Games at Retail: Adapt or Die

Last week finally saw HMV find a new buyer, ensuring one more traditional bricks and mortar business would enable gaming to have a high street presence alongside Blockbuster and Game. With most of us using online retailers to buy and pre-order games nowadays, you may wonder why we still need video games to be represented on the high street.

As this console generation winds down, we’ve seen a steep decline in game sales across the board. In 2012, retail sales were hit the most and dropped by over 20%. Game, Blockbuster and HMV barely survived, as gamers’ attention wavered. The original Wii’s bubble burst and there was a lack of any serious mass appeal products to renew lapsed players’ (read: more casual than you and I for example) interest. The numbers for Call of Duty are down and we’re repeatedly hearing of sequels selling only a shadow of what the previous game did – hello DMC.

So much rests on the shoulders of the next gen machines. Jaded consumers need to be blown away again with powerful graphics and innovative concepts that they can’t find on current gen consoles. If you think these things aren’t important then take a look at the Wii U. If retail stores can be a big part of the launch of next-gen consoles then they stand a better chance of being carried through with the renewed enthusiasm that gaming is crying out for and more importantly, customers might keep coming back.

So it’s with a console purchase experience that I’ll begin my look at retail. The reformed and reborn Game are making impressive steps to offer a welcoming console buying experience. A tool on their website allows you to add up the value of any games you’d like to trade in and they’ll beat any local offer by £1. This is a great time saver and ensures you don’t bring home half of the games you were going to trade in. Yes, trade-in prices can sometimes be disappointing, but for the sake of an extra couple of pounds, eBay sometimes isn’t worth all the extra hassle. Also, we’re seeing some great trade-in deals to buy brand new titles for £1 when you bring in another recent top title, which beats selling on a new game for £25 used on eBay.

Bundles are a key focus to make a console seem like a more attractive offer. Online options are very much ‘take it or leave it’ as there’s nobody to talk to. Whereas at Game, you’ll be able to ask for better deals, such as changing the bundled software. As long as titles are of similar value, management are usually keen to please. There’s more wiggle room for discount if you want an extra controller or HDMI cable too. It’s hardly haggling, but there’s certainly scope for improving the deal over the original price. Try doing that online.

As we move closer to the release of the next generation of consoles with the PS4 and Microsoft’s next Xbox, the high street will play an important role for both consoles. Sony have already stated that they will not block pre-owned games, but Microsoft are remaining infuriatingly silent in the face of some horrifically damaging rumours on the subject. Various retailers have told trade magazines like MCV that they may consider not stocking a console that would block pre-owned titles, as many of these stores rely heavily on their pre-owned business. If your new console isn’t in both supermarkets and specialist gaming stores, the choice over which machine to invest money in will become much simpler to the majority of consumers. The news of being unable to play preowned games will reach even the most casual buyer’s ears. This whole messy furore around pre-owned titles could decide an early winner for next-gen consoles before it’s even begun. The high street may be struggling, but its influence for the next-gen is already alarmingly clear.

At launch, it will be likely everyone will be selling the consoles for similar prices, both online and in physical stores. Profit margins on hardware are notoriously low, so nobody will be keen to discount them early on. Another advantage of buying your console at a store is that you’ll actually have it there and then and not be at the mercy of the postal service or piss poor dispatch times like our News Editor Jon experienced when buying his Wii U from The Hut. Game’s rep may have been damaged with the administration era, but you can be sure Sony and Microsoft will be delegating huge amounts of stock for them. Even around the Wii U’s launch week, they were one of the only stores (high street and online) to have stock.

Keeping gamers coming back after buying a console is the toughest nut to crack for the retail market. Since Game’s recovery, they have been working hard to rejuvenate the business. After hours lock-ins for gamers eager to try out new releases ahead of launches is a great idea. Tabletop gaming / model-painting store Games Workshop and their ilk are good examples of getting consumers to treat stores as places they like to spend time with fellow enthusiasts. More in-store tournaments with prizes would be a great way to bring customers in too.

Bringing a gaming cafe experience to your local game store would be difficult, but if attempted in decent locations, it could help bring in some cash from those of us that normally wonder in, compare prices on our smartphone then walk out again. Naturally, the costs involved with refitting for food and drink can be off-putting, but some adaptive investment into gaming’s retail industry could be the difference between them still being around next year and us buying a console from a supermarket. Manchester’s Kyoto Lounge and Loading Bar in Falmouth (and London soon) are examples of successful gaming cafes/bars that the industry should be looking at and trying to adapt to a retail angle.

Ensuring Return Visits

Staff at stores play an important role and should be able to offer something websites can’t –the human touch. Whether it is chatting at the till during a transaction about the game a customer is buying or helping to recommend something based on other games a customer likes.

This is useful for regular gamers or gift buyers who may be unsure they’re buying the right game.Call of Duty instead of Medal of Honor or FIFA instead of PES for example to avoid those awkward Christmas Day moments.

Retail cards for points, credit, DLC and digital games have become prominent in stores, which is a sensible move. This is an appealing option for people unwilling to pass over credit card details or cardless younger gamers with pocket money. New gamers are an audience that the high street must be keen to serve. FIFA’s Ultimate Team packs should be working harder to replace football sticker albums (I’m presuming kids still buy those things, no?).

Store presentation leaves more room for creativity than online sites. In-store standees and posters are always going to appeal to me more than pop-up ads or YouTube playlist interruptions – I mean seriously Defiance, enough already.

Shelf presentation could do with a shakeup as the charts dominate too much space, leaving everything else to be chucked on shelves sideways with about as much eye-catching appeal as peering through a library window at the spines of a German road map collection.

Just having gaming stores on the high street is an important reminder of the mediums very existence. Like it or not, the majority of console buyers are more than likely a casual crowd compared to people like you and me (gamers combing the internet for the latest news). We need gaming to be in their face as much as possible. People need to see games when walking down the street, whether it be with money burning a hole in their pocket on payday or just on their way to work, or school, the pub and so on.

TV advertising can’t be relied upon anymore, as publishers just aren’t committed to spending as much on it as in previous years and why would they when we have tablets and smartphones to entertain us during ad breaks?

It’s been a while since the supermarkets were slashing each other to bits to get us in to buy FIFA or COD on the cheap, but there are still a few bargains to be found occasionally in stores. If games disappear from the high street though, these glorified tinned foods specialists will be free to keep their prices as high as they please.

Retail is frequently forced to over-rely on the top-heavy release schedule towards the end of the year and this year will be no different looking at the line-up over the next six months. They’ll be desperate to see the PS4 and new Xbox hit UK shores in time for the holiday season so they can begin rebuilding their foundations and forge new relationships with both the hardcore early adopters, Christmas gift shoppers and the more casual crowd swept up in the early buzz. After that, retail will have to focus on what advantages they have over the dominant online industry and most certainly create some new ones. ‘Adapt or die’ must be every stores motto if they are to survive.

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