If you have read any of the prior articles, it is easy to see why I am so attached to GameStop. I do not doubt that there are plenty out there that have had their share of bad experiences instead. But, deep down, I like to think that we would all like GameStop to prosper. A lot of us, whether or not we continue to visit the store, have fond memories within its walls. Even those with no prior attachment probably like the idea of such a place: a store just focused on games with staff always ready at hand to provide insight and answer questions.
But, understandably so, good service and knowledgeable staff can only go so far, especially when the average gamer tends to already educate themselves on the Internet before they even walk into a store. Then, there is money. GameStop, as it stands, seems unable to compete when it comes to prices and deals. There might not be enough of a margin on new games for them to cut prices significantly. And, although GameStop makes it easy to trade in used titles for in-store credit or cash, game owners can potentially get more money back through eBay and other “sell your stuff” services, albeit with some initial setup.
I am no economist and have no real insight on how GameStop can better fight this battle. All I know is that their presence is necessary in the gaming landscape. No other place serves as a better launchpad for new gamers. Whether a child looking to see what all is available or an adult curious about the hobby, it takes two seconds from walking into a GameStop to being greeted “Hi, welcome to GameStop! If you have any questions or are looking for anything specific, let me know.” I mean, Best Buy has greeters at the door that may redirect you to their gaming section but, once there, there is a very low chance of finding an employee readily available with the knowledge you seek. That staff member at GameStop is right there, right now, pretty much available and has answers to most of your questions.
No other place educates parents wanting to learn more about what their kids are asking them. I have been in Walmart and Target, just hanging around the electronics section, and witnessed parents trying to get their children games as gifts. Without their young ones to point towards what they want, some truly have no idea of what they are looking at. And there is no one nearby to guide them. And, even when they ask about “the latest Mario Kart game on DS”, the staff pretty much just points in the direction of the handheld games section and moves on. This might be a very specific example but, to me, it made this lack of service and care gravely apparent. Both of these stores used to display DS and 3DS games side by side. This meant that Mario Kart DS and Mario Kart 7 (3DS) used to sit sit right next to each other. Because of the vague console naming convention (knock on Nintendo), an unknowing parent is seeing pretty much the same game with two different price tags and, in this case, they walked out with the DS version. This means one of two things: Victory, child had a DS and got the game they wanted! Or- Disappointment, child has a 3DS and, although they can play the DS version, it is not what they wanted; parent feels like a fool. To throw a third instance there, parent could have gotten the 3DS version to a kid that only has a DS, which cannot even play the game. The point is that a GameStop employee would have provided this parent with enough questions and clarification to, hopefully, land on the appropriate version. Other simpler examples would be “what is the latest Nintendo console?”, “What PlayStation 4 games would you recommend for a nine year old?”, etc. There is a lot that GameStop does to ease parents on what can be a very treacherous journey.
No other place serves as an always available stop for good adult face-to-face gaming conversation. Similar to the above “greeting” example, most other larger stores do not have knowledgable staff that is readily available to converse and provide insight both general and personal into games. Granted, there are ways both directly and indirectly to have these sort of conversations online. But, the in-person factor matters to me. In a world and a hobby that continues to rely more and more on impersonal communication, I enjoy every opportunity I can take to talk to someone face to face about games. And I am still to meet a single GameStop employee that was not ready to talk and share their thoughts on gaming.
If none of these succeed in having meaning, there is one more area that makes GameStop unique: the community they foster. Participate or hang out around a midnight release or Black Friday event at a GameStop and you will very quickly find the best gamers have to offer socially. Some of my best retail experiences have been during these events. Somewhere between the crowd that the franchise attracts and how organized they are in running these events, makes them something memorable. The hype, the excitement and the camaraderie are palpable. Whether you happen to be the first person to pick up the next big thing, or still standing in line waiting for your turn, the cheers and shouts are energizing. No matter how mainstream gaming has become, aside from larger gaming events and competitions, there is no other place to experience that level of gaming fandom.
But, like I said at the start of this series, all my reasons for holding on to GameStop are personal and emotional. Sadly, money is a big factor and reality for almost everyone, and feelings and experiences alone will probably not carry GameStop much further. Somewhere behind closed doors, there must be an over-qualified team of experts constantly brainstorming how to change the outlook of this long lived company. My hope is that they find the secret formula and completely blow our minds sometime in the next five years. Otherwise, I am starting to fear I will live to see a world without GameStop and that truly breaks my heart.
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