OPINION: GAME’s digital defence

GAME has both the most envied and reviled position in the UK games industry.

As the ward of the two goliath High Street games brands, it isn’t just at the coalface of games retail – it is the coalface.

When a new console arrives and the industry takes off, GAME soars with it. When someone wants to criticise games retail, they do it with a vague reference to GAME or Gamestation. When the market is down 17 per cent, GAME Group’s sales are also down 17 per cent.

And at times that means that when GAME falls on ill fortunes – as it occassionaly has given its reliance on the up-and-down generational cycle – that the justification for a bumpy ride sounds a bit ‘dog ate my homework’.

Ultimately, GAME always ends up the victim of the market, never the victor.

So can we trust it when the brand new CEO’s first proclamation is to slam his foot on the breaks and slow momentum towards the digital transition? Isn’t this just a ‘bricks and mortar retailer says bricks and mortar is still strong’ headline?

Extract out the elements that are hugely specific to GAME – the Reward Card, the talk of a ‘multi-channel’ retailer – and there is a key truth to Ian Shepherd’s observations.

There is a lot of noise about the digital transition – but it’s just not going to be a binary switch.

So Shepherd is right to sound some caution.

But not so he can implement a ‘multi-channel’ plan.
It buys time to answer a crucial question the entire industry must answer about the place traditional retail has in an online-oriented world.

And I don’t mean point cards – that’s a stop-gap. The question is: what meaningful place for retailers is there in a download world? Can they have their brands on consoles?

What value does something like the archaic-seeming Reward Card have in an era when a company like Playfish can monitor a player on Facebook while they play and tweak the game accordingly live?

Right now, they are just questions. They don’t need answering right now.

As we saw just two weeks ago, thousands of gamers are still willing to queue up at midnight to buy a small plastic disc filled with data that could just as easily be sold to them through their console with a press of a button.
But it won’t last forever; we need answers to those questions eventually.

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