A Farewell To EB Games Rockdale

Image: Alex Walker (Kotaku)

It wasn't my first visit to an EB Games, or Electronics Boutique as it was called then.

Back then, the store had an even split between PC and console games – PC was at the front of the store in those days. The layout hasn't changed much over the decades since, but the experience was different.

When you walked in, it was a journey. Sometimes you'd read about the games and wanted to see it in the flesh. Other times, you walked in to discover something new, excited about what you'd just found.

Either way, every trip to the local mall meant a trip to the local EB.

One time, I'd gotten fascinated about a new tennis game on PC, Tennis Elbow. I'd read about it in the UK version of PC Gamer - they had more reviews then - and it sounded like exactly my jam. So I wandered into the local EB store, barely tall enough to stand over the counter, and asked: "Do you know when Tennis Elbow is coming out?"

The guy at the desk just stared at me, not even bothering to check the database.

I don't know why this particular EB memory has stayed with me for so long. We visited that south-west Sydney store plenty of times, bought plenty of games, and had the occasional chats with staff over the years. Maybe it's because it was the first indication that there was a world of games beyond what we could get in Australia; maybe it was the reason I started looking, unconsciously even, at abandonware.

But EB was a place for discovery even after ubiquitous ADSL2+, cheap games on Steam, online forums and blogs. It wasn't a place to find something new. It was a place to find the thing you already wanted, or as I found later in life, a place to reminisce about the things you had.

It was a source of comfort - a childhood, perhaps even a place of belonging, particularly in a small town where most people were more interested in sports than games or tech. So when I moved out of home to a new area, an area I've lived in almost entirely since, one of the first things I checked out was the nearby EB store.

Image: Alex Walker (Kotaku)

The images of EB most burned into my memory over the last decade have been one of capitalist warfare: the store lathered in signs, the YOLO SWAG SALE, every inch of the store covered in wallpaper.

Visiting my local EB store, it was a shell of its former self. It wasn't as dire as the closure of Dick Smith, where ravenous mobs haggled over cardboard signs, fittings and tables.

All the same, a piece of my childhood - or at least a connection to it - was shutting down. EB will still have a presence in the area, down the road at the slightly larger and more trafficked store in Hurstville. The store manager and assistant told me Rockdale was one of the more fortunate stores too, with all the staff being placed in other EB stores around the state.

Image: Alex Walker (Kotaku)

There are some things you grow up with, sights that your childhood brain assumes will go one forever. One of those was the legendary preowned tables at EB games, filled with versions of FIFA four or five years old, Xbox 360 games, and occasionally some Xbox and PS2 classics.

Someone actually brought in a ton of original Xbox games, a whole plastic bag with about 11 or 12. The two EB staffers tipped them out on the table, and started sorting through. Store policy wouldn't let them do trade ins - and they told the customer as much.

So the customer gave them the whole bag anyway.

One of the games that fell out on the table was Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith, the action-adventure that plays a little like Force Unleashed. It's not a bad game - certainly better than some of the prequels - but Revenge of the Sith was never added to the Xbox backward compatibility program.

The EB staff were happy to call dibs over it, though.

In the half an hour I was in the store, different groups kept filing in. Some were staffers at nearby stores on their lunch break, others groups of families just doing their daily shopping. It was mostly families trucking in, some taking out their phones and sending back video via Facebook to see if others wanted anything. Others just quietly checked the shelves, some in the preowned bargain tables.

While I was chatting to the store staff, everyone who came up asked the same question: were there any consoles left? They didn't really care that new consoles were coming out later this year: they just wanted a console for cheap today. Some wanted the Switch, others happy for just a new PS4 or Xbox, but the desire was the same. If a box was being flogged for bugger all, families wanted it.

But EB didn't have any. The store got cleared out of consoles the day the closures were announced. And, surprisingly, there was more on the shelves than I expected. Still lots of 3DS games, almost a full shelf of Nintendo Switch offers, probably helped by the full sticker price still listed on them all (even though you could get a discount on everything, it just wasn't expressly noted on the packaging).

In one of the back corners a bunch of amiibo, Disney Infinity and some Skylanders figures were hanging out on their lonesome, some discarded to a box below before their inevitable relocation to a more permanent pile of waste.

