Friday, January 25, 2008

Why I hate Game Crazy, and why I'm glad most comics stores are much better than it

-The recent (and ongoing) discussion of professional standards among comics retailers reminds me that, of my worst shopping experiences, none have occurred in a comics shop. It's really the video game store which provides the worst customer service experiences these days. Probably the most annoyed I've ever been with employees of any store was at a nearby Game Crazy.* The one guy at work was glued to a Guitar Hero demo, pretty much ignoring us the entire time. Later, another employee came in and stood in front of the section I was trying to browse; he made no effort to get out of my way (perhaps because he was distracted by his attempt to get the on-duty employee to loan him some money). My wife tried to buy a used game, but the employee gave her the wrong disc and didn't try to find the correct one when she pointed this out; he insisted that that was the only disc in the drawer.

I've never experienced anything close to this kind of bad customer service at any comics shop I've ever visited. Add in the store's many other disadvantages (really poor selection, cramped quarters, cardboard displays blocking part of the used section, new games placed behind the counter so that you couldn't really make out what the store had in stock, employee ignoring not only us but the kid (possibly his own) who had been left there for him to babysit), and it makes for as bad a shopping experience as I've ever had in any comics shop anywhere. In fact, I think the problems associated with the "bad comics shop" of 20 years ago most closely resemble those routinely encountered in video game shops today. Consider my biggest complaints about video games stores:

  • Unnecessarily large staffs who still manage to spend more time talking amongst themselves about disliked customers than actually doing any work
  • Clerks more interested in playing game demos than ringing up customers
  • A brazenly anti-kid attitude in a business with a huge juvenile traffic (not really a problem for a lot of comic shops these days; see below)
  • Open partisanship for particular consoles which puts similar attitudes in comics shops to shame**
  • Constant pressure to preorder games
  • Contempt/fear of those whose preferences in video games differ from their own--for some employees, the Wii is basically equivalent to Cancer Comics
  • Complete lack of knowledge about upcoming releases, ordering obscure titles, etc.
  • Extra, unwanted attention paid to any female customers

I rarely experience these things in comics shops, mostly because I think the 90s bust kind of weeded out the most ineptly, unprofessionally-run stores (and those remaining stores fitting this description all but chase off any non-regular unfortunate enough to wander through the doors). It also helps that comics shops are usually locally-owned, with the proprietor taking special interest in the store's day-to-day operations. In contrast, video game stores are, by and large, operated by young men with no vested interest in the longterm success of the store. There's a tradeoff with this kind of absentee corporate ownership though; I think these stores have a much better stock of games because inventory decisions are in the hands of bean-counters rather than guys who think Big Brain Academy is ruining the video game industry. Maybe the comics industry would have been better off with a few EB/Gamestop-type chains. If nothing else, it would encourage independent stores to compete with the chain stores by offering a better selection or better service.***

And I should add that not every video game store is plagued by the problems I've outlined here. The store where I do most of my shopping is way too busy to allow its employees to sit around playing game demos. It does have a couple of part-time employees, neither of whom I see in there on a regular basis, who are far less helpful. But the main guys (yes, they're all guys) do a good job. I'll be sad to leave that store behind.

*Yeah, I know--most of these stores suck. But we had a discount card, so we tried to hit it up as often as possible. This, of course, begs the question "why on earth would anyone pay for a Game Crazy discount card?" We actually have a couple of decent reasons. There's a pretty good branch in Columbia, SC, where I bought a copy of the somewhat hard to find original Digital Devil Saga for PS2. The promise of a 10% discount, combined with a subscription to Nintendo Power (which my wife had been wanting to get for a while), compelled me to sign up for the card. We managed to buy enough games to pay for it in discounts, so it wasn't a bad decision in the long run.

**Admittedly, open PS3/360 partisanship makes more sense than open DC/Marvel partisanship. If you (foolishly) invested $500+ in a console at launch, you have a legitimate stake in seeing that it actually succeeds; otherwise, you blew half a grand on a machine that will mostly gather dust for the next 5 years. Still, that doesn't justify clerks talking up one machine at another's expense, especially if the customer owns the competing console. Incidentally, this happened to my wife recently--a somewhat delusional PS3 fanboy/clerk tried to convince her that we had wasted money in buying an X-Box 360, that developers were about to stop supporting it in favor of the Sony machine, etc. I think this might have been a Game Crazy employee, actually.

