Sympathy for the Devil

On completing my stint as a villainous retail lackey for the oft maligned Electronics Boutique, I was not so long ago enthusiastic to share my adventures in management with tell all literature that was as frankly self-indulgent as Maureen McCormick describing her 1970s' teenage peccadillos. There was very little dirt to be shoveled, per se, and I’m no more a whistleblower than an apathetic referee, but I was able to confirm over the course of several articles what you had already suspected about Gamestop and EB policies: they aren’t always customer friendly.

Now three years gone and calmed by time spent far from retail sales, I find my thoughts on the nature of evils visited upon us in the capitalistic spaces of suburban malls have mellowed. It’s been a long time since I jockeyed a counter, riding it unapologetically bareback with a riding crop clinched awkwardly between my teeth, and even though I dished gossip like Rachel Ray dishes pasta, the truth is I still shop there to this day.

Despite being hassled about preorders, used games, crappy magazines and product replacement programs, I still find the specialty retailer my best opportunity to cut an easy deal. After all my bluster and consternation, the truth is that as long as you are an informed customer with the understanding that you have retail options, it’s not that hard to ignore and avoid the subtle and indirect malfeasances of the specialty retailer.

And now, finally, I’ve come something like full circle. After reading a fresh slew of familiar complaints about initiatives set in stone back in the Clinton administration, I grow convinced that maybe we gamers need to get over our tightly focused rage and cut specialty retailers some slack.

I make no apology for the policies that continue to frustrate and annoy to this day, and I frankly applaud those who make the choice not to patronize these stores with a silent protest. Well done, sirs and madams, in exercising your panoply of retail options. After all, going to Gamestop when you hate them and then complaining about it is like holding an ice cold glass of pure water and complaining about how thirsty you are. But, expecting Gamestop to change is like expecting a leopard to change its spots. In a wasteland of retail sales, they are turning a tidy and impressive profit following the path of the successful initiatives they alone created.

Preorders – Ah, historical whipping boy, how bloody your back. It’s been, oh let’s say ten years since the foundation of the preorder programs were lain, and even as consumers grumbled about the ramification it has been a policy adopted by virtually every retailer. I hate to break it to ya, the battle is lost on this one. This is an entrenched initiative that has proven very effective particularly for specialty retailers where inventory management is as crucial as remember to breathe in and out all day.

Much as I too might like to be able to wander into the Gamestop of my choosing and expect them to have Obscure Niche RPG X2 right there in stock, as if pining for my arrival like a faithful pooch, if I fail to show and complete an uncertain transaction then that game becomes part of the equation that would quickly become Bloated Inventory + 1. That’s to say nothing of the other five to ten thousand stores that are also expected to hold inventory on a game they may never sell.

Setting aside inventory control, the dynamics of gaming retail have shifted to look a lot like cinema — the first ten days are crucial for maximizing sales. Preorders are the sales built before product is released, the initiative that drives sales when product is at its most profitable.

Preorders are the double whammy, a method of inventory management that drives sales. Corporations can spend decades searching for initiatives that serve these two masters, and with a decade of proven success Gamestop would sooner close its doors than abandon preorders.

Open Product Sold As New – Imagine walking into your local Gamestop to bare walls, reminiscent of a freshly built model home. Given the choice between putting $10,000 of live product on the shelves for you to casually peruse in pristine condition at your leisure — you with you deep pocketed coats, heavy lidded eyes and suspicious backpacks! — or having bare walls would be a painful choice.

Gamestop’s policies, while frustrating to some, represent a necessary attention to real issues of theft. Having managed a store that in one day was taken for nearly $1000 of theft, which was neither uncommon nor particularly exorbitant compared to other local shops, the option of putting live product at risk is untenable.

With the exception of a few places like Best Buy, almost all retailers have found solutions that involve keeping live product out of shoppers’ hands, and of course Best Buy is large enough to hire extra personnel to just stand at the door and monitor customers. The solution for Gamestop is imperfect, but hardly some kind of nefarious malfeasance.

We Have That Used – Raise your hand if you don’t know that Gamestop relies heavily on the profit margins on used product.

If you haven’t raised your hand, yet are stymied and frustrated by employees pushing used product at you in specialty retail shops, I must ask again: why do you shop there? While I agree that the cost difference between new and used product could be more appealing, and that the condition of used product is often questionable, I can’t really get on board with the mindset of continuing to be outraged by what are now well known and established policies.

