With many doubting how long it would even exist just three years ago, Game’s reversal has resulted in quite a few analysts eating their words.
The demise of Game was partly down to the business becoming overly leveraged after an acquisition spree.
However, its decision to shut 600 stores across Europe to focus on the UK and Spain has helped it become debt free, and an investment in ‘improving’ its marketing has helped it ride the wave of the recent Xbox One and Playstation 4 launches.
“One of the keys to our turnaround has been refocusing on the gaming community and actually listening to their voices,” explains Game’s insight and marketing director Fred Prego.
Over the last two years, Game, which has over 300 stores, has upped the amount of midnight events around big videogame launches and set up a Twitter account for each individual UK store.
Across the pond, live competitive gaming leagues generate millions in revenue and having recently acquired UK eSports organiser Multiplay for £20m, Game will further its in-store theatre with live gaming matches and prizes a regular occurrence.
“We want to make the store experience crucial like going to an Apple shop is,” adds Prego, who insists in-store events will become ‘experimental’ in nature.
“Game has to become the number one platform for the British gaming community and if you compare the experience now to when we were in trouble there’s in-store events going on every week.”
Game has also embraced the US import of Black Friday, with 2014 a particular success. “With the rise of digital, events like Black Friday are crucial for generating footfall. Last year’s Black Friday was the largest trading day in Game’s history,” he added, before taking a shot at Asda, which experienced its own fair share of in-store scuffles on Black Friday.
“I’d just appreciate it if other retailers were a bit more organised as that would make for much better PR.”
With physical video game sales plummeting 17% [NPD Group] in the first 11 months of 2014, compared to the same period in 2013, the long term future of disks and cartridges is increasingly uncertain, with many gamers now downloading games directly to their consoles.
Prego insists Game has led the way in embracing this trend.
“The digital trend isn’t likely to disappear as customers enjoy the convenience but we are allowing download codes to be purchased on our website and our share on digital market share is really good in the UK and Spain due to more competitive prices,” he says. “I think physical is far from dead, it is just about selling it in a different way.”
Prego says the brand has invested heavily in talking up its in-store expertise through marketing and insists consumers are increasingly coming in just for advice.
“We are the only specialist gaming shop and that gives us a competitive advantage over rivals,” he adds.
And with third-party sellers becoming a huge part of the gaming experience at rivals such as Amazon, Game recently launched its own Marketplace, which gives independent merchants the chance to sell video games and other related merchandise through the GAME website.
“Look, I think we have stabilised as a business, and now have some really good foundations to build on but we won’t rest on our laurels and we want to show consumers that we’re actively listening to their advice.”
Prego claims Game’s app and loyalty scheme is ‘currently the best in British retail’. New features on the app, such as the ability to scan anywhere on the front of a video game case, rather than be restricted to just bar code scanning, and then get a trailer and more information of a game on your Smartphone, he says, are helping it become a leader in multi-channel.
Advertising and the year ahead
Game will advertise heavily in 2015, according to Prego, who says it will continue to link up with developers for exclusives around big game launches and push its improvements in customer service.
The ‘heavy’ investment could also be to counter a recent slump in sales. Last month, Game announced the departure of finance boss Benedict Smith, just weeks after the company issued a major profits warning.
Game posted a 1.8% slide in pre-tax profits to £33.2m for the 26 weeks to January 24. Revenues for the period, meanwhile, hit £582.1m, a decrease of 0.7% from a year earlier.
However, Prego insists things are still on track.
“Things were challenging over the Winter months but people have to remember that we are in the early stages of two new consoles and it can take three to four years for people to fully switch over and the big games to be released.”
Of the 3.2 million UK Xbox One and Playstation 4 console sales over the last 18 months, Prego says that 50% of owners are installed in Game’s database and have purchased products associated with the hardware at its stores. He also says it is likely the two new consoles will see price cuts towards the end of the year.
Prego concludes: “We aren’t short termists, we look at the long term and the fact we have 50% of the new install base on next gen consoles reassures us. I think the Game brand will be on the high street for a long time to come.”