The rise of underground retailers

It is not cheap having a hobby of any sort, regardless of how cheap it may seem at first. For example, collecting stamps may seem like a painless activity for your wallet, but serious collectors spend hundreds of dollars on proper stamp books and preservation kits to make sure their collection lasts as long as possible.

As far as hobbies go, being a gamer is probably not one of the cheapest around. With the average video game carrying a price tag of between S$59 to S$120, gaming can really take a toll on one’s finances.

For this reason, large companies that sell video games, like Best Denki, Challenger, and Comics Connection, just to name a few, have been seeing a massive dip in sales.

In fact, some branches have even removed a gaming section altogether. In Best Denki’s Vivocity branch, the once large gaming section is now reduced to several trolleys of discounted games. Courts, which used to selling video games, have stopped selling them completely, and an increasing number of Comics Connection branches have placed a much heavier focus on comics rather than games.

Joseph Chee, 42, the owner of Comics Connection’s Tiong Bahru Plaza branch, said: “We are definitely seeing a lower amount of people coming in to buy games nowadays. It’s probably because times are bad and people are more strict with their spending patterns.”

Despite the high prices and bad business of game retailers, Singaporean gamers are still numerous. Many still get their hands on the latest blockbuster titles, and still purchase games on a regular basis.

How is this possible? Well, you just need to know where to look.

Gamescore, located at the 5th floor of Funan Digitalife Mall, sells video games at one of the islands cheapest prices.
Photo: S Shiva

Thanks to the unreasonable prices of games sold in mainstream stores, tens of smaller, specialised game retail businesses have erupted all over the island. These shops, while lacking the advertising power of bigger chains, have the advantage of actually understanding gamers because gamers themselves run them.

Mohammad Zariff, 26, is one of the founding members of Qisahn, a small game store located in the old Far East Shopping Centre. On an average day, the shop makes several thousand dollars from game sales. “On the launch days of bigger titles, we literally sell one copy every few minutes, and can make thousands in a matter of hours,” said Zariff.

Qisahn prices its games at prices as much as 40 per cent cheaper than the prices of bigger companies. “We can afford to sell games at much cheaper rates because we are not affiliated with any of the major distributors in Singapore. These distributors usually set a price range for retailers, hence the high price. We end up losing exclusive content from the distributors, but the amount we make in sales more than makes up for that,” said Zariff.

Aside from more attractive prices, shops like Qisahn also offer memberships for further discounts, dirt-cheap prices for pre-owned copies of games, and even release titles a day or two earlier from time to time. Other similar shops include Gamescore, located in Funan Digitalife Mall, Game Martz in Junction 8, and Game Xtreme in Tampinese Mall.

These shops also carry imported items that are not found in other game stores, including games exclusive to Japan or the USA, and consoles and accessories way before they are available in mainstream store locally.

Just a small sample of the products available inside Game Martz, located at the fourth floor of Junction 8.
Photo: S Shiva

Ng Yong Wei, 19, used to frequent mainstream game retailers until he discovered how much he could have saved shopping at the lesser know counterparts. “Ever since I started buying my games from Qisahn, I’ve been saving enough to buy three extra games every year,” he said. “Not only are the shop’s stocks always up-to-date, the staff are also friendly and helpful, and they actually do know their stuff.”

Qisahn and Gamescore both have their own websites, attracting hundreds of unique users each day. This is especially so for Qisahn, as the major portion of their business revolves around their site.

Customers simply have to check items they intend to purchase on the site, and then choose from a list of delivery options ranging from one day delivery services to in-store collections.

The store itself, however, is simply set up, with a shelf of games on one wall, and the cashier counter against the other. The meagre amount of the games on the shelves may first come as a disappointment, but it is merely a show. Peer into the back room, and you will be greeted by stack upon stack of freshly delivered video games.

“Their service is really quick. I usually order through my iPhone, and will get a confirmation email within a matter of seconds. Then all I have to do is drop by the store and let the staff know my order number, and I’m on the way back home with a new game to try out – what’s more at such a good price,” said Yong Wei.

With mainstream electronics stores withdrawing from the cravings of Singaporean gamers, these “underground” game retailers benefit with a rapidly increasing customer base.

Gaming World, a retailer in Funan that proves to be Gamescore’s closest competitor in terms of prices.
Photo: S Shiva

With better service, cheaper prices and a total focus on games, these stores are on the path to successfully creating a niche channel for gamers to get their games.

Gamers can check out Qisahn and Gamescore for the latest updates on games, and head down to the outlets in Far East Shopping Centre and Funan Digitalife Mall for a cheaper alternative to getting their gaming fix.

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About S Shiva

I'm a final year student in Temasek Polytechnic's Diploma in Communications and Media Management. I also work freelance as a video game reviewer for Singapore's TODAY newspaper. I have been gaming for over a decade, and own quite a few video games that I keep in a special shelf. Aside from gaming, I love writing, playing the guitar and aimlessly surfing the Internet.

Posted on February 10, 2012, in Tech. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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