Often, I’m perfectly satisfied to save myself five dollars for enjoying the same experience. My responsibility is to my pocketbook, and I’m not interested in sweating over the distribution of wealth along the used retail chain or getting my dander up because publishers and developers feel left out of secondary transactions. Capitalism is cut throat, and no one seems to be watching out for my budget, so I will cut costs where I can. If the industry wants to get a better cut, then they need to offer me a better deal. Until then, I’m fine saving myself five bucks.

As an informed consumer I know to always check the condition of any used product I buy before ringing it up, but even if I despised the concept and practices of used games walking into a Gamestop and being annoyed by the offer would be like walking into a Krispy Kreme and shouting, “what’s with all the damn doughnuts?!”

Ignorant Sales Staff – Part of the problem here is that I think many of us remember fondly a day when Gamestop and EB were places where we could go and enjoy a retail experience facilitated by like minded gamers. Those days have been dragged behind the woodshed, shot in the head and dumped into a shallow grave where even now carrion eaters suckle on the last morsels of desiccated flesh and bone.

Gamestop largely hires uninformed, untrained salespeople willing to work for poor hourly wages.

Don’t expect Gamestop staff to have any kind of clue about the product they sell. The onus is on consumers to be self-informed, just as you would be expected in Wal-Mart where I suspect many of the employees are a shade up the evolutionary scale from primitive lichens. Yes, you will stand there and here employees impart entirely inaccurate information to other customers. Casual deception and artificial expertise are not new methods of sales.

The responsibilities of the buyer have been understood since time immemorial. If prostitution is the oldest profession, then that means so is sales, and the best in the world are as flexible with the truth as whores or political action committees.

Proven Success – You can likely count on one hand the number of retailers who continue to perform in a depressed spending climate, and when you do, you’ll have to add Gamestop to that list. We can complain until we are blue in the face about the policies of the company, but the continued performance of the company is a far more compelling argument. Preorders work. Used product works. Theft prevention works. Non-specialized staffing works.

In the end, trying to convince Gamestop that it should stop being so successful at making money is an experiment in extraordinary futility. It’s so easy to just not shop there; to finally accept that the experience is not what it was once upon a time when you were treated at the local game store like you were Norm from Cheers.

For those that can’t at least have understanding or sympathy for the devil, at least you can stop trying to cut deals with him.


I'd like to add to the subjects of Pre-Orders phenomenon -- as sleazy as it is, I have nothing against it in cases when the retailers and publishers are throwing the buyers a bone in form of pre-orders freebies and exclusives. Such as if you pre-ordered LE of Gears of War 2 from BestBuy, you'd get a radio-controlled Centaur tank model. Things like that, I believe, are a legitimate way for the retailers to push the pre-orders more softly -- essentially sharing those first-10-days profits Elysium spoke about with their customers.

I don't really have a problem with the GAMEs and the Gamestops of the world, i'm fine with telling people that i'm not interested in a game or that i'm just browsing, thanks.... i will, however, never understand the reason for having to pay for your pre-order. I'm quite happy with the free system we have here in the UK and hope that it never changes.

BTW, did you see the linked blog post from Soren Johnson in the forums?

In the end, trying to convince Gamestop that it should stop being so successful at making money is an experiment in extraordinary futility.

I don't think the general consensus is to convince Gamestop to stop using practices that make money, but rather to encourage consumers to spend their money at shops that give better costumer service thereby encouraging Gamestop to change some of it's policies.

I don't for a minute believe that Gamestop will change what it is doing, unless consumers decidedly make a stand. If the consumer decides to spend his/her money at places that are more consumer friendly, then I believe Gamestop will eventually have to change or otherwise fade away. But until the consumer makes that change, Gamestop will live on a thrive in the state that so many people complain about.

I haven't set foot in a GameStop in years. I can find the big releases more reliably and conveniently at big box retailers like Best Buy, and I can order the rest more conveniently from online retailers. Why would I want to pay a chronically understocked specialty store to order a game for me and have it delivered there when I could have it delivered straight to where I live? I understand why they do what they do and why it works, but it doesn't serve my needs as a consumer in any way.

Ignorant salesclerks? I go to my local Gamestop at least once a week to listen with utter joy while the employees discuss their World of Warcraft characters loudly and proudly. I love geeks!

I can agree with you on all but one point: The open box thing.

I have no problem with Gamestop putting empty boxes on their shelves. I don't even have a problem with them putting opened new boxes on their shelves and selling the disc.

However, they should not be selling those opened copies at full retail price.

In the months before a big release like Metal Gear Solid 4 came out, they had all kinds of cardboard boxes as placeholders for the game. Why can't they slap a pricetag on those and use those as stand-ins for live product?

