@ The Round Table: Buyer Beware – Gamestop’s Drug-Fueled Binge of Drugs, Sex, Used Games Sales, and Drugs
Out of all the retail stores dotting the American landscape, I can think of few that draw the ire of their own customers more than video game outlet Gamestop. Whether it’s the incredibly slow-moving employees, the constant plugs for membership cards and magazine subscriptions, or the strange moldy crust that seems to come baked onto all their used merchandise, there’s just something about the way Gamestop is run that rubs people the wrong way. Knowing this though, we have to ask what it is that keeps us all coming back to Gamestop like we do to fast food. Is there a redeeming aspect of the gaming outlet giant? Or does there need to be a massive boycott of the chain and a mass exodus for the greener pastures of general electronics superstores like Best Buy or whatever independently run game shops we can find?
Starting with Darth Healthcare, an avid gamer and rare Gamestop shopper.
I’m one of those people who will only shop at Gamestop either if they’re offering some sort of sale on a new game or if I want to dig through the used game rack. That’s to say you can find me in one of their stores about once a year, and even then I’m very wary about buying the used games. Given what my friend Henry pulled off at his local Gamestop, you should be wary too.
It was about two weeks ago when the unthinkable happened; Henry actually damaged one of his own games to the point where it wouldn’t work (this is more shocking if you actually know him, I swear.) The thing is, it wasn’t completely broken. When he showed me his game, I could see a thin scratch about half an inch long jutting from the center of the disk. Despite this, it would load to the title screen just fine. Only when he went to actually play the game, he was he presented with the dreaded “Load Failure” message over and over.
Over an online session of Left 4 Dead 2, he told me he started thinking about his options for replacing the game. He could buy a new copy of the game, but couldn’t justify spending full price on something he’d already bought once. Then he thought of Gamestop.
From prior experience, we both knew that when you trade in a game to Gamestop they test it out to make sure it still works, by which I mean they take the game to the title screen and then, satisfied, turn it off. His broken game went that far.
So he explained that he could buy a used copy of the game, swap that disk for the broken one (after making sure the new one worked, of course), and then return his broken disk for a full refund the next day. I almost couldn’t believe what he was saying, but from everything we knew about Gamestop’s trade-in policy, it sounded like it had a pretty decent chance of working.
Henry called me to tell me how his mission went. Most importantly, he told me that when he “returned” his game, the sales clerk asked him why he was bringing it back. He told the guy it was boring, which, somehow, worked. Satisfied, the clerk opened the case and held the disk up to the light. In all honesty (and I believe Henry because he’s not the kind to make things up), the clerk says, “There’s a small scratch here in the center,” pointing it out, “but that’s not a big problem.” Despite having thought up and executed this entire plan, Henry was immediately pissed and wanted to scream at the clerk—to demand this guy who clearly didn’t care at least try. But he didn’t and Henry got away with it, exactly like he knew he would.
In other words, all of this is one of the reasons you should not shop at Gamestop.
From my own experience, Gamestop’s online store isn’t much better than their brick and mortar outlets. I’ve only attempted to buy something online from them once, but that’s all it took to convince me to never do that again.
I had pre-ordered Halo: Reach from them well in advance of the game’s September release. As a reward for doing this, I was promised two things prior to checkout; that I would receive a $20 gift card after the game shipped and that the game would arrive at my door on the release date. I’m not usually one of those people who absolutely needs to play a game on the day it comes out, but there had been months of hype for Reach in addition to an awesomely fun online beta. I’m also a huge sucker for a new Halo game.
Needless to say, I was pretty upset when the launch day came and there was nothing in the mail except the usual bills. I was even more upset two days later when I went online to check the status of my order and saw that it hadn’t even been mailed yet. Furious, I did the most logical thing I could think of. I bought a copy of Reach at Best Buy (who had PLENTY in stock) and stayed up until 5am with my friends beating the whole game in one sitting on the hardest difficulty.
When Gamestop finally shipped me my order, I sold it to one of my friends. And no, the $20 gift card never materialized either. Best Buy has yet to let me down or fail to follow through on a deal so they will continue to get my gaming dollars.
Moving on to Louis Santiago, who’s really awesome friends with someone who worked at Gamestop.
