OPINION: GAME’s new rules

The health of GAME has long been a good barometer of the wider games market’s fortunes.

Because in many respects GAME Group’s customers are the market, and the retailer influences what they want and reacts to what they don’t. When GAME’s buying became conservative, focusing on big hits, publishers slimmed down their portfolio.

If the market is up, GAME is up. If it struggles, so too does GAME. Such is the pair’s symbiotic relationship, until recently one needed the other to justify its existence.

But this generation has delivered a lesson that throws that existence into doubt. It turns out no one ‘owns’ those customers. Gamers can be just as easily distracted by download games via Xbox Live, mobile or social networks as they are by the industry trying to court them.

And the industry has become seriously complacent in core areas. Just look at Apple’s retail experience – it’s leagues ahead of average technology shops in terms of atmosphere, if not depth of content.

So the core industry felt the shifting pain deep in its bones – no one moreso than GAME, which has a deep understanding and relationship whit its audience but has been unspectacular of late.

That’s why this week’s ‘strategic update’ was fascinating. Ian Shepherd’s five-point plan shows GAME seizing its destiny, making a bid to retain credibility and expand into more elusive areas.

Shepherd has said the things publishers want to hear – a focus on digital content, social media integration for web stores, a more joined-up online strategy generally, plus a genuine confidence in how the High Street can take advantage of it.

Of course some of these moves are just catch-up manoeuvres. Click and collect is nothing new, neither is online pre-owned, and adding technology to the shop floor experience is long-overdue.

Where GAME is being proactive, however, is what counts most – and will be its biggest test. Tripling digital content to almost a tenth of its business, seriously ramping up its already-powerful reward card strategy, and even growing its own-label peripherals business – these measures can make GAME’s two chains highly relevant.

Serious work has clearly gone in to transforming the old-fashioned GAME into a forward-thinking, retailer. And if its symbiotic role at the industry’s heart remains, that might actually be good news for the overall health of the trade.

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