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.