The Rise And Fall Of GAME

Last week, after months of speculation, it was finally announced that GAME, Australia's second largest video game specialist retailer, was going into liquidation. Today, Scott Parbery, GAME's ex-ACT Regional Manager writes about his experiences, from the initial acquisition of Game Wizards, until the day he left GAME's employ.

On June 19th 2012, the once great TGW Pty Ltd, trading as GAME, was put into liquidation; an incredibly sad day for the employees still with the company after an incredibly tough couple of years, but not entirely surprising.

For some context, I worked for GAME for just over five years, starting as a Sales Assistant at the then-Games Wizards store in Belconnen, ACT, and eventually exited the company in late 2010 as the ACT Regional Manager.

In early 2007, The Games Wizards (TGW) was acquired by The GAME Group UK. It was all sunshine and happiness back then, an exciting time. New owners brought new opportunities for everyone involved. The thought of more stores opening and a larger presence Australia-wide excited all the staff.

GAME was on the rise, and rise it did. They opened an absurd amount of stores, barely spending time developing locations before moving onto the next; making poor location decisions, getting screwed on rent and associated conditions in the mad dash to open more and more stores. Whether this was a directive from high up, or just the Executives riding the high of a massive influx of money from their UK benefactors, was never made clear to us employees. That's where the cracks started showing.

Staff were under-trained. The infrastructure to support the stores wasn't properly implemented. The IT systems frequently collapsed under the strain. Head office was overworked and mistakes were made. Communication to stores was inconsistent. As a result staff attrition began kicking in; turnover was high. However, morale remained strong. Passionate people were still at the helm. The core 'Old Guard', myself included, put in Herculean efforts. We believed in what we were doing.

Then, cracks began to be apparent, then became structural, and then the whole thing started to come down.

Financially, we weren't where we needed to be. Pressure from the top started to build. There were radical shifts in how stores were to be run. Hours and spend budgets were slashed. The customer service focus that GAME was known for suddenly slipped. Big box retailers and department stores offered deals that we couldn't match without the loss-leading goods of the 'Bigger Guys'. Bit by bit financial data was looking grimmer. Eventually the axe fell.

The UK stepped in, in a big way. The Executive were completely replaced by ‘Big Gun Hotshots’ from England. Whether they resigned or were forced was never really discussed. These guys were about numbers first and foremost. As a result, hours were cut further; new contracts for employees were drafted; support for brick-and-mortar was dropped for focus on the online presence; and finally, the surest sign of all, stores were closed.

I was lucky; only one of my stores, Woden ACT, was shut down. The heartbroken look on the redundant staff's faces is still fresh in my mind. But no one was surprised; everyone had seen this coming. Like rats abandoning a sinking ship, the passionate 'Old Guard' started leaving, myself included. I could no longer abide the decisions being made.

But then it seemed to pick up. The people I visited in stores, the friends I had made, seemed happier with their lot. They had been given incentives and pep talks; they had their morale boosted once again; some of the passion of old was starting to shine through.

Then the 'Marketing' started. They hired two comedians to act like tools on promotional material online and in-store. They adjusted the company’s image weekly, it seemed: one minute edgy and borderline offensive; to bargain-bin retailer; to 'HARDCORE GAMERZ'; to satirical; to ‘the place for mums’. They tried too hard and spent absurd amounts of money doing so.

When I left, I had estimated five years before the Armageddon clock struck midnight; but barely two years after I left, the UK Incident occurred.

It started rather interestingly. GAME UK would not be stocking Mass Effect 3. Say what? One of the most anticipated releases of the year not being stocked? It was revealed that distributors and suppliers were refusing to comply with deals until GAME paid their bills, which they couldn't. Subsequently GAME UK went into administration and had to call in their debts. And guess who owed them a lot of money? GAME Australia.

Again, another interesting situation: GAME Australia would not be stocking Diablo 3 standard editions. What? The biggest game of the year, no copies?

