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The Fall of the Specialist Retailer and Why Call of Duty Will Never Die in the UK

January 14, 2013 Written by Sebastian Moss

The high street is changing, there’s no denying that. Over here in the UK, entertainment store HMV is entering administration, following in the footsteps of the shuttered Zaavi and Woolworths. Meanwhile, videogames retailer GAME only just managed to escape closure after significant cuts, but even now, no one believes they’re going to last for very long.

It’s all down to the perfect storm of devastating factors – the economy is on its knees, and has been for an inordinate amount of time, meaning less shoppers and worse credit from the bank; online retailers are able to undercut stores with lower overheads and tax dodging loopholes; entertainment products can be downloaded legally or illegally; and supermarkets (if you’re American, you might call them superstores) are continuing their push to sell everything, going so far as to sell games like Call of Duty at a loss to bring in customers.

One by one, the specialist retailers are falling, and it’s going to further cement the cycle of buying the same few big IPs year in and year out. Here’s the problem – despite the convenience of online stores like Amazon, there’s still a sizable proportion of people who buy games at retail (often parents), and there are others who browse real-life stores to get inspiration on what to buy online. These people can no longer browse or buy at specialist shops. Instead, they’re being embraced by the eager, open arms of the supermarkets.

Unfortunately, supermarkets generally have absolutely terrible game selections. The average sized Tesco, cited as one of the main reasons GAME went bankrupt, has a meager selection of games like Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed and FIFA, nestled in-between the latest Johnny Depp film directed by Tim Burton – where, oh look, he’s wearing mascara again – and battery packs for your even-closer-shave razor. Larger stores are rarer, and often still have small selections, covering only the big games that they know will sell. There aren’t any risky titles, new IPs that don’t have £100mil of advertising, nothing that’s over a year old outside of CoD. Only the very biggest stores have a passable line-up, but it’s still nothing compared to the average GAME.

As the high street shrivels, the majority of the UK’s retail sector will be dominated by supermarkets with lackluster product line-ups and no desire or need to take risks. The sizable percentage of shoppers that rely on buying a game in a store, or first seeing it in person, will trudge into Tesco, into Sainsbury’s, into ASDA and buy Call of Duty.

And they’ll buy it again next year.