have been your highlights – and what has not been so great?
It started off with an amazing first half – with over 50 per cent increase in Group sales and 80 per cent growth online. We saw phenomenal launches of Wii Fit, Mario Kart and GTA:IV and, of course, clearance from the Competition Commission for the Gamestation deal.
In the second half we appointed a new COO, entered the Czech Republic and signed a concessions deal with Borders in the UK. But we have all also seen a massive change in the global economy, leading to a lot of uncertainty for retailers.
What changes have you seen this year and what are you looking out for next year?
We’ve seen the mass market appeal for video games further increase and this has strengthened our family offering and range. Microsoft has further accelerated this trend with the Xbox 360 now at a really affordable price, accompanied by some great new mass market games.
We have seen truly innovative products across the board, which are proving popular on a global scale. We were pleased to open our 600th store outside the UK this year, which means that nearly half our business is now outside the UK.
Next year, we are looking forward to the arrival of the new Nintendo DSi. I think customers will certainly be watching their finances so it would be great to see a price drop for the PS3. I also think we would all like to see the launch of high quality releases spread throughout the year, alleviating some of the final quarter congestion and enabling us, as a specialist, to properly showcase some of the excellent titles that are coming through.
With the demise of Woolies do you think the High Street will ever be the same – and do you see this as a good or bad thing for the games industry as a whole?
Woolworths has been part of the market for as many years as I can remember. It is sad to see the demise of such a longstanding British High Street institution.
As far as the wider games industry is concerned, it’s witnessed a number of changes to retail over the years but our priority remains the same – to ensure there’s a strong specialist presence in the market, giving a leading service to our customers and launching new products to the best of our ability.
The PC is an enigma, a traditional steady seller and format transition ‘agnostic’ – but do you think it has legs as a retail format?
For as long as publishers bring quality products to the market, we certainly see PC as a key part of out retail offer.
We have all read a lot about your overseas expansion but how have you found the experience in Australia and France – possibly two countries a mile away in cultural terms from the UK?
In every country we have the same brand, customer focus and product offer. It’s fascinating to take these basics and work with the local teams to create a local offer that maximises the opportunity in each market. Cultures and habits vary but the passion and dedication of our teams is the same – they’re committed to driving the best specialist offer in their market and driving success for the wider Group.
Do you think GAME and Gamestation will widen their portfolio and maybe sell games related merchandise in the future?
We already sell games-related merchandise like t-shirts in both our brands and offer additional products like BluRay discs and iPods in Gamestation. As specialists, video games will always be our core focus but we will look for opportunities to ensure that we are giving our customers what they want.
Do you think that there will ever be a PS4 and Xbox 720 or do you think that the days of closed formats are coming to an end?
We have to assume that there will be new consoles, to build on the success of the existing machines. The video games market is a huge industry and console hardware has always formed an essential part of this. Customers always look forward to the next machine and we would certainly hope to see new iterations of consoles coming to market in the future. But we still believe there is plenty of life left in the current formats, as the industry statistics are showing.
Much has been made of the onset of digital distribution of games – when do you think this will be a significant part of the overall GAME business?
We recognise that it’s growing but future growth depends on a number of key factors: broadband capacity which can efficiently handle huge file sizes in a timely manner and customers wanting to participate and buy their products in this way. We already offer a download service powered by Metaboli but this is still a very small part of our overall business.
However, as this market develops, I can guarantee that we remain committed to giving our customers what they want and will watch, learn and respond accordingly as digital distribution develops.
How does a busy person like you actually relax and what are your plans for Christmas?
Time out of work is incredibly precious. I relax by spending time at home with my family and riding my horse. Christmas will be a family occasion with my husband and two stepdaughters. We’ll cook a huge meal, over-indulge and enjoy some great home entertainment… This year with a 3:1 female to male ratio, my bet’s on Mamma Mia, followed by SingStar: Abba!
What games do you like playing and what is on your DS or PSP right now?
I’m a typical family gamer and really enjoy some of the fun interactive products that are available now across all of the different formats. In my opinion, the best DS game at the moment is Professor Layton – it’s addictive.
If you could have three wishes for 2009 what would they be?
* A brighter outlook in the global economy
* An even stronger video games market
* And maybe the release of Singstar: Take That…?!