And of course, not too long after, GAME Australia went into administration, and has since entered liquidation; thus ending the short reign of one of Australia's largest brick-and-mortar specialist video game retailers

Reading through the administrators report (which I highly recommend you do if you’re interested in this matter) there’s lots of blame attributed to the economy, competition, pricing in the Australian market, et cetera. However, it’s hard to ignore the short-sightedness of the decision-makers in almost all respects: the misguided attempts at rapid expansion at the cost of focusing on the core attributes and tenets of the company; incredibly poor purchasing and stocking decisions; failure to develop an identity within the Australian market; the lack of respect and time devoted to developing and assisting the guys in the trenches, the frontline staff who are your face to the public; and spending large sums of money on desperate, grasping marketing campaigns.

I'll miss GAME. I have some incredibly fond memories of my time there. I have made lifelong friends and it has shaped who I am today. Farewell, old friend.


    This comment has been deemed inappropriate and has been deleted.

    A town with too much money is like a mule with a spinning wheel. Nobody knows how he got it and damned if he knows how to use it.

    It really does sound like they made poor decisions from the very beginning simply because they had enough money to make those mistakes.

      Err /blockquote.

        I worked for game as a sales assistant for 3 years. I remember about a year ago when they said we were changing our image and uniforms. We were even sent an email one day that said we had to promote an "edgier" retail experience for our "main demographic" (teens). The problem was that from years of experience, teens are not our target audience. They already know what they want and they don't have the extra cash to waste it on anything other then that one game they wanted. It was the parents and the mid 20 year old casual gamers we needed to focus on. They were our main source of income, and all we did was alienate them by looking immature. We use to have a uniform (same black shirt on all employees, black pants and plain black shoes) but it was changed to jeans, joggers and any game related shirt we had. They started by giving us terrible video game pun shirts, which moved onto custom made sale shirts with penis jokes on the (i kid you not). Two people at my store complained about how pathetic we looked, we wrote a letter to HQ explaining that if parents wanted advice from someone who looked like an immature teenager, they would speak to their own kids. We got no reply. Basically, I want to say that it's sad and unexpected, but Game going under was Game managements fault. It really, really was.

    Jesus christ. If I didn't know better I'd say it was run by con artists and amateurs... a fantastic read.

      Yep sounds like some of the people in charge were the sort of opportunistic assholes that always manage to see a way to make quick bucks for themselves from an industry they're not emotionally attached to, then bail.

      "Let's rapidly expand, let's act like we're the biggest in the land, give me bonuses for doing so - but when the shit hits the fan, i'm long gone."

    Definitely agree with the lack of foresight. You can't agressively expand these days without the costs blowing out. Shame to see Game go. They were a good bunch of people, at least the employees I've spoken to.

    It's scary how similar this story is to what is happening with EB Games. GAME however, burnt out and faded away quickly, while EB has been slowly dying for the last three years. Morale is low and turnover is high, stores closing, bad communication from head office, lack of confidence with their identity and finally, upper management that are out of touch.

    There was a huge turnover at my local store, the shifts were inconsistent and none of the original staff made it to the end. Had a friend who used to work there who hated it, they'd often cancel shifts and say "oh, you have to finish earlier today" or "can you come in to work in the next twenty minutes" because the budget was all over the place.

    That, or playing Game TV over the in-store radio drove them all insane.

    What a great insight into the running of that place - thanks for sharing. Recent weeks have seen a lot of comments here from people who had brushed up against some of the "old guard", or, at least, employees who gave a shit. Trouble behind the scenes is no surprise, but it's good to have a context for all the speculation we've heard regarding the meltdown.

    This comment has been deemed inappropriate and has been deleted.

      Lets keep in perspective that he's writing about a large corporation that took over the company of his (presumably) first job and ran it into the ground. It's not meant to be a pity piece for GAME, he's saying they screwed it up with dumbass decisions.

