GameStop Didn’t Need to Die

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Feb 20, 2019

Filed under: Column 117 comments

My column this week explains why GameStop’s demise wasn’t entirely the fault of digital sales. This was a company that made bad decisions and prioritized short-term gains over customer retention. Maybe they were always fated to go the way of Blockbuster video, but they did a lot to hasten the process.

I really do believe there’s room in the retail space for dedicated gaming shops, even in this world with a dozen competing digital platforms. If the market can support stores dedicated to mobile phones, then there ought to be room for selling and servicing gaming hardware. Sure, you can get games digitally now. But you can’t download a console, a graphics card, or a controller. Lots of people like to buy physical goods at a physical store.

Apple has built customer loyalty so strong that people will leave their house and stand in line for a chance to buy $800 phones when you can get a phone with 90% of the features for a tenth of the price. It’s hard to create and maintain, but customer loyalty is a powerful force.

Gaming is more popular now than it’s been at any time in the past. In another timeline with a different leadership at the helm of GameStop, people would say things like, “I know the game costs the same on Steam and I could download it without needing to leave the house, but dangit, I LIKE going there. My dad took me there back in 2001 when he got us a PlayStation 2, and I have so many good memories of the games we got there. The guy who works behind the counter is really cool. He’s been there for years and he really knows his games. The lady who owns the place is nice and if you bring a machine in for servicing she won’t even charge you anything for silly little two-minute repair jobs. Also, sometimes when I go in to buy a new game I’ll throw in an obscure title I found on the discount rack. That’s how I discovered the Persona series.”

I realize I can’t prove any of this in a “show your work on the blackboard” sense. Maybe it’s a weak argument to claim that gaming shops could work because I’d go there if the store I described existed.

But still. I really would go there if it existed.


From The Archives:

117 thoughts on “GameStop Didn’t Need to Die

  1. My friend Michael Bahr actually blogs about running his gaming store, Desert Sky Games (the largest gaming store in Arizona). He posts regularly about his management philosophy, so you might find it an interesting example of industry workings on a smaller scale:

    1. Lino says:

      This looks really cool! I’m not a very big fan of Polygon, but a while ago they made this article about running a game store. A shame they didn’t interview this guy. But still, it’s a really nice article – even though we don’t have Gamestop in my country, the way these people talk about their business is so different from everything I’ve heard about Gamestop.
      It just goes to show how important passion is when you want to succeed in something.

      1. Thomas says:

        I’ve tried to like Polygon, but I bounce off it and couldn’t work out why. In the end, I decided it was too corporate?

        If you look at Kotaku, they’ve got a similar target demographic, but they genuinely live their philosophy. They’re blacked listed by half the major publishers, and if you read a decent piece of investigative games journalism anywhere it’s even odds that they cite Kotaku.

        Polygon doesn’t seem to want to risk making waves. Their best pieces are all friendly nostalgic recaps of developers and games

        1. tmtvl says:

          Yeah, but usually when other places cite Kotaku they cite the retractions or corrections. Kotaku itself is to honesty what the Pacific is to water.

          1. Kincajou says:

            I struggle to see what you mean with your analogy… I think you mean that kotaku isn’t always honest?
            But I can’t make that work with the Pacific thing…. Maybe I’m just slow but all I have is : – full of it (honesty, that is) – made of it – an ocean of it… The best I can come up with is “full of salt” but that’s stretching it.. (and it. Doesn’t work with kotaku and honesty well)
            What am I missing?

            1. tmtvl says:

              Yes, to my eternal shame I mistyped “dishonesty”. That’s awkward.

              1. kincajou says:

                Aaah, that makes so much more sense, thank you for the clarification! you had me so confused !

          2. shoeboxjeddy says:

            Do you have an example of Kotaku’s lack of truth telling? Like… within the last year or two? This sounds like a bias from people who hate that Kotaku produces unscored, wordy reviews instead of strict Consumer Reports style “real reviews.” I have heard from MANY haters who don’t know AT ALL what they’re talking about on this.

            1. tmtvl says:

              The Dragon Quest XI review. Sylvando is the “strongest physical fighter”? Sure. You keep thinking that you’ve found the main town? Where?
              Another example? The Final Fantasy XIV emote article. It’s just…

              I don’t understand why anyone would take Kotaku serious between all the misinformation, “creative editing”, lying by omission,…

              1. shoeboxjeddy says:

                So to be clear, your disagreement on the Dragon Quest article is that someone maxes out on STR higher? Does the game present Sylvando as the main “fighter” type, at least at first? The second point isn’t coherent enough to even ask about. It’s clear the review meant that each town was more impressive to them than the last. How can that POSSIBLY be a lie or factually incorrect? Think about what you’re saying.

                Finally, for the FFXIV article, she interviewed people into that specific subculture. The fact that other people would not consider its use in that way doesn’t invalidate her firsthand stories. So far… completely unimpressed that this means the site is full of lies. Sounds like you occasionally disagree with a turn of phrase or the way something is described and misdiagnose that as HUGE LIES?

            2. Water Rabbit says:

              I think that the definition of Kotaku explains it all:

              From Urban Dictionary:

              The place where journalistic integrity goes to die. Supposedly a blog about gaming, but when you visit the front page you’ll struggle to find anything relevant. You’ll see random videos, cosplayer galleries, inside jokes, discussions about the editors’ personal lives, and a load of other bullshit. When they do get around to posting some actual news, it’s usually poached from better sites.

              Worse still is the commenting system. The editors love to play favorites, and will promote sycophancy with “stars” while censoring anything remotely critical. The commenters usually have nothing but praise for the staff, which is hardly shocking when you learn that they’ve been handpicked from the outset, having to “audition” in order to post. You’ll always see the same handful of “star” commenters making the same brainless posts. Essentially, it’s one big circle jerk, and unless you’re ready to kiss some ass, you’re not invited.

              This is the second definition, the first is even less favorable.

              1. shoeboxjeddy says:

                Consider the source. Yes, the “recommended commenter” system has obvious problems. However, it’s not surprising they went with something more restricted to avoid looking like an IGN, Youtube, or Yahoo comment system. It’s also pretty funny to see “anything remotely critical would not be allowed.” We should all know what that means. It’s a euphemism for death threats, calling the writer a paid hack, calling the writer a (any of a variety of slurs), etc.

                And finally, yes Kotaku has expanded beyond purely video game topics. They also have a Kotaku Gaming link that ONLY posts gaming news, so anyone who only wants to see Gaming stuff but refuses to use that is… not worth listening to? To be clear, Kotaku posts loads of irrelevant/boring stuff but… so does everywhere? Stuff like their Mass Effect Andromeda post mortem are basically unmatched anywhere else in the gaming sphere though.

        2. Agammamon says:

          My problem with Kotaku (and I just don’t like Polygon at all) is that for every gaming post there’s 10 posts about some weird shit the Japanese are doing (Ashcroft, knock it off) or some dude’s review of his latest snack food.

          1. Nimrandir says:

            To avoid that, I don’t directly visit Kotaku all that often. Instead, I usually follow someone else’s link to the quality articles.

    2. groboclown says:

      My local game store has a similar personal feel to it (, although they specialize in used games and hardware.v The Atari 2600 section is a thing of beauty.

