A GameFly In The Ointment

Enter the wide and glorious Imaginarium with me, if you will. Here we are, dear and gentle traveler, our feet alight upon the tiled and sticky floor of your favorite local fast food eatery. Upon the greasy counter you put five dollars, which the glassy eyed host processes away, never to return. Then, having already paid your greenbacks, you order a bacon cheeseburger with fries. The server stands there for a pregnant moment, a stony faced Adonis as sculpted by Toby Keith, and your persistently empty tray convinces you that the order is not forthcoming. You change tactics and order some chicken lumps with a side of thick and pungent sauces intended to make the meaty amalgams palatable. Again nothing.

“Why haven’t I gotten any food for the five dollars I spent?” you finally ask.

“You are ordering the wrong stuff,” is the terse response.

“Well, what should I be ordering?”

“We have some stale hamburger buns from last Thursday you can have.”

This, my pupils, is as succinct a comparison as I can swiftly draw to the experience of “upgrading” my GameFly account from 2 games a month to 3.

Another way to think about it is as being thrust suddenly into the Monty Python Cheese Shop Sketch . And after a brief palaver with customer support -- the final humorless insult -- the judgment at the end of the ordeal was that I was doing it wrong.

Let me repeat that: They told me that I was renting their video games the wrong way.

Before I elaborate on that point, let me give you my perspective on what I expected from GameFly. I expected that I would give them a monthly fee, and in return they would send me 3 video games as determined by a queue I created of, and this is important, games I wanted to play. Now, here’s where I think there is some disconnect. I expected, as they implied on paid advertising across multiple media, that those games I rented would be current and popular titles.

I don’t really think my expectations were that unreasonable. If you go to GameFly’s homepage as a non-account-holder you’ll see at the bottom a smorgasbord of current hits designed to tempt the meaty pleasure centers of your gamer-brain, many of which languished in my queue for more than a month. Even the company's television advertising suggests that no more will I have to suffer through bad games, though their slogan "Never Buy a Bad Game Again" would be far more accurate if "Rent Them Instead" were ammended to the end. What I find particularly interesting about this ad is that the behavior of the actors is a good representation of how I felt during my time as a their customer.

To be fair, I’m pretty used to getting crappy customer service as a video gamer. I’ve been to enough Gamestops to know that on the bad service scale we rank right above late night convenience store customer and right below airline passenger. I expect some time in the next century it will be accepted practice to throw rotten fruit at gamers as they process their transaction and then run them out of the store with rabid attack dogs. It is a well documented fact that all people who buy video games are internet thieves and should be treated with the same sensitivity and respect you would expect from a coked up strip-club bouncer with Tourettes.

But, at least Gamestop is upfront about their total lack of customer service. They practically have a sign on the door proclaiming their intent to hound you about pre-ordering every upcoming major release followed by intense and sustained mockery should you have the temerity to try and buy that game without said pre-order. And, for all of Gamestop’s pantheon of flaws, at the end when you pay money, you at least walk out with a bag containing something you presumably want. If I walked into their establishment wanting to buy Prototype, but was instead handed a copy of Ratchet and Clank Go To Federal Prison for my trouble, that would be more like renting from GameFly.

I realize many of you have GameFly accounts and have managed to game the system in such a way to reach some modicum of satisfaction. Let me stress that I hold neither ill-will toward you nor any expectation that you should change your renting habits. You have applied a mystical calculus to the problem and explore infinite limits of list manipulation to great effect, and while I choose not to audit your graduate level courses I don’t fault you for your effort. In fact, you are better served by my departure. That’s one less person trying to nab those precious game gems.

I heartily endorse, in fact, turning the entire operation over to you. I think everyone would be a whole lot happier if the GameFly subscribers who have received nothing save an endless array of last year’s mid-range titles up and quit the service. GameFly would no longer have its distribution and stocking problems. The executive users wouldn’t have to invest so heavily into statistical software and distributed computational structures to decipher the GameFly Queue, and those of us harangued by a persistent string of crappy games we didn’t actually want to play could take up fly fishing or leaf peeping.

