UK retailer GAME clarifies store closures situation. But can high street games retail be saved?

Specialist game retailers have been struggling recently, not least the UK’s biggest gaming retailer, GAME Group PLC. Recently, there was news that its UK and Irish stores would not be stocking any Electronic Arts releases (opens in new tab) through March and also that there have been credit issues with its bank, causing a reduction in stock numbers of many new titles. This was coupled with the announcement that the group is closing 60 stores across the UK. However, fresh information from GAME today has explained exactly how the company intends to tackle its problems.

A GAME spokesperson told us: “We aim for about 550 stores in the UK by Christmas 2013. We currently have 610 stores, and the closure programme is ongoing. Recently we informed the store teams and landlords of 35 stores of our intention to close. As always, we have a detailed plan to help customers to move to another local store or online, and we make every effort to support our people and redeploy them if possible.”

The quote directly applies to GAME-branded stores, meaning GameStation (which is also owned by the GAME Group) should be unaffected by the closures. But company-wide cuts would likely affect that brand in the future too. It is worth noting, however, that the ‘Christmas 2013’ deadline is later than previously reported across the net. These are mid-term plans, not just last-gasp quick fixes.

Above: A familiar site around the UK… but for how much longer?

Adding to that, the company is actually looking to build and develop its infrastructure, particularly in terms of IT – something that certainly wouldn’t be cheap and so points to an intention to stay in the high street market for some time. The spokesperson told us:

“During March we’ll be upgrading the IT systems in our UK stores to connect them fully to our online platform and web services. This will be a massive improvement for customers, and we’ll give a further update at the end of March.”

This is a good sign as it proves the company is looking forwards rather than simply to minimise losses. It also signifies an increased link to its online services. Are we about to see in-store prices compare with online offers? Here’s hoping – it would take away one of the biggest reasons customers have started looking elsewhere for their games.

That was the good side…

The problem is that while all of the above short-term solutions may well work as a quick fix, something significant needs to change in the long term. The news has been bad for a long time, the spiral of decline seems to be steepening and the entire industry is moving towards not only digital downloads of new titles, but also cheaper online transactions for those who still want traditional boxed copies.

There’s just no room for the high street in that model, especially when you consider the additional overheads a bricks and mortar store actually needs to run. Even supermarkets have got a better outlook, as they can buy in such huge numbers, they can afford to undercut high street specialists and even compete with online prices – or at least be attractive enough to attract impulse purchasers as they do their weekly shop. They can even sell games at a loss to encourage people into the store (to make the money back on everything else) – something GAME just can’t compete with.

Above: The new ‘Spring clean’ sale looks like a regular deal, but could indeed be a desperate bid to free up capital from old stock

If the company can somehow manage to combine the prices of online retail with the convenience of a local store, things could improve. But while the measures outlined today should keep GAME afloat for the next couple of years at least, there’s little to suggest there will be some magical turnaround.

With current circumstances, high street game retail’s days are undoubtedly numbered – just look at HMV’s troubles (opens in new tab) for more proof. And with the bitter taste still lingering from the elbowing out of independent shops, coupled with the high prices for software, opinion doesn’t seem to be incredibly positive.

So tell us – What could possibly change in order to save the high street game shops?

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