To people outside of the video game industry, GameStop is just a store that happens to be the largest chain in the world dedicated to video game sales. However, gamers and insiders know that the stores are no strangers to controversy and have a history of arguably unscrupulous behaviour.
Last week saw a new twist in the old tale of used games being sold as new. New PC copies of Square Enix’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution were opened by GameStop employees to remove a coupon for the OnLive online gaming service, essentially because it’s a competitive online network and handing out free codes would effectively be promoting it.
Right now, it’s unclear what Square Enix’s involvement in the move is – it might have just been a harmless, last minute marketing deal. Whatever the case, we have to wonder if the best solution is to deflower the original packaging and replace it on store shelves as a “new” game.
What if the Krispy Kreme in your neighbourhood slathered a fresh coat of glaze over yesterday’s doughnuts and called them “fresh?” Would you feel cheated? Of course you would! You love your sweets, and that money was supposed to pay for an actually fresh doughnut.
The public outrage was palpable, proven if nothing else by the swift response from the chain to outright pull all PC copies of Deus Ex: Human Revolution from store shelves. GameStop’s ultimate solution was to offer purchasers a $50 gift card for their trouble. The problem here, though, is that the gift card was for GameStop.
Let’s play the analogy game again. Say you go to get new tires on your car, and when you get home you notice two of your “new” tires are actually used. When confronted about it, the dealership tells you, “Look, yeah, we did it. We’re sorry. Here’s $100 gift card to use our services again.” They’ve cheated you — what sense would it make to give them return business? Fool me once…
With stories this egregious in nature, what compels people to still shop at GameStop? One of the reasons is the simple economy of it. Some smaller towns in America aren’t big enough to support a Wal-Mart, for example, but the same town could easily accommodate a GameStop in a local plaza.
Another factor is the staggering number of exclusive pre-order bonuses GameStop has offered, especially in the last year. Everything from enhanced armour to specialized weapons and alternate classes for characters have been offered up by the chain – all available only if you pre-order through GameStop.
It’s easy to see how there are two sides to this battle — though oddly enough, the same corporate aspects are at the root of it all. The relationships with publishers are driving the pre-order bonuses, which obviously drive the sales that help GameStop remain the behemoth it is. On the flip side of the coin, corporate decisions like the OnLive coupon fiasco (sparked in part by concerns about publisher relations) have ignited the fury of an entire industry, players and professionals alike.
The good news is that there is a middle ground, but the bad news is that we’re standing on it right now. We are dealing with a self-contained ecosystem that serves millions of gamers and sells millions of games. It would take a massive publisher movement to break the exclusivity trend, but the reality is that exclusives are part of competition – progenitor of the best sales on software and one of the most driving forces in modern economy.
Perhaps the best solution in the end is to remember that competition is the name of the game – after all, it’s what started this whole mess. If it’s just about pre-order bonuses, Amazon, Toys "R" Us, Target, and many other retailers are all routinely privy to exclusive content or game credit. The best kept secrets, though, are great resources like Cheap Ass Gamer and Thrifty Nerd. These are sites run by gamers, for gamers — who are working for you… and no one else!