It was my first real job, and I loved it. I relished the opportunity to walk into that store on daily basis and sell video games, arguably my biggest passion in life. I was able to talk about games with customers, sell them the lastest software and consoles, and yes, I was extremely proud to say I worked there. When I started working at my local video game store, life was good — the money wasn’t too bad, and I was surrounded by my most loved things.
Do you know what they say about the ‘honeymoon period’?
I started working for the biggest video games retailer in the United Kingdom at the tail end of 2012, and I remained in that store until late 2015. In fact, I worked there exactly three years to the day. When I first stood behind the counter in my branded t-shirt, clutching a pile of video games, I felt alive. Surely it was never going to get better than this? I was being paid real money to sell people the latest Xbox and PlayStation titles — what a way to live!
Ultimately, I was hired as a ‘temp’, booked to work nothing more than the festive period, but I quickly secured a permanent role in the store. It was an extremely slow burn at the start, and it wasn’t until I climbed to a senior role that the hours really picked up. However, while my progression climbed, my enjoyment of the job crashed, and my departure was a straw-breaking-the-camel’s-back scenario.
What made me transition so swiftly from jubilant elation to soul-crushing demotivation?
Trust me, it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be
Firstly, if you think you’re signing up to sell video games and have a laugh with your colleagues, you’re very much mistaken. It was fun when I started, but that mood quickly soured as the company evolved and became a disfigured rendition of its former self. Once upon a time, this company was the home for video games, but by the time I left it was a cesspit of insurance packages, desperate selling tactics, and second-hand mobile phones.
In my store, it was always more important to sell people things they didn’t want than it was to sell them things they’d enjoy. Whenever a brand new game launched, there was an incessant pushing from the upper management to sell, sell, sell! I get it; that’s how retail works, right? However, this was a ‘by-hook-or-by-crook’ environment, and you did whatever you could to secure one more insurance package, or one more strategy guide sale.
It reached a point where you weren’t hired for your gaming knowledge, but your ability to sell something to someone. It didn’t matter if you knew nothing about the latest game or console — you could just read about it in an information packet. The problem was, real gamers still shopped there, and it was embarrassing when the staff couldn’t engage in even the lightest conversation related to gaming.
Although I started selling games and consoles, I finished selling toys, merchandise, and second-hand technology. On my first day, I was told to remind people they could trade-in their old consoles and accessories; on my last day, I was telling people we’d buy their old phones off them. It’s the way of the world in retail — diversification is the key to success, but it wasn’t what I signed up for.
For the many, many months I worked there, I spent more time apologising for exorbitantly high prices than I did encouraging people to make a purchase. There’s only so many times you can say, “It’s because online stores don’t have to accommodate the cost of stores, and such.” It left a sour taste in my mouth every time I said it, and the truth was, there’s almost no profit in selling video games brand new — that’s why this company had a desperate focus on second-hand stock.
By the end, one of the driving reasons behind my departure was an almost total disconnect from video games. Within a month of landing the job, I’d taken part in three ‘midnight launches’, huge events when a game is sold the moment it launches. They were complete with costumes, giveaways, in-store decorations, and a queue down the street a mile long. I cannot recall one midnight launch — or any successful launch — in the last year of that job.
The company all but abandoned big launches, regardless of how many customers asked why we’d stopped doing them. The head honchos wanted us to spend extra time marketing our second-hand mobile phones on Twitter? Sure, go for it. We, as gamers, want to have a midnight launch event for a massive game that’s coming out? Absolutely not!
It became one big competition for all involved. Do you want to be favoured when the shifts are dished out? Well, you’d better sell more pre-orders and extended warranties. I’m doing better than you; I’ve just sold a PS4 bundle with sixteen things the customer didn’t really need! “Hello Sir, would you like a keyring? Or a mug? Or a book? Or a t-shirt? Or a season pass? Or a…”
Finally, no — there are no free games, no hefty discounts, and no exclusive goodies for the people who work in video game stores. If you get those things, you’re either extremely lucky, or an ass-kissing middle manager with a friend in the biz.
The inevitable downfall
The constant transformation driven by consumerism is having an irrevocable impact on the world of retail, I know. It’s no big secret that the high street is dying out, and online transactions are king these days. It’s mostly a taste for nostalgia that drives my emotions forward when I think about it. I’ll drift back to those early days, selling the things I loved most to people who were genuinely excited about them.
When I walk past that shop from time to time, my heart aches for it — it hasn’t changed much over the years, but there are definitely more mobile phones in the window. It isn’t Xbox 360 and PS3, but PS5 and Xbox Series that dominates the displays. There’s rarely anybody shopping in there, and it’s always “nothing like I remember it.” Unfortunately, the company has slipped massively over the years, being threatened with total collapse on more than one occasion.
It isn’t just the United Kingdom, though. In the United States, GameStop suffered similar circumstances, with a massive downtrend in brick-and-mortar shopping having a dangerous impact on the future of the company. In 2019, GameStop issued a wave of closures, shutting down two hundred stores in one fell swoop. In an article on GamesRadar, it was revealed that physical, high-street gaming sales peaked in 2008, bu they’ve been on a steady decline ever since.
It’s a fact of life — people aren’t shopping in stores anymore. Even before the pandemic, more and more people were taking their business online to the giants like Amazon. There’s an almost inexistence of independent gaming stores today, and there’s a very unpredictable road ahead for those that remain. I firmly believe that the company I used to work for won’t exist by the mid 2020s.
Ultimately, its prices are too high, its staff are (now) too inexperienced, and as a collective, they focus more on trying desperately to remain attractive than they do providing actual value. The days I once enjoyed are long, long gone, and there’s no going back. I know that, but it doesn’t stop me mourning them. For a while, it was the best job in the world — then along came Big Daddy KPI and the Second Hand Tech Crew.
Thank you for reading.