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

Here's the clincher though.

Cancel anytime

Yes! Advertise a service they are not very likely to deliver, and let them cancel any time!

Ok, there's risk in everything. Granted there are people who will get the new titles they expected to get. Complaints often ring louder simply because if there's no itch, why scratch? I don't have any scientific numbers to say how well the system is working. But everything I've seen says that if you're a new customer, and what you expect out of the service is expedient turnaround on new-to-the-market games, which their advertising and marketing do their best to leave you with that impression if they don't say it outright, you're not going to get it without working the math and being ready to add games which have release dates months away. Of course there are people who will still get value out of the service. These people are either looking for a service to get up-to-date on older releases, or have been sold on the idea that the service provided is good enough. Those people have just as much a right to enjoy Gamefly as anyone dissatisfied with the service has to relate their stories of dissatisfaction, and present their arguments for deceptive business practices.

I added NCAA 10 to my queue on Saturday, and got a text message saying it shipped today, so their formula crap about seeing how long you have had it requested is bs

OGRedd wrote:

I added NCAA 10 to my queue on Saturday, and got a text message saying it shipped today, so their formula crap about seeing how long you have had it requested is bs

Pre-orders for NCAA 10 seem to be way down. All of the buzz for the game has been pretty awful, and the consensus at Operation Sports was that it was going to be one of the worst versions ever. So I'm not sure this anecdote really proves anything.

That said, once people started getting the game in their hands, the impressions have been extremely positive. The jury is still out until folks get enough time to hammer away at the game to expose the glitches and bugs.

I still haven't gotten Halo Wars, Prototype, OR Ghostbusters, but GF HQ just told me they're shipping Phantasy Star Universe to me.

It's apparently one of their rarest games, so lucky me, I suppose? Maybe I'll just end up buying it and keeping it!

Nice article Mr. Elysium. The sad part in all this is the number of gamers who are more than willing to create a firestorm over really trivial matters but who won't say a word about legitimate abuse from game retailers and publishers. Think what all the haters who are crying over Left For Dead 2 could accomplish if they banded together to take on GameFly.

PoderOmega wrote:
Jayhawker wrote:

And expecting Gamefly to acquire enough discs to satisfy the kind of demand that is being lamented here is foolish.

I don't have the answer but if they are interested in making (more) money they should figure out how to make it work. Are you suggesting that it is impossible to make their service better? If there are enough unhappy customers they are opening the door for another company to do it better, or they are going to be a shinning example of why this doesn't work.

More likely, an example of why it won't work. There are gamers that like to use Gamefly as way to play games they don't want to buy, and don't view it as catastrophic if they don't get those games in the first month of release. For them, Gamefly works great.

But games and DVDs, despite coming on the same format, are different beasts. People that rent movies tend to churn through them, trying to return them quickly in order to receive more movies and increasing its value. Games cost a lot more, and gamers hold on to them a lot longer. So the model works infinitely better for movies.

Maybe if they charged $30-$40 a month, they could satisfy the new release demand. Especially since they would have to ship far fewer games at that price point. So if the goal is a rental company to produce new releases to the masses, then I don't see it.

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". 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

There are a ton of games I'd love to try, but they fall in a grey area. Games like Overlord 2 and Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood. I see them on the shelf of my local game shop. I want to try them, but I don't want to spend $120 to do so. I think, "Hey, if I do Gamefly, I could rent games for 6 months for the price of buying those two games. And if I liked them I could buy them anyway."

So like a sucker (or a beaten puppy) I keep coming back and trying out the service, hoping that this is the time it wil be different. I'm with them right now, actually. And I just sent them an email asking them to prove me wrong. Prove me wrong by sending the game I want now and letting me keep Madden 10 in my queue by itself so I'm not forced to purchase it to play it. We'll see if they can do better. My guess is that I'll be canceling soon.

Jayhawker wrote:
Elysium wrote:
I think much of the grief that Gamefly is taking is due to the the expectations that Gamefly created.

