No More GAME?

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Store Closing Hampers Chella’s Grand Plan

With the imminent release of Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, I finally bought myself a PlayStation 3. There are just too many PS3 exclusives coming out this year, so I had to splash out. And I thought I’d kick off my gaming 2013 with the gorgeous-looking JRPG from LEVEL-5 and Studio Ghibli. That’s what I thought, but it may not come to pass.

With work a little busy this week, I decided to preorder at Amazon.co.uk, but they are out of stock, so I cancelled that and opted for plan B. This consisted of walk into town and head to GAME, quickly pick up a copy and rush back to my desk for a day of work. Not having Ni No Kuni on the day of release was not an option. But now it looks like it could be my only option.

You see something’s happened, dear play chums. My local GAME has closed. No fanfare, no warning, no nothing. It’s just gone. GAME is the UK’s leading games retailer, but last year it hit rock bottom, when several publishers pulled their products off its shelves, including Nintendo and EA. The company entered administration in March and was subsequently bought by Baker Acquisitions.

Up until this point, GAME had also operated the Gamestation brand, another specialist retailer chain. In the wake of the collapse, Gamestation was no more and GAME had to reduce its network of stores.

I held my breath, as Gamestation had always been my preferred place to shop for games and was disappointed when it went. However, at least my home town of Taunton still had a branch of GAME, even though it was further to walk. I adjusted and all was good.

Until now that is.

Apparently, last Saturday, the Taunton branch of GAME closed its doors for the last time. There is now no games retailer on our high street. HMV, the UK music, DVD and games retailer, has also just entered administration, leaving gamers with nowhere to go in Taunton town centre.

This all leaves me scratching my head to think where I can actually go to buy Ni No Kuni tomorrow morning. We have several supermarkets, but it’s always a bit of a gamble whether they’ll stock a game that doesn’t have a space marine holding a massive gun on the cover. So it looks like I’ll be traipsing around town (I don’t drive ‘ I’m a Londoner, get over it), scouring supermarket shelves for a copy of the precious game. I may get lucky.

Whether I manage to nab a copy of White Witch remains to be seen, but the real worry is, what future do games have on the UK high street? Will anyone really miss buying their games in the shop? Well, I will. I like to know that I’m going to get certain games on the day of release. If I shop online, although Amazon is great, Royal Mail isn’t, and I’m not convinced that they can really guarantee delivery on the day without me paying extra. Nope, the only way to be sure, is to go to the shop, hand over some cash and walk home clutching the little box with a childlike sense of eager anticipation.

Okay, so I could download Ni No Kuni on PSN. I know this. But this is a Studio Ghibli game, so I just know the box art and manual is going to be worth gawping at. And until there’s a way that I can trade downloaded games, I’m sticking with physical copies, thanks. Although, now I have to trade my games online at Amazon, but that’s no great hardship.

With Taunton’s town centre now a game-free zone, apart from the obligatory used games retailers, and more big name stores going out of business every month, we’re all wondering about the state of the UK’s high street. I don’t think this is the death of the high street. I think this is just a period of immense change, which will see a new kind of high street experience emerge, eschewing the focus on retail for more cultural and leisure activities.

One thing is almost certain; games retail is going online and the next stage is to do away with the physical product altogether. Unlike the music industry, we’ve never had gatefold album sleeves that are worthy of hanging in an art gallery. The cover art isn’t really part of the experience of gaming. We could do with the extra space on our living room shelves and most of us buy games online, so we may as well just skip the middle man and go straight from publisher to console.

Whatever happens, I’ve still got to find myself a copy of Ni No Kuni tomorrow. So I may have to turn to PSN and usher in the future of download much sooner than I thought I would.

Most played: Halo 4

Most wanted: haven’t you been paying attention?

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