  2. Gargamel Le Noir says:

    What’s infuriating is that the same suits that drove their company to bankruptcy are now whining that they never had a chance because it’s so unfair that new technologies were created…

  3. Jabberwok says:

    “My dad took me there back in 2001 when he got us a PlayStation 2, and I have so many good memories of the games we got there. The guy who works behind the counter is really cool. He’s been there for years and he really knows his games. The lady who owns the place is nice and if you bring a machine in for servicing she won’t even charge you anything for silly little two-minute repair jobs.”

    We are talking about a nationwide chain, right? Chain locations are designed from the ground up to be disposable in just about every way I can think of. High turnover, low training, low pay, cookie cutter layout, policies set by a corporate office, etc. McDonald’s has no interest in forming an emotional attachment to any of its locations, and it doesn’t inspire investment in its employees either. That’s just an inherent feature of the business, imo.

    Maybe the difference between that and Apple is the lack of a single brand? Apple is selling more or less a single distinct product for which tech support is the face of the religion they’re building. Gamestop is just a third party vendor.

    1. Shamus says:

      It depends on the brand. In a chain where you’re competing only on price, it makes sense to hire sullen jerks or mumbling teenagers or whoever else will work for low wages. (I’m not saying everyone who works for low wages is unpleasant, but I am saying you end up with a lot of those people at the low end of the pay scale and employers offering those wages often don’t care.) But if you’re going for a “boutique” vibe then you work hard to make sure you’ve got staff with some class. (And yes, this does mean paying more.)

      Having “cool people” work at a chain isn’t as easy as an indie location, but it can happen. I know people who LOVE their Starbucks Barrista. I tend to zone out a bit and start programming in my head when my wife drags me into a clothing store, but I’m pretty sure some clothing chains have those friendly, outgoing, ultra-hip types. Jewelry chains likewise are super-picky about who they hire to sell their $3,000 rocks. They might be a franchise, but you won’t find a minimum wage highschooler behind the counter at Moses Jewelers.

      Back in ~2005, our GameStop actually had a super-cool dude with full-sleeve tattoos of various Nintendo stuff that was really something to see. Of course, the only time we exchanged words was when he asked me to preorder stuff like he was asking if I wanted a value meal. That’s another thing: Forcing your staff to robotically upsell everyone puts a huge damper on their rapport with the customers. There’s a huge case of diminishing returns on that sort of verbal selling, and the fact that GameStop pushed it so hard shows just how little they cared about customer experience. In Nintendo Guy hadn’t been obliged to fill our exchange with calls for preordering, game insurance, etc. then there would have been room to fill that space with real human interaction over a shared hobby.

      This goes right to the heart of my argument: GameStop should have acted like they were selling fine goods and not hamburgers.

      1. Karma The Alligator says:

        Depends on the store, obviously, but my local GameStop has really nice (and fairly knowledgeable about games and other things) employees. I don’t go there often (in fact, I hadn’t gone there in years), so it was a pleasant surprise.

        1. Nimrandir says:

          I’m in the same boat, and I’ve had the good fortune to have good GameStop experiences in two different cities. Where I lived before, I got into regular conversations with one employee about my various fighting game main characters. Heck, I’ve bought the sucker-bet protection plans to help out their metrics.

          I obviously recognize that these are anecdata, but I hate to think of those stores closing and leaving me to brave Wal-Mart’s pile of mess for my PS4 games.

      2. Crimson Dragoon says:

        It’s funny that you use the word “boutique” considering years ago they merged with EB Games (in America at least), aka Electronics “Boutique.” Clearly they didn’t pick up much from that.

        That said, I don’t know if going upscale would have been the right move for a company that sells mass entertainment products, but I have no doubt that friendlier, less corporate customer interaction would have done them loads of good.

        1. Shamus says:

          “That said, I don’t know if going upscale would have been the right move for a company that sells mass entertainment products,”

          Given the prices on games and consoles, it feels like that decision was made for them. But if they wanted to focus on savings rather than quality, then I think their prices on used goods needed to be much lower. As it stands, they had upscale prices with the shopping experience of a bargain-bin store, and that’s a bad combination.

          1. Hal says:

            I think if they’d really wanted to capitalize on that “specialized boutique” niche, they’d have done themselves a lot of favors by adopting a “try before you buy” model. Devote more floor space to display consoles. Let people spend a couple bucks to spend 15 minutes with a game, so they know that they’ll be happy plunking down $60 on it. It might have taken at least a little sting off of their pricing system.

            1. TouToTheHouYo says:

              Demo units and games aren’t under the retailers control. It’s up to the console manufacturer to provide the hardware and the game publisher to provide the software. GameStop couldn’t just put systems and games out for public consumption, free or otherwise, as it’d constitute a form of illicit redistribution, just like publicly screening a blueray copy of a film without the distributor’s legal consent.

              They’d have to negotiate contracts for more broad reaching public game demos and that’d be a hell of a sale to publishers. Remember, these are the same companies that vilified game rentals and the secondhand market, nearly killed game demos, and typically do everything in their power to get customers to purchase their products sight unseen before reviews and public opinion can sway them otherwise.

              I agree that the ability to play a game before purchase could be a potentially powerful marketing tool, just not one that most game publishers would be willing to use, and not one retailers could use on their own without risking legal retaliation. It’s a shame as the hobby has become even more insular than ever before with the death of arcades and prevalence of online multiplayer. It’d be nice to have more safe, clean, and well supplied public places to mutually indulge in gaming with other people.

              1. Veylon says:

                The Gamestop near me actually had demo displays that they’d open up and let you play a game of your choice on. That was back in the day when they still traded in NES cartridges, but it was a thing at one point.

      3. RFS-81 says:

        Having “cool people” work at a chain isn’t as easy as an indie location, but it can happen.

        Too bad indie games went completely digital and we didn’t ever get the “indie record stores but for games” that the scratchware manifesto wanted.

      4. Kdansky says:

        The upselling really hits home. I absolutely loathe to interact with anyone in cheap chain-stores where they try to upsell.

        But I will happily chat with the waiter at a normal restaurant or a cashier at a grocery store. It’s the same interaction, but because it’s not a robotic interaction where a rule forces the other person to be impolite to me (an upsell to make more money off me is _very_ impolite).

    2. Olivier FAURE says:

      It might depend on the chain. I know in France, McDonald’s has worked pretty hard on building and maintaining a friendly, “everybody welcome” image, and they’re by far the biggest fast food chain in France.

      1. Bloodsquirrel says:

        Yeah, you can even see it in the difference between a Taco Bell and a Rasing Caine’s or Chik-fil-a.

        1. Matt says:

          The atmosphere and customer service is better at a Chick-fil-A, sure, but the product is also widely considered superior as well. When you can compete on quality, you can raise the price enough to also compete on extras. IMO, when you’re selling the exact same product, you must compete on price and (if you have a great business model or some other advantage) you might be able to squeeze out a little extra for nice-to-haves.

        2. Joshua says:

          Chik-fil-a immediately came to mind for me too. It’s been a rare occurrence that I’ve experienced anything other than an enthusiastic employee at that chain, and their uniforms are almost always cleaner than your Taco Bell example or something similar. And they’re not the only ones who keep a higher standard of service.

      2. Gargamel Le Noir says:

        Well at noon or in the evening most Mc Donald’s here in France are just your average fast food place because it’s so busy, but in the morning they’re often basically neighborhood cafés, with usual customers (a lot of them elderly), it’s quite something to see.

