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.