After all, the choices are relatively few. My preferred option, putting only the 5 or 6 games I was actually interested in playing into my queue has been described officially as flawed. GameFly’s solution was to put games into my queue that I didn’t really want to play and then pay them for the pleasure of doing so. I found that option equally flawed, particularly when you consider that GameFly agents seem to scan your brain as you sleep and then use that data to make sure they send along the game you want the very least from your queue.

I’m not calling for nonsense like a boycott or a universal demand for consumer rights. I frankly don’t have the time to be the video game equivalent to a Sally Field movie. I simply will do what I hope more consumers of all kinds will do, stop paying for terrible service. Just as I now shop at the smaller Gamestop competitor, Play N Trade, I have abandoned GameFly even though I very much want to use their service as it is ideally described.

If you aren’t getting your money’s worth either, maybe you should consider doing the same.

Comments

To expand a little further, as I read it, adam, you measure customer service in how they apologize for failing to provide their service. I measure it in their ability to provide the service they promise in the first place.

That's not meant to be snarky or sarcastic. That's simply the position I'm coming from, and which I take as your position from your comments. I imagine your position is more complex than that, and I welcome an elaboration if you care to.

Elysium's criticisms are less to do with GameFly than with the entire "Netflix" model of distribution, a model that cannot possibly give everyone the brand-newest games/movies/etc. exactly when they want them. I certainly understand the frustration of not getting what you want, but that's just the way this system works.

Except that Netflix and I have a very nice relationship. Again, it's one thing to miss one, or two or even three, but oh for six over a 30 day period? Really?

That's ok to any one?

I love chicken lumps.

I also love GameFly, but then I've never subscribed. I just buy used from them. They've always had great prices, been very fast, had pristine product, and have been very eager to make sure I'm happy (once they sent me the right game with the wrong case and when I notified them they immediately sent me the right case, and told me to keep the other one too. Small thing I know, but getting anything for free is surprising these days).

Elysium wrote:

Here's my bottom line, if you can't send me 1 out of 6 games over a 30-day period, your business is fundamentally flawed.

I agree. A company that can't deliver what it promises is a poor company... and loses customers.

Elysium wrote:
Their apparent suggestion that you queue titles that aren't in as high of demand in order to prevent an interruption in your service isn't an unreasonable one even if it isn't, for you, a satisfying one.

I disagree, particularly considering how they market themselves. To be fair, a refund or even a sympathetic note recognizing that I paid an additional $5.00 for basically nothing would have kept a customer. I got nothing like that. I call it bad customer service. You are welcome to disagree.

I think that a refund of your money would have been nice of them, but I can see their reasoning behind not giving you one. You had a queue smaller than they request that you keep, and you had exclusively high demand games in it. If you failed to receive anything for your five dollars, I wouldn't consider it to be unreasonable to say that you set yourself up for failure.

Frankly, a sympathetic note after your letter would get them a customer service gold star. Did you seriously expect them to be sympathetic to your complaints or to offer you a refund after you were so condescending and sarcastic in your correspondence?

That's a genuine question. As a business owner yourself, would you make any sort of conciliatory gestures to someone who treated you, a business partner, or one of your employees in such a way?

Elysium wrote:

I also would be willing to cede that I was in some kind of minority. I accept sometimes you get a bad streak. That doesn't seem to be the case.

Here's my bottom line, if you can't send me 1 out of 6 games over a 30-day period, your business is fundamentally flawed.

I find the complaints about GameFly to be strange because they don't match up with my personal experience. However, I once again concede that you're not unjustified in canceling your subscription for it failing to live up to your needs and expectations.

