A Game of Monopoly | Roger O’Sullivan

Competition in business is the healthiest thing in terms of the consumer. Barely a day goes by when you are not accosted by some supermarket advertisement screaming about how their baked beans are .2479% cheaper than X other supermarket’s. While the constant one-upmanship can be irritating to deal with as a consumer, it is ultimately us who benefits. The worst thing that could possibly happen would be for just one retailer to survive leaving the costumer at their mercy as regards to prices.

The Irish video game market used to have a similarly competitive dynamic with the two dedicated retailers, GAME and GameStop, keeping each other on their toes. This helped to keep the Irish consumer protected and video game prices reasonable, until in March of this year when GAME was forced to shut its Irish stores as it entered administration. Since the closure of its main competitors GameStop has been steadily increasing its prices and reducing the amount of credit given from trade-ins. This time last year, most games retailed for somewhere around the €50-55 mark, whereas now the vast majority of titles are priced at €59.99. This might seem like a small incremental increase, but with the lack of a dedicated competitor it sets a dangerous precedent for future business moves.

The only two retailers who have any kind of parity with GameStop are Smyths and HMV. While Smyths is usually cheaper it often only stocks the bigger titles, HMV stocks a diverse range of titles and are generally much cheaper than the competition and they do not have the same quantity of each title. HMV are nonetheless the most well poised to take on GameStop directly and stated in their last earnings report that they wished to expand further into the video gaming market with CDs and DVDs falling in popularity. However they may be set to go the same way as GAME as they reported a drop in sales and are having difficulty in paying debts.

gamestop1If this was to come to fruition, it would leave GameStop with a virtual monopoly over the Irish video game market, giving them the ability to price gouge consumers. If this future did eventually come to light, there would still be but one bastion for the costumer. This would come in the form of downloadable game services, the most prevalent of these being Steam. While currently Ireland does not have the required broadband bandwidth to make direct downloads a comfortable alternative, it is generally considered a foregone conclusion by video game analysts that retailers will eventually cease to exist and give way to an era of entirely digital media. This would quickly drive down prices due to the lack of packaging and transportation.

Despite how enticing this digital future sounds, it is clearly a long way off and in the meantime we are forced to deal with the traditional brick and mortar solution. Currently the only defence we have against extortionist game prices is to shop around in competing retailers, and soon we may not even have that Luxury. This Christmas, be sure to vote with your cash and don’t let GameStop mistreat you as a costumer.