GameFly Shoop

My attempt to make this circular more juvenile than it already is.

When I was a child I dreamed of being an adult. No one was going to tell me what to do! No more raking leaves on a Saturday morning, no more chores, school or responsibilities.  I would eat pizza covered in Doritos for breakfast, play video games all day long and live my very own American dream. Now I am twenty-seven years old. I log close to fifty hours a week as a construction worker. Every day I do chores, pay bills, and attend to adult responsibilities. And I even eat Special K cereal for breakfast so I don’t become a fatty monster. Some dream.

Finding the time to be video game enthusiast while nearing thirty is becoming an increasing difficulty. And at sixty dollars a pop typically, purchasing new games on the regular is an expensive hobby. With these reasons in mind I turned to GameFly this year to help leverage playing games against the realities of being a grown up.

GameFly is a subscription game mailing service that rents games for X-Box 360, Wii, PS3, Nintendo DS and several platforms (excluding PCs). To begin you select a service plan of one to four games at a time.  Then you select video games on their web site to be physically mailed to your home via placing them on a list called your “GameQ.” You keep the games for as long as you like, and return them in a pre paid mailer when finished. If you decide you want to purchase the game, you hold on to the disc and the box/instructions will be mailed to your home. Aside from the purchasing aspect, the basic service provided is a parody of Netflix’s rental services.

Despite sounding as a video game counterpart to Netflix (which I adore) I had my trepidations. I haven’t “rented” games since I was a child. Despite rarely replaying games once completing them, I like to put them up on the shelf for another hypothetical day. Leasing games part time seemed somehow off putting. However, I promised myself that I would view the experience as a sort of extended demo. If I liked the games I would purchase them through GameFly. If I really liked the games, I would purchase them brand new from a store to assure the company/developers would get the most money and sales figures. If the game was bad or even average there was little chance I would purchase them anyhow. Internal conflict resolved, I signed up for their primary service package of one game at a time per month for $15.95, filled my GameQ with titles and anxiously awaited a brand new game to show up in the mail.

Right off the bat there was problems. I had heard through various message boards that the primary failing of GameFly was its long mailing periods: eight days after signing up for the service I received my first game. I thought maybe due to account processing this was a one time thing. Dead wrong. Since signing up it is rare if my turn over rate for a game is less than two weeks. Where are these games coming from that they take so long? The goddamn Moon? A brief investigation revealed that GameFly ships out to the entire continental U.S through four shipping centers:  Los Angeles, CA; Pittsburgh, PA; Tampa, FL and Austin, TX. I live in southern PA, making Pittsburgh my primary shipping center, a four hour drive on a day with bad traffic. This remains baffling. Does Kevin Costner have to The Postman style ride a horse his way to my home with my game? This problem is an annoyance to me as I expect better service for my money. I can imagine this is extremely frustrating to gamers who have no money or less access to games than others.

Despite long wait times between games things were moving along. Games came in the order I had them on my list and played fine. Resident Evil 5 for PS3 showed up with a significant abrasion on the disc and would ask to be re-installed every time I booted the game. Through the web site I reported the problem, mailed it back, and in less time than usual I received my next game. Shortly after this, things took a turn. Here I began a long email correspondence with their tech support:

 Customer (Grant Pearsall)    10/07/2009 04:17 PM

I recently returned Infamous for PS3. The next item on my list was Dead Space: Extraction for the Wii. Today I received a notification e-mail stating that King of Fighters XII was being shipped. Not only was this game not on the top of my queue, but there were SEVERAL between it and the top. I understand that the policy is to ship “a title” if others have a low availability ranking. Dead Space: Extraction was marked “Low” but there were several titles in between it and King of Fighters XII that were ranked “Medium” and “High.” Why was I shipped this game instead? Also, it would be my preference to NOT be sent something random from my queue in favor of having my shipment halted until my top game is available to be sent to me. Furthermore just recently was sent a copy of Resident Evil 5 for PS3 that was damaged beyond a playable state. I would like to have my questions answered/attended to, as well as see an improvement to the quality of the service I am paying for. Thank you.

Response (Nic)    10/08/2009 08:34 AM

Dear Grant,

Thank you for your inquiry. We have reviewed your account and noted that due to the current very high demand of the new release, Dead Space Extraction, we were unable to ship it to you. Therefore, we shipped you the first available game in your GameQ. We adopted this policy because our members tell us that fast shipping times are extremely important.