If a company pays for a lot of shelf space-- which is the only rationale I can think of for having half a dozen empty boxes for the same product sitting out on a cardboard stand and another half a dozen empty boxes for that product sitting on the rack with all the other games-- there must be a better way of providing it than opening up a bunch of new product and stashing the discs in envelopes behind the counter.

If the boxes themselves are required to indicate that the product is in, and I find that contention questionable except perhaps in cases where the store only gets a single copy of the game in stock at all-- they should offer a discount and chalk the price difference up to advertising costs, since that's exactly what it is.

Any other retail store that opens a product for display purposes will sell that product at a discount, if they sell it at all. There's a store in a mall near me that deals exclusively in open-box products.

But if they absolutely must use open boxes, and absolutely must sell those opened products for full retail, could they at least remember to put some tape or a sticker on the game so it's clear that they opened it? It's hard enough to return an unopened game without having to convince the clerk that he's the one who opened it in the first place.

Iron Balls McGee is back yall!

You neglected to mention the cramped, dank, sweaty porn store atmosphere that most gamestops I've seen exude. The bins and bins of used xbox and ps2 games make it seem like a cross between retailer and flea market.
I don't really have a problem with their policies - they can do whatever they want, no one is forcing me to shop there. But I'll take best buy or amazon every time, because I don't feel ashamed to walk in the store.

Sad, but true.

It's everywhere. All around us... this... this... capitalism.

Understand, yes. Sympathy, no. There's a line somewhere, when a business should stop thinking *just* about profit and more about values. It may be a flawed conception, but "do no evil" is a lot more interesting than "maximize profit margin".

It's not like they are on the verge of bankruptcy. They can/could afford some values.

Excellent article! Glad to see that the quality rarely falters.


doubtingthomas396 wrote:

But if they absolutely must use open boxes, and absolutely must sell those opened products for full retail, could they at least remember to put some tape or a sticker on the game so it's clear that they opened it? It's hard enough to return an unopened game without having to convince the clerk that he's the one who opened it in the first place.

My copy of Fallout was one of those open box ones, and they had a sticker that indicated as much so I could return it. I guess I don't see it as a big deal: I just look to see that the disk has no smudges. I don't know about everyone else, but I generally open the games I buy anyway.

I don't have a problem with EB Games trying to make a profit, but I have a problem with the fact that every store I have visited gives the impression that they care only about making money no matter how miserable the customer's experience becomes:

-they always seem to rent the tiniest retail space available, then cram it so full of stock and giant cardboard displays that it becomes impossible to navigate if there are more than 3 people in the store at the same time.
-they employ clueless minimum wage kids who spend half their shift talking to each other despite the 10 people waiting in line to purchase a game.
-I can't remember the last time I bought something at EB without being pressured to buy a strategy guide, magazine, pre-order, or that bullsh*t "disc guarantee".

I understand why they do these things, but that doesn't make the EB Games retail experience suck any less. I avoid shopping there not because I hate pre-orders, used games, or any of their other policies, but because every time I've entered an EB store I've left feeling worse than I did when I walked in.

I don't usually shop at Gamestop because I can get used games at lower prices elsewhere. Specifically, Colorado Springs is home to one of the four locations of EntertainMart which is, contrary to the pictures on their website, essentially a dusty building filled with bins upon bins of used stuff in a variety of conditions. The customer service is awful---far worse than I've ever experienced in a Gamestop---and the store is dirty and the inventory is hit or miss because they deal almost exclusively in used merchandise, but the prices are fair. I suspect that the employee's ignorance is my gain because with a huge inventory of movies, music, and games everything is marked down roughly the same amount. I'm exercising my options; I just hope they don't go out of business.

I have no problem with pre-orders nor pushing them.

My problem continues to be that I find their practice of pushing pre-orders to be downright sleazy. Lying to your customers is unethical and it is not ok to let your ethics slide just because you want to make a buck. Look what that kind of thinking has done to the US economy.

Also, I think it's long term damage. Pissing off your customers and using scare tactics about "The game won't be available ANYWHERE!" and finding Best Buy making little forts out of them on release day is doing huge damage to Gamestop's image. Gamestop is THE videogame specialty retailer and claiming not to have copies while you can get it at Wal-Mart is not going to sit well with the average consumer. Push pre-orders and keep inventory at a minimum. This is a good idea. You can do this while still treating customers with some courtesy.