Image: Alex Walker (Kotaku)

The one section of the store that was completely bare was the PC corner. It was astonishing to see, given how bare the store's supply of PC games and equipment was in the early years when I moved into the area. But it made sense given how heavily discounted all the keyboards, mice, headsets and hardware were, and they were also the items that have the most utility once all the consoles had ran out. Sure, copies of FIFA 16 might be fun for someone, but everyone who wanted to play FIFA already has it. A headset or keyboard? You can use those with everything.

The store manager told me it was a likely sign of the times, too. EB's main competition comes from JB Hi-Fi - not Amazon or the other retailers like Target and Big W. So as margins on the console games gets more and more squeezed, there's a stronger impetus to stock smaller, more niche titles that you wouldn't normally find at JB. With no competition, there's no need to price match. If it's also stocked in a corner that encourages people to think about a keyboard, headset, or maybe even a pre-built gaming PC - which the bigger EB stores are pushing into - then perhaps the company can survive the tidal wave of digital for just a little longer.

So maybe the EB store of my childhood is due for a renaissance, one where the split of games on the shelves represents a more diverse offering, from AAA blockbusters on consoles and PCs to random niche indie titles from smaller distributors. It's probably more likely that EB will just reach out into more physical merchandise instead, or start competing with stores like Good Games by stocking more notable board games where they can use their store footprint to push for better margins (particularly on the bigger miniatures games).

Maybe the next kid that wonders into a EB Games in three to five years will ask about their Tennis Elbow game, and the staffer will say, "Yeah, we can get that in for you. It'll take a while and it's not coming out, but I know that game. We can make that happen."

Maybe. It's unlikely, but not impossible. Except for Rockdale. There are no dreams to be had there any more. On the bright side, at least I got a nice parting gift, two pieces of EB Games Rockdale for $20.

Image: Alex Walker (Kotaku)

Comments

    Whilst we are on this, personally, I miss GAME.

      Same. When I bought my first PS3 from under the Myer Center, the manager of GAME, he was incredible. I bought the PS3, Guitar Hero World Tour and four other games. He comes out from out the back and says "We've got some promo games here if you want them?" Hands me God of War 3 promo disc (full game on a white disc, non-retail version) and a copy of Assassins Creed Brotherhood, for free. That was pretty frikkin incredible of them.

        I never had that sort of luck, but it must have been GAME's hiring practices or something, as any staff in there always knew their shit and were always super into what they were selling.

          I stopped going to GAME after I enquired about Super Smash Bros and the dude asked me which platform it was for.

          Manager under the Myer Center was a real awesome dude. We used to chat for ages when I went in there. Always knew his stuff, we geeked out about movies, games and everything for ages. He always seemed to go out of his way to help people rather than push useless crap on them. Saddest part, was when I'd hear him try to help people, then hear them say "I'm just gonna go check EB" which was literally just across the hallway, and the games there were priced exactly the same. He'd tell them they'd do a lower price, but people were conditioned in such a way, that they'd believe they had to go to EB?

      I miss Microcomputer Spot. They were hot hot hot.

      "Whilst we are on this, personally, I miss Games Wizard"

      There I fixed it for you! Games Wizards was one of the best local game stores until theygot eaten up by GAME

        I think I was still locked away in a small country town as a wee young tacker when they existed (along with Microcomputer Spot, lol).

        Now thats a name I haven't heard in a long time. Used to have a Games Wizards in Penrith many many years ago.

      As a former GAME employee who got caught up in the first wave of their store closures (Store #49, represent!), I too miss GAME. I don't miss a lot of the stupid decisions the head office and higher ups made (Ugh, those fucking boxes of edutainment shit we couldn't even give away), but I miss my crew, I miss my store, and I miss my customers, even the shit ones.

      Well, I once wrote a poem about the rise and fall of GAME, and submitted it to Hyper Magazine (Remember that?). It got published in one of their issues, even though they thought it was a song, not a poem! Nevertheless, they did make it Letter of the Month, and I won a Sonic Generations pack that only Game Journalists were able to receive, including a copy of the actual game itself! It's worth a pretty penny, so consider myself lucky!