    A really interesting article.

    I think the mismanagement of marketing campaigns was what turned me off GAME as a serious retailer. It seemed to skew wildly from kiddie-store to catering to dudebros to appealing to everyone to trying to get "core gamers" - and some of those strategies (GAME TV, the swingers thing) were incredibly tacky.

    Reads a lot like what happened to Starbucks: expanded too quickly to actually provide the product and service standards that made the brand worth paying a premium for. Customers move on, budgets are slashed even further, making the problems even worse.

      There are more than a few examples of this that pop up from time to time. Expanding too quickly seems to be a real killer for young businesses or businesses trying to move into new markets.

    Reading this it sounds like they have absolute morons enterprising this Business and due to stupid accountability laws none are going to be held for indemnity.

    I never shopped at GAME very much, I never had any friends who worked there and never found the staff overly friendly, in all honesty I won't notice all that much the disappearance of GAME. That being said, it's one less option, one less competitor for EB and one less place I can look for a cheaper price than EB when I don't want to go online.

    Interesting read indeed.

      Game wouldnt even price match - so your not going to miss anything there!

        Thank you for replying to my comment. ;-)

    I'd forgotten that Game used to be Games Wizards. I loved those stores as a kid. I wasn't moved by the loss of Game, really, until just now.

    I used to frequent GAME regulary in 2008-09 (mainly Midland, WA, but various other WA stores) and back then found it quite an acceptable store. Price-wise back then it felt better than EB, and comparable to JB. Staff were the right amount of helpful. They didn't annoy you, but were capable of answering questions.

    From 2010 onwards I felt the dynamic changed. Pricing seemed to get worse, they started pushing second hand games far too hard. Staff stopped being useful, and would litterally assault you with questions as you walked into the store. (The exception was that one weird sale that I think happened in 2010, where many games were price <$20 for a couple of days). I found myself far less likely to frequent their stores.

    The next few years the amount of stock versus pricing seemed to get appalling. I can't quantify it, but it felt like they never got stock of many games. Within weeks of a game coming out, there would be no copies available anymore, or just terrible condition second hand copies.

    Then their terrible advertising campaigns occured. They completly did not understand the demographic to target, and having 2 off manchild frontmen only drives away most gamers (adults). It just turned into the type of store I couldn't be bothered going to.

      Mid 2010! The real 'Fire Sale' when they did an initial reduction of stores.

      Man, I got so many games during that month. It was the best video game bargain event I've ever experienced.

        Yeah, I remember that. They changed distributors so they had to sell a tonne of old stock. Got a tonne of awesome games, best sale I've ever been to.

        Yeah, I remember that. They changed distributors so they had to sell a tonne of old stock. Got a tonne of awesome games, best sale I've ever been to.

          distributors werent changed - they needed cash quick

      Agreed with the dynamic shift. Was 2010 when they effectively stopped selling pc games and focused on console only, apart from the one shelf of sims and wow boxes?

    As a casual gamer, I didn't even know Game Australia existed until recently. No, really.

      As a Game employee, I don't doubt that at all.

      Marketing outside of the store itself has always been the weakest point of GAME. They never made any effort to let the world know that they a) existed as a shop and b) were actually different from EB. The sheer amount of people who come into the store, flash their EB membership cards, then stare at me blankly while I explain that this is not EB Games is simultaneously hilarious, and shameful.

        Well, I can't say I blame them. I'm looking at the images of the front of the GAME storefronts and it's like looking at a bizarro dimension. It's almost exactly the same, but not quite.

    "Again, another interesting situation: GAME Australia would not be stocking Diablo 3 standard editions. What? The biggest game of the year, no copies?"

    I actually went into one of the few remaining GAME stores yesterday and they had at least half a dozen copies of Diablo 3 on the shelf. I found that interesting.

