Note: I originally penned this article on February 1st. GAME has since brokered a new deal with their backers, which has bought them some financial security in the short term. However, with the relevance of high street retailers now being fiercely debated, I hope you enjoy my slightly more personal take on the situation. - Jonathan
Buying games online is infinitely better than traditional retail. It's obvious. We all know it. Hell, sites like us wouldn't even exist if there wasn't a demand for low prices and stiff competition between online vendors. Internet shopping is cheaper and more convenient than ever before, and makes trudging down the rainy high street, braving the elements and probably getting mugged by a crew of teenage chavs on the way home look like crap. Because it is.
But as retail giants like GAME and HMV face financial problems and the very real threat of extinction, I can't help but feel slightly sad about the whole thing. I wouldn't necessarily mourn their loss (our wallets definitely wouldn't), though I would miss them. My reasons are surprisingly personal rather than purely rational... but love can't be measured by bottom lines and savings. Well, not in this case.
See, the pilgrimage into the high street was one of the defining joys of my young (and teenage) life. After saving up my pocket money for what felt like an eternity, I'd leap on the number one bus into Southend Victoria, all the while imagining the game I planned to buy. I would spend days, weeks even, working out exactly which one I could afford and which one I wanted; obsessively daydreaming about the characters and screenshots I pored over in creased magazines.
Barely containing my excitement, I arrived on the high street and strode purposefully through the crowds. Unlike them, I knew what I wanted. I knew what I came for. Just picking up the cardboard box from the shelf and feeling the weight of the enclosed jewel case was a thrill, and on the bus home, I'd greedily absorb each word and every picture in the instruction manual.
This became a private ritual for me, one that was synonymous with the joy of gaming. One that, in all honesty, I enjoyed almost as much as finally being able to play the title itself. While I tend to buy almost all of my games online these days (I work for Dealspwn, so it would be pretty stupid of me not to), I sometimes stroll down to my familiar home turf when I'm feeling a little jaded, just to recapture some of that childhood feeling of excitement and innocence. Not an easy thing to do in Southend, mind.
For me, buying games online also takes some of the magic and magesty out of them. Clicking on a game and having it arrive on your front door a few days later is just - how can I put this without sounding like a total berk? - too easy. Without the ritual, without the pilgrimage, games become raw commodities rather than works of art, compounded by the fact that I get plenty of them directly from PR companies, publishers and developers. Having to do a little work makes the anticipation taste all the sweeter, though these days, who has the time?
Plus, sometimes, I want a game now. Not in two days' time. Now. Still, at least we'll always have the supermarkets.
Do I buy the overwhelming majority of games online? Of course. Is traditional retail better than buying on the web? God no. But I will miss the high street if and when internet and digital distribution deals its killer blow. Because, in spite of myself, I still love it.