    3. Ilseroth says:

      While I agree that is the common styling of a franchise business like Gamestop it doesn’t need to be. I’ve seen this argument thrown out dozens of times when talking about so many different things. Just because there are features implicit to something, it doesn’t mean they are intrinsic to them.

      In this case, he’s positing that if Gamestop had been agile and focused more on quality customer service, providing services that you simply can’t get at Walmart or buying off Amazon. Repairing game electronics at reasonable prices, providing a place where you maybe can even check out some new releases free of charge, not sit in the store for hours playing, but somewhere you can engage with your chosen entertainment medium and discuss it with people interested in it.

      It’s about transitioning it from being a passive purchasing experience to something engaging and memorable, and hiring staff competent enough to recognize when a customer just wants to get in and get out, versus a customer who wants the full experience.

      1. Jabberwok says:

        Yeah, I don’t disagree. I don’t think it was _impossible_ for Gamestop to act differently. Just unlikely given my experience with mass market retail, both as a customer and as an employee. And he did mention that they shouldn’t have prioritized short term gains, but we’ve gone over numerous examples on this site of the game industry prioritizing short term gains. Mostly because that’s just how the system works.

        And while they could certainly have done better, a store having an experienced knowledgeable clerk who’s “been there for years” and an owner who happens to be nice are the results of a very local confluence. I worked in a Radio Shack when I was much younger, and the culture of our store had little to do with the company’s supposed policies, and everything to do with the crappy neighborhood the store was located in. Corporate policy may be able to encourage certain behaviors, but the results will vary wildly just as with all chains. Paying people more might help. Then again, it might reduce quarterly profit margins, so is it worth it for the people in charge?

        Apple, on the other hand, has cultivated an image of expensive designer products, and caters to certain clientele expectations as a result. For instance, no customer at the Radio Shack I worked at ever had a credit score high enough to qualify for an iphone contract…

    4. Joshua says:

      There are absolutely chains that instill values of customer relations in their employees. It’s all about corporate culture and how it trickles down, and how regional management encourages/enforces store management to maintain this image. Some chains don’t care if their employees are borderline apathetic to their customers, and others strongly encourage friendliness in their employees in addition to basic courtesy.

    5. Syal says:

      If only Gamestop had service like McDonalds. The last time I bought a game there (for $5) they spent five minutes trying to sell me a magazine subscription (for $15). I’ve never been to a McDonald’s that delayed a sale to try to upsell me on a hamburger.

      1. Joe Informatico says:

        They’ve never asked if you wanted to supersize your combo, or try their latest pastry concoction?

        1. Syal says:

          McDonalds asked once, with the same emphasis as “for here or to go”, and took no for an answer. At Gamestop I said I didn’t want the magazine, and they wouldn’t ring up the game until they were done with their magazine pitch.

  4. John says:

    I once bought a jewel-case edition–remember those?–of Galactic Civilization II and suddenly, through no fault of my own, found that I had an Impulse account. I’m not sure that I knew what Impulse was for at the time. I mean, I probably knew that it was a digital games store, but I had no idea what they might have for sale or even how to use the darned thing. I never took the time to figure it out either. My gaming budget was extremely small in those days and I’d just purchased the one Stardock game that interested me. I guess I didn’t see the point.

    Not too long after that, I heard somewhere that GameStop had purchased Impulse from Stardock. The interesting thing about that is that I never heard about it from either Impulse proper or from GameStop. I know that they had my e-mail address. I still get occasional e-mails from Stardock. So as far as I can tell, GameStop made zero effort to promote Impulse. I have to wonder if it was the result of some sort of intra-company feud, where the anti-Impulse faction, worried that Impulse would cannibalize existing sales or perhaps merely jealous that they didn’t control the project, managed to starve Impulse of resources until it died.

    1. RCN says:

      As someone who actually used Impulse I’m still angry at Gamestop for basically sabotaging it. It felt more like Gamestop tried to purchase the closest digital competitor it could just to destroy it from the inside but couldn’t afford Steam.

      The main thing Impulse had over Steam? It allowed you to burn your games into your own disks and have the installers there. Also allowed you to play offline (which Steam didn’t at the time). Steam was a “games as license” since inception, Impulse was the only one on the team of “games are a product, you do what you want after buying it” before GOG got in town. Also it allowed you to have the same account online on several machines (Steam took a long time to allow that), so you could, with a single game license, play online or LAN in several machines.

      I had several titles on Impulse as well. Supreme Commander, Elven Legacy, several adventurers, Total Annihilation, Galactic Civilizations 2 and Demigod (a very curious MOBA that tried to have more varied gameplay and allowed you to do more with fewer characters).

  5. Echo Tango says:

    From the Escapist article:

    20 years ago, I was the ideal GameStop customer. I stopped in often and I was always looking for something new. I liked having boxed copies of games. I liked filling up bookshelves with games. I hated Steam

    Steam’s only existed for 15 years. ^^;

    1. Shamus says:

      Yeah, several people pointed that out on the Escapist. I thought it was obvious from context that I was talking about a period of history, but some people see it as “exactly 20 years ago”.

      It’s like saying “a month ago”. Does that mean “Exactly 30 days ago” or “sometime in the previous month”?

      1. Karma The Alligator says:

        I’d say “exactly 30 days ago”. If it’s “sometimes in the previous month”, then using “last month” would be better (then again, English isn’t my first language, so maybe I’m wrong).

      2. Decius says:

        Does “three weeks ago” mean “only within the last 15 days”?

        1. Shamus says:

          “Three weeks ago I was on a bit of a movie bender. I watched tons of superhero movies. I watched Alita Battle Angel.”

          Would you feel the need to point out that Alita only came out last week, or would you be able to intuit that they’re talking about a period of time? Or do you need them to clutter up their anecdote with timestamps?

          I admit this one is a little grey, and I could have saved myself some hassle by using “about 20 years” but for me it really does read fine as-is.

          1. Joshua says:

            Sorry, would interpret this statement as your timeline being wrong again as well, as it’s jarring to the reader.

          2. Geebs says:

            I think if you’d said “(0, 20] years” you would have been fine, if we’re assuming that everybody else is also rounding to the nearest ten years*.

            * actually, I think I’ve found the problem. Us middle-aged people tend to round to the nearest decade, while to young’uns individual days are still considered a significant interval.

          3. Kathryn says:

            This is interesting. I would say “For the last few weeks” in this case. I think that to me, giving a specific time like “X years/days/weeks ago” really does sound limited in scope. If someone says, “Twenty years ago”, I would expect them to be talking about 1999, possibly give or take a year or two depending on what they’re talking about (“Twenty years ago I got married” – I would interpret that to mean 1999 or MAYBE late 1998. “Twenty years ago I had a couple of toddlers” – clearly describing a fuzzier time period as you could have “a couple of toddlers” for four years or more). I would not expect something from 2004 to be included in that statement. Whereas “A decade or two ago” to me implies a fuzzier time period.

            Similarly, “A month ago” to me implies January 20th, plus or minus a day or two. I would not expect either January 1st or February 1st to be described as “a month ago”.

            That being said, I don’t think it’s *wrong*, and I wouldn’t have nitpicked it myself (I don’t know when Steam came out anyway). Just interesting to see the different perspective.

          4. decius says:

            A month ago I was reading a blog. I saw across this comment and it struck me as someone who didn’t understand that setting the time at the start of the paragraph is understood to set the time for the entire paragraph unless otherwise stated. I made this comment.