We ship games based on the length of time that you have been waiting for a game (once a return is received in our facility) and the time the desired available game was placed in your GameQ. We pay close attention to our inventory levels and re-order key titles regularly to minimize the number of unavailable games.

We understand that our members want both their first choice and rapid shipping. While we try to meet these expectations every time, exceptions occur where the top ranked item is not available and we realize that it can be frustrating.

We appreciate your feedback and apologize for any inconvenience. If we can be of further assistance, please let us know.

Sincerely,

The GameFly Team

A reasonable response, but I realized I understood very little about the actual mechanics of the GameFly service. Games you select on their site have an availability level, but the time in which you will receive them is based on the date which you added it to your list and not the inventory level? King of Fighters XII was the tenth item on my list with other the other games between it and Dead Space: Extraction of all different ranks. I requested clarification:

Customer (Grant Pearsall)    10/08/2009 04:55 PM
I already understood why another title other than my first choice was shipped. I understand that I may not be first in line for something, despite it being top of my list. However, what I don’t understand is why I was shipped something far down my list when there were titles with the status “medium” and “high” ranked between? Are these statuses not truly representative of inventory levels? I feel I there was an error made when the title selection process opted for something else in my list. Clearly I want
to play everything on my list, but my titles are in order for a reason. Please re-evaluate this case.

-Grant

 Response (Ryan P)    10/09/2009 04:12 PM

Dear Grant,

Thank you for contacting GameFly. We reviewed your account and noted that we shipped you a game lower in your Q from an alternate shipping center. Although we strive to ship you your top ranked games from your primary shipping center in xxxxPrimaryShippingFacilityxxxx, when they are not available at the time of shipment we will ship the first available game from an alternate center to get you a game as soon as possible.

We do realize that it can be disappointing to not receive your top choice from the nearest shipping center and we do pay close attention to the inventory levels across the shipping centers, in addition to re-ordering key titles regularly. We appreciate your feedback and apologize for any inconvenience. If we can be of further assistance, please let us know.

Sincerely,

The GameFly Team

 Customer (Grant Pearsall)    10/09/2009 08:55 PM

My question was still not answered in full and to my satisfaction. What does the availability column for titles mean? There is at the very least five other titles between my top and this, many ranked “Medium” and “High.” Are these not representative of true inventory levels? Why was something shipped from an alternate shipping center? Your service is already obscenely slow in receiving and mailing out products without this level of confusion. Why am I not receiving my second or third choices when the system
you employ to represent inventory levels describes them as being readily available? Can I please be mailed an item from my top five at the very least? I will gladly return King of Fighters. I don’t appreciate the boilerplate responses I am being given in return for my inquiries either. Please continue investigations into this matter.

-Grant

 Response (Blair)    10/10/2009 06:23 AM

Dear Grant,

Thank you for your inquiry. To help you manage your GameQ, we provide inventory information for each title on our Web site. The availability statuses provide you the likelihood that a game will be available to ship to a member today. Hopefully this information will help you make better decisions in ranking your GameQ.

The availability statuses on the Web site reflect inventory across all shipping centers and are as follows:

Available Now – Game is in stock and this should ship to a member today
High Availability – There is a greater than 75% likelihood of shipping to a member today
Medium Availability – There is a 50% to 74% likelihood of shipping to a member today
Low Availability – There is a 25% to 49% likelihood of shipping to a member today
Very Low Availability – There is less than a 25% likelihood of shipping to a member today. Most of these titles are rare or no longer manufactured.

We do process a large volume of returned games daily, therefore, it is likely that we will be able to ship you your highest ranked game even though it is not listed as Available Now. If it is not available at the time of shipment, we will send you the next available title on your GameQ to minimize the time you are without a game. Once we receive a return, we will make our best effort to ship one of your top choice games.

We appreciate your feedback. If we can be of further assistance, please let us know.

Sincerely,

The GameFly Team

Perhaps I am too sensitive of a person, but portions of this response sound like condescension. I was becoming more and more angry attempting to unscramble the code that is the GameFly business model.

