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Retail husks: inside Edinburgh’s last indie game stores

Friday, 25th January 2013 13:12 GMT By Dave Cook

The high street is in disarray right now with Blockbuster, HMV and Game experiencing turbulent times. VG247′s Dave Cook visits his home city’s remaining indie game stores and asks why they’ve survived.

Scotland is known for many things, and I’m not talking the old stereotypes of ginger hair, Groundskeeper Willie’s or the shrill caterwauling of bagpipes. In reality we’re a nation of creators and tinkerers. We’re also populated by game developers. We invented GTA, Lemmings and Crackdown to name a few. We also invented TV. No need to thank us.

Last week I went back for a long overdue visit to my home city of Edinburgh – which is Scotland’s capital, geography fans – and the scene as I walked down the high street was familiar. Shuttered stores lined what used to be a bustling strip of commerce and leisure, while the shops that remained felt empty and were devoid of customers.

The Gamestation store that I used to work at was now closed under lock and key, and its dusty window displays were empty. I used to clean and shrink-wrap old retro consoles – and about a million traded-in Donkey Konga bongo sets – and sit them proudly on those shelves, but now that was all gone. Retro stores that I used to visit have now become cafes or Tesco Express shops.

Trendy bars had re-opened as even trendier bars with shorter, one word, one syllable names, frequented by people who appear to get their fashion advice from the cast of TOWIE. As news broke of the demise of Blockbuster and HMV, I started to ask myself how the games industry – and indeed entertainment retail in general – had reached this point.

Meanwhile, just 15 minutes away from my last flat, Rockstar North was putting the finishing touches to Grand Theft Auto 5, what will assuredly be one of the most lucrative releases of the generation. Within a short walk you can be standing next to both ends of the spectrum – the rich multi-million pound developer, and the burned out husk of a doomed business.


Oh, to be a fly on those walls.

I started asking my friends back home if they knew of any indie game stores still open in the city, and after much discussion, we found out that only two remained. That’s sad to hear as we used to have many back in the day. Determined to see what sort of state they were in, I paid them both a visit.

The first was Gamez 4 U, which I’m sure is new because I had never been to it before. I wish I had known about it before, because it was rather ace. Shelves of old, un-alphabetised games from the PSone era to the modern day lined the walls, ripe for rummaging, while display cases of rarer retro treasures sat behind the counter next to a stack of old comics.

I was left to myself to search the shelves, with no staff butting in and asking me if I had anything to trade in – although I used to be a Gamestation employee myself, so I know how awful it is to have to ask that question to every single person who walks through the door.

It’s the kind of calm perusing you can’t do in a loud HMV. I went in my local HMV earlier, and was met with the sound of Prodigy mainstay Keith Flint’s waggling tongue blasting my ear drums into a fine powder, several decibels over the safe consumption limit. It was also surprisingly busy and I just couldn’t be arsed. I then remembered that I turn 30 in August. I left afraid.

There’s a certain excitement to leisurely scanning what’s on offer in an indie game shop in the hope that a rare find will leap out at you. This used to be a feeling you could get at many shops across Edinburgh, but here I was, in one of the two remaining indie game stores in the city. Truth be told it was a little sad, but I was having fun leafing through about ten copies of the first Halo in search of a rare bargain.

While the thought of spending a good half hour searching high and low for an evasive copy of Contra: Shattered Soldier on PS2 might appeal to me, it’s not exactly grounds for a solid business model. Why did this shop still exist, and how was is still standing while the big retail players topple one by one?


I bought Onimusha 2 for £1. Maybe this is the answer?

On my way to the second of Edinburgh’s remaining indie stores Games Masters – near-mint condition copy of Onimusha 2 in one hand, piping hot Scotch Pie in the other – some things became clear. If I had to wait for Capcom to one day bundle all three Onimusha games in an HD compilation, I’d probably have to pay £24.99 for the pleasure of playing them. Sod that.

At Gamez 4 U I could have bought them all for £5. In Edinburgh, no high street game stores carry retro titles any more, while eBay prices set by cheeky bastards continue to spiral for rare retro fodder, even though we can now buy many old-school titles digitally or – sacrilege alert – emulate them for free. As a result, indie game shops – in a weird way, now have more relevance than ever.

When I got to Games Masters – a shop I’ve frequented since I was young – there was a surprisngly long queue of people waiting to be served that ran right to the door. They stood by row after row of games just waiting to be rifled through, and to kill some time while the queue thinned out, I took photos of the store for this article. Gotta love that wood panelling.


Ah, memories.

The store’s window was – as ever – filled with retro delights. I bought a House of the Dead 2 light gun bundle for Dreamcast from this very display once. It worked a treat too.


Suffer like G did?

When I was able to speak with the owner, he told me that the store had been in business for over 21 years and confirmed that it had always seen a great deal of trade. We both discussed and agreed that eBay sellers still took the piss when pricing up retro titles – particularly boxed code – when stores like Games Masters could sell them for a decent price and still make a living.

