When was the last time you walked into a high street games shop and picked up a copy of the latest hot release? If the answer to that is "can't remember", you're far from alone.
The latest sales figures suggest that specialist retailers such as GAME are facing dire conditions, as online competition and supermarket rivals carve up a market made even tougher by perilous financial conditions. But while buyers benefit from lower prices, this could mean huge - and unwelcome - changes for the games industry overall.
GAME saw its UK and Ireland Christmas sales slump 17.6 per cent year-on-year, forcing the company to admit that it might struggle to meet debt repayments. Then HMV reported that its gaming performance had been terrible, leading to the sacking of its games boss and the possibility that it will quit games altogether.
But gaming is big business. Brits spent £2.52bn on games in the UK last year, so what's going wrong for specialists? Well, for one thing, while overall sales are impressive, they still fell by 13% from the previous year. With bricks and mortar retail under attack from both supermarkets and online, chains like GAME are having to scrap to win a smaller chunk of a shrinking market.
Death by 100 cuts
Tesco and Asda are happy to sell games at cost price - or even at a loss - to get you in-store. GAME cannot afford to do the same. Nor can it compete with the crazy discounting seen online. FIFA 12 was available for between £45 at GAME and Gamestation at launch last September. The same game could be found for under £38 online and, amazingly, just £25 in the supermarkets.
Why can Tesco and Asda do this? If you head into store to buy a copy the chances are you'll pick up some shopping too. If you do a full family shop then the supermarket has already recouped its loss. If GAME offered the same price it would effectively be paying you to buy it.
"Under attack from supermarkets and online, GAME has to scrap for a chunk of a shrinking market."
It's now a very real possibility that in the next few years supermarkets will be the only place where you can buy games off the shelf. So what, you might ask. Well, that means that if a game is any more than a few weeks old, it will be nowhere to seen. And have you tried trading in your games at Tesco? It's a shocking experience.
Of course, you'll still be able to get the less blockbusting titles online, but don't underestimate the damage that losing spontaneous sales from the wider market will do to the industry. With less money coming in, publishers will be increasingly unwilling to take risks. So that's a bye-bye to new ideas and hello to more sequels, then.
The good news is there's a way all this can be avoided. Get to your local specialist retailer and spend some money. Yes, you'll pay more. But what you're buying is a future for games on the High Street. Is that a price worth paying? And therein lies the problem. The only hope for retailers is for you to choose to pay more. And let's be honest - that's not going to happen. At least not in large enough numbers to make a difference.