Fixed.

With love.

This is what I saw when looking at Gamefly:

6000 Games
Free Shipping
No late fees
Cancel anytime

I don't see where they are inferring that you get all new releases whenever you want, hon.

When you are a non-member and you see their ads, their ads are all about all of these titles you can have if you rent with us. And the titles shown are new titles. The same ones you can't get. This isn't a non-issue.q

Jayhawker wrote:

Here's the clincher though.

Cancel anytime

They could not make it any easier for you correct a mistaken impression you might have. If you can't get the games yuo want, cancel. But that doesn't make Gamefly bad. It makes them a bad match.

Again, talking about how the service works and why it doesn't fit your needs is important and a great topic. Demonizing a company because they don't fit your needs is really just lame. I'd call it juvenile, but it is much more similar to old ladies with nothing better to do than complain.

Jeez. I don't get this point of view at all. A service that highlights as a feature your ability to cancel isn't exactly batting a thousand. Thing is, of course people's expectation of a rental service will be that they can rent all the games, even the new ones. Why else would I want to give you my money, especially at those prices. If Gamefly is going to be a Gametap for consoles they should advertise up front that getting new games is rare and they should lower the prices on monthly fees.

Fine. Gamefly is evil because despite drawing you in by pumping up their SIX THOUSAND GAMES, they show some recent releases on their page. Of course, those are there because Gamefly gets paid to put them there. But yes, they make it clear you will be rolling in a pile of new releases and giggling like a little girl once you send them that credit card info.

The horror sets in when you realize that Gamefly thinks you might be interested ton the SIX THOUSAND GAMES they have. But when you scan their list of SIX THOUSAND GAMES and plunk down three new releases everything goes bad. Now you are on a waiting list with everyone else that missed the number one feature of Gamefly. You know, the SIX THOUSAND GAMES.

Here's a clue. I don't think Gamefly is a very good value, so I don't spend my money there. I tried it out, and found that it just didn't work for me. I have different expectations of my videogame rentals than I do movie rentals from Netflix. To me it was pretty obvious, so I canceled my service, and moved on.

But everyone comes back to the photos, as those imply that you will be getting all new games. Even though the front page tagline is:

6000 Games
Free Shipping
No late fees
Cancel anytime

Strangely, they omit the pile of new releases you will be playing. And you will, eventually. I'm just not sure where people come up with the idea that they will get them in the first month or two or three. It seems like common sense that they do not order enough copies to fulfill demand, as that would leave them with way too many copies. But for people that just want a stream of games coming, and will play the new releases when they come, the system is great. For gamers that buy most of their games, but want to use the service as a way to try out new releases, it's a terrible service.

But why does this make Gamefly evil?

They're not evil. They just run a crappy, deceptive business. Yeah, you can cancel anytime, but once you do they already have your money.

Here's how that went.

Me wrote:

So I'm trying your service out again, hoping that you can provide a reasonable turnaround for new releases and recently released games. As you can probably see in your records I've subscribed and unsubscribed like a dozen times. I'm probably your perfect customer by your metrics. I'd like to stay a permanent customer, but I need you guys to get snappier. If I don't see Call of Juarez shipped out to me soon I'm afraid I'll have to cancel again and ask for my money back.

It's all about speed. Once you reach like a 14 day waiting period for games, you might as well buy them and trade them in. I hate that model, but the execution you guys provide isn't much better.

So here I am. Prove me wrong. Please prove me wrong. Ship out Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood so that I can then know with some assurance that Madden will arrive fairly timely and that if I order Overlord or Fallout 3 later that you'll turn those around in a sane amount of time. You might gain a faithful customer if you start actually renting things out to me. Use Netflix as a model. I guarantee if you do that I'll eventually purchase those excess copies off of you anyway, so it won't cost much to keep an extra copy on hand to rent.