      Would be interesting to know what store that was? Was it a inner Metro Sydney store? I noticed during my time with GAME (especially towards the end), that the Sydney stores were always given better stock numbers than the rest of the country. They blamed us for our poor sales and KPI's, however the stock situation played a huge part in this.

      I remember there was a point in late September that no VIC stores had 160 PS3 consoles and low and behold! NSW stores had heaps in each store and the warehouse was well stocked also...

    "The people I visited in stores, the friends I had made, seemed happier with their lot. They had been given incentives and pep talks; they had their morale boosted once again; some of the passion of old was starting to shine through." I hear ya dude, I was also there for a similar amount of time and was sucked in but this. I really felt i was doing something for the industry and the company working my ass off to meet targets etc, and would get pretty down about things. then they would have a conference or a meeting that would fill you full of hope re-igniting that passion we all had for good service by gamers for gamers. After a couple of months back in store however, you could see plain as day it was all smoke and mirrors. A shame for the people who were passionate about their jobs and committed long term.

    The only time I spent any real money at game was the "insane" sale they had a couple of years or so back,selling new releases like God of war 3 ,resonence of fate and Uncharted 2 of $28.They must have made a loss on those as other stores were selling them for at least twice that then, oh and stocking up on HDMI cables for $4.

    Perhaps a link to the administrators report would be nice :)

    Didn't GAME have those strange loyalty card, that had a hole for your finger in them that basically made the dude on the card have a finger penis?

    A part of me is sad to see GAME go, but only because I have fond memories of Game Wizards from my childhood and stores like that are never coming back. I started gaming way before the internet, and a big part of finding good games back then was talking to the game store staff about what games I owned, what games I played and therefore what games they had that I might enjoy. But GAME stopped being a store like that a long time ago. It seemed to me that GAME wasnt interested in selling to nerds like me, and instead just wanted to bamboozle mums into buying an Xbox or Wii (and dont forget the overpriced extended warranty) and a bunch of crappy games that the kids would soon get bored of. Well then the ipad came along and all of a sudden mums could buy crappy games for their kids for $2 in the app store, so the $30 Beach Sportz titles at GAME werent selling. Unfortunately for GAME, by that stage the hardcore gaming market had long since started buying online (in part beacuse the so called 'speacialist game stores' no longer catered to actual gamers). While I have great sympathy for the GAME staff, I cant see anyones retail experience being poorer for the demise of GAME.

    I worked for GAME about 4 years ago. I lasted 2 days, then quit. I found it a horrible experience.
    Pressure selling second hand games, consoles and extended warranties, Data collection of customers i.e. addresses and postcodes (these would accumulate target points for the store, given by head office) which is fine if the customer willingly gives their details but we had to push them hard to get slightest bit of info, even if it was only their post code, Making contact with the customer 3 times within about 8 minutes, to me it was bordering on harassment. These were but a few of the reasons I quit.
    I am surprised GAME lasted this long and I feel sorry for everyone who has lost their job.

    A Chinese Whisper I heard was that several of the higher ups were getting quite substantial bonuses for each new store they opened up, so guess what they did a lot of?

    The store I worked at in Tas was one of the first to go when things started looking bad. We got all the standard crap about "money, economy, ect". If you guys weren't changing your marketing ideas every few weeks, rushing to open stores, and making stupid buying decisions (Who the hell at head office thought that every store NEEDED several BOXES of this incredibly crappy budget PC stuff? You know guys, the stuff you eventually started giving away because we couldn't move the shit?) you might have had some money left to actually support the company. I've been at EB, JB and Game, and out of those three game retailers, Game was easily the best to work for. It's just such a damm shame some of the executives couldn't look at their own decisions, and ask if that was really the right thing to do.

      "Its just such a damm shame some of the executives couldnt look at their own decisions, and ask if that was really the right thing to do."

      "substantial bonuses" have a habit of clouding peoples judgement.

    I feel really sorry for the companies that these middle to upper management special needs people move onto next, if I were in their future employees shoes, I'd be jumping ship now.

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