My first article focused on the disintegration of video game preservation, so you’re probably going to huck some tomatoes at me after making my confession:
I used to work at Gamestop.
It was a brief part-time stint to earn some extra cash, and boy, did it sound like a great idea at the time. Still, I was there long enough to get the ‘full picture’. That is to say, I understand what it’s like to have customers breathe fire because I pushed pre-orders and discount membership cards. There were also plenty of times I shattered the dreams of those who hoped their old games would net them a generous amount of credit. Was I trying to screw these people over? Of course not. The company WANTED me to greet the customer, have a conversation, and barrage them with a slew of questions. It was bananas. The script went a little something like this:
“Are there any upcoming games you’d like to pre-order? Do you have any games you’d like to trade in for credit towards that pre-order? Are you a Power-Up Rewards member? No? Would you like to sign up for it? It only costs (price)! You’ll get 10% more for trade-ins, and even save 10% on used games! Not only that, but you’ll get a subscription to GameInformer magazine! It’s quite a deal. Also, did you know that we now take trade-ins on mp3 players, tablets and e-readers?”
That’s the spiel you got no matter which Gamestop you’d visit, verbatim. Even over the phone they’d attempt to claim your first born in exchange for a Halo Reach pre-order.
Okay, maybe that’s taking it too far. Call me crazy, but I don’t think Gamestop is evil. They’re a business first and foremost, and their goal is to make as much money as possible. That said, they’re still shady as fuck, and I’m going to tell you why. Focusing on their inclination to go above and beyond the call of obnoxiousness, here’s some personal perspective to kick things off:
Once upon a time, I was an assistant manager for KB Toys, and their business model consisted of the same sort of nonsense:
Draw customers into the store and greet them. Talk to them as they peruse your stock. Provide some suggestions and upsell a few toys that corporate wants you to push. Pester them at the register to see if they want gift cards, gift wrap and batteries.
Basically, never leave the customer alone. Keep the pressure on until they give you their money or walk away in disgust. This approach works more often than you’d like to think, but what’s the long term effect? The customer will avoid your store like the plague, of course. People don’t want to be shaken by the ankles to have their lunch money stolen, you know? When people feel pressured, their loyalty will dissipate and then whammo… the customer is gone.
Want to know where KB Toys is now? Bankrupt. Gone. Finished. Finito. And why? Because corporate goons were so busy scrambling for money, they forgot that the most essential part of customer service is… well, customer service. I mean, how hard is it to figure out? Be kind and courteous, and be accessible for when the customer needs you. It’s really that simple. The morale of employees will remain high, and customer loyalty will increase.
For a moment there, I almost forgot I wasn’t talking about Gamestop. It sounds an awful lot like them though, doesn’t it? Trust me, like KB Toys, they don’t care about you or what you need. Instead, they’re more like Wile E. Coyote with an oversized magnet (ACME, of course), attempting to suck the fillings from your teeth before you have a chance to escape. Unfortunately, the sad reality is that corporate leaves the store level employees little choice but to badger you, lest they be punished with less hours to run their shop efficiently. Yes, corporate is more than willing to let you wait in line, all because your local Gamestop didn’t make the pre-order quota last week. Who does that hurt in the end? That’s right: You, the consumer.
But this isn’t the stuff I’m calling out as shady. It’s a bad way to do business, sure, but not shady. So why did I ‘go there’ at the beginning of the article?
Well, because they intentionally mislead and overcharge their customers whenever the opportunity arises. Xenoblade Chronicles was an incredibly rare title for the Wii, but back in 2013, Gamestop had plenty to go around. Where did the boom in their stock come from? They had “sourced a limited number of copies” to carry in their stores and online. Translation? They cut a deal to have new copies printed exclusively for Gamestop, but here’s the rub: While this limited production made Xenoblade much easier to find, they still wanted you to think it was rare so you’d shell out $90 for a copy. Yep, they gutted brand new copies, slapped a ‘Used’ sticker on ‘em, and jacked the price so you’d think you were buying the genuine article. A similar thing happened with the Metroid Prime Trilogy, and additional titles are planned for the future. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with increasing supply to meet demand, but keeping your customers in the dark so you can extort them? Mental.
In more recent months, Gamestop took advantage of the PS4 Camera shortage by silently raising the price $10 above MSRP. You know… just because.
While I’m on the topic of ‘value’, how do you feel about pre-order bonuses? Nearly every AAA title has them nowadays: “Pre-order with us to get exclusive in-game content!” Of course, they neglect mentioning this content was meant to be yours all along. But because Gamestop cuts deals with publishers to carve content out, the final product is gimped so they can fill those precious pre-order quotas. Worse yet, various other companies have followed suit (Best Buy and Target the most notable in the US).
When they aren’t pushing pre-orders, they’re accepting trade-ins. Some people see this as a godsend, but trade-ins are a bad proposition for everyone… except Gamestop, of course. You can buy a game on day 1, trade it in on day 3, and only get $30 credit for it… and they’ll turn around and sell it for $55. And by the way, if you’re one of those people that are willing to buy a used game for $55, you’re saying that “Saving $5 is more important than paying the folks that made this game.” I know, I know – Sometimes you HAVE to buy used, but you should ALWAYS try to send your money where credit’s due.
There’s a reason why devs and publishers are pushing digital sales, DLC and microtransactions. Just sayin’.
And did you ever wonder why digital games – for consoles, at least – cost the same as their physical counterparts? I know this sounds like conspiracy level shit here, but yet again the answer is Gamestop. Basically, they know that digital games are going to cut into their bottom line, and substantially at that. After all, when all of your potential customers have the choice to spend $60 for a disc or $45 for a download, a bunch are going to choose the cheaper option (not me, but I touched on that in my previous article). Because Gamestop won’t see a cut from PSN or Xbox Live sales, they exercise the only leverage they have left – They refuse to carry the games that won’t have digital and physical price parity on day 1. When a gaming chain has enough power to bully the publishers, that’s a BIG problem.
Dare I even mention the fact that when there’s only two copies left/in-stock, they’ve already taken the liberty of opening the game for you? Hell, in some cases, they’ve even played it for you! How about the fact that sometimes their used pricing is – I shit you not – actually more than a new copy? The list goes on, but you get the point. When you get right down to it, Gamestop doesn’t know how to treat their customers, they’re responsible for microtransactions, and are a major reason for digital content remaining so high in price.
…And now they want to wade into the pools of game development.
Instead of merely paying the devs/publishers a chunk of coin to carve out a weapon skin in exchange for your pre-order, they want to be involved in the creation of ‘significant DLC’ that would be exclusive to the Gamestop brand. The retail giant has already gone on record to say they won’t affect the creative process in any way, shape or form… but how can they know that? When a game is being developed with a launch window in mind, and you give the publishers/devs a hefty payday to divert some of their resources to design content exclusively for you… how can that NOT affect the creative process? Granted, it’s a little too early to proclaim doom and gloom on the horizon, but can there really be any good that comes of this? At all?
Gamestop, just… stop.