When Darth Healthcare told me about his friend’s wild scheme, my first reaction was, “… Wow… That’s pretty evil.” Unfortunately for Gamestop, my second reaction was, “But they deserve it.”
And why would I think that? Because I know how Gamestop is run. I’m not talking about the super-liminal reverse discounts they give you now (“For this week, we’ll almost pay you a reasonable amount for your used games!”). I also know how the store is run behind the scenes. And that, really, is the point I have to get to here.
We could argue until we’re blue in the face about the way Gamestop gives you a pitiful bit of store credit for your used merchandise. When it comes down to it though, it’s within their right, no matter how illegal and shitty it feels; it’s absolutely no consolation, but the only way to think of it is, “It’s a retail chain that has a very solid scheme to take your money. That’s what a successful retail chain does.”
The thing is though, that’s immediately followed right off the deep end by what goes on behind the scenes. There’s a good chance you haven’t heard stories about what exactly happens to used games and new display copies at Gamestop. The answer, in short, is shrink wrap.
The Shrink Wrap Gauntlet
A used game is bought by Gamestop and does not stay in its box. Instead, it’s removed, dropped into a plastic sleeve, and then shrink wrapped. The shrink wrapped game is then dropped into a bin, or a cubby, or somewhere. When a buyer comes along, this game is removed from its shrink wrap and then placed into a box from the sales floor (or from a separate containment unit). Now, I know; how else are they supposed to store these games, right? Are they supposed to leave them in their cases, clipped on by admittedly fragile hook radials? Isn’t Gamestop trying to help? And the answer is, sure? But immediately, questions arise: “How often do sales associates drop discs while they’re shrink wrapping them?” “How often do they care when they accidentally scratch them?” “How healthy is shrink wrap on a fragile game disc?” After how Darth Healthcare’s buddy pulled off his return scheme, the answers are pretty obvious.
And these same exact questions apply with display copies. Display copies, opened, manhandled, dropped and silently wrapped-up and stowed away regardless. And later sold at full price.
But, when it comes down to it, does your average Gamestop shopper really care? Not all gamers are sticklers for fresh, crystal clear copies of new releases. Many of us don’t even care about new releases. Many of us are the “Oh, here’s Gears, stuck to the bottom of this cup! ROFL!” kinds of gamers who drop their discs on their computer tables and forget they’re there.
Others still are the kinds who do this for two days and then return their new purchases when they’re tired of them (the kind of gamers who have about 320930 Gamer Points solely on “You beat the first stage! Please keep playing!” Achievements). And really, this is the kind that probably keeps Gamestop going, fueling it perpetually on the slim differences between “my store credit” and “the difference.”
But does that mean the rest of us should suffer? In the end, I have to say that Gamestop certainly does serve someone—the gamer who doesn’t care at all about the condition of what they’re buying or even the content of it in many cases. But those of us who are reading this—those of us who care—really need to take a step back and say no. Why?
It’s Hurting the Industry
In case you haven’t heard, Gamestop’s used/new sales trend actually hurts game developers by leeching repeat profits from their content (check out Michael McWhertor’s article on Kotaku). For example, “Gamer A” buys Oblivion. “A” plays it for a few years and then decides to trade it in. A day later, “Gamer B” comes along and decides to try out a used copy of Oblivion at Gamestop. Without having to purchase a new copy from Bethesda, Gamestop sells “Gamer B” the same copy of Oblivion, profiting from it again without Bethesda getting a share. Now, imagine if this happens a few thousand more times. Now imagine if people trade in used copies of Oblivion for used copies of Fallout 3…
I’m guessing (and I hope I’m right) that if you’re still reading this, you care about your games and their developers. If I’m right, don’t feed the parasitic company that leeches from those developers by selling you likely damaged products for honestly unfair prices. When you consider everything we’ve told you and everything you know, the few extra dollars you’re saving aren’t worth shorting developers. And the shorter trip to a nearby Gamestop isn’t worth the return trips you’ll likely have to make because of product either damaged in the shrink wrap gauntlet or before it (and missed [or ignored] by Gamestop employees anyway). In short, if you care at all, just don’t buy from Gamestop.