The fall of Gamestop

After my last visit to a Gamestop a few years ago, I had a think about how it managed to turn itself from a store I went to a couple times per month (in the past), into essentially Hot Topic for 5 year olds and parents that wish their kids would grow up like them. My personal, somewhat flawed opinion is it's tied to their purging of retro games.

Gamestop's business model is all about selling packaged goods. This makes sense, it's a brick and mortar store. But as digital versions of games rose in popularity, and online merchants made buying packaged games from your house easy - easier than going out, even, Gamestop didn't adapt well.

For a time, they tried to compete digitally, but then realized what they're best at is selling physical goods - luckily for them, things like Amiibos came along and gave them a reprieve. But what they did to make room for that amiibo stock was chuck any game that was more than two hardware generations back.

As the popularity of amiibos waned, they found other merch to fill those slots. Funko pops, zelda shirts, novelty belt buckles. But the fact is you can very easily get all those things online too. So you wind up catering to two types of people - folks who don't have good internet access, and folks who wandered by. I assumed because of this that the Gamestops in malls would be the ones keeping the rest afloat, but I've been told mall Gamestops actually underperform the others (likely because of the state of malls in america).

So why do I think this is tied to getting rid of older games? Well, the number one thing is the stock space issue, but on top of that, older games are the only things you can't reliably get online. You're more likely to come away with a bunch of stuff you're looking for if you go into a brick and mortar store than if you do a lot of browsing. More likely to get a good deal, as well. And retro game stores are doing pretty well, though to be fair it is a niche market.

This guy might be an outlier, but I talked to one store in central Florida where the guy was making $5k profit per month. He had no employees and was the only retro game store for 30 miles, so there are a lot of specific factors in his favor, but still, he had a well stocked store that was doing quite well, where nearby Gamestops were floundering. But Gamestops form another critical and unfortunate part of that ecosystem.

Older game stores rely on Gamestop's existence in a way that really sucks for Gamestop, and it's their own fault. Basically, if someone comes in to a Gamestop with a bunch of N64 games, some Gamestops can't buy those (some can, but it's a crapshoot??). Or if they can, they can't pay enough money, and wind up directing the customer to the nearest retro shop, which they'll certainly know about. But what they CAN buy is all those copies of madden 2015 that the retro shop won't take.

So the retro shop is sending people to Gamestop who come in with their old sports games, after buying everything good they might have (so I've been told by a local bay area shop). It's handy for the retro shop because they can say oh, don't worry, Gamestop can buy this, they're around the corner. Meanwhile Gamestop is mostly buying the trash from that collection and sends the good stuff people will pay for to the retro shop.

So this is why I think part of Gamestop's fall is tied to their lack of rero games. Through a combination of 1) culling older games to make space for merch, 2) relying on yet another physical product people can buy online for income, 3) turning away pricey older games in favor of "anything from the last 5 years" Gamestop has turned it into a place that nobody particularly needs to go to.

I've since been told that, since some Gamestops do buy retro stuff to sell online, and a few do sell in stores, my logic is a bit flawed - but I stand by the other points! It's been interesting watching that particular business go down the tubes, while local game stores seem to be doing pretty well, at least in urban areas.

Until Sunday I still shopped regularly at Gamestop. But here in NYC we have tons of them, and you can use their website to see which stores have which games, so if you're looking for a 15 year old 360 game you can see if a bit of an extra trip on your way home from work will net it for you. I have been able to get a massive collection of good games by being thorough and diligent in this work. Cleaned up on PS2 / Xbox once those hit 75% off in say 2010.

To you points. I feel like as a store they are forever trapped by having to serve a market that is very much not people who would be posting on this forum. I have seen countless interactions of clerks trying to explain the differences in PS4 models to well meaning but uninformed parents trying to make their kid happy. A good percentage of those to parents who English is not their first language. I felt like that was what they offered to a section of consumers, the sense of a hands on touch from a knowledgeable staff. But to these consumers the products on sale are simply things to distract their kids with. Disposable entertainment in the same way comic books were once seen. So to you or I there is a frustration that they don't stock retro games, but would the vast majority of their customers even want them? Would a harried parent understand why a 25 year old game cost $100 while a brand new one costs $60?

