On January 16, 2023, a spokesperson from the Frasers Group, the conglomerate that owns UK video game store GAME, made it clear that it would no longer be possible to trade in used games for a discount on future purchases.
For those not in the know, GAME is a staple of the UK high street. With over 320 standalone stores, its distinctive silver and purple signage is a beacon to any who might want to get their hands on a physical copy of the latest and greatest titles.
Unfortunately, it looks as though GAME will not be offering this much-needed financing option to customers going forward. Speaking to TechRadar Gaming, the Frasers Group made it clear that it “will be phasing out the trade-in [...] offerings in the UK over the coming months.”
This decision comes as part of GAME’s “integration” into the Frasers Group infrastructure. Veiled as it is in corporate language, it isn’t exactly clear what this means. However, we have seen a move away from the more open-ended trade-in policy of the 2010s in recent years. Where trade-ins used to offer cash six months ago, GAME changed things up, removing this option for customers.
Growing up in the UK, GAME was my main port of call for new releases - I even had a loyalty card. For a teenager around the time of the 2008 financial crisis, the £40 (worth nearly $60 at the time) needed to buy a new title took great effort to accumulate; video games had to be an investment, too. A savvy trade-in of an old title would shave precious pounds off of a new release. Friends could also club together, trading in groups of games to afford new titles, which they would then share (in theory, anyway).
While the trade-in valuations were always stacked in the store’s favor, it gave me and my friends a much-needed leg-up. Without GAME’s trade-in policy, I never would have met Red Dead Redemption’s John Marston or Mass Effect’s Commander Shepard. BioWare’s fantasy classic Dragon Age: Origins would also have been beyond my reach alongside the timeless puzzler Portal 2.
The big squeeze
The UK in 2024 is still very much in a state of financial turmoil - a problem that affects more than just a few out-of-pocket teenagers.
The 2008 financial crisis continues to leave a scar across the UK’s economic landscape, resulting in stagnant wages and, recently, a huge spike in inflation. Buying games is more challenging than ever, making the loss of GAME’s trade-ins sting all the more.
The average price of a video game has increased by roughly 33% since 2008. By contrast, real wages in the UK remain 2.7% lower than they were in 2008, an issue that costs low-to-middle income UK families £11,000 a year, according to think tank The Resolution Foundation (via the BBC).
This all adds up to tough times for video game enjoyers in the UK. While mass digital sales and Xbox Game Pass subscriptions provide new competitive means for players to get their hands on new titles, the trend away from trade-ins and physical media is concerning in how it removes autonomy and agency from consumers. Owning a physical copy of a game and renting the right to play it on a month-to-month basis are very different things, after all.
Digital may be convenient, but the inability of consumers to trade in previous titles ensures that those who wish to be thrifty must wait for seasonal sales or flash deals. If you want to save money on the Steam store, for instance, you have to dance to Valve’s tune, keeping an eye out for fresh sales and hoping that your game of choice will come up. The power is entirely with Valve in this regard.
Any port in a storm
Fortunately, GAME hardly has a monopoly when it comes to selling video games on the UK high street. CEX, which began franchising in 2005, has 385 locations across the country, with its entire store economy based on trading and second-hand titles.
However, the loss of a key competitor in the space does create a chance for CEX to drive up prices, should its executives feel particularly ruthless. I am reminded of an incident in 2020 where, reacting to the PS5 shortages of the time, CEX charged a mind-numbing £815 (that’s over $1,000) for the console (via Eurogamer). For context, the recommended retail price at the time was £449 (roughly $570) - a huge markup that exploited the high demand and limited supply on offer.
With GAME trade-ins out of the picture, it's not hard to imagine that CEX might exploit this gap in the market, squeezing consumers who have already been squeezed more than enough by brutal economic pressures.
In 2022, The Digital Entertainment and Retail Association (ERA) found that 90% of video game sales were digital. The purchasing landscape had to change. However, while CEX appears to remain comfortable in the physical second-hand market, GAME has pivoted.
According to the firm’s managing director Nick Arran, the retailer is poised to move away from video games towards a “general entertainment approach across gaming.” Rather than staying true to the communities that helped its stores grow, it feels to me like GAME is pulling up the ladder behind it, leaving consumers who rely on trade-ins with one fewer lifeline.
While emblematic of a host of broader problems, the loss of trade-ins at GAME is a blow to accessibility and affordability for games in the UK - a development that removes yet more power from the hands of consumers.
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Cat Bussell is a Staff Writer at TechRadar Gaming. Hailing from the crooked spires of London, Cat is an experienced writer and journalist. As seen on Wargamer.com, TheGamer.com, and Superjumpmagazine.com, Cat is here to bring you coverage from all corners of the video game world. An inveterate RPG maven and strategy game enjoyer, Cat is known for her love of rich narratives; both story-driven and emergent.
Before migrating to the green pastures of games journalism, Cat worked as a political advisor and academic. She has three degrees and has studied and worked at Cambridge University, University College London, and Queen Mary University of London. She's also been an art gallery curator, an ice cream maker, and a cocktail mixologist. This crash course in NPC lifestyles uniquely qualifies her to pick apart only the juiciest video games for your reading pleasure.
Cat cut her teeth on MMOs in the heyday of World of Warcraft before giving in to her love of JRPGs and becoming embedded in Final Fantasy XIV. When she's not doing that, you might find her running a tabletop RPG or two, perhaps even voluntarily.