Has Game changed or have I?
I have been a gamer for a long time. I was playing Vic 20 games in the 1980s and my 1990s was a gaming decade dominated first by the Commodore Amiga and subsequently the Sony Playstation. I used to visit video and computer game stores a lot. This was a time when you could buy games in many high street shops such as Woolworths, W.H. Smiths, HMV, Virgin Megastore, and of course those dedicated outlets such as Game and Electronics Boutique.
For nearly the whole of the 1990s I was lucky enough to work in the centre of Southampton with a branch of both Game and Electronics Boutique within easy walking distance of my office, so more often than not my lunch break comprised of a little walk around both to see what was happening. These visits were always fun and there was invariably something new to see. New games would be available to try with a number of gaming stations set up. Other screens would be running demos of soon to be released and highly anticipated games. The shops would be stocked to the gills, full of games for multiple platforms, with both new and second hand options available. There would often be bargain bins to rummage through, or tables piled up with used PS1 games. The staff were both friendly and extremely knowledgeable and a visit was always an excellent use of my half an hour break.
In 2002 Game took over the Electronics Boutique stores and with many high street stockists not carrying games any more, became almost the only place in the town centre for your average gamer to shop. However my patronage has reduced gradually but consistently over time to the point now where I don’t even visit. The shop has changed so much and now has so little in common with my gaming interests that it simply isn’t worth my time.
My systems as a (predominantly) retro gamer are at least ‘one generation’ back, so the Xbox 360, PS3 and WiiU are the most modern consoles I own. I also still have a Sony PS1 and 2, Sega Dreamcast, Nintendo N64, GameCube and Wii, an original Microsoft Xbox and of course my trusty Commodore Amiga all still hooked up. But if I want a game for any of them I am better off visiting my only local independent retro game dealer (either Retro Shack in Shirley, Southampton, or The Loft Ladder in the Marlands Shopping Centre, Southampton) and failing that, I will try searching CEX, eBay, Gumtree or Facebook Marketplace. Nowadays Game doesn’t cater for anything other than the most modern systems. There are no bargain bins. No second hand retro games. Yet with the popularity of retro gaming you would have thought there is a market there to be exploited. Certainly they seem to have the space, since half their shop window display is taken up with used phones and iPads. But it seems that ‘current generation or nothing’ is their new motto. The atmosphere in the shops is sterile too; you no longer have any feeling that this is supposed to be a place of fun. Try and talk to an assistant and all they do is try and sell you extended insurance or disk cover. Everything on the shelves is vacuum packed and fifty quid.
So what has changed? Is it me? Have I simply become an old git? Is it my refusal to continually fork out the £300 plus that is required each time a new system is released, so instead enjoy my gaming in a much more cost efficient way, always staying one generation behind? Is it my fault that Game no longer has any interest in me as a customer? I don’t know, but I am not alone. Retro gaming is becoming increasingly fashionable; its popularity has exploded in the past few years with the prices of some older systems and games skyrocketing. Why has the ethos of the store changed to the extent that they have effectively alienated a significant proportion of their potential customer base?
I can’t pretend that I have the answer. But what I will say is this. If you are a retro gamer, look up and look after your local independent dealers. Because like the original Game stores, you will miss them badly when they are gone…