Plus, second hand stores were always a staple of this area of town, but because even the local Cash Generator store had scaled back on its retro trade-ins, shops like Games Masters suddenly had a niche, an angle, a reason to exist among the pack. The shop also dealt in new code whenever someone traded it in, giving it relevancy to gamers of all ages and creed.

While many gamers seem happy to wait for HD repacks of their favourite retro titles, there’s nothing stopping you from buying an old PSone, SNES or Mega Drive from an indie store and saving a lot of money in games. Why would I pay £24.99 for DmC HD Collection when I could have bought all three games for under a tenner at Games Masters? Does HD really warrant £15?

Not to me it doesn’t, but then I’m of a different generation, one that will fondly remember the thrills of browsing indie gaming stores and discovering unexpected hidden treasures among their shelves until I die. Of course I also understand why others like HD re-packs, and as such there’s no right or wrong answer here, but for me there’s no contest. I’m just a soft nostalgic at heart.

But I wanted to open the up the floor to you, the readers, now – what is your take on the demise of indies and indeed the high street? Do you have a local indie game store that continues to survive despite the economic turmoil around us today? Finally, would you rather buy HD repacks over old releases, or is retro still the way forward for you?

Let us know below, and please do share your memories of your local retro store with us, I’d love to hear them.

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29 Comments

  1. Optimaximal

    How much was that Master System going for?

    #1 2 years ago
  2. Prof.Dr.Moertel

    I can vaguely remember trying to peek between the blinds at Rockstar North one night when I was in Edinburgh…

    Oh, I’ve been to the local HMV, too. It was horrible. There also was some closed GAME store downtown, I think. Still, I noticed a much more “vibrant” gaming culture than in most German towns… hard to find any independent game stores here.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. dotty_84

    Aw man i haven’t been in Games Master for maybe 15 years. My dad took me for years, back then i think we only had Electronic Boutique(Who Game took over) so we traveled to Edinburgh (40 minutes) just to look at their stock. It was gaming heaven back then. I’ve walked past it a few times in recent years and i always remembered it but i had no reason to go in because you don’t really think it’ll be of any use. Just goes to show sometimes you need swayed, just to give it a chance. Nice article Dave.

    #3 2 years ago
  4. absolutezero

    I think theres still one indie store in Aberdeen, that would be the nearest. Its tiny but the guys inside it have always been really informed, nice and willing to listen to my stupid importing questions.

    #4 2 years ago
  5. OlderGamer

    I live between medium sized towns, an hours drive from two good sized cities. Over the years I have been to each and every game store within driving distance. Each of the towns in the area large enough to suport one, have a Gamestop. Walmart also does a lot of video game biz. I only know of two indie game stores in the region. Both owned by the same guy and both stores are on the brink.

    In their case I think it is their fault.

    I used to sell on Ebay, I know what what it takes to move retro games. Not every copy of an old game is worth Ebay prices. But these second hand stores act like that. They have rare/hard to find games going from 85usd to 300usd. I have sold games like that. Like Panzer Dragoon Saga. But the games need to be in mint, not workable or even nice condition. The copies in indea stores are almost NEVER in that type of condition.

    Your average gamer just wants a copy to enjoy and play. The guys spending hundreds on old games are looking to collect. I had guys that said they wouldn’t even play the games. I had one guy that didn’t even want to buy if the disc had been spun/played. Guys like that, don’t scour second hand racks at an indie store.

    My local shops can’t figure that out. So instead of paying 140usd for a Saturn copy of Gaurdian Hereos, I simply purchased the XBLA one for 15usd. It is better to move a SNES cart for 5usd then have it priced at 40usd and sit on your shelf for never selling.

    #5 2 years ago
  6. deathm00n

    This is so interesting. I think you are sick of me talking this, “but here in Brazil” it’s weird how gaming is treated, only this gen stores like Walmart began selling games, before it the only alternative was to go for these indie shops and still it was so expensive that it’s no wonder why 8 in 10 people here pirates games, how about 150 US dollars for Crash Bandicoot 2 years after it’s release?

    We don’t have any big company with a focus on gaming. We can only get games from indie stores or internet stores(way more cheap). It’s very different from what you have there. I’m yet to see a big game store, in stores of 4×4 meters I get lost in so many options, imagine something like Gamestop…

    #6 2 years ago
  7. DeyDoDoughDontDeyDough

    “Near-mint copy of Onimusha 2 in one hand.”

    Couldn’t you have posted a photo of that then instead of a photo of one that’s been dragged behind a milkfloat for 46 hours?

    :P

    #7 2 years ago
  8. Dave Cook

    @7 Hah :D I meant that the disc was mint. The box looks a bit scabby eh?

    #8 2 years ago
  9. themadjock

    Dave, I didn’t know you were from Edinburgh, did you ever go to Reality-X in Broughton Street run by Paul Younger who now runs incgamers?

    #9 2 years ago
  10. Samoan Spider

    There’s still an indie in Canterbury which I have a browse in whenever I’m in town. Although I’m 30 miles away so its hardly a place to ‘pop’into though which is a shame. Glad this one is surviving despite where the trend is heading.

