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GAME killed my independent shop... now we've come full circle

Opinion: Ex-indie manager Chandra Nair empathises with retailer's pain

I can't help but feel deeply saddened by the situation that GAME finds itself in. There's no doubt in my mind whatsoever that GAME Group's step into administration is a bad turn of events for the videogames market as a whole, but on a personal level I feel myself ripped in two directions.

As inhuman and immoral as it may seem, I find myself empathizing with two conflicting viewpoints. Yes, it's indescribably awful for the employees of GAME but, for me, it's also very much a case of GAME getting a taste of its own medicine.

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In The Beginning, There Was The Indie

When I was a lad (cue jeers of "eh-up Grandad"), before I even wrote my first game guide for PowerStation magazine, I ran an independent videogame shop in Poole (on the south coast of England). It was 1996. Granted it was last century AND last millennium but it wasn't actually that long ago, ok?

We were one of those really cool little places where you could play all the latest SNES imports without paying £100 for the privilege... a den where videogames nuts could gather after school and on a Saturday and not feel like the most undesirable, greasy, geeky individuals on the planet. Put simply, it was heaven.

I was just a kid back then but even I felt the weight of profit and loss and the daily struggles that began when GAME came on the scene. Over the months and years the GAME chain became so powerful that it dominated distribution channels and sucked up the majority of Day 1 shipments. It became commonplace for us to have to pre-order our Day 1 stock of the biggest titles from our local GAME just to be able to fulfill our own pre-orders and maintain customer loyalty.

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Sure, we took the hit (we made a small loss on each unit) but we had to maintain our footfall through the door, which inevitably led to incidental purchases. The independents still had a few unique selling points but soon even they were to become obsolete in the face of the one key factor that influences all purchasing decisions: price.

You see, an independent shop has character. It has staff who are friendly, passionate, compassionate and knowledgeable. But all those qualities mean nothing if someone can save £10 by going a few hundred metres down the road.

We still held one trump card though. Independent game stores were the birthplace of the now-standard trade-in scheme. GAME's dominance meant that we barely got any stock of the latest releases but the trade-in scheme was the one remaining pinnacle of hope. Of course, it wasn't too long before GAME adopted its own trade-in scheme, obliterating any valid reason for a customer to go anywhere other than their stores.

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