Video Games New York can make a killing in the retro business because every time I see people walk in there they get hit by waves of nostalgia an are willing to open up their wallets. But its because its been years since they've seen an N64. Would that happen if there were still cartridges out on Gamestop shelves? Like at the Ewaste place I volunteer, we can't move Metal Gear Solid or Final Fantasy games for the PS2 or Halo on the Xbox or Bioshock on the 360 for $5 a piece because despite being great games they viewed in the same category as Jurassic Park VHS tapes. There is some demand for rare items, but only because people come in thinking we're dopes who don't know the value of say Saturn or TG16 games (both of which have never came in the 4 years I have been there).

I dunno. The games market seems to be to be fractured into people who see games as good no matter what their age ("collectors" being a subset within that group) and host of players who see buying a new game akin to going to see a movie on opening weekend. It made sense for Gamestop to chase after the larger audience. It almost would take a cultural shift in the way we view 5 year old games for things to change. Here, case in point: quarantine has be playing Sunset Overdrive. A game you can get for like $5 at Gamestop $20 ish on XBL. I am loving this game that I missed from years ago, but which is the more accurate price as concerns demand? Even at $20 that is a steal for this game, but that $5 reflects a very low demand for a game that feels at time like a future cult classic. It also tells the potential consumer that this game is essential worthless.

Sorry I feel like this got long winded. But I think I would sum it up that perception is reality. My biggest critique of Gamestop is that they've done a terrible job of instilling the idea that used / old games have value. From the way they price them, to the way they stock them, to the way they present them. Perhaps if that was the image they projected then it would be easier for the average consumer to look at things the way more dedicated hobbyists do.

It‘s funny how transparent corporate attempts at maintaining their value are, Gamestop first copying Radioshack’s attempt at continued relevance (we sell phones too!) to Hot Topic‘s/almost every large gaming site’s pivot to a nonspecific “Nerd Culture” (Game of Thrones! Funkopop! Avengers!)

I think you're right in that attempting to reframe themselves in a more specific rather than general light would probably be the smarter move in the long-term (look at the weird fake buyers market around retro games), but simultaneously it seems kind of obvious that they probably wouldn't be able to continue at the same scale regardless of that since that market is probably always going to be inherently smaller/more 'boutique' (niche movie stores for example).

Of course, at their current pace the alternative is vanish forever, but as a publicly traded company it seems to me their interests are always going to be (& have been) centered around profit & expansion rather than smart downscaling for long-term stability.

to @robinhoodie I agree with all the stuff you‘re saying! the perceived value of games, especially physical games, is kind of all over the place now, and is massively variable and subject to public opinion. It’s like the freaking stock market almost, because the value is entirely perceived and not even always tied to rarity. I myself just bought a physical Doom Slayers Edition because just buying Doom 2016 by itself digitally was twice as much, and slayers edition comes with doom 1, 2, and 3. (but, to be an okay person about it, I did purchase it new)

I think Gamestop has sort of lost sight of who it serves, because if they were really gunning for that "distract my kids" market they could do a much better job of that too. I don't really believe that Gamestop should be showcasing retro games in their stores, it's more that to me the removal of older stuff coinciding with the addition of funkos and amiibos and t-shirts felt like a doubling down on the disposable side of their business and less on the sustainable ("keep this piece of plastic in circulation") side, and they wound up doing themselves a disservice there.

