Gamerbase touches base

After picking up an MCV Award this year, HMV’s Gamerbase is going from strength to strength – playing a key role in the retailer’s healthy financials last week. As the retailer opens a new Glasgow branch, Tim Ingham interviews head of the division, Dominic Mulroy…

Let’s start simple: for the uninitiated, what is Gamerbase?

Gamerbase is a pay-to-play gaming venue which is built into the games department of selected HMV stores, and which offers 50 to 60 seats offering networked PC and console gaming for customers to play games across the LAN or online. Gamerbase is staffed by dedicated gaming evangelists, there to offer instruction and encouragement to gamers of all backgrounds to experience multiplayer gaming.

How big can Gamerbase get for HMV – and do you have expansion plans for this year?

We will be rolling out five of the larger Gamerbase centres this year, to join London, Manchester and Edinburgh – Glasgow is the latest of those. In addition, we plan to build smaller, scaleable Gamerbase experiences in around 30 stores nationwide. So by Christmas, HMV will have almost 40 Gamerbase experiences.

Why did HMV buy Gamerbase and what benefit does it provide?
When we opened the first Gamerbase, we did not integrate retail at all. So when HMV acquired us, the challenge was to convert what we were doing in to a retail experience. Since then, Gamerbase has proven to be a success in terms of the like-for-like sales of games across all platforms. Gamerbase also creates a gaming community for HMV, and we have found those gamers to be very loyal.

Does Gamerbase have an international presence? Are you planning on giving it one?
We would love to extend the promotional opportunities that Gamerbase provides to the games industry in other parts of the world, but we have no plans as yet. We have made contact with some of the best gaming venues across the world and are currently exploring opportunities.

Do you think that being the first to launch something like this will win you customer loyalty if any other retailer attempts something similar?
You have to look at what it is that we are doing and ask: Could another retailer actually replicate this?” I don’t just mean the store space required, but also the skillset needed to develop the technology behind Gamerbase. HMV hired Sujoy [Roy] and I because we have been running these type of centres for nearly ten years, and we brought that knowledge and established customer loyalty to their business. I’ve already seen other attempts over the last few years by some big names, and all of them have failed in realising the fundamental strategy of Gamerbase.

Which is?
Ironically its not about selling more games – at least, not in the first instance. It’s fundamentally about building a community. Gamerbase is the next generation of social clubs that were successful back in the ‘70s and ‘80s. All we’ve really done is to swap pool tables and dart boards with PCs and consoles. The reason that it’s within a games department of HMV is just convenience.

Is Gamerbase a sign of games becoming HMV’s priority?
Gamerbase is a sign of HMV’s priority on providing a Live Experience for the consumer. Over the last few months HMV has outlined its strategy for the coming years: MAMA live venues for music, the Curzon cinema partnership for film and Gamerbase for games. HMV’s priority is building upon all its strengths, and games is just part of that. No-one else can reach those other audiences and connect them all up.

What plans do you have for Gamerbase in the next 12 months?
All of these stores will be networked so that a gamer in HMV Liverpool can play against a gamer in HMV Glasgow. Our biggest plan is to launch nationwide gaming leagues of city versus city in a variety of games. HMV will be the place for gamers to represent their towns in a Premiership-style league.

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