Gamefly Autoresponse wrote:

Auto-Response 08/05/2009 04:45 AM
Suggested Answers Displayed

Question: How do I cancel my Membership?
Answer: Your may cancel your membership by going to My Account and selecting Cancel My Membership link or you may access it directly at Cancel Membership.

Please note:

Cancellation is effective immediately.

You will not receive a refund or credit for unused rentals or partial billing periods.

Game rentals should be returned within seven days of canceling or you may be responsible for replacement fees.

After canceling, you may not sign up for another free trial or other special offer.

To find out how many days you have left in your current billing period, view your Account Summary.

Already being told to go take a flying leap if I don't like it. Then...

Gamefly Response wrote:

Dear Preston,

Our apologies. We have reviewed your account and noted we are unable to ship you another game immediately since you have only one released item in your GameQ that is currently very high in demand.

We ship games to our members based on the length of time that you have been waiting for a game (once a return is received in our facility) and the time the desired available game was placed in your GameQ. The game Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood was placed in your GameQ on 8/05.

GameFly strives to send you your highest ranked game, however, if it is not available at the time of shipment, we will ship you the next available game on your GameQ to minimize the time you are without one. Therefore, we recommend you place more released games in your GameQ so you do not miss out on receiving titles.

We pay close attention to our inventory levels and re-order key titles regularly to minimize the number and duration of unavailable games.

We will ship your first available game out to you as soon as possible.

We appreciate your feedback and apologize for any inconvenience. If we can be of further assistance, please let us know.

Sincerely,

The GameFly Team

Me wrote:

But I don't want another released game. I want Call of Juarez: BiB or I want my money back. This is exactly my point. I joined you guys again to see if I could get Madden near when it was released or a single game I hadn't purchased yet as a rental.

I think your service becomes useless to me if I have to only order what you have in low demand.

So basically I was trying to put playing Madden as a rental rather than a purchase. This seemed like a reasonable thing to do. I also put in my queue pretty much every game I'd want to play in the fall. There is nothing (as I buy lots of games) that I currently want to rent other than Call of Juarez. I've played most everything else. I'd like to switch to Gamefly as a replacement for buying all those games I buy. Others here have seemingly made this work, so I want to give it a try.

I just wanted to clarify a point about the Cancel Anytime for those who haven't used Gamefly before. When you cancel they keep all the money you paid and your account is inactive as of that very moment. So if you're day 5 into a month and you forgot to cancel at the end of the month, you're out that entire month's payment and can't even use the service. So it's more like Cancel Anytime With No Money Back.

I think we can all agree that when you cancel a service you should be allowed to use that service for the remaining amount of time you paid for, or you should get your money back prorated.

They just shipped out Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood. So apparently all you have to do is have a 3 or 4 email argument with support to get what you want shipped.

DSGamer wrote:

Already being told to go take a flying leap if I don't like it. Then...

Gamefly Response wrote:

Dear Preston,

Our apologies. We have reviewed your account and noted we are unable to ship you another game immediately since you have only one released item in your GameQ that is currently very high in demand.

We ship games to our members based on the length of time that you have been waiting for a game (once a return is received in our facility) and the time the desired available game was placed in your GameQ. The game Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood was placed in your GameQ on 8/05.

GameFly strives to send you your highest ranked game, however, if it is not available at the time of shipment, we will ship you the next available game on your GameQ to minimize the time you are without one. Therefore, we recommend you place more released games in your GameQ so you do not miss out on receiving titles.

We pay close attention to our inventory levels and re-order key titles regularly to minimize the number and duration of unavailable games.

We will ship your first available game out to you as soon as possible.

We appreciate your feedback and apologize for any inconvenience. If we can be of further assistance, please let us know.

Sincerely,

The GameFly Team

Me wrote:

But I don't want another released game. I want Call of Juarez: BiB or I want my money back. This is exactly my point. I joined you guys again to see if I could get Madden near when it was released or a single game I hadn't purchased yet as a rental.