If they wanted to be an "explain games to someone who just wants to be done with it" place, I think that's a model. What I really mean by the above is close to your final point I think - it seems like they lost sight of the value of older (even 5 years) games, which is the main thing they made money from for ages, and they kind of dumped it all for a secondary market to take care of, but what they didn't do is replace that with anything of value - they replaced it with more landfill-destined plastic. it seems obvious in hindsight I guess.

and to @Myspace_Mavis yeah, I reckon that's what limits them, the need to appeal to stockholders and remain a huge business. Whereas scaling down and focusing on what they could really do with their remaining network, I mean there's a lot that could be done there.

Right now they're trying out these boutique shops, one of which is kind of a lan gaming place, another of which has pokemon tournaments and stuff, and another is retro game oriented - but it's not clear how or if they're making money or what the plan is. It feels like they're just reaching in all directions and hoping to grab something. I sure wish I could find that article I read about that recently!! I know it was on game informer... heck

P.S. don't anybody worry about getting long winded, that's why we're on a FORUM again!

When I worked at Funcoland in the 90‘s the employees had a lot of control of what game went in the display kiosks. I was a good way to move older product. A customer could come in unsure of what they want, see a cool game’s attract mode and then buy it right there. That is definitely something that has long gotten lost. Almost an old record store approach where you walk in and here something that hasn‘t been on the radio. Making the customer feel like by walking into the store they are getting access to special / secret knowledge they can only get in store. Like you don’t want the store to be a Chucky Cheese where kids just hang out all day, but maybe they could play something other than commercials for new games (where the profit margin is slim) on the TVs they always have running in the store.

But I 100 percent agree they have to scale back. A much stronger web store could easily cater to all the back catalog shoppers, leaving only an almost Kiosk version of the store to handle new releases. Other than Amiibos, I have never seen a shopper buy any of the knicknacks Gamestop sells. Much more kids buying online currency cards since they don't have credit cards. Also a LOT of controller sales. What are people doing to their controllers?

That‘s a good point I hadn’t thought about - that record store “show you a cool thing” aspect has definitely been lost, and really only vaguely exists in retro game shops. At record stores you'd expect folks to “have taste” and be showing that taste to you. Actually not too long ago I was in a record store and heard something I liked, and bought it!!

But at game shops it seems like the aim is to just be a fan of everything, so like... some zelda cover band music playing in the store, rare games on display but not with any intentionality - no $10 copy of Ranger X turned toward the customer as a suggestion. that kind of stuff is important!

P.P.S. @robinhoodie you should start a thread of stuff you've found at the ewaste place

Ha ha! The non-intentionality really sums it up. Yeah I could see making a thread with the stuff I‘ve found and repaired into good shape. The best finds were really 2 CIB copies of Rule of Rose. Now there’s an example of people not knowing the financial and art value of old games.

yeah, do a thread! I like looking at objects

It‘s difficult because there’s not a centralized discourse on this stuff, little profit motive to fund that kind of work, and writing about games is all over the place.

I think even getting people to recognize that older games are just as valid in their design paradigms as current ones is hard work in & of itself. It‘s so easy to get muddled in the stylistic signifiers of the present as a sign of “progress” rather than just a different set of mechanical and aesthetic assumptions. The less immediate ’friction‘ people feel with something the less they’re going to think about/question it so even that first step is difficult. I mean just look at how much of the rhetoric around “retro” stuff is about how you can “see the foundations” of modern design, rather than how it contains a coherent design in & of itself.

Emulation is a problem too, at some point as a salesperson, you‘re either making an ’investment‘ proposition (buy now, sell later) or you’re arguing that the physical experience and obligation of owning older games has value beyond the ease of emulation (which is another difficult step to surmount).

All of this for a significantly smaller market then you used to have, real puzzle they've got over there

@exodus#430 That last transactional thing is really interesting. I have noticed a curious relative lack of old sports games in the couple retro shops I‘ve visited in the last few years. As you say, it’s hard to know if that anecdote is a factor, but it registered with me at the time.

