Struggling retailer GAME has admitted it is unable to stock all new titles.
However, it has promised gamers that it will honour pre-orders for games that are currently on sale.
In both cases word of their GAME no-show came just days - or the case of Ubisoft's Vita launch line-up, hours - before the games were due to go on sale.
GAME's problems stem from the loss of credit insurance with the banks, which has had the knock on effect of publishers asking it to pay cash up front for stock - something the retailer is struggling to do.
At last night's Vita launch, GAME Group Marketing Director Anna-Marie Mason told Eurogamer that games it has been unable to stock may, eventually, come into stock, and insisted the specialist retailer still plays an essential role in the success of the UK game industry.
How important is Vita's launch for GAME?
Anna-Marie Mason: It's hugely important and meaningful to us that we are Sony's official partner in the launch. This being a success, not just for us but the whole market, is really important. It's a launch we all need, beneficial for all the publishers that have got behind it as well in terms of software. We're all looking forward to the energy it gives us as an industry, and bringing customers back into our stores and to our online business.
Do you expect Vita to have a huge impact in that regard?
Anna-Marie Mason: We've genuinely been delighted by the reaction we've had from customers, particularly at the point where they've been able to get hands on with the unit in store. We've been running an awareness campaign both online and in store since before Christmas. Our hardcore gamers have been curious about the product for months and months, but it's transformed the customer interest at the point where they can get into one of our stores and get hands on with it. We've been very lucky that we've been the only retailer that's been able to offer that.
We are confident and we have an expectation this will be a success for us and for the rest of the industry.
Why do you say it's important for Vita to give the industry some energy?
Anna-Marie Mason: The traditional packaged goods market, year on year, has been in decline. Even at our most busy period last year, as an industry, that market shrunk, and it shrunk significantly.
So, doing what we do as an industry best, for a launch like this, is absolutely vital. Customers are beginning to understand the power of what this device can do. We feel it's got longevity as well, post launch, which is something we're excited about. We're planning for it to have a role in our business for all of this year.
You aren't stocking Ubisoft's Vita games. Can you explain to our readers who were looking forward to buying these games in store what's going on?
Anna-Marie Mason: The first thing I would say is, we are and have been determined to bring a market leading proposition and launch for this product, and want to give our customers the widest possible range of options at launch.
What I would say about the titles within the Ubisoft range is, we're not stocking them at this point, but this market moves really quickly, so that situation may change. With regard to the customers we have in both brands and whether they're online or in store customers, we've spoken to them all and apologised that that isn't something we're in a position to offer them right now.
But for the guys who really want those games, we've got a download option for them, so they're not missing out on the game perhaps they wanted as part of their launch experience.
Last week GAME confirmed it would not be stocking Tekken 3D Prime Edition and cancelled pre-orders just days before it was due to go on sale. This week you cancelled the Special Edition of The Last Story, which is due out on Friday. What's the situation going forward? Is it the case that you are not in a position to stock all new titles?
Anna-Marie Mason: No. Part of our success as a business and part of our success with customers is we have the widest possible range we can bring to market. With Tekken, that was a very difficult decision that our business didn't have that title. But with regards to the Ubisoft titles, that is one moment in time. It doesn't mean to say we won't have that title or that part of our proposition on an on-going basis.
So these games may come in stock in the future?
Anna-Marie Mason: They may do.
Why is this happening?
Anna-Marie Mason: There's no one specific reason. There isn't one specific catch-all reason. We do endeavour to give our customers the widest possible range, whether it's GAME, Gamestation, online or in-store.
We can't stock absolutely everything. That's just not possible.
Anna-Marie Mason: You can see, there's a finite amount of space in a store. The same applies in a rational way to our online business. There isn't a definitive reason why we haven't been able to stock those two things most recently. But that may well change.
What message do you have to gamers who are afraid of pre-ordering with GAME because they're worried they may be cancelled at the last minute because you can't stock them?
Anna-Marie Mason: Well, we know our customers really well. Most of them have a really long history with us, and they know as a business we are absolutely committed to giving the best possible range as much of the time as we possibly can.
The instances we've had in the last couple of weeks are absolutely the exception, not the rule.
Can you guarantee pre-orders for games that you are currently selling?
Anna-Marie Mason: Absolutely.
What's the stock situation with the Vita hardware? Will you be able to go into a GAME or Gamestation today and buy one?
Anna-Marie Mason: That depends on the level of consumer demand. We've got really healthy deposits on this product, and we know customers are going to be from tomorrow all through the weekend and picking it up. Sony's advertising and PR has really started to kick in. We'd love to be in a position where we're selling as much of the product as we possibly can.
So everyone who's pre-ordered will be able to pick up their Vita?
Anna-Marie Mason: Absolutely.
Will those who haven't be able to pick one up?
Anna-Marie Mason: We've applied our normal stocking rules to this product where we ensure we have all the stock we need to fulfil everyone's pre-orders and deposits. And we have a sensible approach to ensuring we've got stock for customers who are coming on more of an impulse purchase basis.
What's the split between the Wi-Fi only and the Wi-Fi plus 3G models? Do you have the same amount of stock for each one?
It's fairly evenly split, for now. Once consumers get hold of it and get stuck into it, there may well be a swing. But it's too early to call.
Sony has committed to making all Vita games available to download as well as buy from high street shops. What impact does that have on GAME?
Anna-Marie Mason: A big part of what we offer to our customers is advice and education. The programme our store teams have been on with Sony in terms of understanding what Vita is capable of puts us in a great position to help customers understand what it can and can't do moving forward.
Will we have a commercial role in that value chain? I absolutely hope so. But for now, it's about bringing it to market and us connecting to our customers and making sure they're getting the most out of it. There's absolutely plenty to be getting on with.
Do you feel GAME has suffered unwarranted doom and gloom in recent months?
Anna-Marie Mason: The trade and consumer press will always have opinions. We're stood here tonight. We'll bring a market leading launch to our customers. We have a hugely relevant role to play in this industry. We're confident about that role.
It's not for me to say whether it's unfair or not. People are entitled to their opinions. But we're confident about what we're doing and we're locked on to the future rather than conjecture about the past.
Commenting on opinion, whether it's in the press, whether it's on forums, it's a pretty pointless exercise. Whether we were in the boom times or whether we were in slightly more challenging trading conditions, people would always have those opinions.
We've just got to get on with what we do best, which is be a specialist and have the unique role we play in the eyes of our customers, which is a multi-channel business that's different and has a huge advantage to others in the same market.
One problem we hear often is how expensive games are at GAME versus how much they are to buy from the likes of Play, Amazon and other online only retailers. Could your GAME prices be cheaper?
Anna-Marie Mason: It's well documented. In a marketplace like video games, there will always be somebody that's selling the game cheaper. That's not what we're about. We've never tried to be, or never wanted to operate like that.
What our customers get from us, whether they shop with GAME or Gamestation, is more than a sterile transaction. They get the opportunity to transact with us in the way they want and they get added value. Our customers will vote with their feet.
We still have two-and-a-half million people coming into our stores every week. Hopefully we've got something right.
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