I think your service becomes useless to me if I have to only order what you have in low demand.

I can imagine the cackles your response generated. It's like you are begging to be abused.

I can understand stating the service, and then finding out it doesn't work for you. That would be a legitimate source of frustration. I don't understand this process of signing up and canceling several times, and sending them letters once you know that their service doesn't work for you.

It's like you know better, but are just looking for something to complain about. Now that you are taking the time to complain about them on a forum, they really have no reason to deal wth you whatsoever. They want you to cancel. They don't want your money.

I don't believe the service you want would be profitable for any company. So I think you would be better off signing up with that other company that only requires one game n your Q, and sends the latest releases first. You would be much happier.

DSGamer wrote:

They just shipped out Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood. So apparently all you have to do is have a 3 or 4 email argument with support to get what you want shipped.

They are fools. And you are if you think Gamefly is not going to piss you off in the coming months.

What other service is out there that allows you to rent new releases? Are you talking about the service where I go buy a game?

As far as me looking foolish to Gamefly, you or whomever. Fine, whatever. I've given them a lot of chances to get it right. I'd like them to get it right. I don't think that road necessarily has to lead to failure for the business. We'll just have to agree to disagree if you'll allow that.

DSGamer wrote:

What other service is out there that allows you to rent new releases? Are you talking about the service where I go buy a game?

As far as me looking foolish to Gamefly, you or whomever. Fine, whatever. I've given them a lot of chances to get it right. I'd like them to get it right. I don't think that road necessarily has to lead to failure for the business. We'll just have to agree to disagree if you'll allow that. :)

We definitely are seeing it differently, that's for sure. there is no service that does what you want, as far as I know. I think that should tell you something about how likely it is that Gamefly will change.

But I think I will go out and buy NCAA 10, and let you take it out on me there.

Gamefly advertises to do what I want. Keep in mind that my trials of Gamefly have occurred over the entire lifetime of Gamefly and I haven't always been disappointed. Sometimes I canceled because I just wasn't using it enough. I'm not that much of a glutton for punishment. I was simply trying to make the point to them that on a "number of occasions" I have tried the service out. Usually after reading someone talk about how great they are.

So I'd sign up thinking that this was the time they'll get it right. I know that's the definition of insanity, repeating the same thing over and over, expecting a different result. But since I'd had some success in the past I expected I'd have success sometime again. That maybe the company ebbed and flowed at times. Logically, my brain told me that in this economy business must be great for Gamefly, thus they should have more resources to stock new games. We'll see how that pans out.

Playing NCAA would be fun. Not sure if I'll buy Madden, but NCAA I'll be playing all fall.

I'm just replying so others see your post and reply with internet rage. I've never tried gamefly but you give me the tinniest glimmer of hope.

I believe the consensus on GameFly is that is really depends where you live. In Colorado the service is terrible. It takes forever to get things.

I'm sure that has absolutely nothing to do with being on a 4-at-a-time plan. Right?

I don't know about it being because of my 4 at a time plan. I could successfully manipulate their system when I was a 2 at a time renter. The key to getting the new releases you want is to keep your queue empty by Friday prior to release week. Then only have titles in your queue which you want for the next release week. I have had 100% success getting new releases this way and I end up saving a lot of cash.

Now if I were to try to rent one after release? No way, Demon's Souls has been in my queue forever. I just sent back Dragon Age (bought PC version) so we will see if I get Assassin's Creed 2 or Demons Souls first. I am betting the former.

Sorry double post (iPhone)

MisterStatic wrote:

Demon's Souls has been in my queue forever. I just sent back Dragon Age (bought PC version) so we will see if I get Assassin's Creed 2 or Demons Souls first. I am betting the former.

Well I was wrong, Demon's Souls is here. So this means I need to buy one of the four to get AC2 next week. (Borderlands, Uncharted 2, MW2, or Demon's Souls). Choices.