I’m already familiar with the GameStop experience. You go in, know which game you want, and the employees there expend all their effort to get you to spend a little more on impulse. They ask if you want the strategy guide (Hey, it’s 10% off since you’re buying the game!) or if you want to preorder anything (Heard about the new Call of Duty yet? Better reserve it now!) or if you want a special collectors’ edition (It comes with a tiny art book!). As annoying as it is to have to go through a five-minute ritual of saying “No, thank you” over and over to the cashier every time I walk in, it must be good business. However, GameStop’s incredible focus on getting customers to pre-order games has slowly gotten to an extreme level I can’t really tolerate.
I remember years ago realizing that the cashiers seemed to always say I was getting “the last copy” of any relatively new game I bought at a GameStop. If I asked for Modern Warfare 2 a week or two after release, they’d search their drawers for five minutes before finally coming up with “their last copy.” Given that the game shipped more copies than any other entertainment product that year, I found it a little bit surprising that they would actually be at a shortage, no matter how many they sold. It would have been almost impossible to stock too many copies of Modern Warfare 2; all of them would eventually sell. Anyway, this kept happening, over and over. “Did you preorder? No, well, let’s see if we’ve actually got any copies left…”
The whole “last copy” thing was clearly a strategy to get me to preorder newer titles. They wanted preorders more than new game purchases partially because not all preorders are actually picked up from the store (like a slightly less effective gift card syndrome) but mostly because they want preorders to force impulse game purchases over thought-out ones. I was coming into the store because I knew exactly what I wanted, but they wanted customers to come out of the store having spent more than they planned, by preordering upcoming titles, making purchases for their future selves that they might or might not have made otherwise.
All of which would not be a problem except that the game purchase experience is actually made worse for my kind of customer, and not just through the five-minute “No, thanks” parade. I went into the local GameStop again recently to pick up Rock Band 3 with the keyboard for the Xbox 360, several days after release. I see the boxes for it all over the store. I walk up to the cash register, say what I want, say that no, I had not preordered, and then have to wait five minutes for the cashier to search his computer for the game. It’s right there! What are you looking for? He eventually says “Sorry, but all our copies are under reserve for preorder customers.” This wasn’t last copy-style false scarcity; they were literally stopping me from purchasing the game because they were so intent on getting me to preorder everything. I even asked if I could buy the game and keyboard separately, and there were no keyboards remaining.
Thus, GameStop is no longer going to sell me any games. I was already spending 10% more to shop there in Illinois state sales tax, only for the ability to have the game now rather than in two days via Amazon Prime (and usually on the release date if I preordered). GameStop is playing around with their monopoly the same way Blockbuster once did, before it crashed and burned. Blockbuster achieved a near-monopoly, then made their product and buying experience worse and worse over time to save costs, until eventually it was so terrible that no one shopped there anymore anyway, and the invention of Netflix destroyed them. GameStop has driven me away with its ridiculous tactics.
GameStop will likely fade away from irrelevance soon anyway as broadband internet gets faster and hard drive space becomes more plentiful until every game is bought by download. I won’t be too awfully sorry to see them go.