LobsterMobster wrote:

(once they sent me the right game with the wrong case and when I notified them they immediately sent me the right case, and told me to keep the other one too. Small thing I know, but getting anything for free is surprising these days).

Congratulations on your free game-less game case!

Let the Walmart return scams commence.

You had a queue smaller than they request that you keep, and you had exclusively high demand games in it.

I simply can't get past the 0 in 6 over 30 days barrier. I can't. It's terrible service, and more than that an absolute breach of the contract I feel we entered into. You see it differently, but I can save us both a lot of breath -- this is a position I'm not going to budge on.

It's just terrible service, and I don't understand someone coming from the position that it's tough luck but pretty reasonable. That's not a criticism, it's just saying that you might as well be trying to explain your opinion to me through semaphore.

Did you seriously expect them to be sympathetic to your complaints or to offer you a refund after you were so condescending and sarcastic in your correspondence?

That's a genuine question. As a business owner yourself, would you make any sort of conciliatory gestures to someone who treated you, a business partner, or one of your employees in such a way?

I sure hope I didn't hurt their feelings. I guess if they get sulky everytime a disatisfied customer has the temerity to be upset for having spent $5.00 on nothing, then I really won't have to worry about them for much longer.

That's a yes, by the way, but then again I expected them to ship me some games to begin with so I'm pretty well past the point of being surprised.

I realize this comes off as angry, and it's not aimed at you. It's aimed at GameFly. Just an abyssmal experience all around, and I'm entirely comfortable getting on what little bully pulpit I have to convince those on the fence to stay away.

Have you tended to go through a lot of titles with Gamefly during a particular month?

I am only familiar with Netflix, but I think I see how they work. Netflix reassigns priority to customers on new / high demand titles on the historic volume of rentals churn they see with particular customers. Maybe gamefly has you tagged as a high-volume renter, so from a magical pixiedust driven formula perspective they calculate that you must be a satisfied customer?

I know I've read that Netflix will get new releases to customers who have slower return cycles because they have less touch points for satisfying those particular customer's needs. Higher volume renters with deeper queues will end up waiting on newer releases, because Netflix feels they are meeting their needs by providing constant movies out of the mid to lower range of their queue. I am sure this has happened to us because we wait on new releases more these days. I dont mind though, our queue is quite deep.

If Gamefly isnt even shipping you your promised number of concurrent rentals then that seems a clear breach.

Before we continue down the road of "high, in-demand" games, let's not forget that the digital goods of video games are no more scarce than any digital goods, be it music, movies or otherwise. Discs are not hard to produce. In fact, they're ridiculously easy to produce.

The problem with Gamefly's business model is twofold:

1. They don't have a good enough model to compete with a comparable service like Netflix, and while they don't provide the exact same type of product, they do provide a service similar enough to Netflix that comparisons are indeed drawn between the two services. This poor model is presumably due to the expense of video games over movies, and the much higher cost of rental for those products. Netflix may not be a competitor, but they were the first to do internet-and-mail rental, and they've set the standard. Gamefly's first problem to rectify would be to renegotiate the cost of rentals. That is to say, it's not the service charge people are stung by, it's their inability to purchase sufficient inventory.

2. Deceptive practices that are thinly veiled. Their "minimum queue" racket is nothing more than a scheme to keep you getting games and try to make you feel like you're getting your money's worth out of the service. They also advertise to be a rental service that lets you get your hands on the new games to play them without buying. It's simply not true. But honestly, they're stuck there, because how do you market a rental company like that? How could you possibly build a customer base advertising, "Well, you'll eventually get your games, whenever they're not popular anymore. But we'll send you a buttload of old games if you want! Just be sure to keep a minimum number of games in your queue so we can keep shuffling those high-demand games to the bottom."

Elysium wrote:

To expand a little further, as I read it, adam, you measure customer service in how they apologize for failing to provide their service. I measure it in their ability to provide the service they promise in the first place.