I wholeheartedly disagree with the open box policy. I have refused to purchase them because on some occassions I am buying a game as a gift. This is just tacky. If they are determined to use the actual physical box as marketing then they need to accept some loss by selling the display copy as a used copy. In general, considering their limitations with space I think their display strategy is a good one up to the point where they decide to merely pass on their marketing costs to whatever schmuck happens along at the time. They have other options, it's not like they can only do this.

Sympathy? Honky please.

I am not sure why I am supposed to be sympathetic to Gamestop? They may be justified in their policies by the amount of money they have been making, but I do not think they warrant praise and support for degrading the customer experience to such a degree. I have absolutely no stake in the profit margin of Gamestop. What I care about, as an enthusiast, in this very expensive hobby, is how I am treated as a customer. They have built a repellent atmosphere through their policies and have made it harder and harder for me to patronize them.

Even if we boil down everything to the bottom line, price, they are no longer the best place in town. The internet allows gamers to sell their games as if they are the retail store and use that money toward the purchase of another game. When I walk into a Gamestop and ask them how much trade in credit do I get for game x, I quickly realize that if they sell said game, they will be making a tidy 300% profit. Not a bad racket. That is what it is; a racket. These guys are the true "pirates" of the industry, not the nerds on Pirate Bay.

So what then keeps gamers coming back? Nostalgia, masochism, the one cute geeky girl behind the counter? I am confused.

Gamestop was built on the backs of enthusiast gamers who pumped enough capital into it to make it the juggernaut it is today. They then turned around and decided that they needed to start hard selling their wares like a sharp tongued Wastelands trader. Some may be perfectly happy turning a blind eye and plunking down their cash for the latest used game marked up 300%, but I am not.

I do agree that their current policies are working for them. Anyone who looks at the billions of dollars they rake in every year has to agree. However, the corporate landscape is riddled with the husks of big damn companies that sought only to maximize profit and growth, with no eye toward their market and how they were positioning themselves in that market. Let's not forget that Gamestop is not exactly in the good graces of game publishers either. One day Gamestop will look around and say, "why is everyone buying their games off of Amazon and at Walmart?" I will point them to this article because it clearly lists the reasons why and the Gamestop executives will appreciate the support as they see their office equipment being repossessed.

Defending Gamestop must be a lot like being the White House Press Secretary during the Bush Administration.

I have nothing against it in cases when the retailers and publishers are throwing the buyers a bone in form of pre-orders freebies and exclusives

This is the way I see it as well - at least theoretically. In practice, however, I only see crappy items that are going to add clutter to my house. Don't worry. It's my issue, not yours.

If the retailer is at least offering some sort of pre-order bonus, then I have no problem with it. However, if the only pre-order bonus is "insurance" to ensure that I can get a copy, then it's a no go. To me, there is no advantage for the consumer (unless, of course, you live in an area where finding games can be difficult), and it smacks of fearmongering to make sales. The day that I can't find a mass produced disc at the five or six retailers that are situated near me will be the day that I see the sense in pre-orders.

That being said, I'm normally one of those silent protesters that Elysium has praised. I will happily take your applause now.

A nice and pragmatic article.

I don't buy anything new from Gamestop. They do, however, occasionally have a tasty title or two in the clearance/used bins that I forgot I wanted so I'll always scan through it, deflect the request for help, and then decline the warranty, usually remembering to look at the disc before they pop it in the case and hand it over.

Or, about 20% of the time, they can't find the used game I picked out in the drawer, and no sale occurs.

What's a GameStop? Is it like Steam?

Good write up, I enjoyed reading it.

As for my feelings on EB/Gamestop it's love-hate. I love it when I find a loop hole and am able to go in with 2 games and come out with 3. I do hate that they act like if you didn't preorder it then there is nowhere on this little planet that you will get it.

McChuck wrote:

What's a GameStop? Is it like Steam? :)

Similar but at gamestop you have to actually see and smell the pubtards.

I'd like to re-post heavyfeul's comments as my own....

Also, this article's verbosity was clearly at maximum. Maybe you could add some cliffsnotes?

@interstate78: The old cliche: "Your failed business model is not my problem." applies here. It is not my responsibility to pre-order just so Gamestop can make money. If you don't like the profit margins on games, then sell jewelry.

The main reason that I do not shop at Gamestop is that it is supposed to be a specialty store that sells games, but because I refuse to ever pre-order something, I stand a much better chance of getting a game on launch day from Best Buy. So I shop at Best Buy. If Best Buy can stock a large inventory of games and not rely on pre-orders, and still make money, why can't Gamestop?

The other reason why I don't shop at Gamestop is that they very rarely sell PC games. Since I mostly play PC games, that store does not serve my gaming needs.

