… on this blog that is.
So I don’t want to flood the Carousel with text opinion posts. I’d prefer to stick to objective reviews and fun discussions on the podcast. But I feel the need for an opinion piece now and again so here’s my first one. And don’t worry, I’ll provide links for whatever factual things I reference.
Why pick Gamestop? Well the recent Deus Ex debacle seems like a good reason to put some focus on this company. Gamestop is doing for video games as to what Guitar Center did for music: absolutely nothing.
Starting with the Deus Ex bit. So Square Enix forgets to tell Gamestop they have included free OnLive codes for Deus Ex Human Revolution. Gamestop throws a shit fit and sends a letter to their stores informing their employees to open up new copies of the game, throw away the code, and fulfill the preorder. Why did Gamestop do this? Because they purchased Spawn Labs and intend to get into the PC streaming business. Cause when you think “I gotta buy a PC game” that 4 foot shelf at Gamestop most certainly comes to mind (this sentence is sarcasm). Then Square apologized to Gamestop! The final couple notes of the story are Gamestop pulled all retail copies of Deus Ex from shelves, bribed the victims with Gamestop credit, and Square announced a special edition for Gamestop.
Lets think about that a minute. Square, one of the companies whose property was molested, apologized. Was Square in the wrong for forgetting to tell Gamestop about the OnLive Code? Yes and no. Yes Square should have informed Gamestop what they were selling for them. No it shouldn’t have mattered. But the fact that Square apologized to Gamestop gives you an idea of the power Gamestop has over the perception of the industry. Most gamers who follow gaming news and participate in the community don’t shop at Gamestop. Occasionally you’ll find some exceptions, but not often.
Gamestop considers OnLive a competing company and are evidently threatened by them. Gamestop doesn’t refuse to sell Steam powered games. Why is Steam a competitor? Because Gamestop owns Impulse. Gamestop recently announced they are going to make a gaming tablet with controller peripheral to sell and will start buying used idevices. The iPhone and iPad own a huge amount of that market yet Gamestop is willing to perpetuate their popularity while pushing their own competing product. But no OnLive codes.
Gamestop makes money off used games. Yes we all have a right to property and all that. But the very existence of used games is part of what makes new games cost so much. Its also why things like DLC, Expansions, and Online Pass get invented. The companies you like want to make games and they work crazy hours to do it. If you work a career job with project deadlines you understand this. If you don’t then know that 60 hour work weeks with no overtime pay are a realistic thing. And when you love that project, you’ll easily spend more hours there.
Now imagine one of the smaller companies, say 100 or so people, working on a game they love for 2-3 years. Lets say all these employees make 60k a year (which is pretty low for the gaming industry actually). At 2 years that’s easily a 12 million dollar game not including distribution and promotion costs among other fees. Now lets say the company makes $40 off the game per sale and they sell 250,000 new copies of the game. That’s 10 million dollars. This game just lost 2 million dollars minimum. Chances are, the game has sold even more in used sales.
I realize we’re all low on cash. Its a bad economy. But as a consumer, realize that if you want a game company to keep making a game, you have to buy it new or digitally or buy the DLC or buy the online pass. Those developers and publishers have no right to Gamestop’s money and never will. And Gamestop doesn’t give a shit if those developers make their money back.
Gamestop wants to sell new copies of games to its customers because they know those customers will sell the game back to them for a fraction of the price via in store credit. And on top of that the store credit is maybe 1/6 to 1/8 of what Gamestop paid for it. Getting a game that just came out used? Enjoy that $5 discount cause Gamestop probably just made $20-30 off of you.
The nation is full of impulse buyers. I want it now and I want to browse physical media for it. Gamestop is never the lowest, best deal. Amazon is. 59.99 for a game plus tax at Gamestop or day of release shipping for a $1 and no tax from Amazon with guaranteed price matching. And if you’re buying used, unless you’re after a collector’s item (which Gamestop wouldn’t carry anyway), Amazon is going to have a seller that is less expensive that is just as good if not better. And if you’re an Amazon Prime memeber who buys 20-30 games a year, then shipping is almost free! (Amazon Prime costs $80 a year but 2 day shipping on 30 games normally costs $5-$10 so ordering more than 8 games a year guarantees you have saved money)
The point is, if you like an eclectic game type or series, I hope you’re buying it new. But if you’re just looking for the next space solider or world war FPS Saga, then you have no worries.
