GAME: Store closures, sit-ins and potential buyouts

The future of GAME has been up in the air for several weeks now. Store closures were announced, administration declared and the slippery slope to the changed future of high street game retail is getting steeper and steeper as the days go on.

As it stands 277 stores have been shut and a total of 2,104 staff have been let go. As MCVUK points out, this represents over 40 per cent of the UK workforce. According to staff commenters most were given very little warning that their location would be one of the unlucky hundreds to close. All stock is purportedly being transferred to local Gamestation outlets.

Several stories have also begun appearing of angry customers denied the use of their longstanding reward cards, some of which have quite a bit of money built up from trade-in games. Unfortunately for anyone in that situation, that entire reward scheme has been suspended until further notice. The official statement from GAME came as part of a rundown of changes that have affected the online store as well as retail outlets.

Along with no more reward schemes, pre-orders are no longer being accepted at the remaining locations, gift cards have also been suspended, no pre-owned games or hardware are being bought and no refunds or exchanges will now be given for anything purchased in store.

A lot of it is understandable, but you can certainly sympathise with those that might have a few hundred quid on a now useless reward card.

One of the most hit areas for GAME closures has been Northern Ireland, where all but three outlets have now been officially shut down. However, many of the staff aren't taking this news lying down, staging a sit-in at locations in protest over redundancy pay which for some has only covered them until the end of this week.

Claiming they are owed at least a month's notice and pay, the latest update from GAME Monaghan staff member Ben Lamb O'Sullivan was that they: "Just had an administrator at our door, ain't getting our keys! It's all official now!"

These small isolated incidents are just the tip of the iceberg in regards to GAME's impact on the industry and the high street marketplace as well. Customers and staff have been hit so far, but it goes beyond that: middle class retail is under threat.

Thanks to a resurgence in personalised service, small, niche shops are somewhat making a comeback, which is great to see. Giant corporations are able to survive because of their global reach and large rainy day cash funds, but the middle man in all this, the 'specialist stores' like GAME are in trouble.

They aren't ultra-niche enough to have a cult-like following that can maintain it and they're not large enough to diversify like supermarket chains.

On top of this, the growing trend of digital downloads has hit high street software sales hard and it's going to continue to do so. GameStop recently announced its intentions to only focus on digital in the UK - suggesting further expansion of its Impulse distribution platform. Should GAME have looked to something like that to survive?

Perhaps. But then again, Amazon, a true e-tailer if ever there was one, has plans to open up its own Seattle based store. Likewise eBay had a real outlet open during the Christmas period, using in-store tablets to promote online auctions. Why? Because having a store displaying real products raises profile more than it sells products. It's a fantastic advertising format because it's real.

If GAME survives, in whatever form it takes, be it an OpCapita buyout, an RBS collective takeover, of even if Walmart sweeps in, the focus must surely be switched to online, to digital, to the future - with stores remaining as conduits to the new frontier of sales.

If it doesn't make it? Gaming will change in the UK. Without one of the most stalwart front-line adverts for their products, the big titles will receive less exposure and the mid-range, non-indie startup games won't even get a look in at supermarkets and similar.

You might be one of the many Internet users that finds all your information online - that's great, me too - but ask yourself why stores like GAME have top 10 titles on the shelves. Because that stuff matters to a lot of people. Casual AAA gamers. They don't know the latest and greatest, but they go in and they find out - and there's some middle ground games on a shelf nearby, expanding people's knowledge of what's available.

Now of course gaming won't die, consoles won't stop being sold and for the most part things will continue as they are, but GAME has been a big part of UK gaming culture for a long time. Losing it will alter the perception of games publicly, as well as force people into the arms of bigger chain stores that will cater purely to the Call of Dutys of the world. GAME wasn't niche, but it was specialist and losing it forever will make the industry as a whole that bit less special.