A few weeks ago, I was reading Me, Inc. in which Gene Simmons espoused the idea that companies are inherently judged and defined by the quality of their “star players”. For example: Apple by Steve Jobs, Microsoft by Bill Gates, Virgin by Richard Branson. Without these key individuals, their respective companies would be a shell of their true selves, and would fail to achieve any degree of notoriety in their respective industry sectors. This concept holds true for football teams. It also holds true for videogame giants – ie Nintendo were defined by the efforts of Hiroshi Yamauchi and Shigeru Miyamoto, Sega by Yu Suzuki and Tetsuya Mizuguchi, Microsoft by Ed Fries, and Sony by Ken Kutaragi and Kaz Hirai.
In more modern times however, and with the emergence of the internet, entire organisations have been forced to change their business models, adapt, or fall by the wayside. This happened with Blockbuster in the face of digital streaming, and digital downloads also decimated the prestige and fortunes of HMV. Videogames retail is also undergoing tumultuous upheaval, with many bricks and mortars stores either being forced to close, or are being forced to pivot entirely and become online retailers. Indeed, Bill Gates supported this development by arguing that “the internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow”.
If the internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow, and with the games market set to become 100% digital by 2022, then what role does the humble videogames store play in all of this? More to the point, how can the humble videogames store maintain relevancy at a time when buying habits are changing to the extent that more people are opting to buy their games online, thus making the high street become increasingly irrelevant.
As someone who is a supporter of physical media, and who still buys CDs and Blu Rays, I tend to buy the vast majority of my music, film and gaming products from notable online portals and retailers – such as Ebay, Music Magpie, Amazon, Base, and Shopto. In fact, I haven’t bought any games from within GAME or CEX stores for a number of years, with the biggest reasons being as follows:
GAME: There are no local stores anymore, as the vast majority of them closed after the company went into administration in 2012.
CEX: The company tends to stock tatty second hand products that are vastly over-priced in comparison to what one can acquire them for in a brand new state from online retailers (such as Base). Having said that though, the company’s selection of old movies is pretty cheap.
Obviously, if I don’t walk into my local GAME or CEX anymore, and if games are cheaper to acquire online, then just how relevant are the aforementioned companies going forward – especially in the wake of an increasingly digital marketplace? At the same time, do their business models not seem incredibly boring, and why would anyone want to linger in any of their stores? At least GAME have a steady stream of events (as well as BELONG), but what exactly does CEX offer that encourages customers to stay?
If the retail landscape is shifting, and bearing in mind what Bill Gates stated about the internet becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow, then why would anyone want to invest the time and effort in visiting a physical store in today’s market? And how can that store get repeat custom?
One of the reasons as to why I became a member of my local Fitness First, as opposed to joining any of the other gyms in my local vicinity, was because I liked the caliber of their staff. Management had ensured to treat them well (by paying them more than the minimum wage) and also offered them an environment in which they felt valued. The company also attracted customers of a certain mindset and caliber. That’s not the case with CEX however, as judging by numerous online reports, the company doesn’t care about its staff and doesn’t go out of its way to help them. The company also attracts awful customers, and together with its inability to offer worthwhile career progression, is unable to attract and retain high quality personnel – hence the high turnover. On a long enough timeline, this has obviously resulted in CEX becoming an awful McJob sweatshop company, because it attracts the company of awful low quality people (many of whom are entrenched within upper management). Or maybe I read these reviews wrong – in which case, care to comment on the company’s awful reputation, Mr Brand & Communications Manager?
Given the recent debacle surrounding Metro: Exodus as well as Epic’s eagerness in wanting to secure high profile exclusives for its online store, and bearing in mind that I previously stated that a store’s ability to differentiate itself from its competition is on the basis of its exclusives, it’s worth taking some time out to determine as to what kind of staff a gaming retail store needs to attract if it is to stay competitive and who will also entice customers to visit its physical premises.
If one were to reacquaint themselves with what Gene Simmons stated in his book, Me, Inc., and if a company is honestly defined by the caliber of its “star players”, then its important to take into consideration as to what constitutes high quality staff within the context of the humble videogames store in today’s age. For what is a videogames store, if not a platform through which one can disseminate ideas as well as content?
If the game business is set to change more in the next five years than in the previous ten, then what kind of staff are required to ensure that a videogames retailer doesn’t face obsolescence like GAME and CEX are (already) facing now? What kind of “star players” would be required to catapult the humble videogames store into setting itself up as becoming “future-proof” and that will also draw in customers?
According to Tim Sweeney of Epic, it’s the content creators who will act as the primary differentiators between stores, as they are the ones who’ll be able to leverage their star appeal and cult of celebrity by becoming tastemakers. And much like a football team, the strength of one’s store ultimately depends upon how good its staff are at creating content. This is how a store gets its list of “exclusives”, and this is how a store will maintain competitive advantage going forward. For if staff aren’t prepared to be content creators, then they’re not “star players”, are superfluous dead weight, and are essentially worthless to the store’s organisational needs.