Gamestop opens new games! Period. This isn’t new news. I know this because I used to be a Gamestop shopper. Or more specifically an EB Games shopper until Gamestop bought them. But having the eclectic taste I do MANY of the games I would purchase would be the display case because Gamestop only stocks per preorders on anything that isn’t Halo or Call of Duty (or insert other popular equivalent).
I NEVER GOT A DISCOUNT. THE DISPLAY CASE WAS SOLD TO ME AS NEW. If you’re buying a popular franchise, you’re probably safe. If this effect is looked at throughout the industry, this means Gamestop is encouraging the lack of innovation in gameplay. Now I love the Halo games but the most innovative improvements the franchise has done in FIVE GAMES is introduce dual wield, take away dual wield, and give a minor special ability to the character such as running. From a business standpoint this is Gamestop saying its not willing to risk a dime of business on the industry its living off of. I’m not saying Halo is a bad game, again I love Halo. But Halo is not an innovative game.
Retail employees suck. Again there are always exceptions to the rule and I’m sure there are people trying to do good out there. But its like the cop rule. How many people do you know like cops? If you have a number other than zero for your answer, you are either a cop, related to a cop, friends with a cop, or the spouse of a cop. Cops are incredibly unpopular because its a job that is abused. I asked a cop what the speed limit was ONE TIME and he accused me of trying to argue with him and informed me my question was the cause of ticket. And the tickets said I was going 60 even though the cop told me he caught me going 50. When I dressed funny (black, combat boots, etc), my car was searched every time I was pulled over without exception.
Its no different with retail employees. Most people rely on the retail employee, who is paid hourly not on commission, to be knowledgeable of their products. Gamestop employees, which are retail employees, aren’t very knowledgeable or good at their job most of the time. Tons of gamers have nightmarish Gamestop stories of ineptness and rudeness. I remember purchasing a used Robotech PS2 game once only to have the clerk chastise me for purchasing a game that had terrible graphics. Another time a Gamestop employee tried to up sell me on a Final Fantasy 12 preorder by lying to me and telling me the preorder came with an extra character. Another time I preordered Heavy Rain and had to drive to another Gamestop to pick up my preorder bonus! And these are just off the top of my head!
No one is going to change. Gamestop is going to be a force as long as physical retail outlets matter. I have no idea if they’ll make it in the digital market or not. But the simple fact is the people who shop at Gamestop LOVE Gamestop. Yes Wal-Mart has sweatshops in China and treat their employees like shit and yes, Wal-Mart shoppers are still going to shop there. The difference in the analogy is that chances are all the Wal-Mart alternatives have sweat shops in foreign countries. As gamers we actually have good alternatives! I’m sure there’s something evil about Amazon (although I have yet to fathom it) but digital sales are an incredibly healthy alternative! OnLive, Origin, and Steam are going to profit the developers with their sales! And again, Amazon offers $1 day of release delivery with no tax!!!!
But none of this matters. No one is going to change their mind. The Deux Ex debacle only effected a small amount of people because Gamestop doesn’t care about physical PC sales as evidenced again by their 4 foot PC shelf. Even Best Buy has a larger PC section. If you not only purchased but preorderd Deus Ex for PC at Gamestop you are one of the rarest pokemon out there.
But people are broke and have desires whether those desires be just to play games or to review them or run a podcast on them. No I’m not singling anyone out here because no one is unique in any of those situations.
Earlier in this rant I talked about how Gamestop treats new games. If Gamestop is only interested in selling new games long enough for them to be sold back to them for a dime, then Gamestop’s future orders on the title are going to be somewhere between less and zero. And if Gamestop makes up say 20% of game’s industry wide sales, then first month sales are going to matter more to most companies who aren’t selling a game with an online business plan. Ever get annoyed about a game’s future being determined by its first month sales? There’s your answer.
Xbox Live’s Game on Demand service and the PSN are also a perfect ways to make sure your money winds up in the developers hands.