OPINION: Gamestation – The sensible sacrifice

There is a lot of unnecessary conflict within the games industry.

And I’m not talking EA vs Activision or HMV vs Blockbuster. But rather areas that would be better off if they just worked together. Retail and digital. Publishers and developers.

GAME and Gamestation.

It’s not that these two retail giants were at each other’s throats. They seemed to get along just fine. But by having two conflicting brands – one aimed at the mass market and another at the core – they were effectively splitting the efforts of their parent firm. Two marketing campaigns. Two different ideals. Two different pre-owned schemes. Two different loyalty schemes.

It was all based on an increasingly old idea, in the wake of GAME’s purchase of Gamestation, that hardcore gamers and casual gamers are entirely different breeds of people. The idea that those that buy Hitman won’t want to get New Super Mario Bros U. Why keep these worlds apart anyway? Will casual gamers not want to make the upgrade to being a core one at some stage? In turning all of Game Retail’s stores into GAME, there is an opportunity to do just that.

There’s no denying that the loss of Gamestation on the High Street is a sad one. But in an opinion that slightly conflicts with that of my colleague Ben’s (which you can read here), I believe this was a decision that was a long time coming.

Critics will point to the reported fact that Gamestation has historically been more successful than GAME. But you have to ask whether Gamestation’s success was down to the logo above the door, or the passionate staff, the impressive loyalty scheme and its aggressive trade-in policy? It also didn’t help that Gamestation’s reputation was that of a boys club, with dingy stores and smelly customers.

GAME is a powerful brand name. MCV knew of at least two rivals that were circling the Game.co.uk domain name when the firm entered administration earlier in the year. Out of the two brands, it has the most followers on Twitter and the most likes on Facebook. Gamestation may be the store of choice amongst the gaming community, but it doesn’t quite have the brand recognition of GAME. This is undoubtedly what Game Retail’s research discovered.

But just because Gamestation the brand is disappearing, it doesn’t mean that Gamestation’s ideals are going with it. The man at the top of the Game business, Martyn Gibbs, is a Gamestation man. He has given over the best part of the last ten years over to that brand. He means it when he told MCV last week that "Gamestation is and will always be in my blood." So you can guarantee that the DNA of Gamestation will live on in this new-look GAME. Those passionate staff members aren’t going anywhere. That aggressive pre-owned strategy? It’s being transferred across to GAME. The loyalty scheme? That too is going to form the basis of a new reward card.

The fact is Game Retail was being hampered by having to manage two brands. With 122 Gamestation stores and 219 GAME outlet, neither of Game Retail’s brands have national coverage. In fact, HMV is the bigger chain of shops. But combining them together, GAME now has 341 stores across the UK.

Then there’s the marketing campaigns. A year ago, two multi-million pound TV marketing campaigns for GAME and Gamestation made sense. Today, with this significantly reduced portfolio, it just doesn’t.

It is true that this new GAME won’t be picking up all of Gamestation’s traits. Dark, cluttered stores will be replaced with better organised, cleaner affairs. Dodgy, occasionally offensive, marketing slogans will be replaced by safer ones. That smell? Gone. Hopefully.

By combining the specialist strength of Gamestation with the accessibility and brand awareness of GAME, the UK High Street will have one, clear strong specialist that caters for all kinds of gamers.

There’s no question that I will miss Gamestation. But it’s because of that chain that the GAME of tomorrow will be a stronger force on the High Street. And in today’s troubled market, that’s a good thing.

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