If the internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow, then how does one become a “star player” in the age of the internet? It’s pretty simple actually… One takes the initiative to create a personal brand. An online CV which acts as one’s calling card – whether it be a blog / website, a Youtube account etc. Indeed, movie directors are now casting actors on the strength of their Instagram accounts, and if Youtubers (like ACG and Easy Allies) have far greater reach and social capital amongst gamers than conventional games retail staff, then why can’t a person who wants to be part of a forward thinking game retail organisation not take the same approach by investing in themselves? After all, if they’re not interested in personal development, then what gives them the right to want to be part of a company that is interested in growth? Indeed, social marketing evangelists (such as Gary Vaynerchuk) would support this by arguing that if one isn’t creating content, then they’re a nobody. And why would anyone take the time to visit a store that is staffed by a bunch of nobodies?
In 2009, I remember having a spat with the Managing Director of CEX (notice how I didn’t mention his name? It’s because he’s not a “star”), and he stated that “we don’t measure ourselves by Google you twit” – which probably explains as to why the likes of Google-owned Youtubers such as PewDiePie (who started his channel a year later in 2010) are richer, have more influence, and are more famous than him and all of his garbage tier mercenary “friends” and no-name associates (combined). And it’s not as if he’s even in the same league as the likes of Richard Branson or Steve Jobs. He’s certainly not Bill Gates. Just another low-life garbage-tier sweatshop owner who pays his staff minimum wage and who offers awful working conditions as part of his garbage-tier company. And trust me, there’s nothing “great”, “cool”, or even “high-brow” about any of his zero talent “McJob” business endeavors. He’s just another Kardashian wannabe whose worthless legacy is that he runs a loser organization that’s comprised of shelf-stacking nobodies.
What is also interesting is that mere months later, I released my very own self-funded magazine that made me more famous than all of the staff within CEX’s flagship store at Rathbone Place (combined). A last ditch attempt at trying to salvage what little professional reputation I still had, and of trying to implement the majority of my ideas as detailed within this blog. Of course, these self-motivated endeavours weren’t at all appreciated, which is why I was invited to an interview in 2010, and summarily rejected a day before the interview was ever due to take place. A vulgar display of power (because the internet wasn’t as established back then) and a petty display in which store management disregarded professionalism. But that’s to be expected, because on a long enough timeline, CEX have come to be known for their lack of professionalism.
Indeed, Martin Robinson (of Eurogamer) actually wrote an article a few years later (in 2012) in which he lamented the state of CEX Rathbone Place. He argued that “its star faded many years back, and while upstairs remains home to tatty second-hand versions of current releases and shelves of promos opportunistically hawked on, downstairs was long ago given over to even tattier box-sets of mediocre long-running US TV series. The only real thing that ties the CEX of today to the one of old is the charming rudeness of the staff, soundtracked as ever by the most violent breakcore“. This sentiment was also expressed by a number of eminent journalists whose sphere of influence did extend beyond the confines of the store, and whose success can be measured by Google.
But what do these articles and tweets even suggest, if not for the fact that there was an acute shortage of veritable “star players” left within the confines of the store by 2012, with it suffering from awful mis-management in the interim since I left for my degree. And in an age where Google determines the importance of someone via its search engine algorithms, owns Youtube, and has also made recent headlines via its Stadia streaming service, it’s pretty safe to suggest that the ghost of “old” Rathbone Place departed many years previously. Indeed, Rathbone Place has ceased to exist as a gaming institution, and is likened to MySpace, in that it’s dead, but not quite dead. The store has simply failed to evolve with the times, and with CEX’s management and staff also not caring, it’s pretty safe to determine as to where the fault lies.
If a company (or store) is defined by the quality of its “star players”, then in the digital age, the only way by which one can determine as to whether Rathbone Place even hosted stars by 2012, is by seeing as to what they’ve done since they’ve been “deplatformed”. For the battle is no longer being fought in physical stores, it’s being fought online (where one is measured by Google). How many of Rathbone Place’s “star players” do you even remember, and in the digital age, how many of them have gone on to leave their mark within the context of games retail ever since? A simple Google search (and not a CEX search… URGH!) for their “personal brand” should suffice, in which case, I can quite comfortably inform you that the vast majority of them have failed to do anything of note (like a certain basement-tier no-name gatekeeping tool who loved to throw out cheap insults but who’s since been reduced to writing shitty 300 word “reviews”), and are certainly not “stars” within the context of games retail or even within the games industry as a whole. Hell, I’m more famous than them for the simple fact that I have invested in myself by having this simple blog (because it’s not that hard). And what is a blog, if not an online platform through which one can disseminate content and information (such as when I sold 7 SNES Minis in 24 hours and got online publicity for my online efforts).
In 2019, if you want to be a “star player” within the games retail industry, you don’t go and work for companies that offer minimum wage and who are themselves over the hill, past their sell by date, and are teetering on the brink of irrelevance (like GAME and CEX). You leverage the power and reach of digital channels like Youtube and iTunes and create your own platform (ie a website). Because that’s how you go about gaining and keeping control. That’s how you become a (worldwide) “star player” and influencer, where your sphere of influence extends beyond their god-awful shops, in an age where the internet has changed everything.