Last month, in my cosy little corner of Cambridgeshire, my local independent closed down.
First Compute – as it was called – had been a fixture on the St. Neots High Street for longer than I can remember and its loss was felt by gamers throughout the town.
Although the achievements of the likes of Grainger Games shouldn’t go unnoticed, there is a sense that the handful of successful chains flatter to deceive a struggling indie sector. Nationwide, they are forced to beg, steal, borrow, import and buy from Tesco in order to stay afloat.
Some critics – quite rightly – argue that many indies do little to help themselves; renting stores down back streets and plastering their doors with Orcs and wizards, alienating the casual consumer.
And yet, how are independents supposed to capitalise on the casual phenomenon when copies of Wii Fit are as scarce as units of Xbox 360 Arcade? Is it any wonder that indies have turned to pre-owned and import software when they can’t buy the new stock in the first instance?
The independent sector needs the support of the publishers and distributors – and much more than just window dressing competitions, POS and occasional special offers. Is it fair to trumpet the success of this economy-defying industry when we can’t even look after our own?
No-one is suggesting that these small outlets should get the same treatment and bulk offers as the big websites, entertainment retailers and supermarkets. But when an indie can pick up a new release from GAME for five pounds below the trade price, then you know something is terribly wrong.
MCV recently reported on the ongoing trend that has seen indie retailers sourcing all their stock from websites and supermarkets – this needs to be addressed, and not simply dismissed as ‘the way it is’. Ask any former independent record store owner about what happens when big business fails to support the little guy.
Publishers and suppliers may threaten action over importing, street date breaking and even piracy, but perhaps these threats should be replaced with greater respect for the independents – maybe that way indies will no longer feel the need to play dirty in order to survive.
Indies are unique in being able to offer excellent customer service, unrivalled product range, retro software and console repairs – and some are still holding out against the increasing competition.
Without them, the trade would lose a great deal – they just need a little helping hand. In these booming times, is that too much to ask?