 Customer (Grant Pearsall)    10/11/2009 12:55 PM

“…better decisions in ranking my GameQ?” What kind of unprofessional comment is that? I don’t think my taste or preferences in games have anything to do with this issue and I don’t appreciate the veiled accusation that I am to blame for a mistake made by your company! Your customers put things in order of interest/convenience presumably. To be shipped something that was not even in my top five is just shameful and sloppy. Why even have an order to the queue if availability dictates I am just going to get
something low on my list? I am baffled by this system, despite all the information you’ve provided and explanations. How is it that I can’t simply just have my order wait to be shipped whatever is ranked first instead of this hopelessly convoluted system of percentages and likelihoods? If there is a demand for a product being presented by new releases waiting on customers GameQ’s then they must be fulfilled. How does Gamefly make decisions on purchasing levels for titles? Is it deals with publishers, is the
demand gauged internally, or some other system? In some ways your company is in spirit a companion to Netflix, and they have a very streamlined and simple to understand delivery system. Why is this business model not employed for yours as well?

-Grant

 Response (Ryan P)    10/12/2009 08:53 AM

Dear Grant,

Thank you for contacting GameFly! We apologize for any inconvenience caused by this matter or the previous communication as it was not our intention to make you feel as though we were questioning your judgment on the titles you would like to rent. Please note, we do make multiple attempts to ship you your top ranked games from your primary shipping center in Pittsburgh, PA, however when they are not available at the time of shipment, we will ship the first available game from an alternate center to get you a game as soon as possible after receiving one of your returns. We understand the frustration caused by not receiving your top ranked items and items below games that may have shown a high availability. Please note, the availability on the website reflects for all of our distribution centers combined. Therefore, at times, a bulk of the copies being returned of a high availability game, may be returned by customers in a further region to a shipping center further from your primary location. We do monitor stock and spread inventory evenly among shipping centers, however, while the games are in transit between centers, one of your lower ranked games in your GameQ may become available, and in this case we would send the first available game out to you to ensure that you don’t experience delays in service. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

For the inconvenience, we have applied $5 GameFly Dollars to your account, applicable towards game purchases. When you purchase a game you will be asked to verify your order. On this page, please select $5 on the “Code” drop down menu and select “Apply” to redeem the GameFly Dollars against your purchase.

If you require additional assistance, please respond to this email at anytime as we provide email support 7 days a week, 6:00 am to 5:00 pm Pacific Time. If you would prefer to talk to us directly, please reply to this email with a number where we can reach you and a convenient time or you may call us directly at (888) 986-6400, Monday thru Friday, 9:00 am to 1:00 pm Pacific Time.

Sincerely,

The GameFly Team

Personally this is the most offensive part of my exchange with tech support. You really think that by slipping me a five dollar bribe you will assuage my frustration? Is this actually the price of someone’s dignity? The show 24 has taught me many lessons, but the first is that I don’t negotiate with terrorists. Ever. I consider this fiver to be hush money, keeping things on the QT in pulp novel parlance. Sir or Madame, I will never spend your digital blood dollars, thank you.

 So let’s attempt to unscramble this mess, shall we? You choose games to place on your GameQ. They have a ranking of availability that does not reflect the inventory at your Primary shipping center, but the entire inventory of all five centers. Hypothetically, there could be one copy of X game at your closest shipping center and a thousand at another, representing the ranking as High. You wont get X game though, you will be receiving Y game because Y game has more copies at your primary shipping center. My guess is that the reasoning behind this is economics. Video games with rare exception have limited periods of interest and demand. A game might be hot for a year, a month, a week or never. GameFly could purchase games for all five centers to match the interest levels of customers, but will inevitably be left with a colossal inventory of used games to sell– most likely at a discounted rate with a much lower monetary return than otherwise. By keeping the carrot dangling in front of users in the form of supposedly available new games, people settle for other choices. Also to be in the running for new games, the language of these responses suggests you need to be an early adopter of titles, adding them to your GameQ months in advance of release.

After this exchange of e-mails I was fully prepared to cancel my subscription. Dead Space: Extraction showed up over two weeks later and I only played it once out of bitterness. The solution to subverting their complicated ranking system came to me much later. If you can only have one game out at a time, only leave one game on your GameQ. The web site will constantly suggest you add more titles, but this is the only real way to assure you will get what you want. It wont be prompt, but it will be next… someday. It is a ham-fisted and inelegant solution to a convoluted problem that is indicative of the service as a whole.

Long story short, I am keeping the service, albeit begrudgingly. At the end of the day I can only recommend GameFly to people as an addendum to however you acquire games normally. The service does not deliver in any sort of timely fashion, and unless you cheat your queue as I have, you will not receive things in order. If GameFly could streamline their service, guaranteeing the newest titles coupled with a speedy delivery time it could be more than worth the price of admission, but unfortunately, today is not that day.

-Grant P.