    This was my Local EB for YEARS as i went to school with the manager, When he left to go to another store, I only went back in once as they were a rabble without him.
    Saw the end a fair way off. Still disappointing.

    I was really upset when the North Sydney EB games closed due to the jerks that owned Greenwood Plaza jacking up rents of the non-boutique fashion stores to force all the interesting stores out. The folks that worked there were fantastic and always helpful with whatever you wanted.

    Haven't had a store thats felt 'local' since then, although since I now live a couple minutes walk from one I might change that.

    Its always interesting reading about how horrible Gamestop is, when I've not had issues with EBs/Zing.

      I remember going in there one time to price-match a Wii on a deal at BigW (a while ago!) and the guy in there said they would only price match on stores in North Sydney. Wouldn't you know it, there were no other stores that sold games or consoles in North Sydney! Didn't stop them from keeping the 'We Will Price Match' sign up on the window though.

        Was this before the JB Hi Fi was there? I did run into that policy at a couple of places where they would match places nearby. And of course North Sydney was bereft on interesting places to shop.

          Yeah, well before. Probably 2008 or so? I never even knew a JB Hifi had opened in North Sydney! I worked in NS before EB opened and there were literally 0 stores worth checking out.

    probably helped by the full sticker price still listed on them all

    Well, you've got to give them credit for remaining true to themselves. EB being EB, right to the very end.

    Poor employees, I hope they got a transfer or a job lined up for them straight after

    Still not quite sure on the decision to close Blacktown EBGames for outside of the company probably trying to cut costs by using the bigger Zing floor space on the floor below when they do a mega store type..

    Blacktown almost always had frequent walkins and ppl buying stuff mostly because of the great location beimg next to food court and the entrance... the place has been nearly emptied out since thursday last week when it was officially announced to be shuttered all thats left is a few lowbudget and shovelware games.. most of the merch was gone thursday and most of the headsets and stuff sold by the weekend

    This is making me reminisce about Video Game Heaven at Northland shopping center in Melbourne.

    The clerks there were amazing. I remember as a kid, I had no idea about scratched discs, so I was so upset when a scratched copy of FF8 just kept on crashing at a certain part. We ended up taking the game back to the store thinking it was a faulty product, where the clerk told us all about caring for discs and how it must have been scratched somehow (without outright saying it was my fault, really kind of him on reflection). My mum was then thinking she'd have to buy a whole new copy, but the clerk stopped her because in a few months he knew the cheaper platinum version was about to come out.
    But he didn't stop there, not only did he not take advantage of my mum by letting her buy another full priced copy (she put a preorder in for the platinum version though bless her), the clerk asked if we wanted to bring my memory card into the store and he would Let Me Play Past The Point It Kept Crashing on the stores demo PS1s. That guy was amazing and this memory has been burned into my mind on just how different video games stores used to be.

      They're the sort of customer service stories, I love hearing about. Something I learned about scratched disks (far too late mind you) was if you had a disk that was scratched and it wasn't too deep you could take it to a video store and they had machines to buff scratches out of them. Managed to salvage a few scratched disks that I had scratched or people were giving away because they didn't work anymore. So there you go, a bit of useless information for you ;)

      Wow... My memories flooding back re: Video Game Heaven.. I had completely forgotten that place existed in Northland. I remember there being other game shops before the EB juggernaut killed everything (GAME struggled just around the corner from them for a while from memory also) but for a while there VGH was king at that place..

      I remember I once had to spend the entire day in there for school at a stall and in the afternoon the teachers said we could go around for about 1-2 hours while they packed up, etc. Straight to VGH and the guy there basically let me play games for the entire time without telling me to get out..

      Now excuse me, I have to regress to a simpler time before full time job, kids, responsibility....

    EB Games Rockdale may not be the only one that closed down all the other EB Games stores across Australia are closing down as well Tasmania not included and the only two EB Games stores that are closing down in Victoria are Dandenong and Hamilton.
    EB Games stores at Armada Gateway Plaza Warrnambool Colac Market Square Geelong and Southland Shopping Centre in Cheltenham are the only stores not affected by the closures which is good news for me but not so good news for you Alex Walker so it's your loss.

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