That's not meant to be snarky or sarcastic. That's simply the position I'm coming from, and which I take as your position from your comments. I imagine your position is more complex than that, and I welcome an elaboration if you care to.

I suspect that this is a definitional problem. I use "customer service" to mean the interpersonal interactions between a company's employees and its customers. In this case, your email correspondence would qualify as customer service while your problem not getting a game would be a problem with their business model. You use it to encompass the entire interaction with the company. By your definition, I would agree that GameFly had poor customer service in this case. By mine, I don't see how they failed.

Elysium wrote:

I realize this comes off as angry, and it's not aimed at you. It's aimed at GameFly.

I didn't feel that it was aimed at me, and I hope that none of my comments came off as personal attacks. I think you're right, though, that we're at an impasse. I'm sorry that you had a negative experience with GameFly, and I hope you find a rental model that works as you want it to. If you do, I hope that you will publicly praise it as you have publicly condemned its competitor; while I've been happy with GameFly so far, I'd be willing to consider whatever it is that you discover.

Irongut wrote:

Have you tended to go through a lot of titles with Gamefly during a particular month?

[Words I completely agree with.]

If Gamefly isnt even shipping you your promised number of concurrent rentals then that seems a clear breach.

I think that last part is the crux of the issue. Netflix, for all its flaws, has enough inventory across the country that even if you only had 6 movies in your queue and a 3-at-a-time plan, you're most likely to get three, even if they're numbers 4, 5 and 6. This is true even of new releases. It's the rare stuff on Netflix (like old anime) that may never come (damn you Princess Nine), but within a month you should get just about any movie in Netflix's vast libraries.

I just buy games that I want to play, or rent them from blockbuster. If I think a game is bad, I try and rent it. If there's a drought and I can't rent it, and I'm unable to produce an ounce of self-control, then I just suck it up and buy it.

Are you really trying to tell me Sean that you don't "know" whether the game is going to be good or not before you buy it, because I don't believe you if you say "no". Sure there's a surprise title in there every once in a while, but I think we can all agree that whether consciously or not, we recognize that gaming spidy-sense tingling as we approach the play-n-trade counter with a mid-drought, B-list title that just came out. Well I guess that would never happen at Play-N-Trade, at least not at any of the ones around here, because you'd have to wait about a week until they actually get the game in stock. They should seriously consider changing the franchise name to "No we don't have that yet."

They also seem to have this ridiculous policy of only selling open games. This means that under no circumstances can you return it...ever....for any reason. I seriously don't understand why there can't be nice stores filled with non-annoying people that sell video games on release date.....oh yeah, it's called Best Buy.

flashbolt wrote:

Are you really trying to tell me Sean that you don't "know" whether the game is going to be good or not before you buy it, because I don't believe you if you say "no".

I certainly don't know most times. I would've said (and did think) that Fallout 3 was going to be awesome prior to release. Little did I know my interest would fizzle in roughly 6 hours of play.

There are plenty of people who thought Assassin's Creed was going to be great. There are now pretty much two dominant camps on that game, those who loved it and those who hated it. I think it's safe to say most folks in both camps were expecting it to be great.

And then there's the Wii. It's the only console I've ever waited in line for on release day. 13 hours in a Wal-Mart lawn and garden department. It's the console I play the least now.

It doesn't take much looking to find more examples.

Hum, how does one go about ''leaf peeping''? I'm mildly curious

interstate78 wrote:

Hum, how does one go about ''leaf peeping''? I'm mildly curious

You hide behind curtains in your house, looking at leaves with binoculars?

I've never used GameFly, so pardon my ignorance here - just what exactly is the "queue calculus" that Sean mentions? Is it possible to somehow structure your queue so that you "jump the line" and receive high demand games before people who may have added them earlier?

gore wrote:

I've never used GameFly, so pardon my ignorance here - just what exactly is the "queue calculus" that Sean mentions? Is it possible to somehow structure your queue so that you "jump the line" and receive high demand games before people who may have added them earlier?

hum, according to a previous thread, you need to put a bunch of unreleased titles (that you added to your queue as soon as they appeared on Gamefly's website), which puts you on a higher priority level when those title become available (and since you have 10 titles in your queue you are respecting the terms of use)

Something of that order.

