A Gamer’s Perspective — The Death Of Game Stores
If the rise of online retailers were World War 2, online stores would be the precision-engineered death-machine and powerhouse of efficiency we could not mistake for anyone other than Nazi Germany. And physical retailers would be France. Which is a bad thing. You never want to be France. They have far too many different kinds of cheese, and their women aren’t nearly as attractive as they are made out (pun intended) to be. China would be Cavie during a podcast, with Japan being the rest of the eGamer staff. Except me, of course. I’d be Russia, just minding my own business until Germany tries to double-cross me. That’s when my rottweilers take him apart while he’s trying to get to my front door and I throw my insane communist industrial production at him, all like: “Hey, up yours, I’m Russia!”. I’m not sure what that says about my relationship with online retailers, but I digress.
The point here is that no one wants to be France. They’re immortalised in history as the only nation to design their tanks with one forward gear and five reverse gears, standing by obsequiously as Germany rolled on in and occupied them; they will be remembered forevermore as the “Okay Guy” of Imperial Nations. France was, in short, a pussy.
The markets of online stores like TAKEALOT and Kalahari are increasing at an almost exponential rate as more and more people catch on to the fact that they can get games for far cheaper than they would find them at retailers like Musica or BTGames. Not to mention the astronomical rise in popularity of Steam, even in the face of the atrocious situation of internet connectivity in our country (we need look no further than back to the Steam Summer Sale to understand why this is, of course). It is no surprise, then, that physical retailers are seeing a sharp decline in the amount of business they see, and many are starting to find themselves in tough spots as a result of it and the signs of the times are all around us, from ever more depressed game salespeople to the decreasing size of most game sections in stores.
So, there’s clearly a challenge to what was once the supremacy of walk-in stores, and if they aren’t feeling it now then they are going to be soon. My problem is that their reaction to this new threat is completely off the mark. Raising prices, lessening stock on-hand, delivering worse service and downscaling in an attempt to combat the losses due to dwindling business only serve to drive even more people to buy from Steam instead of them. When you think about it, that’s pretty freaking stupid.
What they need to do is man the hell up and stop watching dejectedly as online stores pillage their profit-margins. If they’re going to do anything other than spiral hopelessly into the depressing depths of financial ruin, they’re going to need to go indie (Adam’s all excited now) and innovate.
People aren’t lining up to buy your ridiculously overpriced games anymore? Give them another reason to.
“But Duncan!” cries Look&Listen, “we just compete with their prices! They don’t have the overheads we do – we have to make our prices higher than theirs, otherwise we’ll collapse!”
That’s true, completely non-fictional Look&Listen spokesperson, which is why it’s time to stop looking at the issue in terms of your strengths and advantages, as opposed to in terms of your weaknesses.
So, what advantages do physical stores have over their online counterparts? Convenience and character.
If you buy a game online, then the best case scenario is that you get to play it the next day; either it has to be delivered, or you have to download it. Both of those take time. If you buy a game from a store, you go home, and chuck the disc in, and in the worst case scenario play it after a twenty-minute install. Unless it’s Diablo 3, in which case the worst case scenario is that you play it two agonising weeks of troubleshooting and idiocy later. At the moment, people side with online retailers because the price difference is worth the wait, but if stores lower their prices and use the other methods I’m going to be discussing to make it even more worthwhile to buy from them, convenience stands to become a far more important factor in purchase decisions.
There’s a bit of an anecdote to go along with character. Down the road from my house a bit, there’s a supply store run by this Indian guy. I don’t know his name, but he’s probably related to Cavie – but that’s only marginally important. The point here is that, being Indian, he’s probably the most awesome salesperson ever to walk the earth. Despite having the most ridiculously overpriced store in history, every time I need my periodic junk-food fix, I forgo the Shell garage (also a five-minute walk from my house) and visit him instead. And every time I come out having spent triple the amount I intended to, with my sides splitting from laughter.
He robs me blind and I know it, but I keep going back because I enjoy the experience of shopping there that much. That’s what game stores need. There are plenty of intelligent, passionate, witty gamers out there who they can replace their drab, cold-blooded staff with to liven up their stores and make every customer’s experience an expedition into pure front-of-shop awesomeness.
Beyond those two very simple advantages that stores simply need to start exploiting, they need to start motivating people to justify their purchase with something other than their wallet. What I mean by that is simple: they need to create a situation where gamers want to buy from their store specifically, regardless of the fact that they could be getting a better deal somewhere else.
How on Earth do they do this? Simple! Become a store that cares about gamers, and gamers will care about you – and start voting with their wallets in that regard. And the best way to show your love for South African gamers is to further gaming in South Africa. There are a number of ways they can go about doing this.
First off, get behind South African gaming initiatives. 2UpGamers and DBNGamers are starting to attract decent followings – help them get out there! Whether it’s by pulling strings to organise press coverage of those events, partnering with those initiatives and mutually advertising each other or by simply sponsoring competitions and prizes, there’s a huge amount that they can do to get some gamer love going for them.
When we’re discussing gaming initiatives, we can’t go long without mentioning the DoGaming League and the NAG Gaming League – both of which are at the forefront of competitive gaming in South Africa, championing its advancement. Getting behind them the same way they would 2Up certainly wouldn’t hurt their image. And! While we’re talking competitive gaming, let’s not forget how desperate clans are for sponsorship – Bravado and Ventus certainly wouldn’t mind some BT love, and gamers would undoubtedly show their appreciation to these stores for helping fuel their favourite pastime by favouring them with their business.
The international StarCraft 2 scene is a very good case study for how this sort of sponsor appreciation takes effect. Players who follow professional StarCraft make a point of buying their favourite team’s sponsor’s product whenever they get the chance, and scarcely shut up with the tweets and emails telling these sponsors just how appreciative they are.
What a lot of this comes down to is simply engaging and interacting with gamers on their own level in order to build buyer-loyalty, which is something physical retailers would have a far easier time of than online stores. So, don’t give in just yet kids – you can turn your businesses and your profit-margins around. All you have to do is find the stones and the ideas to do it.