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The shady side of GameStop

When you hear the word GameStop, what comes to mind first? Do you see your friendly neighborhood game store and the place you go for new titles? Or do see an entrance to a nightmare underneath that signature black and red sign? Most gamers seem to be divided on how they feel about the company, with some gamers liking the store, and some absolutely loathing every minute they spend in it.

While opinion on the store ebbs and flows, there's one fact that can't be argued: GameStop the company has engaged in some pretty shady acts over its long history. From deceiving its customers to inflating its prices, GameStop's sins against the gaming community pretty much run the gambit and have earned it a fair amount of scorn. We've put together a list of the ways GameStop has wronged gamers — and even those who work for the company itself — since it first came on the scene.

Once you're through, you might have to ask yourself this question: is GameStop still a place you want to shop?

Traded games aren't tested to make sure they work

Buying a used game from a private seller can be a gamble. You essentially have to take the seller at their word that the game works (unless they're nice enough to let you try it), and you don't have a whole lot of recourse if you get home and your game fails to load up. For reasons like this, some gamers prefer to buy used from game stores, where one would expect there to be a process that keeps damaged games off the shelves.

Not at GameStop! As Paul Tassi at Forbes discovered for himself all the way back in 2011, "GameStop does not test the games they buy back to make sure they actually work."

It seems kind of incredible that a game store famous for buying and selling used games wouldn't have a mechanism in place to test those games, but that's the reality. GameStop, as it did with Tassi, could sell you several duds in a row, forcing you to return to the store each time to get a different copy.

The next time you purchase a used game at GameStop, keep this in mind.

There's a huge gap in what GameStop offers for used games vs. what they're sold for

The regular MSRP (manufacturer's suggested retail price) of a video game is $60. That's a hefty chunk of change, even though there's some debate around whether games should actually cost more or not. Still, dropping $60 is nothing to sneeze at, and some enjoy buying physical copies of games in particular so they can sell them later and recoup some of the cost.

If you plan to sell your game to GameStop, though, you might want to reconsider.

GameStop is notorious for offering gamers very little for their trades. "What was once $60 of your hard-earned money immediately drops to $18 to $25 for a GameStop trade-in," said Forbes, noting that GameStop also has a history of dropping the trade-in value for games that don't review well after release.

Not only that, but GameStop profits heavily from trade-ins to the point that a former employee believes it "would be illegal if it involved something the government regulated." The same game you trade in for $25 or $30 will be sold by GameStop for $50 or $55 — a pretty substantial profit margin.

Want to get the most money back for your used game? Sell it on eBay or another website. You'll do far better than you will at GameStop.

Employees used to open and play games, then sell them as new

Buying a brand-new, shrink-wrapped copy of a video game is the fastest way to ensure you get a game that works. There's an unspoken guarantee that comes with buying something that no one's opened yet. In the case of video games, you can usually rest assured that the game disc was pressed, put into a case by some kind of robot, and wrapped in plastic without a human touching it.

We say usually because we're talking about GameStop here, and of course they weren't doing that.

GameStop employees need to know about video games so they can help customers. That's understandable. What's not understandable is why GameStop thought it was okay to lend employees copies of new games, and then sell those opened copies as new later on. Taking that shrink wrap off of the case is akin to taking a collector's item out of the box. Yes, it still has value, but that value is diminished simply because the product has been opened. Selling an opened product as new seems deceptive at best, and as it turns out, the practice seemed to be in conflict with FTC rules all the way back in 2011.

We were unable to determine if GameStop still sells games this way, or if the FTC ever looked into the company's sales of used games as new. Your best bet is to ask your individual store for a shrink-wrapped copy if you absolutely, positively, must shop at GameStop.

High-demand hardware is often bundled into more expensive packages

When video game hardware is in high demand, it's almost a given that scalpers will seize on the opportunity. One only has to look back at the release of the NES Classic back in 2016 to see there's a problem with secondary markets popping up to resell scarce products at a premium. That particular item could regularly be found on sites like Craigslist for hundreds of dollars over MSRP, and the increased third-party prices meant that regular folks had to pay more to buy it.

You'd expect that kind of behavior from a scalper. You would not, however, expect a well-known video game store to take advantage of its customers. But this is GameStop we're talking about.

GameStop has a habit of bundling highly sought-after hardware products with a bunch of games and accessories that people don't want. Most recently, the company applied this practice to its sale of the Nintendo Switch. The console was hard to find at its launch in early 2017, and when GameStop had consoles in stock, they were more often than sold in larger, more expensive bundles (as high as $600) instead of by themselves (at the $300 retail price).

Not cool, GameStop. Not cool.

GameStop frequently secures exclusive pre-order content for its stores only

Most gamers don't like console-exclusive content in video games. Game writers often lament its existence. Phil Spencer, the head of Xbox at Microsoft, doesn't like it. Heck, some game developers are even touting the fact that a game doesn't have console-exclusive content as a selling point. It seems the tide is turning on this type of DLC, which makes this next GameStop practice pretty mind-boggling.

Store-exclusive content. Just saying it sounds ridiculous, but it's a thing that exists in the world of GameStop. If you pre-order your game from this one particular store, you get access to special content. Those who buy the game elsewhere? They don't.

One of GameStop's more famous content deals involved Destiny, where players who pre-ordered Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare from the store got an exclusive Destiny shader. That's right — not only did players have to pre-order specifically from GameStop, but in order to get the exclusive content, they had to pre-order an entirely different game.

