I'm quite deeply saddened by Game and Gamestation going into administration today. My reasons are twofold; firstly that as an ex-Zavvi employee I've been through the unpleasant experience of being stuck on a sinking ship and secondly that as an ex-Gamestation employee I know that it didn't have to happen this way.
Working for a company in administration was soul-sucking. You stop being able to give refunds, exchanges and take or sell gift cards. We went into admin on Christmas Eve, you have no idea how many people want to use gift cards or get stuff exchanged in the post-Christmas period. You're stuck between empathising with customers who have lost up to £150 in one case, and wanting to scream at them that yeah, you're not getting that £20 back but I'm soon-to-be-unemployed and I really don't care. I was lucky to work in a indoor shopping centre with good security to protect us from the more irate customers, I can only imagine what it's like on a high street. You may survive the first great wave of shop closures but you have no idea when your time is coming. I worked in one of the last shops to close in the February, I got the phone call on a Wednesday morning that we had closed effective immediately and could I come in Thursday and Friday to pack up on double pay (This turned out to be a complete lie, I just got paid time). You have all the joy of applying for redundancy (which is somewhere between bugger all and fuck all), holiday owed and notice pay owed from the government. My complete and utter sympathies lie with all Game and Gamestation employees, both those now out of work and the others waiting for an axe that may take sickening months to fall.
In 2004 I worked for the Gamestation store in Bracknell, near Wokingham and Reading. It was a brand new store and I was there working from opening day. It was a big store in terms of floor space, the biggest the company had opened so far, mostly to stick two fingers up to Game who at the point had their head office in the same town. It was at the phase in Blockbuster's running of Gamestation where they were relatively hands-off and opening stores everywhere. It is the best retail job I ever had, and one of the best times of my life. My manager there will always been my measure of good management style and the other guys there were just amazing. It was an atmosphere where I respected and was respected in turn. Had Sheffield taken me seriously I'd probably have worked my way up the chain there when I moved. We hired people who knew their stuff, and half hour chats with customers weren't seen as a waste of time. I also learnt lots of hard truths about the games industry; how charts and displays are paid for, how ignorant publisher reps can be, how casual sexism can be funny at first but then make you want to kick people out of your store. Towards the end of my time there the ugly hand of Blockbuster was making itself know, customer service began to lose meaning, we pushed preowned and shitty accessories much too heavily. I left before Blockbuster pulled out.
I maintain that Game should never have been allowed to buy Gamestation although I can understand why that decision was made to some extent. I will mourn Gamestation more than Game, it was always seen as more of a 'gamers' store which may have partially been its downfall. When they dropped the retro I knew this was the path they would eventually fall down and some of the marketing in the last couple of years has been misguided as best and offensive at worst. Anyone who thinks Asda et al will keep selling cheap games now is out of their mind, there may still be some good launch day deals in those places but now they only have online to compete with and I never found online to be that much cheaper anyway. What we have lost is customer choice, and a gaming chain that we loved and hated in near equal measure.