The Changing Face of Games Retail

Keza MacDonald hopes the demise of Game Group might herald the return to the high street of small enthusiast shops.

“Game Group, the company that owns both of the specialist high-street games retailers Game and Gamestation, has officially gone into administration , after suspending trading on its shares and filing for administration last week. Along with practically everybody in the games media, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and writing about this over the past few weeks, going over the potential reasons for Game’s failure to compete and its spiralling implications – not just for the obvious victims, its UK customers and employees, but for everyone who buys, makes and sells games. You can read about all of that here if you’re interested, but there’s no other way to spin it – this is bad news for all of us.

What I haven’t seen much talk about is our personal relationship with games retail. Game as it currently stands, with its limited selection of strong sellers and at times rather aggressive emphasis on pre-owned, up-selling and pre-order deposits, bears little resemblance to the Game that I visited when I was growing up. Games shops were actually places that I used to go to hang out when I was a teenager, to browse with friends and occasionally make new ones. It’s this experiential side of retail that things like Steam and Amazon haven’t replaced, and I really miss it.

Our local Gamestation in Edinburgh, before it was swallowed by Game Group, was a two-floor gamer’s paradise with new stuff on the bottom floor and a top floor full of T-shirts, figurines, demo stations and racks full of retro games going back to the NES. The most valuable of these items were displayed in glass cases. I remember staring longingly at a mint condition (and very overpriced) copy of the super-rare SNES game Secret of Mana inside one of those cases for about two months. Now and then there’d be someone else staring longingly at it right beside me, and we’d strike up a conversation. The staff were friendly and passionate (as many Game and Gamestation employees still are), and would happily chat for a half hour, trading recommendations and experiences. It was a real enthusiast store. I spent a faintly ridiculous amount of money and time there.

After Gamestation’s acquisition, whilst games sales were really booming between around 2006 and 2010, a lot of this disappeared. Retro was sidelined and eventually eliminated entirely in favour of a Game-like pre-owned model that focussed on newer games only. The merchandise became slowly more generic until most of the quirky stuff was gone and only the DS cases and Mario plushes remained. I stopped visiting games shops very quickly and started buying online. I attributed the death of the games shop as I remembered it as a necessary complication of my hobby’s move into the mainstream, and mourned it only briefly.

When I moved to Japan at the end of 2008 though, I discovered a world where the game shop was still an experience. There, alongside the rows of shiny new games at the front of the store, you’d find Dreamcast and N64 and Mega Drive games just an aisle away. Pretty much every games shop apart from the massive Bic Cameras and Yodabashi Cameras superstores gave as much floorspace to older games as it did to the new stuff, with 10-year-old boxes proudly displayed and baskets full of miscellaneous cartridges in which you might find a treasure.

Near where I lived in Nagoya there was a second-hand games and CD store, K’s House, that looked and smelled like someone’s attic, with cartridges and disc cases and mysterious, obsolete peripherals and controllers stacked head-high. Now and then, flipping through N64 games in there, I’d see some Japan-only game that I’d read about as a nine-year-old in a magazine and delightedly hand over ¥500 (£3.80) for it. My shelves are liberally adorned with such curios. God only knows how much money I spent.

I could have predicted that the experience of shopping for games somewhere like Osaka’s Den Den Town or Tokyo’s Akihabara would be exhilarating for any geek, but what I didn’t understand about Japanese retail is that most stores were like this. In Britain, shopping is something I do grudgingly and in as little time possible, picking up things online wherever possible. In Japan it became a recreational activity.

All of this will probably sound intimately familiar to anyone who collects vinyl. The record shop is perhaps a British equivalent to the Japanese games store. But surely there must be a place for enthusiast shops here, still, alongside the megachains like Game (or whatever Game is replaced with in the coming weeks). If it turns out that the British high street cannot support a games megachain, does that mean it can’t support smaller, more specialist shops either? Can’t there be somewhere for enthusiasts to shop, too, whilst mums and gifters and more casual browsers pick up FIFA and COD and Just Dance from bigger chains and supermarkets? Bigger retail stores are vital to the health of the games industry, but for a long time they’ve been all there is.

Maybe they do exist, somewhere, and I just don’t know about them. Do you?”

Keza MacDonald is UK games editor at You can follow her on Twitter @kezamacdonald
This is merely a repost of a very interesting article, you can read the entire piece here.


