Goodbye Remembering Gamestation
Monday 26th March 2012 was the date that GAME group, the company that owns specialist games retailer Gamestation went into administration. Over 2000 jobs were lost across all companies within the GAME Group portfolio, a large majority of them from the Gamestation side of the business. In the weeks leading up to what I thought could have been their ultimate demise, I began writing this feature as a way of saying goodbye to them. I realised just how important Gamestation had been to me over the years and how much I would miss it if it were to close down for good. I wanted to take the time to write about some memorable moments from my experiences with Gamestation over the past twelve years and try to explain just how much it means to me.
I have played videogames for as long as I can remember. My brother and sister were very much into them so it was natural for me to be influenced. When I was five, I received my first video game system, a Sinclair Spectrum ZX+2 passed down from my sister. Eventually I received my first games console, a Super Nintendo from my brother after I traded him my neglected Commodore 64. After losing touch with home computers, it felt right to move on to consoles. Up to this point, my videogames were handed down to me, I didn’t get a choice in what I owned, so it was time to purchase my first proper video game, and that was when I first discovered Gamestation.
I was thirteen when I first visited the store, I remember peering through the display window and looking at all the awesome retro titles that were on offer. I noticed that there were a few of SNES games in the window and a couple of titles immediately caught my eye. A boxed Super Mario: All Stars and an unboxed copy of Super Mario World. I decided there and then that these were to be my first purchases with Gamestation, and my first ever Nintendo games. I couldn’t have had a better introduction to Nintendo, and Gamestation was the store that made that possible.
Gotta catch em all!
Ask any gamer in their mid twenties and they’ll probably tell you just how big Pokemon was when they were a child. The craze had just started, and it was hard to avoid it through school. Whether it was the anime, the movies or the trading card game, it surrounded me and I was hooked. But my true enjoyment came from the videogame series. It took a few years, but when it came to finally purchasing my first Pokemon game, Gamestation was there to provide me with the helpful advice necessary in order to purchase Pokemon Blue and a Gameboy Colour. Even at the age of fourteen, the staff treated me with the same respect I get as an adult.
About a week later I remember looking back through the display window and noticing some accessories for my new Gameboy Colour, a Gameboy camera and printer. I didn’t have enough money to buy both but I decided to get the Camera. I walked into the store and was greeted by one of the assistants that sold me my Gameboy Colour and we talked for a while about it, asking me if I was enjoying what I had bought. I explained that I wanted to buy the camera from the window, and he pointed out that there was also a printer for sale too. When I told that I didn’t have enough money for both, he went to the to get me the camera, which I then purchased. But as I was leaving, he also pulled out the Gameboy Printer from the window, with link cables and printer paper and gave them to me, saying something along the lines of “This is because you’re a good customer; you can have these for free”.
Thinking back, he was probably the store manager, because I couldn’t imagine staff giving away their profits like that. But on that day, I walked out of Gamestation with my arms full of free stuff with the biggest smile on my face. It was awesome! I couldn’t quite believe what had happened. This was my greatest memories of shopping at Gamestation by far, I was made to feel important and special and it secured my custom for the future.
There were a few opportunities where I entered the store and found myself playing hardware before release. Gamestation was the only place I could find that offered this. I remember playing a Japanese version of F-Zero: Maximum Velocity on the Gameboy Advance and Luigi’s Mansion on the Gamecube before either console or game launched. In recent times, I had an opportunity to try out the 3DS a month before it came to Europe. Going hands on with these consoles before the majority of the public was a fantastic opportunity to see what the system could do, and an opportunity to ask any questions I had about the system there and then from someone who had used it and experienced it.
Even to this day I still receive good advice from the staff and in my experience; they’ve always been well informed on the hardware they are showcasing and clearly have a lot of experience in gaming. To me, they’re not merely sales assistants who are there to sell you the most profitable products and this is what sets them apart from the supermarkets and the department stores.
In safe hands
Over the next few years, Gamestation met many of my gaming needs. I bought my Nintendo 64, Gamecube and Xbox 360 from them, along with around 90% of my retro games and peripherals. I had never seen a Super Nintendo Superscope or Pocket Pikachu Colour until I saw it in the display window of Gamestation, and without a specialist games retailer on the high street like them, I probably wouldn’t have done so until I got an internet connection. Gaming websites and the gaming community help me decide on what games I should check out these days, but back when it wasn’t as simple to get information and recommendations, I’m glad Gamestation was there to provide them.
I’ve always appreciated how I could visit Gamestation and not feel any pressure to buy something. I don’t normally get staff walking up to me asking if they can help unless they can see I’m really struggling. In other situations it might be useful, but in my experience they tend to keep their distance unless you need them. Personally, I despise people walking up to me asking me if I want to buy something, it puts me off and if I start to feel pressured, I’m more than likely to leave the area as soon as possible. Gamers know what they want when they enter a store and I think the staff knows this. They’re quite approachable and I’ve struck up some great conversations with them, even missing my bus home on a few occasions!
Back in 2004, Gamestation played host to a special Nintendo event for Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire, they were giving away an Eon ticket which allowed players to catch the legendary Pokemon Latios or Latias depending on which version of the game they had. It was great that an event like this was hosted as it allowed me to chat with other Pokemon fans and got a chance to meet a friend there called Gavin. We battled, traded and talked about Pokemon all day until the event was over. To this day, we still talk to one another. Although Gamestation had no direct involvement with the event, it’s still a good memory I have from the store.
In recent years, the internet has been a more affordable and attractive place to buy games. Gamestation wasn’t my only option anymore; online shopping has allowed me to get games cheaper and in some cases, before launch date. Retro gaming no longer had a strong presence with Gamestation, one of the key reasons I visited and although the store has maintained its look and feel under new ownerships, in the background I could tell things weren’t the same. Prices were getting higher and the majority of the time I visited, I left empty handed. When I heard that GAME group had suffered poor sales and were racking up debts, I knew it was only a matter of time before it was in trouble. What was going to happen to what used to be my favourite store on the high street?
Without specialist games retailers, the industry is sure to suffer in some form. I like to physically browse for products and I like to pick up a game or console and ask questions. I want to find something at the bottom of a bargain bin that no one else has shown any love to, but could be something incredibly special to me. Sadly, Gamestation has taken a big hit and half of its stores have closed, paying a high price for its mistakes. But it’s still here for now, clinging on and I can only wish it the best for the future, a future that is probably going to be threatened with the challenge of the gradual decline of physical products and the increase in digital software.
Gamestation isn’t just a specialist video game store; it has played a huge part in making me the gamer I am today. It’s a place where I have been able to talk to people who were passionate and understood their products. Gamestation staff are not just sales assistants to me, they’re people I can hold conversations with, people who I trust when it comes to choosing a game or console. It’s a store I can go to get hands on with new software and hardware, a place where I can meet likeminded gamers and even new friends! After twelve years of custom, fond memories, fantastic experiences and hundreds of games and accessories purchased, I have realised just how important Gamestation is. Not just to me, but to gamers and the high street as a whole. If it were to close down completely, to say it would be missed would be a massive understatement. Let’s hope that Gamestation’s “1up” from OpCapita will continue to allow its stores to be a welcomed presence in our towns and cities.
So thanks for all those amazing years so far Gamestation, thanks for informing me that there were Metroid games before Metroid Prime so I could purchase Super Metroid from you right there and then. Thanks for the awesome Super Smash Bros Brawl poster your awesome staff gave me just because they knew I was a fan. Hell, thanks for the free balloon I got with Mario Kart Wii! Thank you for all those fantastic years, I look forward to the next chapter in your story.