I’m 33 and I play videogames.
That shouldn’t be a surprise, as the average age of video game players in the United States continues to rise (38% of players are now over 36 years old). What was once looked down on as a dorky pastime has become a nationally-televised sport, sponsored by brands like Coca-Cola, Intel, and even Audi. By some measurements, nearly 70% of Americans play video games, an unbelievable figure. That’s the same percentage that dislike Daylight Savings Time.
And there’s a good chance that the majority of that 70% of people have stepped inside a GameStop.
Known for its ubiquity as much as its infamous trade-in policies, GameStop is by far the biggest chain to ever center-focus on the video game vertical. As of February 2019, there were 5,830 GameStop stores across fourteen countries. No matter where I have lived, from Lexington, Kentucky to five different neighborhoods in New York City, there’s always been a GameStop less than twenty minutes from my home.
For me, and for many people like myself who’ve been gaming for decades, GameStop was the only store that mattered when I went shopping. Now GameStop appears to be the next victim of ‘right-sizing,’ changing consumer tastes, and unfortunately, obsolescence.
While some delight in the chain’s fall from grace, I feel sadness. What happened to the chain that I spent so much time in as a kid? Where I got my copy of Ocarina of Time? Where I hung out with my friends in middle school? Reading these headlines hit me deeper than any other recent store closings, and got me thinking: Why did I personally stop shopping at GameStop? And if they were to address those problems, what would get me coming back?
After doing a little soul searching, I’ve come up with three distinct (and very personal) reasons I no longer shop at GameStop, and a few ways they could get me back as a customer. These aren’t the scientifically-validated, heavily researched and peer-evaluated points you’ll normally read on this blog. Take this for what it is: simply the opinions of one guy who loves video games and cares about GameStop. Nothing more, nothing less. Let’s get started.
Three Reasons I Stopped Shopping at GameStop
1. Being Upsold
GameStop has a very particular problem that affects many electronics retailers: the upsell. Every time you approach the counter, it’s the same thing: “Would you like to purchase a protection plan for your game?” “No, thank you.” “It only costs $4.99, and you can bring it in and swap it out in the event that the disc is scratched or broken.” “No, thank you.” The employee looks to his left, then to his right. He leans forward and whispers, “Please buy the plan, I need to hit my monthly quota, and if I don’t, they’re going to take me out back and put me down.”
No one wants any part of this: the employee, anyone in earshot, and especially the customer. Trying to upsell me on all my purchases with a bogus protection plan that I am never going to use is not the way to win my business. It’s the way to make me feel uncomfortable, and like I’m letting someone down. It’s just trying to take more instead of offering me anything of value. Let’s get rid of it.
This one is pretty simple. It’s a Wednesday afternoon. I think I want to play the new Dark Souls this weekend, but I don’t own it. When I leave my office at 7PM for my hour-long commute home, do I want to walk twenty blocks out of the way to the nearest GameStop hoping that they have the game? Can I actually trust the website when the inventory system says it’s in stock at that store? Why is no one picking up the phone? Am I the last living person on Earth?
If I have a little bit of time and I’m not trying to get it that day, I would much rather purchase it on Amazon and have it show up to my home on Friday. No extra stops, no disappointment, no hassle.
3. Messy Stores
There is one truth in this world: what you are looking for is always in the last place you look for it—unless you’re in a GameStop. Then it’s in the last place that the assistant manager looks after neither you, the employee on his second day, another customer, or the guy who works at the mall gag gift kiosk could find it.
What I want is very simple. I want to walk into the store, knowing what I already want, pick the item up from the shelf, then purchase the item and go home. What typically happens in a GameStop is I browse through multiple shelves of used games, try to read the spines of games in the glass cage behind the employees (who are otherwise occupied with a line of customers arguing about trade-in values and can’t answer my questions), finally give up and stand in the line, wait for twenty minutes, and then asking the employee if they have the game only to discover that what they have is a used version without the box or manual.
Why has it become so hard to simply find what I want? If it’s a brand-new title, the odds are usually in my favor, but for games that were released the previous year it feels like a total crap shoot.
Three Reasons I’d Go Back to GameStop
1. Same Day Releases & Fanfare
Where GameStop truly shines is, as I mentioned earlier, the fact that they are literally everywhere. For people like me, a great game coming out is a huge event, sometimes even something that you take off work for. When a new game comes out, I don’t want to wait for it to show up in the mail, and I don’t want to get a digital download I’ll have to wait 3-4 hours to complete. I want it now. Like, right now.
This is where GameStop has a huge advantage. For new games that come out, I would love to feel like part of a community that’s excited about it, something digital downloads and delivery simply can’t do.
What if GameStop invested in its strengths here by doubling down on new game releases, creating exclusive merchandise, dressing up the store, and making me feel like a part of something? Getting me hyped with other people who are hyped. Cosplay contests, exclusive merchandise, and lotteries are everywhere else in gaming: why not here?
2. Rare & Collectible Games
As I get older and I have a little more expendable income, I’ve been buying some of the games I’ve long-since lost that I remember fondly from my childhood, especially Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis games.
What if GameStop were to start buying and selling vintage games? It would not only be a novelty to come in and see some of these products in person, but it would give me an amazing place to go to talk about collecting with other passionate SNES fans.
Note: after writing this paragraph, it turns out that GameStop is actually making this change. (I swear I thought of it first.) While currently only offered online, GameStop is experimenting with its first Retro Game Store.
3. Exclusive Digital Pressings
While I’m sure a major factor in GameStop’s decline is the digital downloaded game, it’s not one that has stopped me from shopping: I still purchase all my games physical. The issue is that some of 2019’s biggest games are digital-download only. Think Tetris99, Cuphead, Remnant: From the Ashes, and Cadence of Hyrule – Crypt of the NecoDancer. Every year there are more and more digital-exclusive games.
What if GameStop were to work with publishers to release limited-run physical copies of popular games, only sold in their stores? For me personally, it would certainly be worth the trek, and the likelihood of me picking up more items (another controller, a different game) is really quite high. According to the LA Times, the cost of manufacturing and shipping a physical game comes down to about $4 a box, a price that could be offset with pair-on merchandise.
At CB4, we’ve been preaching about the value of good customer experience for years, and each of the trade shows we’ve attended this year have had one simple message: invest in the customer experience and your customers will invest in you. After coming up with my lists and reflecting on their common theme, this feels even more striking, true, and clear.
GameStop will always be an important place for me, but to draw me back in, I simply need a reason to go. Is it to make me feel like a part of a community, to pick up some rare games, or get an exclusive digital pressing? Maybe. Maybe it’s something else. At the end of the day, GameStop will always have a place in my heart, regardless of whether I shop there or not. It would just be nice to have a place that, the next time that big game release comes around, I can go, expect to find what I want, and have a nice time while I’m buying it.
Good luck, GameStop. I’m rooting for you.