Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the… GameStop?

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We geeks have always had our easy targets for derision. Battlefield Earth. The Zune. Nokia’s N-Gage. Alaskan senator Ted Stevens. While we are likely the first to herald a critical success, we are equally quick to mock the epic failure. Such is our way.

Yet lately it seems as though our ire has been concentrated on one subject in particular: specialty retailer GameStop.

Just last week we nerdily chortled at a comic entitled “GameStop Survival Guide.” Therein an anonymous shopper provides eight simple steps to get in and out of the store with minimal hassle, including such jewels as “Arrive at GameStop for whatever inexplicable reason, usually related to laziness or proximity” and “Avoid the disease-ridden and quasi-functional demo units unless you want every child disease imaginable.”

It’s a wryly humorous set of observations, but I couldn’t help but notice that most don’t explicitly apply to GameStop alone. I’ve encountered unorganized mounds of shovelware at my local big-box, and I’ve had an equally pushy salesperson at an electronics retailer fruitlessly try to sell me a product warranty for a $20 alarm clock radio.

I’ll pause here to cop to a fairly unpopular opinion; I like GameStop. Not necessarily GameStop as a corporate entity, mind you, as I’m a worldly enough fellow to know it is only interested in me in as much as I represent a creature capable of buying stuff, but rather my local store. I’ve been going there for years, and I’m continually impressed by its product selection and helpful, personable salespeople. Moreover, I use sites like Cheap Ass Gamer to stay abreast of upcoming specials and trade-in deals, which typically stack with the extra 10% trade-in bonus/used item discount bundled with their “worthless magazine subscription.” As such, I tend to make out alright with little fuss.

Of course, I understand that my shopping experience may not be typical. Here on the internet, where criticism spreads like wildfire, GameStop is routinely lambasted on message boards for the exact reasons outlined in the aforementioned comic. It is said the stores are poorly stocked, incompetently staffed and crudely organized. And while, once again, these charges may also be levied at any other number of retailers, reports of GameStop employees selling gutted games as new are too numerous not to take into consideration.

Still, I find myself wondering if our unpleasant response to all things GameStop is equivalent to the chain’s transgressions.

Surely part of the problem – even beyond that of the much maligned “employee check-out policy” – relates directly to the giant’s merger with rival EB Games in 2005. This unceremonious union killed much of GameStop’s competition in the specialty games market, to the obvious detriment of the buying public.

This essentially means that, if you want to pick up a game no longer available at an easily accessible Target/Best Buy or any number of niche titles not typically stocked by more mainstream brick-and-mortars, GameStop becomes your only option. And while most customers are surely savvy enough to find and purchase such games online, it is an undeniable eventuality that, at some point, most gamers will have to huff it down to their local GameStop whether they want to or not.

So try not to take it too personally, GameStop. After all, familiarity breeds contempt.

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