A Game Worth Stopping

 

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This past week the popular gaming blog, Kotaku,has taken to publishing articles covering GameStop’s controversial “Circle of Life” policy. This has provided some much needed insight into the pressures that Gamestop allegedly places on their employees. Essentially, the Circle of Life policy is a sales program that requires Gamestop employees to maintain a certain percentage of their total sales within the high priority categories of used games, pre-orders, and PowerUp Rewards Memberships/credit cards.  This has led Gamestop employees to feel the need to mislead their customers through falsely claiming that their store is out of stock on new copies of games in order to meet their pre-owned sales quota. Coupled with first hand accounts from staff and event management, the compelling articles have brought on overnight reactions from Gamestop higher-ups. Coincidentally, our own Brett Lindsey, a former Gamestop employee relates strongly to many of the statements issued by those sources. We thought this would be a great opportunity to deliver a first hand account, from a local source, about the questionable practices that take place behind the curtain.  -tonybalonii

The recent public shitstorm affecting GameStop and their “Circle of Life” comes as no surprise to me. Honestly, this COL just strikes me as a more explicit version of the unofficial policies that were in effect back when I was still technically a Game Advisor.  We were always pressured to push pre-orders and value club memberships on our customers with little to no concern over whether it was of any real value to them.  District staff, on corporate directive, would call up the store at least twice a day to get updates on your store’s numbers, and should those numbers not be sufficient, a thorough explanation was required for why you personally are to garbage to reach their lofty goals.  It didn’t matter that it was storming outside and there’s been a total of two customers all day, you should have sold at least 10 magazine subscriptions to Game Informer, worthless ad rag that it is. Considering things were already cutthroat and bleak half a decade ago when I was employed by the company, I can only imagine how much worse a place it became when they instituted this COL initiative.

GameStop as a company has always been a questionable entity. The entire business model revolves around victimizing at least some aspect of the very industry it relies on, like some kind of parasite. Gamestop takes advantage of its employees by providing them with little to no training, relying strictly on hiring people already passionate and informed about gaming and technology.  Possessing this kind of in-depth and specialized knowledge is usually something most companies pay a lot for, either through higher wages or expensive training programs; not Gamestop though, as the higher-ups were often fond of reminding us that there are lots of people would kill to have our jobs.  

This wasn’t the only way that GameStop took advantage of its employees during my tenure though, as my coworkers and I were often concerned about our personal safety while working.  Gamestop had some of the most lax security I ever witnessed.  The company would rarely foot the bill for us to have detail officers or security guards during events or big releases. I remember an incident at a nearby store during one year’s Madden release where a mob of 100+ individuals rushed the store, stealing everything they could get their hands on.  The staff only escaped serious injury because they had the wherewithal to lock themselves in the stockroom the moment violence broke out.  Even a cursory google search into police reports related to Gamestop will give you pages and pages of incidents involving violence and armed robbery at various locations.  I get that these kind of things happen; that it’s just part of doing business, and that the likely alternative would be Gamestop just closing up shop in troubled neighborhoods entirely due to alternatives not being cost-effective, and that’s not something I’m advocating.  

The penultimate problem I personally had with GS’s safety policies, and the very reason I stopped working there, was from the way they responded to an armed robbery that occurred at my store. This was no simple smash and grab.  A younger associate and myself were forced to the ground with guns pressed against our heads while the crooks grabbed all the cash they could get. The experience was extremely disturbing, and it turned out that the perpetrators were participating in a pattern of robberies specifically targeting GS locations in our area.  One would assume a company aware of this pattern would perhaps try to provide extra security measures of some sort while the culprits were still at large, but the company showed little interest in providing a security detail to our, or any of our neighboring stores.  They couldn’t even manage to  fix all the goddamn broken lights in our parking lot so we could walk to our cars in relative safety.  Don’t worry though, I was given an unpaid half day off to relax, so that was nice of them. The icing on this particular shit cake though, came after I left the company, when GameStop wrongfully tried to pursue legal action against me for allegedly “stealing trade secrets.”  More on that joke of a case at another time.

Armed robberies were not the only safety concern I witnessed working at GameStop. The company never allotted enough labor to have more than one associate working at all times. This made for a terrifying environment to be working in late at night or early in the morning.  Being a larger guy myself, I at least had the advantage of being somewhat intimidating to the average thief, but I knew of multiple locations where some 90 pound young woman was the only person on site working for 4-6 hours a day.  To understand how absurd and dare I say negligent the company’s policies were, you also need to know about GameStop’s loss prevention strategy.  Basically as an employee you can do nothing to stop people from stealing from the store. You are in fact specifically told that you aren’t supposed to try to confront people or stop them in any way.  Simultaneously, you are responsible for all the theft that occurs in your store, and too much missing product almost always lead to termination. It was awful as local shoplifters knew the extent of Gamestop’s lax policies and would capitalize on it by specifically targeting stores early in the day and bringing along at least one accomplice to distract or threaten the person working while they steal to their heart’s content.  Let me be clear that I’m discussing these problems not to inform would be criminals on how best to rob a GS, but to advocate change in a systemic problem that puts people in danger.

My bigger point, which seems to have gotten a bit lost around the 4th or 5th paragraph, is that GameStop’s COL business model, and the effect it’s having on its employees,  is just par for the course for this company.  From my experience, Gamestop has never genuinely cared about its Game Advisors and it’s unlikely it ever will.

It wasn’t always doom and gloom working at GameStop though. There was a time when employment at GS was more than just a fun job.  It was a status symbol; even a point of pride among the gaming community.  For a lot of customers we were THE source for all their news and reviews on games.  I also have very fond memories of the friends I made while working there, (looking at you Matt, Nick, Jesse, AJ, Darren, Bobby, and Paz) and the fun we got to have at times, (LONG LIVE SUPERTANK, GREATEST OF ALL TANKS.)  

There is this rare feeling you get from spending hours of your work day chatting about the nuances of games with someone as passionate about the medium as yourself.  GameStop was where I learned the names of most of the developers and game designers I follow today, whether through detailed discussions or that incessant looping Gamestop TV.  There was a lot of fun to be had when we hosted tournaments or bbqs during big releases.  I remember vividly how excited we got when we found out we were allowed to host midnight releases for several new titles.  The anticipation was palpable as we would analyze and theorize every aspect of a new Call of Duty or Mass Effect; all the while knowing that as soon as the event ended we would get to go home clutching our own copies of these beloved titles, eager to join in on the fun of playing it as early as possible.  Those times were positively magical, and it breaks my heart to know that thanks to Gamestop’s COL business model, those times are gone for good.  I feel sorry for every GA working at Gamestop today.  They sign on to that company believing that they will be working with people as passionate as themselves, only to have that passion turned against them in the pursuit of yet another pre-order.  To real gamers, those who love the medium as entertainment and simultaneously respect it as an art form, working a low paying and often thankless job just to be associated in some way with one of the things in your life you genuinely care about; this disgusts me and you deserve better.  Just like the customers you’re forced to dupe into buying used games at outrageous mark ups, you’re being taken advantage of.  To Gamestop as a company, forcing your passionate workforce of dedicated gamers to deny their excitement about new titles, all because you want to squeeze a higher profit margin out of your antiquated business model, well that’s more than just bad business, it’s sad.  It’s very, very sad.

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