And then there's Batman: Arkham Origins. GameStop secured the rights to two exclusive Black Mask challenge maps for the games, and those who pre-ordered Arkham Origins from GameStop were able to play on them. Those who didn't were out of luck.

The store sometimes sells in-demand titles as "used" to charge more than MSRP

We've already talked about the way GameStop sticks it to consumers with pricey hardware bundles. But hardware isn't the only type of product that gets scarce. In some cases, physical game copies can sell out, and if gamers aren't hot on buying the digital versions of those games, it can be tough to track down a copy at retail.

It should come as no surprise, then, that GameStop is ready to take advantage of those buyers, too.

The best example of this is Xenoblade Chronicles, a Nintendo Wii U game that originally released in 2012. The game was already rare in that not many copies of the game were printed, and the game was only ever sold in two places: Nintendo's website and GameStop. Now here's where things get seedy: a source told Kotaku that GameStop had the ability to print new copies, and those copies were sent to GameStop stores without shrink wrap. They were then sold — as "pre-owned" — for $89.99.

The games were never played. Had they been shrink-wrapped, they might never have been opened. But GameStop took advantage of the demand around the game to jack up prices, and consumers got the short end of the stick as a result.

GameStop throws away video game history on a regular basis

Believe it or not, that GameStop in your neighborhood might not have always been a GameStop. It could have been a Babbage's, or an Electronics Boutique (EB), or a Funcoland. The truth is, the roots of GameStop go back years and years to the first Babbage's store in 1984, and the company has had its hand in video games — and video game history as a result — ever since.

Unfortunately, GameStop isn't a very good steward of that history.

GameStop has a habit of throwing out all sorts of products and paraphernalia that it has no use for in its stores. Some of these items, like promotional stand-ups and kiosks, are saved. But others, such as game cases, manuals, and even whole games themselves, often get tossed in the dumpster when GameStop has determined that they're taking up space.

This is especially dangerous now that GameStop has, again, decided to be in the business of selling retro games. There's no guarantee that games sold to GameStop won't be trashed in the future, which does not bode well for video game preservation efforts.

If you absolutely must sell your old games, sell them at a flea market, where you can be sure the buyer actually wants it.

Stores once removed free On-Live codes bundled with Deus Ex: Human Revolution because it operated an On-Live competitor

You've already read countless examples of how shady GameStop can be when doing business. The company certainly has no problem misleading customers when it comes to selling used games as new, or selling used games they haven't even tested. It should come as no surprise, then, that GameStop would act questionably in order to protect its business. And that's exactly what it did at the release of Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

When Human Revolution launched in the summer of 2011, retail copies of the PC version not only included the game disc, but a free OnLive code for the game, too. OnLive was a game streaming service that operated sort of like a video game Netflix. Players didn't need a dedicated game hardware to play OnLive titles, but instead, could stream to any device capable of running OnLive's software.

As you can imagine, GameStop didn't like the idea that buyers of Human Revolution might find a code for OnLive — especially when GameStop operated a game streaming competitor in Impulse. So the company instructed stores to remove the OnLive code from the box while still selling the game as "new" at its full retail price.

When caught, GameStop didn't apologize — instead, it defended the act, saying "We don't make a habit of promoting competitive services without a formal partnership." Yes, seriously.

It survives by pushing a controversial "Circle of Life" sales process

Have you always wondered why you can't purchase a product at GameStop without being pressed to pre-order the next Madden, sign up for Pro Rewards, or buy game insurance? Believe it or not, the store associate isn't asking just to make your experience unpleasant. They're actually doing what it takes to keep their jobs, thanks to a highly aggressive strategy that GameStop calls the "Circle of Life."

It sounds so nice, doesn't it? Just saying "Circle of Life" can conjure up memories of The Lion King. You're probably singing the song in your head right now. But GameStop's Circle has less to do with nature and more to do with how it can wring the most money out of its customers. Because GameStop isn't just happy getting you into the store to buy a game. It wants you to stick around throughout the entire process, and that includes getting you to come back for your pre-orders, getting you to pay regularly with a Pro subscription, and enticing you to sell back what you've purchased later.

And in this program, employees are judged by how able they are to "upsell" you on more stuff at the cash register. There's a quota system at play, and failing to meet standards can mean employees get less hours, or worse, they lose their jobs. As a result, they feel compelled to offer you things you probably don't want.

The next time you're in a GameStop store, just know that it's not entirely the checkout guy's fault.

It settled a class-action suit after forcing employees to work off the clock

You're about to have another reason to feel bad for GameStop employees, and another reason to believe that the company's shady practices can't necessarily be tied to in-store staff, but instead, its corporate office.

Several years ago, GameStop settled a class action lawsuit with employees who claimed the company forced them to work off the clock, both in their regular shifts and in overtime. Not only that, the suit stated that GameStop "failed to provide meal and rest breaks, failed to pay wages timely upon class members' termination and failed to provide accurate itemized wage statements showing the actual hours worked."

When you consider the "Circle of Life" approach GameStop takes to selling its products, and the pressure it puts employees under to perform, it might not be surprising that GameStop would stiff its staff on pay and breaks. The company, of course, denied "any liability or wrongdoing," but the company's willingness to settle for a total of $3.25 million tells a different tale: one that sounds more like, "yeah, we probably did that."