            Or, to be less rhetorical: You described a list of things that happened and a thing that was true. The first one is specified to have happened 20 years ago. One of them did not happen 20 years ago. The time period of the other things is unspecified. When did you like having boxed copies of games? 20 years ago? Ten minutes ago? Sometime between 20 years ago and when you stopped hating Steam?

            The problem is that the clear purpose of setting the time period is to say that many things were true at that time (and with the presumption that those things are less true now).

      3. Retsam says:

        (I also found 20 years ago a tiny bit distracting, FWIW. Not “wrong”, but a bit distracting to this reader, at least)

        Mostly I think it’s the specificity of the measurement that makes it feel like an exact statement, not a general descriptor of time. 20 years ago feels more specific than 2 decades ago, because “years” is more specific than “decades”. Anything between 15-25 years ago would round to “two decades”, but only something between 19-21 years would round to “twenty years”. Same with “a month ago” (“between two and six weeks ago”) vs. “30 days ago” (between 29.5 and 30.5 days ago)

        Also, oddly, numerals feel more specific than text to me. “Twenty years ago” feels less exact than “20 years ago”, but I’m not sure if that’s a common connotation, or just a personal quirk.

        … you probably would still have gotten pedantic comments about “two decades ago”, because making pedantic comments is a sport on the internet, not just a hobby, but fewer (not less!), I imagine.

        1. Joshua says:

          I think you could get away with saying 20 years instead of an actual 19 years, but in this instance there was a bit too much rounding. It looks like Steam came out in late 2003 (so over 15 years ago), but I personally didn’t have any knowledge of it until I was forced to use it to play Half-Life 2, which is just over 14 years ago.

          I think using the specificity of numbers like you said tends to put people in the mindset of where they were in life at that time, and being too far off from their experiences of that time leads to a disconnect.

        2. Joe Informatico says:

          Yeah, this basically.

          Also–and this is my personal pedantry at work here, not any sort of objective grammatical rule–but I had to conform to style guides many years ago that said to never start sentences with numerals: always write out the number in words if it’s the first word in a sentence. So starting a sentence with a numeral always looks weird to me anyways.

        3. decius says:

          I bet that many of the comments addressing Steam being newer than ‘two decades’ old would have a lower degree pf pedantry than the comments about it being newer than ’20 years’ old.

          In addition to there being fewer pedantic comments, there would be generally less pedantic comments.

      4. Cilvre says:

        honestly i think it’d be less of an argument if you used a larger item to describe it, like “2 decades ago”. No one would question the exact time then.

      5. krellen says:

        I’m with Shamus. I neither know nor care how old Steam is, him saying “20 years ago” is not a specific measure of time. He could just as easily been saying “in my 20s” as far as I’m concerned.

  6. Echo Tango says:

    I agree with most of your assertions, but I don’t think any kind of repair shop can exist for consoles, at least not for the decades leading up to now. Consoles have been completely closed off, proprietary machines for a long time. Given how much space spare parts would take up, for any number of consoles (or generations of consoles) that you care about, I don’t think it would make sense compared to just having more shelf space for games. There are repair shops, but they’re for products that have some kind of advantage: PCs use off-the-shelf components for everything; mobile phones are physically smaller, so you can fit more parts in your shop; vehicles have larger prices, so you can charge more for repairs. The latest generation of consoles is finally basically using PC parts, so nowadays you could probably make a business case for repairing them.

    1. Decius says:

      There are unaffiliated repair shops for Apple computers.

      1. shoeboxjeddy says:

        But Apple has shifted to attempting to brick the products when you use those.

        1. Mousazz says:

          And, thankfully, there’s been a significant backlash against this predatory practice that it’s spurring the right to repair movement.

          Also, on that topic, let me shamelessly promote a Youtuber I’ve been watching lately – Louis Rossmann. He works as an unlicensed Apple computer repair man, and constantly posts videos of him repairing Apple products on Youtube.

      2. Echo Tango says:

        Apple products are also more expensive, so you can make an easier business case for spending the time, effort, and floor-space, on repairing them.

  7. Matt says:

    Possible example or counterpoint: comics & geek/tabletop game/MTG stores. Many of these popped up in my area in the late 80s & early 90s. New tech has replaced some of their business model directly (digital comics distribution) and indirectly (the increasing popularity of video games) and there was, of course, the big comics crash. They also started facing competition from big box book stores & online retailers. At the same time, tabletop games have had something of a Renaissance with Euro games and it seems like geek-dom has become a fad. Unlike video games, these stores DID pursue a model of local expertise, a chance to discuss games with fellow enthusiasts, and even a place to play new games.

    It hasn’t appeared to work out well for them. Except for two venerable holdouts, all the rest of the stores have closed. The remaining stores do reasonable business, but depend entirely on the awkward & socially inept nerds that drive away young kids and normal folks (the people they need to grow their business). Prices are very high even as variety of inventory has gone down – it’s hard to find niche RPGs and it can take weeks to get an order. I get the feeling that these stores are also inevitably doomed and remain open because they make enough to scrape by and the owners are passionate geeks.

    Sure, the video game & comics/RPG/geek businesses are different, and it could all be down to mismanagement by the local owners (although I would argue that decreasing corporate control allows for a greater chance of poor decision making by local managers). However, it seems to me that even if Gamestop had pursued Shamus’ suggestions, they’d still be struggling and near-death.

    1. Matthew Downie says:

      The comic & tabletop game shops in my area seem to be doing fine, even though pretty much everything they sell is cheaper on Amazon. It seems like they’ve managed to achieve the “fun place to visit” vibe.

      1. Daimbert says:

        Yeah, part of this might be location. Here in Canada, as far as I can tell EB Games is still doing well, as are smaller board game stores and the like.

      2. Hal says:

        My general impression is that MTG is the primary vehicle that keeps the stores open. In particular the constant presence of organized play events.

        Not that this is a bad thing. But these stores seem to hinge on the strength of the communities they cultivate. That’s not an easy place to exist, especially when these communities are infamous for attracting toxic people, too.

      3. Joshua says:

        I’ll try to buy from them when I can, but the pricing differences can be huge. Buying one of the D&D 5E books is $30 on Amazon, but $50 at the local bookstore. I’ll tend to buy some of the smaller things where the difference isn’t so stark.

      4. decius says:

        Hasbro/Wizards did a huge blow to retailers by selling M:TG cards direct on Amazon for well less than the MSRP, down near or below the wholesale price that stores were paying (after subtracting Amazon’s take).

    2. Kylroy says:

      “…depend entirely on the awkward & socially inept nerds that drive away young kids and normal folks…”

      Wizards of the Coast has been working very hard to break Magic: The Gathering out from this crowd for the past 5 or so years. The game nearly went bankrupt a decade ago when it was catering primarily to heavily competitive players, and the old guard are reacting poorly to the M:tG world no longer revolving around them.

      1. Matt says:

        Tabletop RPGs have similarly been attempting to shed the “neckbeard” image – see Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder, for example. The old guard has also reacted poorly.

        1. Kylroy says:

          I think Tabletop RPGs have the advantage that you just need a group of 4-6 people to run one, whereas MtG depends on a large community of players for trading, tournaments, and similar. Also, it’s a fundamentally cooperative activity versus a fundamentally competitive one. I’ve known several gaming stores that had open and approachable tabletop groups that also had very, VERY insular MtG scenes.

