So I log onto Twitter today, and an awful lot of devs and other games-related people are talking about the decline of GameStop. GameStop, for those of you who didn’t know, was/is basically America’s answer to GAME, that place that was once relevant but now really isn’t worth visiting much.
I’m not going to try and analyze this: much better writers than I have written much longer and more coherent articles discussing the cause of the downfall of such stores: primarily Steam, supermarkets and Amazon, all with far superior supply chains and lower manpower costs are muscling the dedicated game shop on the high street out of existence, and in GAME’s case I can’t really say I’m sad. At least, in it’s modern incarnation.
I do, however, feel sad for what was once there. Going to game shops for me was a formative experience, and when I was a kid the game shops that existed were staffed by people with a genuine love for games and who would be able to recommend something to you without trying to steer it into a sales pitch.
In my case that was 5th Dimension, a shop in the town of Neath, Wales, where the staff actually knew what they were talking about and every time I went in they had some exciting new game playing on the screens above the main kiosk. I remember watching Soul Calibur on the Dreamcast and thinking I’d never seen such awesome graphics, and seeing the (then) crisp new graphics of the PS2 and being blown away by it (and promptly nagging the hell out of my poor, long suffering parents for one), and geeking out about new releases with the guys there.
And then there was GameStation, my main supply of games during my years at uni in the early 2000s.
GameStation was an amazing store: it was like a chain version of 5th Dimension (which was locally owned). There was a huge selection of preowned games (which was very important to a cash-strapped student), and the staff in it were again geeky as all hell and would quite happily just stand there and chat about the latest goings on in the games industry, new consoles and just generally cool geek stuff.
Indeed, the pressure-free geek environment in GameStation actually sold me many things. I’d go in there to hang out, and often I’d walk out having parted with my hard-earned cash from the Sainsbury’s night shift with a new game, or in the most extreme cases two generations of Xbox (the OG Xbox 360 sadly red ring of deathed, leading to several replacements). For me, the recommendation of someone genuinely passionate about games far outweighed some sales-monkey who was just trying to make up his quota, and I genuinely looked forward to visiting GameStation every time I’d finished my lectures and was ready to chill out and unwind. I went there to hang out and be my nerdy self, and naturally I would buy something that seemed cool.
Then along came GAME, who bought it up, eviscerated it and then closed it down. Out went the fellow geeks, and in came people who were obviously being pushed to sell, sell, sell and also offer such ridiculous things as “disc insurance” for your game. And with the rise of Steam, PSN and other digital outlets that will sell you a game without telling you about the offer of insurance for your game for £3 a month or the special deal on some shitty merchandise, many like me migrated away.
It’s a different world now: we have fast broadband which removed the need for these stores, and Valve brought in an easy to use storefront which allowed you to bring together all those games in one place, and that was pretty much curtains for GAME and friends. I don’t mourn the death of modern GAME: it was shit then, and it’s shit now. I’ll occasionally venture into the GAMEs of Fort Kinnaird and Princes St Mall in Edinburgh, and after five minutes of browsing through t-shirts and general tat I’ll walk straight out.
I’m not entirely sure what it stands for any more: its personality is bland with no edge or genuine passion, and the last time I went in there to enquire about buying an Xbox gift card for my brother’s birthday the guy would keep on trying to angle it back to GAME vouchers, which is just obnoxious. On the other hand, PSN and Valve will just let me pay (a bit more, admittedly in PSN’s case) for a game, and then let me download it without regaling me with a story about how their mate tipped beer on their copy and wished they had “game insurance”.
And we’re about to enter the era of Google’s Stadia and Microsoft’s Project XCloud, where GAME and GameStop will become even less relevant. GAME recently got bought out by Sports Direct, the UK’s leading buyer of basket-case store chains devastated by the internet, and I think I’m probably fairly accurate in my prediction that in about two years Sports Direct will look at GAME and think it’s high time to close it down. I won’t mourn the loss of GAME though… it’s not a space I ever wanted to go to, and I have better places to buy my software from.
But GameStation, my favourite game store of old? I miss you, and I raise my cup of coffee to you. Please don’t use that to try and sell me device insurance.