Friday, September 26, 2014

Gamestop: The Circle of Life, Part III

I told you guys that I could pretty much write about Gamestop forever. The can of worms is officially opened, and now I'm having trouble thinking of anything else to talk about.

Having covered pre-orders and trade-ins, it's now time to talk about used games.

Last time I mentioned game cases several times, but I never really went into why game cases were so important to us. The game case didn't affect the trade-in value of the game, so clearly the company didn't really care one way or the other. There were three main reasons the employees cared, though:

First, having a game case with a barcode made scanning the game into the system much faster. When a customer traded in a game with a case, all it took was a quick scan of the barcode to determine the game's value. The alternative was to look the game up manually, which was both more time consuming and prone to error. It wasn't a huge problem when just entering one or two games, but then dealing with stacks of games it could bring a line to a screeching halt.

Second, with a few exceptions (DS, GBA, and clearance games, for instance), every game needed to be sold with a case. If a game didn't have one, that meant we needed to make one for it. Gamestop kept lots of cases of all different sizes around, and they created generic inserts for each system so we could create something to put on our shelves and protect the game disc when someone bought it. When I first started at Gamestop the inserts were very simple, and you simply needed to write the name of the game on it with a Sharpie. Later, though, they got every store set up with printers and pre-made covers. You simply filled the printed with the correct type of cover paper, loaded up the special program used to print these things, found the games whose covers you needed to print, then print them. It printed the title of the game on the parts of the insert that would become the front and spine of the case.

From there, it was a matter of tearing off perforated bits, fitting the insert into the case, applying barcode and price stickers all over the case, and filing the game away. The process of making each case added several minutes each, taking up a lot of our time. Between that and the cost of buying and keeping blank cases around, not to mention all those generic covers, it was a wonder that the company didn't charge for the trouble.

Finally, though, the last reason we liked having the cases was because used games with their original case and manual were much easier to sell. For instance, we often had used copies of the latest Madden game just days after its released because, for whatever reason, the guys who bought it "thought it would be different from last year." So, there we have Madden (current year) for sale new for $59.99, or you could get it used for $54.99. If the used and new versions of the game are exactly the same--the disc is pristine, and the case and manual are all included--then why not go for the version that's $5 less? On the other hand, it's a lot harder to sell that same game for just $5 less when it's missing the case and manual.

This wasn't always the case, though. Some are very pragmatic and know that, really, all that matters is the game disc, and if they can get it $5 cheaper, then why not? They want a game they can play, not some trophy for their shelf.

On the other hand, for some people it mattered very much that they were the first people to open a game and play it, and that $5 in savings was not enough to deny them that pleasure. In fact, some people were downright offended that the difference was "only $5." These were generally the same people that were offended that Gamestop would buy a game from them for $30 and have the temerity to then put it on the shelf for $54.99, as if it was a grievous sin to make a profit.

The used game system at Gamestop is pretty solid, actually, and whatever qualms I have about other points of the company's business, I think you should always feel pretty safe in buying used games from them thanks to their solid policy. Just make sure you check the condition of the disk yourself before leaving the store (just in case), then actually play the game a bit in the next few days so that you don't miss that return policy window.

A final, ethical note about used games that I think is worth mentioning: Gamestop doesn't want its customers to think about it too much since it relies on used game sales to stay afloat, but the fact is that used sales can hurt the gaming industry. When you by a used game at Gamestop, sure, you're paying $5 less for that game than you would if you got it new, but $0 of that goes to the people who actually made the game. When a new game gets sold, a portion of that sale does to Gamestop, the distributor, the publisher, and the developer. When a used game get sold, the entire sale goes to Gamestop.

I'm not going to completely demonize Gamestop here, as I think the transferable nature of physical games is important. Many of the games I played as a kid were only available to me because we could lend and borrow games among friends. It's hard to fault Gamestop for acting as a intermediary in a global exchange system of games. Plus, many of the used games on Gamestop's shelves are actually not available new anymore, so you often had no other options but to get it there (though markets like PSN and other downloadable stores are steadily solving that problem).

Still, I recommend that you keep this in mind when buying games from Gamestop: if you want to support the makers of that game, buy the game new.

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