    3. shoeboxjeddy says:

      The problem with board gaming/card/figure stores goes to their absolutely deserved image of gross teenage boy havens. To be successful, they need a wide variety of customers willing to buy overpriced novelty items. But then they pack the store with gross merchandise (like statues of horribly mutilated zombies or hentai related figures or whatever) and employees who treat their female potential consumers like a used car dealer would (aka, like shit). This chases away a lot of the out group families and women who might be interested in buying a Magic starter pack or Pokemon plushie there otherwise. Smart stores obviously can be run differently on an individual basis, but they are still suffering from the reputation of the ones who AREN’T smart. The last time I went to a store like this to make a purchase (a new set of dice for D&D) the vibe was all wrong. I was in the fanbase for all these products but the feeling I got from the staff on duty is that my presence was tolerated at best, a minor nuisance if they were being honest. That is INSANE.

      1. Geebs says:

        Counterpoint: if you go into a guitar shop and the staff don’t obviously despise you on sight, then you’re probably going to find that none of the instruments have been set up properly.

        1. shoeboxjeddy says:

          Learning and then playing the guitar has a ~questionably~ deserved reputation for being cool. So there being a cool/aloof vibe in a guitar store makes some sense. Buying Magic cards and books with D&D info in them is just like… retail 101.

      2. Matt says:

        I agree with how you frame the issue, but I’m pessimistic that casual and “core” fans can both be served by the same store. Many nerd hobbies appear to be undergoing gentrification that may increase the value of some brands and broaden their appeal, but destroy their character and authenticity.

        1. Kylroy says:

          Having dealt with a lot of the “character and authenticity” of nerd hobbies, I wholeheartedly welcome our new gentrifying overlords. And I say this as a straight white male- I can only imagine how people who don’t check those three boxes feel.

  8. Joshua says:

    Not sure if you can edit the article once it’s posted, but saying “20 years ago, ….. I hated Steam and wanted nothing to do with it.” raises a little eyebrows since Steam’s only 15 years old. I saw at least one post pointing how prescient you were in the 90’s.

  9. steve? says:

    I’m a bit surprised that you didn’t directly draw a comparison to independent bookstores. Most of the arguments you make for a well-run gaming store match the local bookstore business plan. The books probably cost a bit more than Amazon, but you have a positive shopping experience, knowledgable staff, and the opportunity to learn about books you might never have heard of otherwise.

    For a Gamestop though, perhaps the comparison for better management would be something like Barnes and Noble. Certainly they aren’t in great financial shape due to competition with Amazon (and independent bookstores), but I have only positive memories of going there growing up and feel like the vibe is positive (if generic). Even granting their current predicament, I wouldn’t imagine that they’d be better off if they went in a used bookstore direction plus agressive upselling.

    1. Matthew Downie says:

      I’ve never wanted to learn about books from a book-shop employee. I’d rather read professional book reviews, or talk to someone I know has similar tastes to me.

      1. Daimbert says:

        Well, just recently I was looking to get a few classics for a classic reading run as the store I was in had a sale on, and I asked the salesperson for recommendations on Jane Austen books. I didn’t want to wait for a recommendation, and she at least seemed knowledgeable enough to give good advice. If that’s the general impression I have of the people in a bookstore, then when I’m looking idly for things I am more likely to simply ask them for recommendations, and/or trust the recommended works that those stores always have. It works well, then, for cases like the ones Shamus was talking about: you’re idly browsing and see sales and the like and want to know what’s good.

    2. SkySC says:

      I was thinking about bookstores too. The independent bookstore was declared dead by the year 2000 (at least in the US), but they’ve made a huge comeback since then, largely by selling an environment and a community rather than just merchandise. It was major chains like Barnes and Noble and Borders that drove most bookstores out of business, and now ebooks and online shopping are in turn killing the chain stores.

      Sometimes I wonder if that’s related. Now it’s so cheap and easy to buy books that bookstores with physical locations cannot compete selling books as a commodity, but there’s room in the market for stores that sell themselves on service and atmosphere. If you’re going to a bookstore, it’s not just because you want books, it’s because you want the feel of being in a bookstore. Maybe the big chains are not able to provide that as well as the independent stores; their previously winning strategy of prioritizing price and convenience is now a liability.

      If the gaming situation is analogous, then I expect Gamestop to continue to fail, and maybe more independent stores will open up to capture some of the market, though the culture of gaming stores is not as deeply ingrained or as widespread as the culture of bookstores. However, I think Gamestop is in even worse shape than B&N. B&N is competing with Amazon and independent stores. Gamestop has those as well, but also competes directly with console manufacturers, game publishers, and many other online distribution services. Many people prefer reading physical books, and some completely refuse to buy ebooks, but with gaming you get the same end product whether you download it or purchase a physical copy. Plus, I don’t think Gamestop ever achieved anything close to the same levels of customer satisfaction and engagement. If even B&N is dying, Gamestop is completely doomed.

      1. Matthew Downie says:

        Given that everything is cheaper on the internet, any retail store now needs to justify its existence, for example by becoming some kind of community hub:
        “We sell tabletop games and host Magic the Gathering tournaments and D&D games.”
        “We sell books and you can sit around reading the books and drinking coffee and we have book group meetings.”
        “We sell consoles and you can try any game you want. It’s like visiting an amusement arcade!”

      2. Gautsu says:

        Wow a conversation almost suited to me. I worked at a Barnes and Noble for about 9 years total, with a 10ish year break in the middle to serve in the military. When I first started working there in 2000, they were privately owned by a single family. They also had purchased Gamestop, which lead to juggling discounts since my brother worked for Electronics Boutique at the time. Within a few years Gamestop had purchased EB as well.

        When I first worked for the company B+N was ranked within the top 10 companies to work for within the country. It was a place like a lot of people seem to remember the store being, with the couches for reading, the cafes, and the knowledgeable staff. I worked in the cafe/Starbucks licensed clone, but the emphasis was on customer service. Flash forward to 2008~2009.

        I had finished my active military time and now needed a primary job while I went back to college and served out the remainder of my time with the national guard. I applied back at the B+N I had worked for before and got hired right away (they wanted me to start while I was still in the store). I worked there for 5 more years, moving up to manage the cafe with 6 months, but this place had changed. While I had been in the military the Barnes and Noble group had gone public as a corporation. The stores no longer wanted customer’s to stay there and breed loyalty. Now it was typical retail values: how fast can we process through as many customers as possible. Customer service as a virtue was replaced by a need to upsell every single customer on every single fucking item they wanted in a cafe. Size of drink, additional food items, books, eventually they wanted us to sell the Nook from the cafe. Who wants to go in to a store for a $2 coffee to be upsold a fucking (at the time) $300 shitty Kindle knock-off? Corporate didn’t care. The same year that I as a manager had to go tell all of my employee’s that: A) no one other than managers were going to be full time employee’s anymore and that
        B) all part time employee’s were losing there all of their benefits, the CEO took a lower wage of $300,000, down from $350,000. Then he paid himself a $15 million dollar bonus.

        When I started my tenure as a manager my budgetary goal was just about $1 million a year and I was given 320 work hours a week for payroll. When I ended my budgetary goal was $1.4 million and I had 120 hours a week to staff the same amount of store hours. Things like this affected Game stop as well until Barnes and Noble divested themselves of Game stop in an attempt to gain cash to develop and market the Nook. It was under this leadership group that also saw the whole pivot from video game store to pre-order pawnshop happen.

