Saturday, 31 March 2012

Oh, Game Group: it would be more sad if you hadn't failed so bad.

The Game Group retail failure277 stores closed and 2,000 employees cut, at presentis a real frustration, even in the face of a dominant (and superior) online market. The obsolescence of GAME's high street set-up was obvious to anyone who had ever used a computer to buy anything. Still, it is sad to see this manifestation of the gaming industry's struggle in the recession. Keza MacDonald's article on the subject (whose choice in title-pun, 'Game Over', totally didn't pre-empt me) aptly frames the loss around what the GAME franchise had already undermined. That is, the sense of obscurity and enthusiasm that was washed away as gaming, and Game Group, took to the mainstream in the mid '00s.

Game Group's standardisation removed all traces of individuality when it came to game shops: tangential materials were cut back to a bare minimum in favour of massive pre-owned sections, while over-all  selection was limited to only the current generation of consoles. A business model that leans on second-hand sales as much as GAME's should be able to produce a huge selection of titles. Indeed, trekking to different shops was often a rewarding experience; today it is an exercise in futility. My local independent shop was a place where the latest releases were two metres away from software that was, in some cases, more than a decade old. They were driven out of business when a GAME store opened in the same shopping centre.

My mother once commented that she didn't like the atmosphere of the independent shop in my town, and that she favoured using GAME. This isn't a person with much love for corporations, the dissonance of which I pointed out to her, but that didn't matter: it was too cheap, 'slap-dash'; gaps in the carpet, mind-your-head-as-you-go-up-the-narrow-staircase kind of thing. You know: all the pomp and circumstance of a place that is not backed by much of any money. The icing on the cake here was that the local shop sold practically everything cheaper than GAME in an attempt to win over customers, but that didn't matter: too cheap. Ironically, if we could only see the fa├žade of lending that larger chains like Game Group are privy to we would see a far shabbier affair: an £85m debt pile is an ugly thing to accrue alongside the ousting of the superior independent retailers. The boom-period that Game Group presided over was so much squandered potential in favour of short-sighted business. I can't say I will miss the stores that disappear, although I do feel for those who lost their jobs because of it.

It's crappy for the kids who will never get to experience the enthusiasts' shopping space, though. That possibility was quietly put away a decade ago. To be honest, Game Group's apparent inadequacy makes me feel disturbingly vindicated. It shouldn't, really; the loss of visual presence on high streets can't be good for gaming. That said, the heightened presence didn't seem like a particularly good thing for gaming in the first place, but I can't begrudge the 'casual' market their Angry Birds and Wii Sports.