Let me open by being perfectly clear. I don’t want GAME to go to the wall. I don’t want the store staff and people who don’t get to make the big decisions to lose their jobs. I don’t think I’ve seen any reporting or comments by anybody who genuinely wants that to happen, either. Anybody suggesting that’s the case is pretty much overreacting.
But the fact is that as an industry, we actually do have a right to be angry about this colossal fuck-up. And the fact that I’ve used the brutally easy “GAME Over?” as a headline. Sorry ’bout that.
Anger (at) Management
We have a right to be angry that the UK’s largest specialist games retailer – one that the industry has grown alongside – looks to be headed into the uncertainty of administration and takeover when we haven’t stopped spending our hard-earned money on the products that they sell. At all. We have a right to be angry FOR (not AT) the company’s staff as their jobs are sold down the river due to year after year of a complete lack of concern for anything other than corporate back-patting and overly-conservative margin-watching.
We have a right to be angry that The Game Group PLC is taking two companies that are a part of UK gamers’ heritage – Gamestation and Gameplay – down with it. The former being a 217-store chain that was formerly making healthy profits before GAME took over, and the latter also being a formerly profitable company that began serving gamers via mail order almost twenty years ago. I do believe I bought SNES and Megadrive games back in the day from Gameplay.
But now they’re gone, absorbed into a dying corporate behemoth that never once tried to look past the end of its own nose.
We have a right to point at the higher-ups and say “We told you so!” in as loud a voice as we can. Why? Because most of us – as Virgin Games, Electronics Boutique, Gamestation, Gameplay and GAME customers – have damn well paid for the opportunity.
On the subject of pointing out the company’s faults though, MCV’s Michael French says:-
Hindsight’s no good here. Schadenfreude is just vicious.
Why didn’t those ‘wise’ voices push harder to warn the firm? And, by all means, please hurry to share your astounding insight with the other firms currently at the top of their game and primed to fall far should circumstances turn against them.
Schadenfreude – the taking of pleasure from someone else’s misfortune – is indeed vicious. It would be especially vicious if I was to say, put the word “GONE” in the company’s font on the front of my magazine, and then send it to every GAME and Gamestation store in the country, as MCV have done this week. Still, at least the store staff might read this week’s issue for a change, instead of throwing it in the staff room bin.
Cheap and probably somewhat unwise digs aside, as a gamer I take issue with the tone of Mr. French’s paragraph. As a former member of the company’s staff, I also take issue with the tone of Mr. French’s paragraph. The reason being that this “wise voice” (and wiser voices than mine) have always been told to pipe down when we had an idea that didn’t fit in with the GAME’s vision of being a giant corporation. We aren’t suddenly shouting out about how great we are, in some bizarre bout of gloating.
How about some examples, maybe some of which are from a long time ago and that I’m slightly bitter about? Oh, go on, then…
Confer or Discount
When we suggested that it might be a good idea to discount a new release that was selling for £15 cheaper at a local stationery store, rather than paying for travel, hotels, food and bar tabs for almost 1,000 managers, assistant managers, head office staff and general hangers-on to attend a biannual “conference” (read: three-day long piss-up and gameplaying session where game publishers give out freebies in order to “assist with product knowledge”) which didn’t serve the business or the customers in any way, we were told to pipe down. That’d be the same “conference” that was held in 2011, despite the company being in dire financial straits. There again, if I had the choice of giving someone a fiver off something, or going out on the lash and trying to woo the young, attractive store manager I’d just hired, I’d probably go for the drinks. Only difference is that I’m not running a company. Just saying.
Poke Them On
When we suggested that this new Pokemon thing coming in from Japan was going to be kind of huge, we were told to pipe down – and then quickly learned how boring it is to say “No, I’m afraid we only got 10 copies in and they’re all gone. WH Smith has copies left though, I believe – try them.“ over a thousand times in a single weekend.
When we told management that we had sold our store’s entire allocation of GoldenEye for the N64 (an allocation that was decided by them) and asked why they were shouting at us because we hadn’t sold enough to meet the target THEY had been set, we were told to pipe down and try to sell more stock that we didn’t have, and that if we failed, the whole store staff should not bother coming into work the following day. Everyone loves impossible goals!
When we then told management that customers were hanging up halfway through our “official telephone greeting” which once read: “Good afternoon, you’re through to GAME Oxford Street, where you can now preorder Pokemon Gold and Pokemon Silver for the Gameboy Color, and get a discount on a Pokemon Training Guide. Also, ask me about our loyalty card which is free and that could save you money on future purchases. How can I help you?” – guess what they did? Oh yeah, they told us to pipe down.
When store staff told Gamestation bosses that flogging every single item of retro product for 49p a pop a few months ago was madness, as they undoubtedly had more than a fair few rare and valuable games in there, they were told to pipe down. Hell, they could have paid someone to sit there listing items via some kind of eBay outlet store online for a few months and made a fair bit of profit over and above the £49 they were making for every 100 games they sold. One collector (and this is one tale out of many that I know of) managed to spend the princely sum of £20.58 for 42 games, before flipping them on eBay for over £500. Boomer.