        There are a few still open in the area I live, but it has become a vicious cycle like much of retail. Conditions are so shitty that no one wants to work or stay at one, which doesn’t allow a culture to develop any sort or buy in from the employees. I think the stores in my area all share a single manager now who had to drive between 5 stores up to 40 miles apart every day.

        I had had mixed deals with the whole trade in thing: I bought my xbox 360, and extra controller, 6 games, and 2 PC games for free when I traded in my NES to Dreamcast back stuff that was getting to be a pain in the ass to ship e very time the army moved me. A couple of years later trading in my xbox 360 and game library barely made a dent in the xbox one price tag. The straw the shattered my every purchasing anything again from them was when they tried to take down my employer’s information during a trade in. “We’re going to call your employer if we find out that these games you are trading in were stolen a d let them know”. Fuck you and the horse you rode in on Game stop. I realize that retail scams account for billions of dollars a year in loss, but you are going to threaten me and my livelihood after fucking me over a barrel with your price gouging? If I had bought a copy of Duke Nukem Forever I would sit on it till it gave me a hernia over ever trading something in again in your stores.

  10. Hal says:

    It was a major point in the article, but it really can’t be over-emphasized just how much GameStop hurt themselves with their pricing schemes. One could (begrudgingly) forgive the rock-bottom trade-in prices, were it not for the incredible mark-up on trade-in goods. And not even just the weirdness of new and used copies of a game sitting side-by-side with a $3 price difference; games remained at release-day prices long after other retailers had dropped their prices. It wasn’t much of an incentive to come in and buy games that were a console generation removed and still almost as expensive as their sequels.

    Worse, the older you went for games, the worse the selection would be. I think GameStop could really have made an impact if it would have focused at all on resale of the older consoles and games; there’s definitely a market for buying those things. That just wasn’t really an option when you want to put a store in every strip mall and floor space is scarce.

    1. Boobah says:

      I think GameStop could really have made an impact if it would have focused at all on resale of the older consoles and games; there’s definitely a market for buying those things. That just wasn’t really an option when you want to put a store in every strip mall and floor space is scarce.

      The irony here is that, like Impulse, GameStop bought out at least one company that did exactly this: FuncoLand. Admittedly, they didn’t cover anything pre-crash, but they printed a monthly catalog/flyer that told you what they were buying and selling and for how much. Right next to each other so it was easy to see the markup.

      All Funco did was buy and sell used games, so they didn’t worry about cannibalizing new-game customers; or rather, they did but that was the point.

  11. Adamantyr says:

    The only thing I’ve bought recently at GameStop were Funko pops. Oh and Spider-Man for my GF’s daughter.

    A number of “retro” video game stores have been opening in my area of late. One is called “Game Over” and has a couple locations around the Seattle area. The other is “Another Castle” which just opened a branch in my home town. The used prices are pretty decent too, MUCH better than GameStop ever was. They even have classic arcade video games and pinball machines.

    All of them are pretty cool for an old-school gamer like me. I’ve picked up classic NES and SNES games, a Retro 3 console, and I even have found some TI-99/4a cartridges at one of them. They seem to do good business too. It’s possible they will fill the void that GameStop leaves behind.

  12. 0451fan0451 says:

    But people don’t buy physical goods in physical stores anymore right? Amazon is killing best buy. Gamestop basically had a high risk for cancer, but continued to smoke anyways.

    1. Hector says:

      They will often buy in stores if they can, and if there’s a reason to bother. If physical stores don’t want to stock what people will buy, or have prices much higher than online, then no. Many stores just didn’t get this, and squandered their advantages under the mistaken belief that customers had to buy from them.

  13. GoStu says:

    I used to trade in games at Gamestop, but it always felt awful. You’d cart in your handful of used games, pass the shelves full of similar copies, and see exactly what they were going to sell your used game for… and then they’d offer you a pittance for it. It was such an overt and offensive ripoff that I’d rather just let my old games gather dust on the off-chance I decide to pick one up again.

    Not saying that this alone would have fixed the business, but imagine if the trade-ins happened at a separate counter at the very front of the store, where the person behind the counter tries to flag you down immediately if you enter the store carrying something that looks like a trade-in. They take your games/hardware and hand you some cash. They chat you up during the process, talk games with you, etc. Now you’re happy with some money in your hands and some recommendations for what to spend it on.

    Play with the store layouts so that they route customers first past the trade-in station, then through new releases, then past hardware, then finally to the check-out and the other ancillary crap they sell. Take the used games off the retail floor. You don’t want customers seeing the exact price for the game they just sold you! Keep the discs and such in a dense library behind a counter (most of them were there already anyway). Provide them on request. Yes, this might reduce sales of the second-hand games a bit at first… but you’re paying so little to get them that they’re almost a loss-leader just to bring people into the store. Play around with the pricing as you will, if you’re overstocked put a sale on the used games, etc, but keep them off the shelf.

    Some more intelligent use of shelf space helps too. Now that you’re not cluttering the store with duplicates of the same product at marginally different prices, you can either (A) display a larger variety of products in the same space or (B) save overhead costs by getting a smaller store. Your choice.

    I haven’t even changed the core business or dicked with pricing much but I think I’ve made a more enjoyable Gamestop.

    1. shoeboxjeddy says:

      Used games are the profit center of Gamestop. New games are the loss leader (they sell at $60 but have to pay as much as $55 to the game companies to get them. Not an exaggeration at all). You ABSOLUTELY CANNOT do anything to harm the sales of used games, that is literally slitting their own throat. And people still trade-in despite how it is clearly and upfront a ripoff, so you are trying to help people “feel” better about information that would still be readily available with 10 seconds of looking at the possible cost of… the entire source of revenue for the store? I think that it would have been good to do a bit of research on game retail before offering advice on how to do it. I don’t want to sound mean, but this is seriously fatal advice you are giving here.

  14. RFS-81 says:

    After typing this up, I realized it’s just a rambling collection of vaguely Gamestop-related anecdotes. I guess the tl;dr is that Gamestop-like stores used to be cool and aren’t anymore.

    A little over ten years ago, a classmate was talking about how great Might & Magic 6 was. A little later, I happened to find it in the bargain bin at a Gamestop-like shop in Germany. I don’t remember the name, but it was bought or replaced by Gamestop. EB Games, maybe? Something tells me stuff like this is not going to happen again. (By the way, the game was really good, garbage German translation and voice acting aside. Why would you say “Not enough gold” when you spring a trapped chest?)

    In the Netherlands, there seem to be no Gamestops, but there’s a chain called Game Mania that fills its role. When I got a 3DS, it was a good source for older DS games. I got Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin, for example.

    The last time I went to a Gamestop (in Germany) it was because they had Steam controllers at a discount. I picked up a 3DS game too, and they indeed tried to sell me some silly insurance. (“What if you wash your trousers with it in the pocket?!”)

    Another thing: Gamestops seem to be filled to the brim with merch. Like it’s not a place where you buy your games but where you buy your Video Game Nerd identity.

    1. Ander says:

      “What if you wash your trousers with it in the pocket?!”
      I did that to a GBA cartridge once upon a time. Thing worked fine :)

      1. RFS-81 says:

        I could sort of see that happen to me with a Gameboy cartridge. But the DS and Switch cards are just so damn tiny that I fear they disappear if I store them anywhere outside the console or their box.

