Being Used?

In the years that I was a Gamestop manager — dark days in which the sun was blotted from the sky and malevolence slouched through the halls of dingy shopping malls in the guise of poison-tongued high schoolers – I took quiet exception with countless official policies and products. Eventually I purged myself of these demons in a number of articles back around 2005, a very public exorcism which discussed at length how the company conducted its business and more importantly how talking about it made me feel a hell of a lot better, or at least cleaner.

In all that time, however, the one widely lodged complaint for which I could never really generate enthusiastic ire was on the matter of used games. To my addled mind, used games continue to seem like a pretty nice idea; a prime example of how the rare capitalistic initiative can benefit both retailer and consumer.

If you are a developer or publisher, I get it. I sympathize; really, I do. There’s a big damn hole in the bucket, dear Liza, and Gamestop chairman Dick Fontaine is standing there unapologetically holding a drill. But as a consumer I have to say that in the first, second and third place I’m watching out for numero uno, and I like not spending money. Or more precisely spending a little less money, so I continue to be baffled when well-meaning game buyers rise in a single voice against the anathema of used game sales.

Let’s not sugar coat it, when you trade in your game at Gamestop you are getting a return dramatically below the retained market value of your product. The company then turns around, often without doing anything but printing up a sticker, and resells your game at a substantial increase. As a trade-in customer, I accept when I walk in with my trades that I am substituting value for convenience. Yes, I could probably, nay certainly, demand higher through Ebay, but honest to God who has that kind of time any more?

That said, I don’t think there’s a big “A Ha!” moment when the monster profit margin is revealed between the cost at which the retailer buys the game from you and the price at which they resell the game. Here’s a hint, it’s big — really big. It is, by far, the biggest margin in the stores, but — and here’s the key — only if they manage to sell it.

The profit potential on used games is without question the goal of a strong used games market, but the real benefit to consumers in the deal is that we have an unlimited market for our used games. In short, Gamestop never says no.

Outside of clearly broken games or product for systems that aren’t sold anymore, if you walk in with a current or nearly current generation console game, you get something. It may be pennies on the dollar, but it is guaranteed. Imagine, for a moment, the monumental overhead and inventory nightmares this creates on a national level. How many beat up copies of Kameo are sitting in some Indiana Jones warehouse never to be sold? How much loss will the company have to soak up on Tony Hawk: Ride buyback as consumers looked to sell quickly while the value was high.

I don’t argue that Gamestop doesn’t make quite a bit of money by reselling games like Dragon Age or Borderlands, but the error that many armchair critics make is in not realizing how much of that money goes against the loss on Fusion Frenzy 2 or CSI game trades.

Still, it’s not like the proposition hasn’t worked out. This is a little bit like oil companies complaining about the cost of refinery and drilling development as they make tens of billions in a quarter, or pharmaceutical companies cashing in only on designer drugs for profitable illnesses … except of course, we are talking about a luxury product whose stagnant price point hasn’t kept up with inflation for decades. But, I’m not equivocating or making excuses, because let’s face it. Gamestop has been rolling in the money pool for a few years now.

Even if the Gamestops of the world pulled in monster profit on every single used game taken in, I still can’t get behind the consumer based fury. I am a fan of choice, of being offered the option of a reduced price. The math behind how Gamestop manages their inventory doesn’t factor into the question of would I like a given game for $59.99 or $54.99.

This is the point in the conversation, I suppose, where hearts bleed for the starving developers who never see the profit of those resell transactions. Bleeding hearts which I assume are asleep at the switch in the discussion of Ebay and other consumer resell avenues. Bleeding hearts which seem to get a nice healthy clotting agent when issues of Day One DLC or the proclaimed need for price point hikes to address the rising costs of development and piracy issues come up.

Forgive my cynicism, but a lot of the arguments against trade-ins and used game sales seem awfully convenient. There is something, which I admit I understand in my amygdala if not my more cognitive brain centers, about knowing that when you hand over your $50 bucks to the counter jockey, you are paying for something at double the price the company bought at. What I don’t understand is why it is better to buy essentially the same product for five or ten dollars more just because it bites into the margin of your supplier.

And, that's the point. It seems totally unreasonable to me to reject, even demand the elimination of a lower price point option simply because you don't like how much money the provider is making on the deal. It is a gut check reaction that seems more based out of an anti-Gamestop cultural undercurrent than anything else. If, for example Valve offered a way to resell your games back to them through Steam -- and this is a genius idea that I endorse with what can only be termed 'gusto' -- and buy through a digital used market, I have a hard time imagining the same fiery torches and proverbial pitchforks being raised.

I am willing to concede the argument from those who simply prefer a product in pristine, new condition. I have no beef with them, and even join their ranks on many games, but that doesn’t discredit the idea of having choice. Ultimately, used sales work to the benefit of both retailer and consumers keeping costs low and retailers competitive. Yes, one side usually comes out of the deal a little better, but that’s the way of good business.

For all the things that Gamestop and other retailers deserve to be criticized for, this once perhaps we should just take our $5.00 off and go about our business.


A 3 year and 3 week necro. Nice work!