Tuesday, 15 February 2011

What I learned from working at GAME

I now write for The Yorker, a new media site. You can find the original publish of this article here.

Being a student with a pressing need to pay for rent, groceries, and alcohol, I was pumped to get a job working at a GAME over the winter holidays. Initially it felt great to earn my own money - rather than it being supplied by my parents or the government - but as I worked there, what I learned changed by views on games retail slightly.

1) The market is a lot smaller than I thought. If I want to buy a game online, I have tons of options. Not just eBay and Amazon, but 'digital distribution' systems like Steam, where purchased games are directly downloaded to your computer, no plastic boxes or shipping. High street shopping is a different beast, however. Dedicated games shops will stock a wider range of content than HMV or Tesco, but the success of online shopping has downsized dedicated games retail. Many independent shops have closed, leaving GAME, Gamestation, and CEX the last 3 competing chains. But interestingly, GAME and Gamestation are actually owned by the same company. In fact, every so often we got extra stock of second-hand games from them when we were running low. The pricing and trade-in values are the exact same, too. You have to wonder why they're even separate shops.

2) Game Charts are a bit of a sham. Nearly any store that sells games will have a set of shelves devoted to the 'top games' out at the moment; just like books and CDs. However, while the charts of CDs are heavily monitored, games are less so. The means that in most GAMEs, the charts will be a top list of the games the shop wants to shift or promote, more than what's actually selling. This will result in the new, big-name releases always being in the #1 spot, and terrible games that they want to offload not being that far behind. I don't believe that Hello Kitty: Birthday Adventures is the #3 game at the moment, do you?

3) Customers can be really... weird. The best example I've experienced was one gentleman who came in to trade in a large stack of old Xbox 360 games to trade against a Kinect. Unfortunately the games weren't worth very much, and he was pretty ticked to find out that I could only give him about £37 for his troubles. He then decides to not bother getting a Kinect, and picks up various new games from the shelves - waiting until no one's looking, and leaving the shop with them. The catch? For security reasons, we don't put the games inside the display boxes on the shop floor - he fled the premises with nothing more than a collection of empty boxes, leaving his old 360 games behind in the process.

4) The 'Big Name' releases aren't the best sellers. I was employed during a number of the big Winter releases - Medal of Honor, Call of Duty: Black Ops, Fable 3... but none of them sold in particularly huge numbers. At a guess, I wager that it's down to a mixture of them being available to purchase online, and the target audience for those games coming into the store less and less. The biggest sellers were budget DS games (I've sold more copies of Peppa Pig: Fun and Games and Imagine: Animal Doctor than I can remember), and a bizarre subset of PC games that revolve around 'find the hidden object' game play. If I ever get in to games design, I'm going to make a hidden object game about sick ponies. I'll make a killing.

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