        Amazing that it still worked. The old Nintendo stuff must be really sturdy. My GBA SP is still working fine, just the battery pack is getting a bit weak and I couldn’t find a replacement. Not to mention, there are tons of working NES still around. I wonder how many working 3DS there will be in 20 years.

        1. tmtvl says:

          You could drop an NES from the second story window straight on the pavement, dust it off, and it’d work fine. Back in the day things were made to last.

          1. Nimrandir says:

            Are we talking about one of the front-loaders or one of the top-loaders? Every one of the former I’ve encountered had the ‘pop-in’ tray lose its ability to connect the cartridge correctly.

  15. Kylroy says:

    Gotta drop this prophecy from 2007 here:

    They call out digital distribution, but primarily focus on the Gamestop’s pivot to pawn shop.

  16. RFS-81 says:

    Have the console manufacturers ever tried killing the second-hand market? I mean, even if you buy a boxed PC game, it’ll still be tied to your Steam account and you only save some download time (at best). No reason you couldn’t do the same thing on consoles.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Please don’t encourage anti-customer practices. ^^;

    2. MechaCrash says:

      Microsoft tried doing that with the XBox One. It went very poorly.

  17. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

    A point that should be more appreciated in these retrospectives is that GameStop has a history of contracts it has to work out, too. I don’t know what they are, but the very fact that GameStop has real estate means that “buy an online distributor and switch to competing with Steam” is automatically a non-starter. They have rental agreements on those stores, they are long term, fixed price, and extremely difficult to break. I’d bet they have franchise agreements with the owners of those stores. Those agreements are long term, fixed price, and extremely difficult to break. I have heard that they also had supply agreements with AAA game companies that are -again, long term, fixed price, and extremely difficult to break.

    All of those decisions would have made perfect sense 20 years ago. Lock in low rents in malls and shopping centers -expensive real estate -when you can, gain the stability of a steady supply of games and retailers.

    Then online retailing came in and it turned out those low rents were low enough.

    This is also why Blockbuster buying Netflix wouldn’t have mattered. They would not have been able to break their franchise and lease agreements unless they went bankrupt, at which point they would have had to liquidate Netflix anyway. All they would have done is attach a money-losing proposition to a money-gaining one. It would have done nothing to fix the problem Blockbuster had -just given it more money to lose.

    Shorter version: GameStop has a serious case of Sears/K-Mart disease. All of the problems identified in the column likely spring from that source.

    1. Nimrandir says:

      According to an FAQ I saw on the GameStop website, they don’t do franchising. As far as I can tell, your other points are still valid, though.

  18. Dreadjaws says:

    Apple has built customer loyalty so strong that people will leave their house and stand in line for a chance to buy $800 phones when you can get a phone with 90% of the features for a tenth of the price. It’s hard to create and maintain, but customer loyalty is a powerful force.

    Another point against the Epic Store.

    Anyway, we have a few Gamestops in my country. I never purchased anything on them. Their prices are ridiculous, even for my country’s standards. In fact, every time I pass by one of those stores, they’re empty. Their shelves are full, but there’s no people buying from them. Occasionally someone will be glancing at the store windows to see if there’s anything new to notice, but if they’re interested in something they surely don’t go in to purchase it.

    The end of GameStop was hastened by its own foolishness, lack of foresight, and grasping economic model built on bilking customers when it came to selling and buying used products. The company was reviled by both customers and suppliers, didn’t offer anything its competition couldn’t, and spurned the one thing that might have saved it.

    I like to point out to this sort of thing when people insist that companies “know what they’re doing” and “don’t make these kinds of mistakes”. In fact, this goes back to the previous point of yours I quoted. Customer loyalty is the reason for why companies that make all these awful decisions take so long to die. That’s why Gamestop took so long, and why EA does too. At some point they were good or convenient enough to garner a large fanbase and make themselves a name, so they survive on that alone. Once that pool is depleted, though, things will get ugly.

  19. Stuart Worthington says:

    Is it bad that I work at Gamestop and didn’t even know we were in such dire straits until reading this?

    Anyway, maybe I got lucky, but I’ve been a part of the company for two years now and I like it. Sad to see so many horror stories from people here in the comments. (Totally understandable, though.) I wonder where things will go from here.

  20. Jason says:

    I had a preorder for the PS2, and the day it came out, I went to Gamestop to pick it up. They had sold out. Apparently preorders did not guarantee purchase. I cancelled it immediately.
    Eventually bought a PS2 from somewhere else (don’t remember where). I’ve never tried to sell anything back, since I’m a bit of a hoarder. I have all of my old consoles in boxes in the garage. But I don’t think I’ve bought anything from Gamestop since then either.

    1. Nimrandir says:

      Yeah . . . pre-orders for hardware can be really dicey. I’ve never been an early adopter, but I know scarcity is often a problem when new consoles launch. I’m honestly not sure how anyone could handle that particular issue.

  21. ccesarano says:

    I wish I had enough time to read 90 comments in the hopes of not repeating anything. I imagine there’s a lot of people that worked at GameStop with similar stories to mine.

    I was in high school when I was hired. They were still owned by Barnes & Nobles, and my first day they were replacing the old “Funcoland” sign with the shiny new “GameStop” sign. It would be a while until the “Software Etc.” in the mall swapped signs. When I worked there, I was honest about my opinions on games and what I liked, and when regular customers came in with questions each employee would let them know who was playing what. Soon enough employees learned my tastes, and a lot of them would ask for my thoughts or even make recommendations.

    One day the District Manager was in the shop. A kid approached the counter with Daikatana 64 for 99 cents. “Are you buying this as a joke?” I asked. “Nah, man, it just looks cool and is cheap,” he said. I proceeded to explain the game’s reputation, and that if he wanted to buy it for a laugh that’s fine, but if he wants a GOOD game he should grab something else. He did just that, purchasing a $5 game instead. When he left, the District Manager lectured me. You never give advice to the customer unless they ask for it. My retort was that not only did we sell a game that made more money, but that customer is going to trust me next time. She didn’t care. We sell a product regardless.

    Years later I graduated College and was unemployed, so I applied to a nearby GameStop. During the interview process, the manager asked me to give an illustration of when I helped customers in the past. I noted times we’d have parents looking to buy Halo for GameCube for their kid because they didn’t understand exclusivity. So I explained Halo being exclusive to Xbox and then made recommendations of similar titles for the GameCube. “That’s nice,” the manager said, “but what you should have asked them is if they’d be interested in purchasing an Xbox.”

    What parent is going to come in looking to spend $50 and then just waltz right on out spending $200 or more?! I wish I had said that. The interview ended, and my friend that gave me a ride was abandoning a sale. He wanted to buy a game, but the cashier was asking if he wanted so many magazine subscriptions and warranties it sounded like he was begging to get laid. My friend changed his mind and we left. At that point GameStop was independent and owned Electronics Boutique.

    I’m sad at the state of GameStop, because I love having that local “watering hole” where you know other people there. More than ever I could use that in my life now. But the management of GameStop has just not fostered that kind of customer service, and you can find stories of a lot of employees or managers that had successful, profitable stores with a loyal fanbase, but one secret shopper from corporate comes in and doesn’t like something and the managers or employees get fired. Next thing you know that GameStop is doing awful business.

    GameStop is the EA of games retailers. If only GameCrazy didn’t take on all of Hollywood Video’s debt and went independent. Just about every former co-worker I had at GameStop ended up working a GameCrazy store, and everyone loved it so much better… including the customers.