Game Over for GAME

After following the situation for the last week or so, what I find amusing is the ex-CEO of the company blaming the poor fate of the company on a poor 2011, including Christmas on some articles.

Yeah, I suppose titles like CoD:MW3, Battlefield 3, Skyrim, Fifa 12, Madden 12, Uncharted 3, Professor Leiton IV, Super Mario 3D Land, Mario Kart 7, Zumba, Dead Island, Forza 4, Gears of War 3, Dark Souls, SW:TOR, Batman: Arkham City, Saints Row: The Third, Deux-Ex, Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, Need For Speed: The Run, Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, God of War Collection 1 & 2, Sonic Generations, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Just Dance 3, Driver, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, L.A. Noir, Mortal Kombat, Mass Effect 2 and Dead Space 2 were just total garbage (some better ‘garbage’ then others) and the lack of AAA titles this year was the company’s doom…

Gotta love people that manage company’s without so much of a clue of what they are actually selling or talking about. But hey, it’s easier to blame the “lack of titles” over last Christmas and the digital distribution market (Steam) and Online only retailers (Amazon).
Yes, that sounds legitimate, let’s blame Steam which is but a small portion of the market compared to the consoles and might as well blame online stores like Amazon for being intelligent and having stupidly amazing prices and promotions strictly online. What’s that you say? Oh GAME’s website also had cheaper products then the stores? Well, why not do those prices in-store as well? Oh you got rent, shipping and employee costs to pay, that’s right. Well look how that turned out eh, people rather buy online then, there goes the rent money, oh snap.

Oh but they still don’t buy from YOUR online shop, but rather from Amazon or Steam, or even eBay? Damn, I wonder why that is… Maybe the over-the-top profit margins? Ever heard less is more? Steam sure did, so did Amazon.

I suppose 2 years since Ian Sheperd took the reins wasn’t enough to see how game was spiralling to their demise, nor to adapt to a market THEY should actually know about, digital distribution and price slashes right under their noses and still they missed the train, amazing…
You don’t charge people extra on a time of crisis like the world (and specially Europe) is still in, you charge less and do amazing deals and behold, you actually end up selling more.

Example time:

I was still working at a GAME store when Dead Island came out, the game was a blockbuster hit, sold out in every GAME shop in London, except ours, we had so much stock due to ghost pre-orders (that’s when you pre-order games for a fictitious costumer). And what did the brainiacs in head offices decided to do? Increase the price from 34.99£, to 39.99£ and when stock was really low, up again to 42.99£, boy, they were so smart! You know what people did? Hit the road to online retailers and Tesco’s. Gratz GAME offices!

Oh GAME… I guess a fair analogy would be to compare you to a sexy blonde, best thing that ever happened to most men, yet dumb as a door knob.

At this point, I just really hope GameStop or whoever saves your ass, because I want my Diablo III CE pre-order! But if not, well, I guess I’ll have to go Amazon, teh-heh! :>


The Agressive Salesmen

So we’ve finally received that payslip, done the math and decided to purchase a new gaming system just for the lulz – Lets leave my favouritism of PC gaming aside here and consider a new console – After some consideration of hardware and exclusives we’ve decided which one of this consoles generation we want to buy.

We rush over on a day off to the nearest gaming store, in this case GAME, because it actually is the only serious brick-and-mortar retail store out there with great deals on game systems, I won’t even throw in the remote possibility of GameStop…

We pick our console pack and head over to the counter to ask for it, or even ask for assistance in the shop-floor from an employee for some more information, so far so good. Now – and to start driving my point home – the annoying part comes when they try to push in talk-up’s of loyalty cards, insurances, accessories and reservations, this in my opinion is the absolutely the most annoying and rude thing anyone can do to me in a store, I despise it, and in the true sense of the word, I hate when any salesman does it. And while I do realize that it’s not really the employees fault, that they were instructed to do so and are reprehended by managers if they don’t, I just can’t shake the feeling that it truly bothers me.

Aggressive sale techniques is something I’ve grown to despise over the years, specially since I work in the retail area, every time a company demands of me that I must approach costumers in that way I shiver, and on the shop floor I dodge from doing it every chance I get, it’s something I hate when sales assistants do to me, so it’s only natural that I dislike doing unto others.