When we all asked GAME why they would book their money-losing GAMEfest event just a fortnight before Eurogamer held their incredibly popular Eurogamer Expo event no more than 120 miles away, we were told to pipe down.
When the “financial climate” was cooling, and pretty much EVERYBODY on the face of the planet told GAME that they a) needed to start discounting their online prices to compete, b) need to be quicker with deliveries and c) needed a website that actually worked in some way that made sense, they told us to pipe down. And no, clicking that “Hide Out of Stock Items” button or selecting “Sort Low to High Price” still doesn’t really do anything. Well done if you’ve had any of your “Spring Clean Prices!” items sent to you this week. Seemingly, most folks placed an order, then waited 12 hours until they got an email from GAME confirming that the order had been cancelled due to a lack of stock. Fantastic work.
When we asked GAME why they had SEVEN stores in a five-mile radius of the center of Glasgow, and asked why they didn’t shut say…five of them, perhaps?…in order to save money on rent, overheads, and salaries whilst undoubtedly making a very, very similar number of sales, they told us to pipe down. Even Pete Stone, UK General Manager at Konami says “…but I also know there are too many GAME and Gamestation stores, and at the very least, rationalisation is necessary.” Pipe down, Pete, they don’t care what you think – although I agree with you fully.
When we asked why our Mass Effect 3 preorders were being refunded as credit notes that are only redeemable at the checkouts of a company that may not exist in a month’s time, we were told to pipe down. Then they issue statements saying that people rushing to redeem their credit notes and reward points might be accelerating their demise, and expect us to feel sorry about it. I’m only sorry I didn’t cash mine in sooner.
But Why Ignore Good Advice?
None of this stuff means or meant ANYTHING to GAME’s management. What mattered (and still matters) was that the area manager got his annual bonus and his swish company car, and that the Key Performance Indicators were met. Nobody cared about how best to actually achieve those targets, or how being the best choice for gamers or – heaven forbid – going beyond the call of duty for the customers, would actually make those targets a lot easier to achieve. The fact was that if you were in the “boys’ club” (or were a woman with no interest in games, but with management desires and a decent pair of legs – just calling it as I saw it, folks), you’d be moving up the ladder quickly, even if you were absolute horseshit at your job. Good members of staff with good ideas were pushed aside for those who would further climb the corporate structure by slapping backs and trading drinking stories. People who could drive trade, make sales and pluck profits out of the air were cast asunder, all because they didn’t talk the talk or walk the walk.
When I consider the decision-makers at GAME, I picture David Brent and Chris Finch from The Office. Every time a decision has to be made, someone even higher up than them walks past, and they instantly start to talk copious amounts of corporate bullshit in order give the impression that they’re the highest flyer of the pair. What they don’t ever do is MAKE A FUCKING DECISION THAT MAKES ANY SENSE.
You can cry all you want about GAME going and leaving us with no specialist stores on the high street. I say that (I reiterate, I don’t take joy in anyone losing their jobs) is a good thing, personally. For too long, the casual shoppers that might not know any better have been trundling into their local branch and handing over too much money for items that are pretty much dumped in a bag and thrown at them by whoever is being given minimum-wage to operate the till. If they ask for advice, they either get grunted at or lied to by whoever has been put on “shop floor duty” that day. Oh and, by the way GAME, putting staff who are untrained in sales tactics on “shop floor duty” day after day is bordering on useless. You may as well be throwing their salaries down the drain, as they aren’t anything like effective members of staff when they come out from behind the counter without training. Anybody who so much as read a paperback copy of “The One Minute Manager” in 1985 will tell you that you’d be better off ditching that member of staff, as his or her salary is worth more in pure cash terms than the extra sales they’ll bring in over the course of 12 months. I’m sure some of the “Six Sigma”-proficient staff at the top should have worked that out by now.
The fact is that there are SO MANY THINGS that GAME are doing wrong, that it really is hard NOT to stand and indulge in a bit of schadenfreude. That and the fact that as gamers, we’re invested in having a specialist retailer on the High Street, is why we’ll stand up and shout about it, thanks very much.
With GAME gone, the scene will open up for the independent retailer once again. They’ll still have to compete with the supermarkets, sure, but I’m pretty sure that with only the minimum of business sense, someone could take up the lease for my town’s branch of GAME and make a good profit as an independent games retailer. If I had the money, I’d be checking out business rates and lobbying suppliers right now, that’s for damned sure.
I’ve no real marketing savvy, but I’d beat GAME’s management fast-trackers into the dirt. Most of us would, because we aren’t idiots who are just looking for stories to tell on the golf course on a Sunday morning. We realise that if we sell something we have practically unlimited stock of and take a 9% profit on it, that’s better than turning that sale away because we refuse to discount the price because of our “ideal” 18% margin.
Y’know, like kids learn at school. Money is better than no money.
To GAME and Gamestation’s staff: I hope that the coming weeks aren’t too horrid for you. Really, I do. I’ve worked for a company that for a good three years that was in so much financial trouble that we didn’t know if each day would be our last. I know it sucks, but better days will come.