  22. Galenloke says:

    My wife is a GameStop assistant manager and even among the employees their trade-in prices are a joke. This was driven home for me when I saw that a used wii-mote costs as much as the wii itself (about $30).

    One thing I haven’t seen mentioned is the sheer number of GameStop stores still open, there’s 4 in a 10-mile radius of me. They are indeed starting to fail, but it’s entirely possible they could reach an equilibrium once they shut down the excess stores. Meanwhile they’ve started stocking trading cards (including mtg) and a ton of Funko pops, t-shirts, and other paraphernalia. It looks (to her anyway) like they’re trying to become Hot Topic with video game pre-orders at this point.

    1. Boobah says:

      Egad, yes. When GameStop bought Funco and EB Games we ended up with three GameStops within a mile… two of those locations at either end of the same mall. Eventually one of the mall locations moved into a place in a new superstore’s parking lot… which was still within a mile of both other locations.

      I haven’t braved the interior of that mall in years, but the other two locations are certainly still open.

  23. MetalDooley says:

    I’m no fan of Gamestop but I don’t want them to close down either for the simple reason that we’re running out of physical stores that sell games, at least where I live.

    Here in Ireland in the last 6 – 7 or so years we’ve lost GAME, HMV, and Xtra-Vision (the Irish equivalent of Blockbuster. Actually I’m pretty sure they were owned by Blockbuster at one point which would explain why they went under). If Gamestop go out of business then there’ll be no specialist games stores where I live and the only brick and mortar store selling game will be a chain of toy stores called Smyths (and their selection is ok at best. They’re really only good if you want AAA games or games released in the last 6 – 12 months). I used to be able to walk down the main street of my town and browse in GAME, HMV, Xtra-Vision, Gamestop and Smyths all within a few hundred yards of each other. Now there’s only 2 of those left and who knows for how much longer.

    That reminds me I have some Gamestop vouchers I must use soon…

  24. INH5 says:

    A note about the Blockbuster and Netflix thing: in 2000 Netflix was still exclusively a DVD-rental-by-mail service. It didn’t start its streaming video business until 2007. Now, cornering the mail rental market could definitely have at least bought Blockbuster a few more years (it’s not hard to argue that Netflix mail rentals and Redbox are what really killed Blockbuster), but there’s no guarantee that Netflix would still have become the leading video streaming service if it was under Blockbuster management. In our timeline, Blockbuster was late to the party on not just mail rentals, but also rental kiosks and streaming video. I’m not confident that owning what Netflix was back in 2000 would have changed that.

    1. Droid says:

      I think Shamus and you are talking about different scenarios. As I understand it, you interpreted it as “what if Blockbuster were exactly the same company that it was IRL, but somehow happened to buy Netflix anyway”. I interpreted Shamus’ words as “what if Blockbuster had had people at the top who were able to see how they could branch out by taking over Netflix’ business, and continue from there”, a.k.a. “what if someone got to decide back then with all the advantage that hindsight gives us now”.
      And I’m not sure that’s quite the same hypothetical.

  25. Trevor says:

    Did Shamus kill GameStop?

    Steam lets you get digital copies of the games, eliminating your need to go to a store to buy a game, and sites like this one give you the digital experience of having that super cool game store employee to recommend stuff. I don’t have time to play or follow all of the releases, so when Shamus tweets or says on diecast that he’s really digging such and such game right now, I’m inclined to check it out because I trust his judgement. It also helps that he’s not trying to upsell me (like the employees in GameStop are obligated to do) or being paid by the developers to promote a certain game (like Kotaku is). And there are many other people out there on the internet to follow as well who talk about the games they are currently enjoying and if you like their persona, you’ll probably like the games. The customer service experience was supposed to be able to hold over brick and mortars, but even that can be done better online these days.

  26. Anachronist says:

    Hm. When a GameStop opened up across the street from my workplace, I thought “cool, a gaming store!” Then I went in, looking for some new dice and a D&D book, and walked out disappointed. That was the only time I’ve ever set foot in one. To me, that wasn’t a game store. That was basically a Blockbuster for games. I’m surprised they lasted this long. Perhaps if they had expanded their offerings to physical games rather than digital ones, they would have lasted longer.

  27. Paul Spooner says:

    I have this dream of Gamestop installing VR equipment in all of their franchises and becoming the de-facto portal to the metaverse.

  28. Charnel Mouse says:

    Physical game stores feel like very odd places to me these days. I love having a physical copy of my games, partly because I don’t trust DRM’ed copies on Steam and Gamersgate to exist long-term, so I’d happily go down to my local GAME to buy a copy of something I’m interested in, even if I found out about the game online, or already have a GOG copy. But when I go there and look at the games I’d like, the boxes state, without fail, that playing the game inside requires a Steam key. It’s like the worst of both worlds: you have to pay extra for a physical copy, but you still have to lock yourself into a digital store, regardless of whether it’s a big triple-A game or some small indie one, even single-player games. I don’t understand it.

    1. Lars says:

      And it keeps getting worse. MGS V did only have the Steam client on their physical discs, not the game itself. ME: Andromeda didn’t even have a physical disk. The retail version contained a cardboard with the Origin key printed on and nothing else.
      Dealing with retail goods is more and more unpleasant every year. I also did like, having my boxes on a shelf. I loved having a printed manual of the game I was going to play. Character and world introductions, skill descriptions, beginners guide, the thank you page of the developers. Something that helps me to enjoy the game.

      That’s the thing: How to save the retail-market?
      Print well edited manuals with digital download codes of the games. Publishers keep their stupid DRM stuff, players who buy retail have something physical of value in their hands and on their shelves. And the “benefits” of steam, origin or similar are still there. (Workshop, Reviews, Auto-Patches, All-in-one-place (for players) | commercials, data-mining for publishers)

  29. Liam O'Hagan says:

    On your point about people queueing for Apple products:

    Apple has built customer loyalty so strong that people will leave their house and stand in line for a chance to buy $800 phones when you can get a phone with 90% of the features for a tenth of the price.

    It’s even worse than that. The local Apple store is across the road from a Telstra store (largest, ex government telco) and on launch day of a recent product, there was a huge queue of people at the Apple store, whilst the Telstra store right across the road had no queue and were also selling the same phone people were queueing up to buy at Apple.

  30. EmmEnnEff says:

    > If the market can support stores dedicated to mobile phones, then there ought to be room for selling and servicing gaming hardware.

    The thing about mobile phone stores is that they aren’t selling phones.

    They are selling provider contracts.

    Which are incredibly lucrative.

    In order to sign you up to a contract, though, the carriers make you jump through a tonne of hoops. If they made their customers jump through those hoops through an on-line signup process, they’d lose some significant portion of their customers (Who would just find it easier to go to the cell phone store, where the person running the store will enter all of this crap for them.)

    So, the stores provide a useful bit of customer service (For some subset of customers), and make sense to operate (Because when you acquire a customer, you stand to make a lot of money.)

    Doesn’t work for video games. The only advantage of a brick and mortar location that I can think of are trade-ins. Used bookstores operate on this model. The thing about trade-ins, is that they are worth a penny, or two on the dollar. You bring a bin of books to one, and the staff will go through it, and give you five bucks for the entire bin. (As soon as you leave, they’ll toss half of it in the recycling.)

    For obvious reason, this business model will not work for games.

  31. Jeff says:

    That Apple analogy seems wrong, you’re generally paying more for less, not more for more.

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