In Depth: What GameStop did Wrong (The Deus Ex – Onlive Scandal)
The gaming community is still taking in the news of just what exactly happened in GameStop store’s all across the country this week, and the bad press seems to only be building. It appears that Deus Ex: Human Revolution developer Square Enix and digital distributor OnLive made a last minute agreement to include a digital (OnLive) copy of the Deus Ex: Human Revolution game with all PC copies of the game; a deal that GameStop claims they were unaware of prior to the fact. GameStop, which has been taking steps to establish an online distribution system of their own, made the decision to have employees actually open copies of the game, remove the coupons for the OnLive copy and then sell them to unknowing customers as new.
The order to pull these coupons was sent out in an e-mail, which has been leaked to the press, from one of GameStop’s Field Operations Managers. This of course means that the order came from relatively high up, putting local employees and managers in a bit of a tough spot. When GameSpy reached out for comment, GameStop PR Representative Beth Sharum confirmed that the order to open the game packages and discard the coupon had in fact been sent out to GameStop employees, indirectly also confirming that this was in fact corporate policy. As the news broke and bad press grew, GameStop began to change their tune though, deciding instead to pull all copies from the store shelves with a full recall.
It appears GameStop still stands by their decision to open the new copies of the game though. In a post updated on their Facebook Page at roughly 4:30 PM, Wednesday evening, the company defended their actions by stating, “Regarding the Deus Ex OnLive Codes: GameStop’s policy is that we do not promote competitive services without a formal partnership. Square Enix packed a competitor’s coupon within the PC version of Deus Ex: Human Revolution without our prior knowledge and we did pull these coupons. While the new products may be opened, we fully guarantee the condition of the discs to be new. If you find this to not be the case, please contact the store where the game was purchased and they will further assist.” At the time of my writing this, said post has garnered nearly 1200 comments, most of which seem to be a negative response.
While it is always hard to gauge a response on the Internet, and even harder when the news is still fresh, the consensus from gamers seems to match that of the Facebook post. Many people feel GameStop took the wrong course of action, and what’s possibly the most concerning (if you are a GameStop stockholder) is a strong sense of broken trust in the community.
So to recap: GameStop realizes that a game they are selling contains a “competitor’s” coupon in it (said coupon is valued at $49.99). They then choose to instruct employees to open new copies of the game, remove the coupon and discard them. Additionally, employees are told to sell the game to customers “as new.” GameStop later changes their minds, opting to simply pull the game off of the shelves and stop selling it all together.
Obviously there are a couple of issues that are getting gamers heated here. The first and most obvious of which is the idea of an employee opening a product up, removing content and then selling it as new. If there are any other examples of this happening in retail, they are surely few and far between. GameStop has had a policy of opening or “gutting” several copies of a game as an anti-theft measure to allow them to display the game on the shelves, but this practice has gotten them into trouble as well, most importantly though, in those cases nothing is removed from the package.
As a general rule of thumb, no one really considers an item that is already opened as “new” anymore, even if another consumer hasn’t actually owned it (at a minimum it is considered an “open product”). GameStop’s own return policy reflects this altered state, allowing only for a return of an identical item (presumably due to a defect) on any opened item after seven days (as opposed to thirty days for unopened “new” items). Clearly, GameStop, like most businesses, views open merchandise differently than unopened. It seems hypocritical to expect the customer to not do the same. To put it simply, if I were to buy a new “unopened” game at GameStop, open it in front of them (so that it was obvious the game had never been played or “used”) and then ask to return it for a refund they would not allow it (because, essentially, the game would no longer be “new”). Several people have attempted to offer analogies of other items to get the point across but it really doesn’t matter; if consumers and businesses generally don’t view opened merchandise as “new” than it shouldn’t be sold (or treated) as such. The added insult of removing content/value from the manufacture’s packaging is just another blow.
Then there is the fact that GameStop tried to sneak this one in. Rather than just opting for a recall right away, which is what they should have done if they are going to refuse to sell a game because it contains a coupon to a service they view as competition, they tried to pull one over on their customers. While not every customer is a well-informed customer, one trait all consumers share is a deep resentment for anyone/company that makes them feel as if they have been ripped off. Having had content secretly removed from your purchase worth roughly $50 is bound to cause some resentment. Quite simply, GameStop did something already kind of dumb in the worse possible way.
The last major issue, and this is more of a bigger picture type of deal, if what this says about the company as a whole. Today it was a coupon for a copy of a game on what they view to be a competitor’s service, but what might it be tomorrow? In their blatant disregard for their customers, GameStop has unintentionally made it clear that they will quickly take a course of action that will lower the value of their product compared to other retailers over a relatively petty issue; at the cost of the customer. While it is hard to imagine the specifics of a hypothetical scenario, in an age of ever increasing exclusives and digital bonuses, what happens when some of these bonuses conflict with GameStop’s marketing strategy? If EA decides to include a bonus with Battlefield 3 that will make use of their online distribution service, Origin, will GameStop pull that as well? Signs point to yes. If Activision decided to include a code for the Black-Ops maps in an upcoming game would GameStop pull it because it would hurt their sales of the DLC? It’s a long shot admittedly, but where exactly would the company draw the line?
At the end of the day, if your company’s practices are making customers feel cheated than you are simply doing something wrong. Perception matters, how the customer feels about the situation matters, and if they feel as if they have been swindled it doesn’t matter if they actually have been. This is not a call for a boycott, simply an attempt to explain the resentment in the gaming community with GameStop’s actions. Corporate polices are rarely pretty, and it is rarely positive for a company when they are exposed to the general public in this manner, but the problem isn’t the exposure it was the policy. Had GameStop simply pulled the games there would have been a small, contained backlash, instead they tried to deceive their customers, got caught, and made people genuinely angry. It has gone beyond personal anecdotes about the company trying to push a dozen pre-orders on you even if you just asked directions for how to get to the food court, people feel ripped off, and that matters.
I’ll leave you with what one person commented on their Facebook post as I think it sums it up well, “Ultimately its up to you who you shop with, and if you think that them tampering with new game copies without telling you is okay, then by all means, keep supporting that business practice.”
Agree? Disagree? Leave your thoughts in the comments below; just remember to be civil.
In-Depth is a periodic editorial segment on CBR that provides an expanded look at certain issues and events in the gaming community. The opinions stated do not necessarily reflect those of Clearance Bin Review and all of its authors and should not be viewed as news coverage. Read previous editions of “In Depth.”