VBG: Playing the GAME with Retailers

When buying games, I traditionally swear by online retailers because they usually offer far better prices than high street stores, similar to how it is across the ocean, so I’m told. Take the playground of sack that is LittleBigPlanet, released for the PS3 late last year; it’s now selling for the bargain price of £13 ($19) with free delivery from Play.com, but in-store it’s going for anything between £20 and a disturbingly chunky £40 ($29-59). OK, I’m not trying to promote the idea of the lazy, obese, anti-social gamer, the kind who orders a delivery of one large pizza with a side order of a medium pizza, all from the comfort of the sofa’s hefty butt-indentation, but I do like idea of the game coming to me rather than vice versa, especially when I don’t have to pay extra for the privilege of heaving my hefty butt to the store. Sometimes, however, you need a video game right there and then, and simply cannot afford the patience for snail mail. One of those occasions occurred a couple of weeks ago.

It was Friday, and I needed to get hold of the DS re-release of Chrono Trigger, Square’s highly acclaimed role-playing game of 1995. Since everyone had told me that I needed to play it, I decided that I needed to play it, just to shut everyone up. I needed a copy that particular Friday because I was spending the weekend in my girlfriend’s barren new flat. Knowing that her Saturday morning and early afternoon always consisted of sleep (as many would say it rightly should), and that her flat was at that time less engaging than the Wii’s back-catalogue, I decided I’d pick up Chrono Trigger to keep myself occupied, especially since it was on sale in GAME. This was a mistake. Trying to get hold of it was a nightmare. Of the fifteen or so relatively near GAME stores that I contacted, only half actually answered my call, and those that did told me they were sold out – of a game that was two months old (or 14, depending how you look at it) and had hardly been lighting up the charts. I went to my local GAME to find plenty of copies of Chrono Trigger on the shelf, only to pick up one, take it to the cashier, and find out that it was all a big, fat lie; out of stock, again.

The ordeal amplified my already burgeoning dissatisfaction with the UK’s biggest video game retailer. Sure, they have some good qualities. The staff are pleasant, if sometimes absent, literally and mentally, but that just solidifies my belief that they’re gamers, a belief stemmed from the typically respectable amount of gaming knowledge they display – GameStop customers reading that are green with envy. Also, their prices are quite competitive… for the high street, that is. They don’t compare with online retailers, but at least they don’t slap a sticker on their customers’ heads that reads ‘MORONIC SPENDTHRIFT – HA!’, which HMV and Zavvi may as well do. £45 for Golden Axe: Beast Rider? Please.

Moreover, one could argue that I shouldn’t complain about a retailer that was willing to pay me double for what I’d paid for one of my games. Yup, I’d bought off-road racer Pure for £10 online, briefly (but only briefly) enjoyed it, and then sold it on to GAME three weeks later for a whopping £20. Yes, that’s very generous, and I certainly didn’t complain at the time, but let’s face it, if your store isn’t researching the competing prices, and are prepared to give out £20 for a six-months-old mediocre video game, that stinks of bucket loads of incompetence, doesn’t it?

An enormous chunk of my respect for GAME was chipped off when I found out about their Sainsbury’s swoop last year. When supermarket Sainsbury’s knocked the prices for Xbox 360s and Wiis right down, GAME stepped in to swoop up a large number of the reduced-price consoles. Managers were told to send staff to their local Sainsbury’s, pick up Wiis and Xbox 360s and add them to the GAME stock, all with the intention of selling them onto their customers as first-hand hardware at their increased price. Admittedly, the full story and the law surrounding it are murky, and there are two sides to every story, so I would advise people to read up on the facts (and the comments) in this MCV piece on it. Personally speaking, though, the whole thing makes GAME come off as an evil empire hell-bent on national domination, the Empire of the high street, the Darth Vader of games. In short, it’s pretty despicable.

Maybe I’m just slightly bitter this week, especially after last week typing up my awful PS3 launch event experience with GAME, or lack of it to be more accurate. Let’s face it, they’re not evil, they’re just a business – yes, the two are allegedly mutually exclusive. However, they are the guys running the show on the high street, and boy do they know it. I’m a believer in trusting the store you buy from, and GAME didn’t exactly strengthen that bond with their Sainsbury’s controversy, or indeed last Friday.

So what of my attempt to get Chrono Trigger? In the end, I ended up picking Professor Layton – from a different retailer – quite late on in the day, so it all worked out because that game is awesome. As for GAME, I’m not about to boycott them or anything, but my visits are more likely to involve me trying to play them a la my Pure sale. My local store put up a sign stating it would buy Chinatown Wars for £15, and I’m sure I saw an online deal with a similar price. Yes, that probably makes me part of the problem, but when I’m playing games for practically free (or better), I think I’ll be able to get over it.

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