@Myspace_Mavis#444 I often wonder about the impact of emulation on the used game market. I feel like I see disc/cart only copies of games a lot less (possibly because why sell what folks can just emulate? total shot in the dark here), and there‘s a lot more effort of folks to get their complete in box copies out there to sell. I think the out of control climb of prices is a huge issue (I get it, these things are rare and only going to become more so as time passes, but I really want people to have a chance to experience the cool things I have), and is a big inhibitor of selling a lot of these games to anyone other than collectors.

On the topic of the design being the foundations of modern games, most of the really good retro stuff is the unique and interesting titles (or little aspects of them) that still shine. Treating them as nothing more than stepping stones to the modern era seems so bizarre to me. I get why folks would do it, but there are too many games that are amazing in their own right. You could claim that point of view is nostalgia, but most of my favourite games from the earlier generations (and favourite games in general) are ones I didn’t experience until I was an adult, so that's certainly not the case.

This has really made me nostalgic for demo stations at game stores. The retro game shop here had one for the first couple years they were open, but it understandably became too much upkeep, and too much space lost that could serve product. It's a shame, since it's such a great way to show off some otherwise possibly unknown titles and get people picking them up and playing the heck out of them. Again, I just want folks to experience all the cool games I have, and be able to share the same with me.

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@exodus#438 P.S. don’t anybody worry about getting long winded, that’s why we’re on a FORUM again!

I had forgotten how much I missed forums...

A forum is for rumination.

I do think emulation might have cut down on the number of people who want to have a cart/disc-only version of a game. Since emulation is so much easier than it used to be (though getting roms is a bit harder), the appeal of a physical edition becomes more about the complete package.

Really the reason I choose physical is because I know myself - if I have too much choice in one place I won't stick with one game for long. With an actual disc I have to take out of a package and put into a console, I'm more likely to keep going on that game, vs bouncing around.

I haven't seen a game store with a demo kiosk for ages - I do think the upkeep is a big factor. But there is one place near me that does choose which PS1 games to turn toward the customer and which to leave spine-out, and they have a bit of fun deciding which games to showcase, they've told me, so... that's something!

With you on the with game in front of me, that become the one I am focusing one.

So I will say this. I still like getting the cartridge / disc of a game if the price is reasonable. And for cartridges, my entire collection is cartridge only. When it comes to discs I have noticed an interesting shift. I completely rejected having CDR copies of Saturn games. But once I got an ODE for that system and for my Dreamcast, my desire to have discs really plummeted. I have a TG16 but only an Everdrive as well. Obviously not everyone's solution. But for those high end systems where collecting games is super expensive and there's a solution where with the controller in your hand you cannot tell the difference, it really make you question if its worth forking out the money.

But going back to Gamestop. I would say that on systems where those solutions are not available (or the downloads for one game would be HUGE), such as Xbox 360, I really like that I can snap up say old Need For Speed games or old Gears imitators for like $10. That is def the right price point for a weird game that I can just stick in a disc wallet and pick up years from now when the mood strikes me. I mentioned Sunset Overdrive a couple posts back and I know I've had it for years, suddenly there's a pandemic and its like, what are my pandemic games? Its been a nice fit to have a fake San Francisco I can run around in when I can't go out into NYC. That $8 I spent years ago starts paying off.

You're kind of selling me on sunset overdrive here, heh.

But yeah, a lot of people have gone to real console+rom cart of some kind, which seems like a good plan long term. I would be doing that too if I didn't kinda already have most of this stuff from collecting in the 90s and leaving it at my mom's!

@robinhoodie#435 sunset overdrive is free with game pass, which i think is for better or worse, the future of the “long tail” of games.

@kappuru#518 I would actually love if that was the long tail of most games after a decent physical print run. As long as things are still available to people.

@exodus#517 Yeah, most of my Saturn collection is from back in the day. So that saved me thousands. And Sunset is pretty fun. At times it feels like the natural extension of Jet Set Radio, but obviously a more Western flavor.