Also commonly referred to as ''looking out the window''

We learn something new every day.

Ratchet and Clank Go To Federal Prison

I almost spat my drink out because my brain filled in the rest of the Office Space quote. Federal Pound You In The *blank* Prison. Nice, very nice.

I've never had a GameFly sub and don't foresee ever getting one, I hardly have enough time to play the games I buy as it is. But I do think the comparisons of Netflix to GF are really only in their delivery model. Movies, have a much longer tail, so it's either on DVD or it isn't and NF can buy their lot of movie X and be done with it until it gets t y% and they either need more or it's in line with thier depreciation model.

Games are quite a bit more finicky, even with something like a console. First up, games cost quite a bit more out the gate than movies, in fact DVD's seem to come out at 80-90% of their full price on release for a week or so and then go up to their 100% price only to slowly go down to their big-box-at-walmart full of 5$ movies a few years down the road. Games, cost 100% on their release and stay there until hell freezes over, once you make your first snowball you can then start to find it for a classic price of 15-20$.
Whereas with movies you can sustain a business model off the middle portion of your long tail, games, not so much. Gamers usually want to play the latest one and move on to the next shiny, whereas much of movie nostalgia comes from the memories derived from a time you saw the movie the first time, story or refered from others in your queue. Also movies don't come out with sequels every year for their films (though it seems to be getting there). Movies also enjoy other ways to generate profit than games, flights, exhibitions and such where you can get 40-50 people at one time to take part, not so easy to do with games.

Basically, I think the GF business model will inheritantly have issues trying to match a netflix service, especially for hard core gamers.

I used gamefly for my DS games a few years ago and got every title I wanted when I wanted. I eventually canceled my subscription to save money but had no idea they had issues like this. I thought about getting a subscription for my Wii games fix, but I'm not so sure about that now.

Elysium wrote:

Again, it's one thing to miss one, or two or even three, but oh for six over a 30 day period? Really?

This what it comes down to is they don't buy enough games to keep Sean happy. They do buy enough for some customers, and some customers are able to get more games by playing the system. As long as they have enough customers who don't drop the service it won't get better. They are on the "just good enough not to leave" model. Some people are OK with that, Sean is not. I am not OK with it either, so I do not give them money.

*heavy sigh*

I feel your pain Elysium. I'm a 1-game subscriber and have a Q with 50 games (the max) and 4 of those are releases going back about 6 months. FIFA 09 (360/PS3), Call of Juarez: Blood, and Resident Evil 5. They've been in my Q since early June and I have yet to receive one. FIFA is listed with a Very Low and Low respectively, CoJ is medium, and RE5 is medium. I have no idea why niether of them have shipped and customer service keeps telling me that there are other people in front of me to get these games. It's beyond aggravating. I'm paying $17/mo. to basically play games that are available because they're old and outdated while the games I actually want to play are who knows where.

I've been a member since Gamefly first started and have quit at least a half dozen times for reasons including lack of availability. I'm at the point now where I really want to quick forever but this voice in the back of my head keeps telling me that the game will come if I wait a little longer. The problem for me is there's no other online rental service that I've had success with in the past, Blockbuster has a weak inventory and charges $8+ for a 5 day rental. I'm at the point where I'm going to bank the approx. $205 that I spend a year on Gamefly and put the cash toward buying 3 or 4 games that I would have otherwise rented. If for some reason I regret the buy, then I'll turn around and flip it for points on Goozex and eventually trade for something different.

F*ck Gamefly! We should all quit...