Currently, I’m working on a GAME store in the area of London, and GAME’s policy in this country – to my dismay – is to make agressive sales and approaches. The human resources department even made up what they (fittingly) call “The six killer questions”, and these are:
– Talk to them (costumers) about add’on’s [accessories; peripherals and insurance/extended warranty]
– Talk about reservations [reserve games prior to release]
– Talk about loyalty card [purchases = points = small money type of card]
– Talk about trade in’s [bring your old games for some “profit” for them (and GAME)]
– Talk about pre-owned games [buying used games instead of new]
– Talk about the website [the online possibilities of purchases and reservations]

These are the “questions” GAME made me memorize and imbue into my usual customer talk-up, and we have to introduce all of this during a supposedly casual conversation from the shop floor to the cashier/till, sometimes not even that, it’s ridiculous.
Don’t get me wrong, the loyalty card actually compensates in the long term if you buy games as frequently as once a month or make pre-reservations often, and there are advantages to the other offers if you pick your fights right, but most of these topics can’t find a way into a short conversation and seem natural, it would take a longer chat to do so without seeming forced into that customer, not to mention earning the costumers trust and emphasizing with them, the eventual idle talk, a small laugh at a given situation or similar opinion. The fact is, sometimes it works and you can fit these in in a natural conversation, but sometimes it doesn’t.

Just like if I’m browsing through some games or other goods, I don’t like to be interrupted by an annoying salesman asking me if “I’m alright” and if I need assistance. I realize this varies from person to person, but I like to be left alone and most people do to, if I need help I know you (the sales-man) are available, I know you are in the counter or in the shop floor, I just have to come to you, I have been provided with a mouth to speak when or if I need help, I don’t need you interrupting my casual browsing or even conversation with my partner/friend to find out if I need help, or rather, to find out if you can force a sale on me.

Even though we are living harsh times regarding the state of economy, it doesn’t justify this type of aggressiveness and push-in on sales, it never did. This form of selling technique has been around for a very long time, being specially “improved” over the last decades since the 70’s, and in my opinion that’s what it is, an old and outdated form of companies trying to make every buck they can out of you, masking this with the excuse that they are providing excellent costumer service by throwing people everything they have regarding promotions and offers, each one with it’s hidden costs and uselessness in some cases, I mean,  in all seriousness, who is going to buy an extended warranty and insurance for a console like Playstation 3 or X-Box? Under the pretext that you might spill liquids into it? That it might tip over and fall? That it might be stolen? Please… The odds of those things happening are proportionate to either people’s cautionary measures or their stupidity.

I’m lovin’ it!

Yes, today I’m going to talk about that insane franchise that is McDonalds (MC), the one that tastes so great and pumps grease directly into my veins, they’re probably not “lovin’ it” as much…

After the cockblock that was the Highrocks, the first job I managed to get back in the real London (not 64Km away) was a McDonalds in Holborn Station, I believe that in today’s time, everyone born between the 70’s and beyond is required to work in a MC as part of a rite of passage into manhood wtfhood.

I won’t loose time telling the gory details this time as I want this to be a much lighter-mood post then the previous one. Besides cleaning the toilets, restocking tissues, cleaning the toilets, restocking straws, cleaning the toilets, cleaning tables, cleaning the toilets, replacing the trash bin, cleaning the toilets, mopping the floor, cleaning the toilets, and taking out the trash containers in the back alley, there isn’t much to know. That IS IT if you’re working the lobby, I have no idea about the kitchen or the till/cashier since I’ve never done it, but it looks just as miserable for 5,95£ an hour.

Oh, and I wasn’t fuckin’ around with that “cleaning the toilets” thing, it’s literally mandatory to check once every 5 minutes, 12 times p/h. If I ever get to see another MC toilet again it will be too soon. It’s ungrateful work, and let’s leave it at that.

Now, what I learned in MC during my 3 weeks there was the following:

  • – If your menu includes some type of cabbage or salad in your burger, that cabbage will – guaranteed – end up in:
    1) In the floor for me to clean up.
    2) In the tray for me to clean up.
    In no circumstance whatsoever, will that cabbage go inside your mouth, hence your body.
  • – If you asked for sugar to put in your coffee, that sugar will never find it’s way into the coffee, it will go onto the tray… for me to clean.
  • – If your burger has a tomato slice, that tomato will be on the floor.
  • – If you asked for ketchup, half of that ketchup package will be part of the table decoration, the other half in your burger.
  • – If you asked for any other sauce (barbecue; sweet&sour, etc), you will take the small lid off, full of sauce, and stamp it on the table, for me to clean up.
  • – If you asked for french fries, 1 of every 5 fries will see the sole of your shoe instead of your stomach.
  • – If you got to the WC; As a man, you will leave a small spot of crap on the toilet, for me to clean. As a woman, you will leave a paper-trail of toilet paper on the floor, for me to clean…
  • – If you go to the WC to wash your hands, you will spill water into the floor, next, you will step on it with your dirty shoes to stain the floor. Yes, I’ll clean it…
  • – If you see me mop the floor of the restaurant, you will step on the wet clean floor instead of going around, furthermore, you might even pretend I’m not there.
  • – If you see me switching over a full litter bin for a new one, you will stand around looking at me waiting for something to happen instead of moving on to the next one or leave the tray in the table.
  • – You know that last situation I mentioned about the tray and the litter bins? It will never happen, you will always leave the tray on the table. Along with that half of the ketchup package smeared around the table, the tomato on the floor along with 7 fries, and the cabbage and the sugar all over the tray.
  • – If the MC where you went has another floor, and after getting your menu you decide to go up or down to eat, you will spill your drink on the stairs, for me to clean up.
  • – If you are a hotgirl/boy and approach me for conversation, it will always be to find out if the Wi-Fi is free.
  • – If you have kids with you, you must multiply all the factors mentioned above by 3 times per kid. I’t ok, I’ll clean it up.
  • – If you have been on a night out and drinking with your friends, the moment you vomit will be on a MC establishment.
  • – And finally, when you are finally about to leave MC, after spilling your drink, shitting the toilet and  leaving your dirty tray on the table, you will once again step on the wet floor I just fucking mopped.

And that is what you will learn about MacDonalds if you ever feel the mental-suicide need to apply there, I know I did!

Into the UK

Moving to a new country filled with new experiences? Get a Blog then, leave the diaries in the <90’s.

So… Here I am in the most famous kingdom of queens – the band, the city and the Queen herself – and as a 28 year old Portuguese man I once wondered just what the fuck am I doing here, uh?

I arrived on the 7th of July to the most labour intensive kind of job I’ve ever had, the only worse thing I could remember were the Chinamen that had to work from dusk ’till dawn, catching whatever-it’s-name-is-of-a-fish or some type of mollusk .

I arrived at the United Kingdom (UK henceforth) at Heathrow, pretty exciting since it was my first commercial air-plane trip. The first real street view I had was the emerging in the Victoria Station underground station, apart from the fact that it was raining (of course) and I was carrying maybe 30Kg with me I can say I didn’t have the opportunity to look around much, besides the obviously different taxi’s and double-deckers, I took off on a taxi as soon as I got the chance to some crappy neighbourhood where the agency that got me the job was. After waiting about an hour, they sent me on my way to a bus for Waterloo Station, and there, catch a train to Tunbridge Wells, something like 40-50Km from London, (unlike anything I had previously discussed with that agency).

Upon arrival around 5pm at the High Rocks restaurant – and commenting with a sympathetic taxi driver how everyone drives on the wrong side of the road – I was shown to my room, sharing it along with some other Polish guy. Upon seeing that room, and upon realizing that there was no Internet (what?! It’s just as important these days), THAT’S when I started to wonder just “what the fuck am I doing here”. It was the only time, but it hit me like a train full of train parts, I sobbed quite a lot for the remaining day, I missed home, my living-room, my everything, but mostly I missed (teh) Helen. I felt utterly alone…

On that evening, while trying to get some sleep, I got suddenly hit by a sort of calm, that there was no point in feeling anguished and sad anymore, everyhting would work out, and I could actually do this. Then I fell asleep…

The next morning I woke up to the (terrible) sound of a cell-phone alarm playing some sort of Polish pop-music, and the singer was awful, as if he was trying to sing with two ping-pong balls in his mouth. A fraction later I realized I was in that shit-hole with a room-mate that was so clean and organized that he probably wouldn’t be able to find his own bed in that mess. “It’s ok, I can do this”.

Work started at 10:00 with simple tasks, vacuum-cleaning the main hallway and some other rooms, preparing some tables and napkins (I failed to mention the job was a catering one) and it was going rather fine until lunch-time. Eventually guests for both parties – they had so many rooms they could host 2 or 3 really big parties simultaneously – and the real work started.
The constant flow of dishes and silverware was constant and none stop, from carrying trays with 10 plates filled with food every 30 seconds, to carrying 8-10 person tables and 6 wooden chairs in one go, my back felt completely FUBAR, and I can’t stress this enough, the flow was constant, you couldn’t get a break unless you literally sneaked out out of scene for a few seconds or minutes. You had to rely on customers leaving food in their plates to eat something to distract your stomach from hunger, you had to constantly drink water to hydrate and it was never enough. Time for yourself during work just didn’t exist literally, and don’t even think about a dinner break, let alone a 10 or 15 minute break.