    #10 2 years ago
  11. Dave Cook

    @9 I didn’t actually no. How was it?

    #11 2 years ago
  12. KrazyKraut

    Awesome. I like stores like this one. They have used games, forgotten or rare gems. Old figures, merchandise and all the awesome stuff for collectors and people who look to refresh their old memories about old times in front of their tube televisions. A good magazine I can really recommend is the Retro Games Magazine from UK. Subscribed the physcial copy and they sent it every month even to Germany.

    #12 2 years ago
  13. Dave Cook

    @12 Do you mean Retro Gamer? If so I used to sit across from them when I worked at NowGamer. I even wrote an Alien Trilogy feature for them last year :) They’re great guys.

    #13 2 years ago
  14. DSB

    Great idea for a piece Dave. That was great.

    I remember following my brother into stores like that back in the day. It was the kinda place where you’d ask the clerk about a game and he would actually tell you to put it back on the shelf because it was crap.

    Today it’s all franchises, and it seems to me like they can’t even offer proper prices, in spite of buying those games by the truckload.

    Goodbye and good riddens, if you ask me.

    #14 2 years ago
  15. Dave Cook

    @14 Thanks man, I’m a retro fan at heart :) Absolutely adore it.

    Yeah, I prefer indie stores over chains any day, it was inevitable that they’d dwindle however. Shame.

    #15 2 years ago
  16. BraveArse

    I used to go to an indie store at the bottom of Gorgie Road
    Moved out of Edinburgh and it seemed to go bust at the same time. =/

    Dave, I must have bought games from your very hands. Still can’t believe that GameStation is gone. =(

    #16 2 years ago
  17. Dave Cook

    @16 I used to shop there too man, Pained over buying a PSone copy of Riven because I didn’t know anything about it. Never got it in the end.

    I’ve worked in the Game at the Gyle centre, the Gamestation on St John’s Road and the Gamestation on Princes Street :)

    #17 2 years ago
  18. themadjock

    Dave, it was probably ahead of it’s time back in ’96 with the original VRheadsets. Paul and Ellie started big time on Diablo content then went on to bigger things, I lost touch with them about 97-98

    #18 2 years ago
  19. BraveArse

    @18 i still tell people about that and they don’t believe me! Playing the original Doom. With a huge, neck-breaking vr headset, mercury tilt switch controller and a wooden post to grab should feel like you were going to fall over. And it really made me feel sick too.

    I couldn’t remember the name though, you’ve just filled a hole in my memory. =)

    #19 2 years ago
  20. sb319

    I live in Edinburgh, but don’t think I’ve ever noticed any of those shops tbh

    #20 2 years ago
  21. Dave Cook

    @20 Games Mastera is down the bottom of Leith Walk, Games 4 U is on Easter Road

    #21 2 years ago
  22. Jet Black

    Another great article Dave, keep them coming. Did you shop in Neo-Gen? it used be up by the Kings Theatre on Leven Street and had a great range of import games. I got my “spice orange” GameCube from there :-).

    #22 2 years ago
  23. Dave Cook

    @22 I used to aye, when I worked in Game at the Gyle we used to always check them to see if they’d broken the street date on new games so we could as well. Ace times. I also love G-Force in Glasgow.

    #23 2 years ago
  24. Digital Bamboo

    Great article. I love this kind of store, but they are getting harder and harder to find.

    Microplay was the closest thing to an indie game store in my home town growing up. While technically a chain, it was independently owned, and sold retro games & systems. Closed a long time ago, sadly. Now there’s an EB Games, but those are everywhere.

    If anyone should find themselves in the university district of Toronto, this place is a gem: http://www.acgamesonline.com/home/
    It may be small, but as you can see from the pictures it’s absolutely jammed with retro games, staff is great, and the outside is painted in the style of Super Mario Bros./Kart.

    Haven’t yet found an indie game store in Korea, but I did find an entire floor of a building dedicated to gaming in Seoul, some of which sold PS2 & GBA games. Also, $1500 figurines, if you’re into those.

    One remarkable thing about the best counter there, (other than the fact that the owner spoke perfect English & had great prices) is that they will try to track down titles you want but they don’t have, call you when they find it, and then have it fucking DELIVERED to your front door!

    #24 2 years ago
  25. Dave Cook

    @25 now that’s amazing service :D really admirable.

    #25 2 years ago
  26. Cort

    When the bricks ‘n’ mortar stores are gone, and an army of consumers say “who cares, online is cheaper”, Amazon (corporate tax payment rate of about 0% over the past three financial years) will hike their prices in the absence of any competition.

    Or are you that fucking stupid to think Amazon is cheap only because of a sense of public service and charity?

    #26 2 years ago
  27. freedoms_stain

    @26, do you think Amazon are only in competition with brick and mortar?

    #27 2 years ago
  28. BraveArse

    Play.com would probably answer yes to that question now.

    #28 2 years ago
  29. Cort

    @27, Yes, mostly. And as @28 has pointed out, even Play has given up. My point stands.

    #29 2 years ago

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