SommerMatt wrote:
adam.greenbrier wrote:

As I said, it's completely legitimate to cancel your subscription if their supply of must-have titles doesn't meet your demand for the same, but it isn't fair to accuse the company of having crappy customer service based on their having told you as much.

Adam, you hit the nail on the head.

Elysium's criticisms are less to do with GameFly than with the entire "Netflix" model of distribution, a model that cannot possibly give everyone the brand-newest games/movies/etc. exactly when they want them. I certainly understand the frustration of not getting what you want, but that's just the way this system works.

Maybe that extra $5 a month being spent on the "3 game" plan should be used instead to go rent whatever hot new game you're looking for at a local B&M video rental store?

What? Really? You don't get to call out the company for not being able to do what they advertise that they can do? I'm pretty sure that, for example, Target can provide as many retail copies of Halo 5 as are needed to supply the demand from the millions of rabid Halo fans that want to buy the special collector football helmet edition on launch day. I see no reason why one should not expect Gamefly to be able to pull of the same thing in a rental model. It's not like there is an actual shortage of *supply* here. It's a video game. There are as many copies of said game as you need for any purpose whatsoever. If Gamefly can't do what they tell you they can do, then they are failing and do not deserve anyone's cash.

This mimics my experience with them nearly perfectly.

I kept my cue over 10 during my entire ONE YEAR prepaid 2-month membership with them. I don't believe I ever once received anything at the top of my cue, or any new release within 4 weeks street date. Essentially this renders Gamefly an expensive Gametap, if you care about playign new games. They should simply make the cue calculus transparent, but I fear that would scare all their customers away. If they actually said "Move to the top of your cue now and return your current game, estimated delivery in 3 weeks" then nobody would subscribe.

Good read. Homerun.

Clemenstation wrote:

However, Canadians are exempt from the false promises that Gamefly offers so I can approach the situation with some degree of detachment.

Nope! You Canadians can sign up for gameaccess.ca and then bitch just as much as the Americans do at gamefly! Yay!

PS. Kidding aside, I actually I like gameaccess.ca. The few times I've had to talk to them they were stellar at customer service. But the same problems of too many people wanting the few new games, and slow shipping times, are still there.

I never understood why it takes them so long to process returns and send out your next game. I kept my queue pretty well stacked and it always took them several days to process my return after they had received it. The process of taking receipt of a disc and shipping out a new one shouldn't take more than a day or two.

flashbolt wrote:

Well I guess that would never happen at Play-N-Trade, at least not at any of the ones around here, because you'd have to wait about a week until they actually get the game in stock. They should seriously consider changing the franchise name to "No we don't have that yet."

The one in my area used to have that same problem. The state solved that problem for them when it seized the store's inventory due to the owner not paying his state taxes. Someone will get some cheap games out of the deal at the auction this month.

I agree completely. I finally broke down and cancelled the service about 9 months ago. I had the same experience with 5-6 high demand games in the lineup and would wait a week before they were mailed out. When you add the 2 weeks turn time (one to get the game recognized as being returned and one to send the new one out) it just was not worth it.

If Netflix ever enters the game rental waters I'll sign up in a heart beat.

I have found Goozex to be an excellent alternative after the initial first three exchanges. I have traded 10-15 games and get new releases within a few months of release. I have spent WAY less on games this year as a result.

Netflix really should start a rental service and I'd also like to see RedBox create a game rental service. $1 day for a game would work for me especially since I could drop them off around the corner.

NSMike wrote:

I certainly don't know most times. I would've said (and did think) that Fallout 3 was going to be awesome prior to release. Little did I know my interest would fizzle in roughly 6 hours of play.

Great example (and not just because I had a similar experience). There are plenty of AAA games that have high production values and were obviously _intended_ to be great games, in genres I like even, that I just don't end up liking all that much. I love RPGs but I didn't care much for Mass Effect and quit less than a third of the way through, for example.

If your mileage is different, be happy -- you are fortunate to be better at predicting.