Also, I think it's long term damage. Pissing off your customers and using scare tactics about "The game won't be available ANYWHERE!" and finding Best Buy making little forts out of them on release day is doing huge damage to Gamestop's image. Gamestop is THE videogame specialty retailer and claiming not to have copies while you can get it at Wal-Mart is not going to sit well with the average consumer. Push pre-orders and keep inventory at a minimum. This is a good idea. You can do this while still treating customers with some courtesy.

This has been consistent with my recent experiences. In the infrequent case that I make a day one or week one purchase, I go by the nearest Gamestop because it's close to my office. The last three times I've done this (Fallout 3, Spore, Rock Band), I've been told I "shoulda pre-ordered". In each case, I've thanked them, left, and picked the game up at either the Target or the Best Buy down the street. There's really no point in wasting my time with it anymore.

I completely avoid them, simply because I can't stand the experience. Not at all like visiting Gamescape here in the city (fine purveyors of miniatures and board games) who have staff on hand who know their products well.

My one conundrum came recently when my gaming budget blew out before I could pick up L4D - and I had a bunch of 360 games to trade in for it. I could have gone to EB/Gamestop and fed that beast, but I posted here and elsewhere and was able to give/trade/sell them for enough ducats to order via steam.

Thanks to Amazon, Steam, Impulse and hopefully sometime in the next iteration, XBL, I don't have to participate in their way of doing business. I've never really complained about their practices though; I understand what they do and why, and I choose to spend my money elsewhere.

Gamestop largely hires uninformed, untrained salespeople willing to work for poor hourly wages.

I find this amazing. The survival of specialty shops in the age of Wal-Mart has almost exclusively relied on knowledgeable, friendly and thorough customer service. I can't figure out if GameStop's success while flaunting this rule says more about themselves, the market as a whole, or their customers.

I have tried Gamestop but find them lacking for stuff that I really want. Since the demise of Compusa [sheds tear] I have been forced to fulfill my gaming fix by heading towards the other big box stores like Best Buy and Circuit City. Now that the big C is toast, my retail therapy gaming options are becoming more limited.

I will hit Gamestop as a browse/opportunity buy only. I am looking more and more to Steam as my future game distribution point. I mean its one stop shopping for 1) trailers, 2) working demo and 3) the actual game. This has been the pattern that hooked me on L4D as I preordered it (something I very rarely do). Circuit city will present me with some opportunities to buy some titles on the cheap but that will only last as long as the store is open.

I pre-ordered Fallout 3 Collectors Ed. at the Best Buy near my home but went to the one near my work to get it over lunch. That's where I found out pre-orders are tied to the store. Wasted lunch hour then had to wait on Cust. Service line to get my preorder behind somebody getting a 72in TV that required 1/2 the CS desk to help with and a guy returning a camera he bought online that required the store manager to get involved. All with a Stack of FO3 lunchboxes and guides sitting 20 feet away from me, mockingly.

Pre-Orders are for noobs.

"it’s not that hard to ignore and avoid the subtle and indirect malfeasances of the specialty retailer". I agree, it's called "Screw this, I'm going to best buy."

I don't really have a problem with Gamestop, but that's probably because I either buy my games new right away or so old that they're less than $20, usually less than $10. I find no reason to bother with the in betweens as I have plenty to keep me busy otherwise. Plus, the idea of saving $5 on a scratched disc bothers me.

I feel very fortunate to live very close to two media stores that let me deal in used games without dealing with the Gamestop jerks. Their preorder and warranty nonsense really turned me off, as apparently has been the case with a lot of people.

One word: Amazon.

I am of the opinion that paying any amount of money for a disc that might not work is worse than spending twice that on a disc that definitely will.

But then again, I stopped buying used games from Gamestop when they stopped giving an extra premium for bringing them back with the case and manual.

I might accept one scratch, but I definitely can't justify buying a game someone long ago lost the case for.

I liken it to buying a used book. If you could buy a new copy with a cover for $14, or a used one for $7 that looks like someone let their dog rip the covers off, which book would you buy? It's got the same words in it, but the used one may be missing a page or two, or might just have the entire last chapter ripped out. You won't find out until after the return policy has expired.

I buy new from Gamestop all the time (Though I also won't buy the shelf copy. I'm neurotic enough that while I browse the front most magazine on the shelf, I buy the one from the middle of the stack.). I like not having to drive an hour to the nearest Best Buy, when I've got a gamestop right in town. The second they build a Best Buy in my town, I'll go there all the time.