Wondering what retailers grumble about behind the tills? And what they think is brilliant about our industry? Wonder no more, as MCV prints the results of its annual retail survey – featuring results from 93 UK outlets...
What has been your highlight of the year for games retail?
No real surprises here as UK retailers plump for the release of the fastest-selling game of all time as the highlight of their year.
More than one GAME employee described the chain's midnight launch for Modern Warfare 2 as mental” (in a good way), whilst one HMV boss called it absolutely staggering”. Which pretty much sums it up: The title generated 1.76 million on its first day, according to GfK-ChartTrack data.
The popularity of every other highlight was dwarfed by Activision's epic, but respect is due to Eidos' Batman: Arkham Asylum, which beat the likes of FIFA, Wii Sports Resort and the PS3 price drop in our survey – although judging by our respondents' praise, that may have been just as much for the game itself as its sales.
Which games publisher had the best quality and attitude towards retail in 2009?
Congatulations to EA, which manages to pip Activision to the post in terms of UK retail's favourite games publisher of 2010 – no small feat considering the popularity of Modern Warfare 2. A hugely successful run of new games including FIFA 10, Need For Speed: Shift and Tiger Woods: PGA Tour 10 would have helped, but so would have the publisher's trade relations, which are always heavily complimented in our annual survey. However, with Activision just one per cent behind, the crown could be up for grabs in 2010.
Which distributor would you commend for outstanding service?
Koch and Gem both perform well in this year's survey, but it's Centresoft which runs away with the top spot. That's perhaps unsurprising, considering the calibre and number of clients that the firm works with – including Activision, Sega, Electronic Arts and D3P.
Its work during the massive launch programme for Modern Warfare 2 won particular praise from the retailers that MCV spoke to. The boss of one UK chain of indie stores told us: We all know it was a massive launch in terms of the amount of money it took, but there were huge volumes of Modern Warfare 2 those guys needed to get right, and it went like clockwork. We were actually slightly fearful of some error because of the nationwide demand, but they worked incredibly hard – seemingly 24 hours a day – to make sure it was smooth.”
Gem won 34 per cent of the vote, and the firm was particularly complimented of its relationship with indies. We experience great communication from Gem – there always seems to be someone on the end of the phone when we need them,” one store told MCV.
Koch was praised for its handling of Nintendo hardware – not least the black Wii. One Scottish indie told us: The best thing about the Nindie.com service is that it rewards those of use who have been good to Koch in the past. We did brilliantly on the black Wii.”
[Due to store managers at national retail chains having little contact with boxed product distributors, this result discounted their comments. It reflects the comments and opinions of the independent retailers we spoke to, as well as those of the MCV Retail Advisory Board.]
Which third party peripherals firm has provided you with the best sales?
A very close run thing between Venom and Mad Catz in this category sees the latter taking the crown by just three per cent.
Mad Catz was particularly praised for its official Street Fighter peripherals, with one indie boss telling us: There's something about Street Fighter fans that means they see the series as very collectible. For that reason, we get as many Street Fighter spin-offs and add-ons as we can – and the Mad Catz controllers have been our most successful product in that sense.”
Other successful Mad Catz products mentioned were its licensed Rock Band and Rayman Raving Rabbids peripherals.
Venom won particular acclaim from independents, with one online indie telling MCV that the firm was unique, as it offers stuff that caters for both male and female gamers, which is handy as we're getting more and more women customers.” Venom favourites included the firm's Twin Charger Station for Xbox 360 and the House of the Dead: Overkill Hand Cannon on Wii.
Other popular accessory firms this year includes A4T, 4Gamers, Turtle Beach, Grioteck and Logic 3.
Some High Street retailers, such as GAME, Gamestation and Blockbuster, occasionally vote for their own-brand peripherals. However, these were discounted from the final results.
What is the biggest problem facing retail right now?
Okay, so we probably didn't have to do a survey to know which bte noire was going to come out on top here.
Supermarket pricing was mentioned by a third of the retailers we spoke to – often with a furious tone. Unsurprisingly, the indies were the most angry, with one prominent sole trader from Yorkshire telling us: It's just been done for market share. Once they've killed off the competition, the prices will shoot back to an expensive level again. Consumers just don't understand that.”
Other bugbears included the recession, with a number of HMV and GAME staff noticing an anecdotal decline in the amount of stock they sold compared to the last couple of years.
The age-old problem of piracy garnered 11 per cent of the vote – not least because of the still-increasing popularity of bitTorrent sites and the R4 cartridge.
We appreciate that Nintendo and ELSPA are doing all they can,” said another indie, but R4 is still crippling that side of our business.”
Digital distribution took almost a tenth of the the vote. It will be interesting to see where the category sits in next year's MCV Retail Survey.
What will be this year's christmas No.1?
After such a mammoth release, it's little surprise to see UK retail back Activision's Modern Warfare 2 for the Christmas No.1 spot. It's looking like a wise bet, too – the game took the top position in the GfK-ChartTrack All Formats chart again this week, and is looking difficult to budge.
One GAME store boss summed it up well: There's nothing left to come out that can challenge it. So unless the supermarkets start slashing prices on existing contenders, it looks a dead cert.”
Not everyone agreed, however, with Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed II and EA's FIFA 10 each fancied by around a tenth of respondents to make a surprise bid for the top spot in a fortnight.
Are you confident in the health of your business as we move into 2010?
It's reassuring to see that over nine tenths of UK games retailers are confident that it will still be standing – and thriving – this time next year. An HMV store boss echoed the cautious confidence that many we spoke to felt.