In Defense of Gamestop
In the past months there has been somewhat of an uproar from the gaming community as many of its members express disdain and hatred towards Gamestop and some of the store’s practices. The communities from Kotaku and The Escapist are especially lively and vibrant in their discussion of Gamestop’s evils and the virtues of the future of gaming. Much of this conversation revolves around how Gamestop is “killing the gaming business” with its used games program and how many players can’t wait for the day when Gamestop goes out of business and publishers and developers can go back to making money on the games they make. Certainly, game developers should make money off the games they create and publishers should receive royalties because of their work distributing the product. However, much of this conversation takes place in a “Gamestop versus publishers” battlefield while completely ignoring the customer. If one takes into consideration the customer, then perhaps one would not be as critical towards Gamestop’s practices as Daniel Floyd in his (delightfully written and amazingly witty) Extra Credits videos. Certainly, some of Gamestop’s practices deserve harsh criticism – and I will start with those policies and practices first – but to demonize all of Gamestop and labeling them as the enemy of gaming is a bit of an exaggeration.
In his Kotaku article “GameStop Sells Played Games As New, Sources Say, Practice Could Be Illegal”, Brian Crecente sheds light on a Gamestop policy where the store allows employees to “borrow” new games, return them to the store, and sell them as new. I, as should all people of any reasonable intellect, agree with this article and be against this particular Gamestop policy. Selling used stuff as new is, literally, fraud. When Gamestop does this the customer is being ripped off, they are paying full price for a second hand item, and if any fines are warranted then they should be imposed. But this is not the Gamestop policy that gamers hate – Gamestop’s most hated policy is their used games policy.
In a Kotaku article that comes on the heels of several similar pieces, Mike Fohey raises the question “is buying used games worse than piracy?” Although his intent was not to make a judgment as much as it was to spark a conversation, he does speak of both pirated games and used games with the same disdain: “I don’t like to pirate games and doubt I ever will but I used to buy used games a decent amount”. He then goes on, as do many commentators, to wish for the days when games can be bought directly from the publisher.
In another article Luke Plunkett takes a more neutral tone in his Gamestop commentary. He objectively states that Gamestop makes most of its money from the used games trade. Were the title of the piece not one that showed disdain for Gamestop’s used games policy I would say that his piece is more of an informative one than one critical of Gamestop’s policy, but – once again – this piece is one in a long line of “Gamestop’s used games policy is killing games” pieces that include works such as “Preowned customers paying extra, Gamestop doesn’t care” and “Where does Gamestop make its money?”
Kotaku’s editors are not the only ones who hate Gamestop because of their used games policies. As I previously stated, the Extra Credits community shows much hatred towards Gamestop and, like the Kotaku crew, are eager for the day when players can buy directly from the publisher with no middle man. In addition to the Extra Credits and Kotaku community, an author for Awesome Radical Gaming by the name of ‘Mike’ wrote about how “Gamestop sucks” (yes, that is the title of his piece) and how the two top reasons were harassing customers to pre-order and their used games policy. In a similar article, Rishhard J of Cheap Ass Gamer offered five reasons why “Gamestop sucks”, where the first three reasons were related to their used games policy: 1. used game sales don’t profit publishers, 2. the difference in price is not that great, and 3. they rip off people when they (Gamestop) buy from them (gamers). This piece, as do most of the Gamestop hate speech I’ve read, frame this as an issue where Gamestop is an evil fighting the publishers and the gamers must pick a side – side with evil Gamestop who is trying to destroy games, or side with the publishers who will save gaming.
But let’s look at what publishers want for the future. Right now they are implementing authentication methods where a user must be online at all times to play a single player game, unless the player wants some features unavailable, where the game must be registered before playing unless the player is happy with only a demo, and where the game can only be installed a limited number of times, so if I decide to install the game on my computer after I formatted it, I would have to buy another copy of the game. This is the most troubling of all practices used by publishers. Their excuse is that you don’t buy the GAME, you buy a LICENSE that lets you use the game ONCE and if you want to install it again you have to buy another LICENSE because you never really buy a GAME. Similar trends can be seen in console / portable videogames which are now integrating features that include having to pay 10$ to unlock online options and features like a single save slot which can’t be erased. So, what are the glorious publishers working their way towards? No one really knows, but many thinkers in conventions like PAX (which is really just a meeting of cool people from the videogame industry) and the GDC (where they tackle videogame theory 4 – 7 years late and often come to the wrong conclusions) have theorized that publishers want to turn gaming from a “packed goods” model to a “service” model. What this means is that you never buy a videogame, you subscribe to a service – a Netflix for videogames – where you pay a monthly fee to stream games. Some have said that the revered Steam is a similar service, and it is. When you have a Steam account you don’t own your games, you license them. Evidence can be seen in the Steam Subscriber Account Agreement, and in the many cases of banned accounts due to used sales attempts.
The future of games, should Gamestop die, is one where you do not own your games.
And so comes my answer to the question of “are you on the side of Gamestop or on the side of the publishers?” I’m on the side where the customer can own the product that they buy and do whatever they want with it, and that’s what retail stores that sell you games – as opposed to single use licenses that require constant authentication – do. I like the idea that once I finish my game I can lend it to a friend, trade it for another, give it away, or sell it at Gamestop. Granted, Gamestop’s prices could be a bit more fair – buying almost new games at 10$ and reselling them at 55$ during the second week of release seems to me like extortion – but I still have the option of selling, or not selling, my property. So, next time you want to go around attacking Gamestop and its evils, think about how much more you like owning your shiny game discs over that latest DLC game you got and don’t really own. If that doesn’t convince you, think of how when you were a kid and your mum bought you a new Nintendo game every 6 months you had a collection of 10 games that was completely different from the collections of all your friends, and how when you ran out of games to play you didn’t go out and buy a new one, you traded with your neighbor. Think of how you got a new game only during Christmas, and how the way you actually got to own the shiny golden Zelda cart was by trading in a Simon’s Quest and a Duck Tales to your friend. Think of how much more you, and everyone, traded in used games back then between 1986 and 1995, and how the gaming industry that is now a multi billion dollar industry but was then a “only” multi million dollar industry didn’t collapse and die, but was made stronger.
It is my way of thinking that Gamestop isn’t killing the gaming industry, the gaming industry is killing itself. It got too big and too greedy. Now it no longer cares about quality, but about making as much money as possible for as long as possible with as little effort as possible (and thus the endless GoW Unreal clones), and because Gamestop is a store that shares in more revenues than the gaming industry thinks it should get it is constantly being framed as an evil entity – it is not. Gamestop might be like the smart kid who got you to trade seven of your favorite games for that new Gameboy, but that doesn’t make Gamestop evil, it just makes it good at negotiation and marketing.
In the end, would I like to see that developers get paid fairly for their work? Of course. Do I want publishers to make a good revenue for their work? Absolutely. Do I want the guy who sold me the game to make some cash as well? Certainly. So, why buy used games then? As soon as publishers start putting out games at 30$ – 35$ on release I will start buying new. In the meantime, I’ll wait for the platinum / greatest edition, or buy the game pre-owned at 25$ two months after the release date; and if it’s an emergency and I need it for “right now” I’ll try to get the university to buy it for me or I will trade in towards it.
Because I’m a consumer, and I can buy and sell my games in any state I choose.
Posted on July 19, 2011, in Video Game Commentary and tagged Gamestop, gamestop owns, gamestop ownz, gamestop rules, Gamestop sucks, gamestop used games, gamestop used games policy, used games, used games policy. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.