The entertainment giant underperformed in the video games market last year, but in the wake of GAME's administration it has become one of our sector's most important retailers. In his first interview as HMV's new technology and games boss, Ewan Pinder tells MCV what he's doing to claw back market share...
How has the GAME situation impacted HMV?
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, we've seen quite a few extra customers coming in or pre-ordering online recently, mainly to pick up the likes of Mass Effect 3, FIFA Street, Street Fighter X Tekken, Mario Party 9, Last Story, Yakuza: Dead Souls, Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City and other new releases. And by concentrating on our own positive message about these releases we've actually seen our share on quite a few titles more than double compared to their usual levels. Although GAME is clearly facing a difficult situation, all sorts of permutations are still possible, and we wish them and their staff in particular the very best.
Your CEO Simon Fox told MCV that there may be some space cut from games. Following the situation with your big games competitor, has this stancenow changed?
Simon also said that we would look to respond to developments in the market and meet the changing needs of our suppliers and customers. And if there were to be any increased demand from games customers – as we've seen recently – then we would obviously look to cater to this and reflect it in our offer, both in-store and online.
Does the situation at GAME make you concerned for the future strength of the UK's video games retail market?
Clearly it's not an encouraging development. But it does send a powerful signal to publishers and distributors, if any were still needed, that for the High Street to remain a major part of their distribution, they have to back retailers and also excite the public and media with new products, services and releases. It's dangerous to think this could be some kind of ‘year zero' moment when the button is finally pressed on going fully digital. Clearly online and social media gaming is growing rapidly and we all need to find our own way to cater to this. But I firmly believe there can also be viable demand for physical product for some time to come, if it's properly nurtured and sustained.
I understand you held an intimate meeting with your main suppliers. Are you now seeing the support you've been asking for?
I'm pleased to say we've had a really constructive dialogue with quite a few of our suppliers in recent weeks. This has certainly been encouraging and makes me believe that they clearly see an important role for specialist choice in the HighStreet and online for some time to come, and for HMV to play its part within this.
What more can be done to support HMV at this time?
Aside from more great products and titles to stock, I guess all we really want is to have the same productive relationship as we do with our film, music and technology partners. But I have the strong impression from recent discussions that our games supplier partners now get this. I think they also understand what we can deliver to them if they really get behind us, recognising the potential importance of HMV to their prospects, especially in the present circumstances.
You're new to the games industry. What expertise are you bringing to the sector?
I may be relatively new to the games industry – though not to the joys of gaming – but I'm certainly not new to entertainment retail. I'd like to think that I have a strong sense of how to work productively with stores, colleagues and key supplier partners to create an engaging offer for customers. An offer which increasingly needs to be a full-on multi-channel one. We have to fit in with the way people want to live their lives today, especially in terms of how they increasingly discover, purchase and enjoy entertainment content across an interdependent range of video gaming platforms.
In our last interview with Simon Fox, he mentioned how games and technology can work together in HMV. In what ways are you looking at making this happen?
To my mind games and technology are pretty closely aligned, including in the way both sectors tend to operate, with key product launches driving year-round purchases. So it makes sense to me to bring them closer together in a retail environment. There are benefits to be had in the respective buying teams co-ordinating their efforts to greater effect, and perhaps having just one overarching dialogue with major suppliers who operate in both spaces.
One thing we're definitely looking to do is to find new ways of working with our tech and content partners to develop devices with content and services already built in. And obviously having the tech and games teams working together should make it easier for us to achieve this, and also better realise the opportunities that may be open to us.
How has the head office team at HMV changed following your appointment?
The great thing is that I inherited a fantastic games team, so from that perspective there hasn't been too much change, although we have repositioned some of the roles to make them a bit more consumer-focused. The guys here always give 100 per cent focus to our games offer and the relationships they manage, and that's not going to change. But obviously they can now work more strategically with the tech team as well. We've also just appointed Mike Fethers, formerly of Tesco, to manage our games accessories buying after Gavin Howes moved on recently.
What are your ambitions for games in HMV and what changes are you looking to implement?
I guess to work more closely and collaboratively with our partners where they're prepared to support us. This is so that together we can all realise the potential that the market still offers, but to also do so from the wider strategic perspective of combining technology and content more effectively, in a compelling and increasingly multi-channel way for our customers. We must always keep sight of what our customers want and need, and deliver to them the best possible overall offer that we can, combining great choice, value, service and experience where possible.
In what ways are you hoping to capitalise on the growth in the digital and download spaces?
We're in active discussions with our partners on this, and hope to have a bit more to say on this in the not too distant future.