Tag Archives: Video Game Centre

I Won’t Miss Game

In case you’ve missed the news, Game is on the ropes. Given that Game Group owns Gamestation, the only specialist high-street gaming retailers going under seems to be a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’, which will leave us with the hardly stable HMV and… well… that’s it. Here in Bournemouth, with no large supermarket branches in the town centre, if Game and Gamestation go there will be absolutely nowhere to buy new games at retail – used from CEX, or the slim hope that the Tesco Express starts selling big releases.

I’m not going to deny that almost no high-street presence is a bad thing for the visibility of gaming, putting it entirely into the hands of online retailers and forcing platform holders’ hands in getting their digital distribution systems together. High-street electronics stores haven’t exactly been thriving either, and the low margins on hardware have always made them lukewarm on gaming at the best of times – again, none of them in my town – so it’s not unfeasible that some towns will have nowhere to buy games of any kind in the near future, unless you count an iPhone from the O2 shop.

But even despite these onrushing problems, I won’t mourn Game when it goes.

It’s been everything that’s wrong with games retail for a long time. Coupled with the supermarkets and online retailers, it mostly killed off the once-thriving independent retail market, which, for me, took away a big part of the gaming community and places where I made friends I still have today. No indies meant no import games in shops, but moving entirely online hasn’t destroyed that market and it won’t for the games market in general.

Having Game be this industry’s sole representative at retail has been embarrassing, frankly. Looking around one of the shops, it’s both a typical example of a retailing dinosaur, struggling to sell new product as it claws desperately to the RRP that no one expects to pay any more, and devalues games by looking and acting like it’s only patronised by people who like shopping in a glorified pawn shop. I don’t feel good when I bite the bullet and go in because I need a product immediately but find myself stuck in the queue behind a kid haggling over how little he’s being offered for FIFA 08, or when I buy something new and get nudged towards saving a whole £5 by buying the used one with stickers all over it and not a penny for the developers I’m supporting. No wonder people who only go in for birthday and Christmas presents think gaming is for people with a mental age of 12.

I appreciate that I just went after the notion of the RRP and that digital distribution has a lot to learn there, but without the likes of Game complaining, platform holders – and, you’d hope, the developers themselves – are free to actually compete on price. I fear Sony and Microsoft’s enforced pricing structures here, but I’m sure they’ll fall into line eventually. Microsoft has already shown itself willing to compromise on restrictive policies, with more rumoured to come, under pressure from gamers and developers, and all the collapse of retail means is that a lot of this learning is going to be done on the fly, perhaps sooner than we anticipated, more out of necessity than design.

So farewell, Game. You won a couple of battles, but you’re going to lose the war.

Ten Years of Shenmue

In amongst the endless [something] of the decade features doing the rounds at the moment, one snippet that almost slipped my mind is that just over ten years ago, on 29 December 1999, Shenmue was released in Japan. That means that somewhere around this time ten years ago I was in the Video Game Centre, failing to disguise my enthusiasm for the imminent arrival of my import copy.


It had already sent me on a wild adventure of learning HTML and using it to create the imaginatively named Shenmue Fan Site, and my first couple of trial-and-error playthroughs – I didn’t speak Japanese, and no one else had yet written a guide, which made simple tasks like ‘speak to Yamagishi-san’ very difficult – were followed by my first FAQ, which directly led to freelance work with the precursor to the company where I now work. I’ve wanted to write about games for a living for a long time, but no single game had as much direct influence on my future career path as Shenmue, and that’s a big part of why I still hold it in such high esteem.

To be honest, if I was trying to choose my game of the last ten years, this would probably be it. It was highly influential – not many games had real-time weather and day/night cycles in 1999, and it’s largely responsible, for better or worse, for the continuing popularity of the QTE – and far ahead of its time. Its cult following is formidable and still rapacious, devouring every snippet of ‘news’ that comes out of Sega regarding the future (or not) of the series. My bet is that the inclusion of Ryo will be directly responsible for at least half of the sales of Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing. Hell, that’s why I’m going to buy it.


Playing it now, parts of it are of its time, and it may have been pushing the Dreamcast hardware further than was wise, but it still has so much atmosphere, even when playing the impenetrable Japanese version, and that’s a big part of why I love it. Yokosuka feels real – I know it is real, but you know what I mean – and, way back when, I had a place where I’d like to live, a favourite Chinese restaurant, the works. How many games do that now? Bethesda’s stuff, maybe.

The lack of Shenmue III is an empty space in gaming to me and is, sadly, likely to remain so. But, until then, we’ll always have Sakuragaoka…

RIP Video Game Centre

Today was a pretty meaningless day in the grand scheme of things. For most gamers it simply represented the return to the grind after an extended weekend of GTA IV, but it was a sad day for the hardcore gaming community of Bournemouth, and for those regulars from all around the country: today was the last day of trading for the Video Game Centre.

Video Game Centre

Since it opened in 1993, it was one of the biggest sellers in the country of import games and game-related oddities. No one misses the days of £90 SNES imports, but back in the day this place had a huge pool of regulars who were willing to spend that sort of money on the latest and greatest but also who would spend all their Saturday afternoons in there, just talking games. As someone growing up as a gaming obsessive at the time, it was heaven.

Alas, the Internet happened, as did supermarkets and their loss-leading games, and the pool of regulars started to dry up. Internet forums have become the hangout of the hardcore gamer, and the number of people who are willing to spend only a couple of quid under the RRP for a place to break street date has dwindled.

Looking at that photo, taken circa 2002, just makes me come over all nostalgic. The new games on the TVs, the Shenmue poster on the door there, whole import sections for every console. Next to the TVs you can see the accessories, with everything from the expected official controllers and AV cables to the handy weird stuff from Japan and Hong Kong that’s been impossible to find since Lik-Sang disappeared. And above and to the left of the PAL N64 games on the back wall you can see AES and Neo-Geo CD games – where can you get those without braving the bootleg minefield of eBay?

I miss the independent retailers in general. Where is there for people to get knowledgeable advice from people who’ve actually played the game, to try it before they buy and to get help with importing and modding hardware? And when I do shop in a physical retailer, I like to do it without being given the hard sell on extended warranties, official guides, and shitty, own-brand controllers. This was one of the last ones, and it had been one of the best.

So it looks like I’m going completely online now, and I can be happy with my favoured sites for both imports and PAL games. It’s just a shame that I can no longer pop in for a chat about the latest Edge scores…