I didn’t get the midnight launch. That much I was grateful for.
Some of them had shown up early. Really early. They were ready, and despite the sky that was the churning-mud colour of autumn and the interment rain that had begun fall, they were there. They set up deck-chairs and rolled single-skin spliffs and sheepishly wandered into the store to stock up on Monster energy drinks and Chilli Heat-Wave Doritos. This was, to them, a huge cultural event: the long-awaited release of Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto V.
Estimated world-wide pre-orders for the game have topped seven million, and it is expected to have shifted up to 15 million units by the weekend, smashing the previous record of 11 million set by Call of Duty Black Ops II.
I had to work the following day, which in some ways, would be worse. All the hard-core gamers and GTA nuts would have been at the midnight launch. So I would have to deal with everybody else.
I started my shift at three. My manager was flapping already. There was a mountain of trade over at the games counter. And I would have to sort it all out while fielding calls and enquiries and serving eager customers.
In many ways, the second-hand games market is the lifeblood that keeps the retail entertainment industry afloat. And in particular, the buying and selling of used games is the scaffolding that keeps many, many high-street retailers afloat, including, but not limited to, chains such as Game, CEX and Grainger Games. This is because unlike the initial sales, the sell-through of used games generates a lot more profit for the retailers, as the mark-up on the purchase goes straight into the till as opposed to the pockets of the publishers.
I work for such a company. It’s a constant source of anguish and mental torment, but anyway, I digress…
There was a feeling of barely controlled chaos. There hadn’t been this kind of activity in months. Years even. We’d been preparing for it, obviously. There was plenty of stock, and all the requisite marketing Point of Sale items. For the past two months I had been regularly confronted by Trevor’s unflinching gaze, complete with ‘Cut Here’ tattoo, staring down at me from the huge triptych cardboard display on the shop-floor.
But the thing I wasn’t prepared for was just how rabid the consumers were.
Some of the things I learned on the launch of Grand Theft Auto V include:
Pegi Age ratings are completely fucking irrelevant.
Seriously. Take your ‘Well, you wouldn’t serve a child with vodka and pornography’ argument and get the fuck out of here. It doesn’t amount to shit. Try giving the ‘This is a mature game with adult themes and content’ speech to a tired, middle-aged mother of three wannabe wide-boy prepubescent boys, who couldn’t give two fucks if there’s sex and violence in the game, so long as the little fuckers leave her alone for a couple of days so she can go out and meet someone nice…
A good proportion of the people buying the game on the day itself were primarily parents. In most cases, their kids were there with them, grinning from ear to ear as they were handed the case. If I for one moment had presumed to have the balls to tell someone that they technically breaking the law, I’m pretty sure that I would have received a key to the eye, or some other swift rebuttal.
Someone could have made a small fortune by selling Xbox 360 hard-drive upgrades.
The latest model (the slim, imaginatively named due the fact it’s slimmer than the last model) came in two versions, a 4 gig and 250 gig. Imagine the horror of all those people who got home, frantically tore off the shrink-wrap, removed the disc, carefully placed it on the tray, inserted it into the console, and then were confronted with an 8 gig installation prompt. Believe it or not, a great part of the shift was spent fielding calls and dealing with disgruntled customers who were baffled by the by the lack of RAM. The place I work at had completely sold out of hard-drives within a couple of hours. Someone with a bit a foresight could have stocked up on them and made an absolute killing.
Other than digital downloads, the biggest threat to game suppliers are the supermarkets.
No-one can possibly compete with their pricing. They can comfortably undercut the high-street by a good few quid. When confronted people who whined that they could pick up the game for thirty-eight pounds at Asda, the temptation to say, ‘Well go to fucking Asda then,’ is almost unbearable.
Digital downloads still can’t compare to the feeling of physically buying something.
You don’t get the fold-out map, you don’t get the free poster and t-shirt, and you don’t get the buzz of waiting in a queue, hands sweating in anticipation as you make your way to the front of the line.
There’s going to be a hell of a lot of second-hand copies of Saint’s Row IV flooding the shelves soon.
That and Call of Duty: Black Ops II were by far the most traded in games.
When it comes to hype and generating a buzz, the games industry is king.
Never in my life have I been witness to anything like the launch of Grand Theft Auto V in terms of popular public consciousness. I mean, every fucker and their uncle wanted a copy. Who would have thought that a game that is more or less based around car-jacking and shooting people in the face would have such mass appeal?
I hate my life.
Working in retail fucking sucks.
Earlier this year, the entertainment retail industry seemed to be on the ropes. Some of giants of the industry, including HMV and Blockbuster, had come ashore on the giant rocks of digital distribution. The challenges of the download era that were facing the music industry seemed to be spreading to throughout distribution. The physical object, the thing that actually contained the product, seemed to be hurtling towards obsolescence, and an entire industry with it.
The final nail seemed to come in the form of Microsoft’s unveiling of the Xbox One at E3 in July. Here was a device that had been essentially designed to completely decimate the second-hand market. Once a game had been purchased, it would be stored on the console, and in order for anyone else to play the game on their own console, they would have to purchase a code that would cost almost as much as the disc that it originally came on, thus mounting the biggest attack on the second-hand games industry yet. However, the feedback from the consumers was devastating, prompting Sony to basically take the opposite stance, which was a huge PR victory for them. Since then, Microsoft has been forced to back-track and completely reverse their policies.
If anything, the huge success of the GTA V launch serves as a vindication for the retail games market, a market that seems to be only getting bigger with each passing year. As George Carlin once said, people love their stuff, and for now, as well as the foreseeable future, this looks as though it will continue to be the case.
And now I’ve got the launch of the PS4 and Xbox One to look forward to…