Gaming: the world of work and play

With the sales of video games going through the roof, jobs in the industry are hitting new levels too, says Dan Poole
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The Independent Online

In its first week of sales in the UK, computer game Grand Theft Auto IV sold 926,000 copies, earning developers Rockstar Games a whopping £39.9m. Those figures are impressive enough in themselves; however, when you bring Chris Martin’s Coldplay into the equation, things – for once – become even more interesting.

As we went to press their latest album, Viva la Vida, had the highest openingweek sales in the UK this year. The figure? Just under 500,000 hard copies. So, is this an indication that computer games have become more popular than CDs among the buying public? Simon Soffe, head of communications at Game, has certainly noticed a resurgence in gaming products. “The people who make the consoles and the people who make the games have really aimed for a much broader audience. They have done that by showing the appeal and the level of entertainment that can be provided by video games.

“It has cut through the imagination of consumers of all ages. As a result, specialist retailers like Game, who are able to stock the entire range of products that are available, have been able to make the most of that success.”

Karl Johns, business sector manager at Sega, has noticed a marked increase in his workload. “Several years ago, it used to be a case of twiddling your thumbs when it wasn’t Christmas or Easter. Nowadays, release schedules are a lot more balanced, so you get very few dips.”

With the sector becoming such big business, a career in video-game retail is becoming an increasingly attractive option. That could be within a company such as Game’s head office, working in a specialist department, such as IT, finance, buying, logistics, HR or marketing. Relevant skills and experience are useful for these roles.

Depending on which department you were in, your job could involve liaising with the likes of Karl Johns; retail and sales are closely linked in gaming. “If we’ve got a game coming out, we’ll go and present that game to retailers,”

Johns says. “We’ll share our thoughts on the forecast numbers that we’ll do, the business plans that we have in and how we’re going to bring that game to market. Then we’ll share our thoughts with the retailer on how we’d like them to be involved in marketing activities and consequently how many numbers they should take as part of our business plan. There begins the negotiation.”

The alternative career route is to go into a store and work your way up from the position of sales assistant, or possibly higher if you already have a decent amount of retail experience.

A knowledge of the product on sale goes a long way too. “Video games aren’t as easy to buy as crisps or even music,” says Soffe. “There are different formats and different types of consoles available, so you need people who understand entertainment, understand video games and can communicate that with customers, putting the passion into retail.”

Even that initial sales assistant role is very involved. “New video games are launched every single Friday,” says Soffe. “That involves things like changing over the merchandise in the store, putting up new posters and generally altering the look of the store so that the new release is at the front, to help customers see it.”

From such beginnings, those who start as sales assistants have a fairly established route to the top. The next level up is deputy or assistant manager, then store manager, district manager and, finally, regional or area manager.

“Regional managers have a much wider brief,” explains Soffe. “It’s competitive – people always want to do jobs that are more senior – but we give them plenty of training and plenty of assessment before they go into it. We don’t put people into a job they’re not capable of. We’re very keen on training and there are a lot of people here that have been with the company for more than 10 years.”

All the evidence points to the video games industry being on the up and up, it seems. However, for those who do like the sound of it, will it still be a viable option a few years down the line? Will Grand Theft Auto V prove as popular as Grand Theft Auto IV? “There is a real buzz in the industry now,” says Soffe. “The innovation with all the products coming through is just fantastic. Three or four years ago, if you’d suggested that we would have anything like the Wii, people wouldn’t have believed you. It’s all happening and customers love it. We saw people queuing outside shops to buy Grand Theft Auto IV – that level of excitement doesn’t suddenly disappear.”