Eventually you would end up having dinner, after every costumer there had his 6 to 8 dinner courses and you had removed all the used plates and silver, piles and piles of it, heavy, very heavy. I take the hat off to only one thing there, which was the food, when you had the chance to eat (in 20 minutes or less) you would eat whatever the Chef’s had prepared for the costumers, and it was really tasty, specially considering how tired and hungry I felt.

This went out for hours and hours, even when the guests were all gone you had at least 4 more hours work ahead of you. The descriptions I give above give it no justice in how fucking mental that job is. It’s hard enough for people with perfect health, let alone me with a heart condition that makes me tired in 2 minutes time with minimum effort.

The problem with that place, in fact, I’ll rephrase that; One of the problems of that place is that it wasn’t flat, there’s fucking stairs all over the place, it’s a huge mansion like house full of stairs, even the kitchen is the the basement, with a set of stairs, hence the hardship of carrying trays full of food from the kitchen to the upper floors, and tables, and chairs, ‘cuz the bastards kept changing the set-ups of the rooms according to what type of party and how many people it would have, and so, like I was saying above, even after the guests left, you had to clean the entire rooms, huge rooms, ball rooms! That meant clearing all the tables to one side and chairs, doing the floor clean-up and waxing, putting the tables and chairs back in place, and/or carrying them out (stairs) to other rooms, and to top it off, you’d have to put all the new silver, plates, glasses, tissues in the tables, ready for the next day.

Next thing you know, it’s 5am when they finally release you from something short of slave-work, I tried to ask around 2am if I could leave, along with some part-time Russians that had come in (read part-time as 8 hours…), and the reply I get is “We all have to work <name>”
Seriously? from 10am to 05am with a 2 hour break and a 30 minute dinner? I found out by my Polish room-mate that although that day was a Friday, it was similar to that every other day, working from 12 to 15 hours a day was the daily life of these guys, at 5,92£ per hour.

That night – or should I say dawn, it was 5am – I decided I was leaving, I couldn’t keep up with that type of work, I felt like crap and I was supposed to come back to work at 12:00 along with everyone else. Yes, that’s 7 hours to sleep, shower, breakfast, time-to-yourself.

I came in at 10:00 to explain the sub-manager that I was leaving, long story short, he assumed, saying to me that I had never worked before, I told him I had 3 years of professional experience, he skipped into saying I tried his place for 1 day only, not even a week, he says to me “You don’t give yourself a chance to succeed”. I told him I didn’t like to be exploited.

Just because these bastards can get literally free workers from desperate countries, does that justify exploring them? The place was full of Polish (334€ minimum wage), Russian (103€) and 2 Portuguese (485€), the UK’s minimum wage is 1.171€, so yes, a person can earn a lot of money, I myself earned 96£ for the single day I worked, that’s a lot of money for 1 day of work, but at what cost? some 14-15 hours of work and 7h sleep? I’d rather live slower and keep some type of physical and mental health tank you very much.

No… Just because I come from a country that is shit and it’s going to remain in the toilet for at least 35 to 40 years (assuming they do everything right, which won’t happen), just because I or anyone comes from those types of countries doesn’t give companies, small time restaurants, catering, construction work and cleaners the right to explore them for every single bit of desperation for money they have. Working longer then 8 hours a day should be an option people make, whether they love the company they work for or need more income, but it should never be a duty.

The Highrocks owner (whoever the bastard might be) is indeed a “smart” man. He gets to pay minimum wage to a staff of 20 or so low-grade people, and on top of it, get them to pull of something a reasonable company would create 2 or 3 shifts for. A person starting at 10am should be leaving by 19pm, not at fucking 3 or 5am the next day. Yes, very well thought out: one payroll, 2 work shifts.

So, and to finally conclude, what am I doing here? Well, I guess the answer I have for myself at this time, is that I’m starting work on the very same franchise I used to work for back in Portugal, only in a far better country, with far better career prospects. And I didn’t have to be exploited to get that…