***My current store kind of does this, actually, but that's a rather complex tale which I'd prefer to save for another time.

-On the subject of kid-friendly stores: I don't think it really matters anymore for most stores I visit. I mean, it would be nice if it did matter; I'd feel better about the industry if I saw more kids shopping in comics specialty stores. But really, there's not a whole lot that most DM stores can offer to offset the tremendous advantages held by chain stores (most notably location and parental interest). People argue that comics shops should do more to ensure the future health of the industry, but I've never thought it reasonable that a small, marginal business like a comics shop should have to alter its (presumably) successful strategy in order to satisfy pundits.

I mean, there's probably a lot more money to be made by catering to kids, but these situations seem to exist only on a case-by-case basis. In other words, a shop based in a strip mall full of parent-friendly stores with no interest to children (like clothing stores, nail salons, office supply stores, etc.) are likely making a mistake by failing to appeal to kids. Ditto for shops located near schools or subdivisions with lots of kids. However, stores located on college campuses or in inconvenient, nonresidential neighborhoods probably aren't going to get as much juvenile foot traffic. It's silly to expect these stores to invest time and money into appealing to a hypothetical (and quite possibly non-existent) patronage.


Chris Mautner said...

This all just adds fuel to my theory that current video game culture is what comic book culture was twenty years ago.

There are independent video game stores where you live? It's all EB/GameStop around here.

Dick Hyacinth said...

There are a couple of small local chains, one of which is really terribly unprofessional and the other of which is pretty cool (though I'm not sure if it actually carries new games). The store I go to most often is a former EB/current Gamestop. It just happens to have better employees than most branches.

Matthew J. Brady said...

Typo alert: "Maybe the video game industry would have been better off with a few EB/Gamestop-type chains." I think you mean "comics industry" here.

Isn't Game Crazy the one connected to Hollywood Video? I rarely go into those for exactly the reasons you state, namely the cramped space, unhelpful staff, and poor selection. I usually find EB/Gamestop to be better (except the ones located in malls (as opposed to strip malls); those always seem crowded and disorganized), but they do get annoying with the push to preorder. And while I don't usually buy brand new games that have just come out, I've heard that they often don't have popular titles in; it's often easier to go to Best Buy or Circuit City if you want Rock Band the first week it comes out or something like that.

I should also mention that the Gamestops near me (there are at least three or four within my normal weekly traveling area) mostly all seem to have at least one female employee, usually of the teenage nerd-girl variety. I dunno; I find that interesting. Maybe the increasing mainstream acceptance of gaming has led to more female gamers. If so, cool.

As for independent game stores, I don't know of any near me, but I'm in the manufactured dregs of the suburbs; maybe a town with more personality might have some. I know the town I grew up in, a small village of about 20,000 people in southern Oregon, used to have a bunch of locally-owned game stores. It was a weird trend; they seemed to be popping up all over town for a couple years there. There are still one or two in operation, and one of them is a pretty nice joint, sporting a good selection of new and used games and equipment. I usually stop in whenever I visit family. Hey, sometimes I even make it a trip and stop at the comic shop I used to frequent. Ah, nostalgia.

Matthew J. Brady said...

Wow, that was probably a really boring comment. Sorry, folks.

Dick Hyacinth said...

Thanks for the heads up, Matt.

The worst Game Crazies are the ones actually built into the Hollywood Video stores. These locations mostly seem to serve as a glorified previously played games section. I don't think I've ever been to another one like the aforementioned Columbia store--big, well-stocked, well-staffed, not directly linked to a Hollywood Video location. But I've heard there are others like it out there.

Chad Nevett said...

Out of curiosity (as I haven't seen the original posts), what does "kid-friendly" mean exactly? I only ask because, as a kid, I loved comic shops and they haven't really changed at all since then--so just interested in what that term means within the current discussion.

Alex! said...


We try to keep ROCKETSHIP "kid friendly", which to me means that :

- we have a well-stocked section of books that are appropriate/interesting for kids under ten. This section is shelved lower, for their height, and has a bench for sittin' and lookin'.

- we seperate shojo and shnone from the general interest manga, in an effort to make it easier for kids that are interested in shojo and shonen to find what they want, and not mistakenly pick up something filled with adult material.

-we try to keep the general atmospehere friendly, and have no overtly sexual or violent images displayed (ie... witchblade posters or what-have-you).

- in general, we don't have any adult material in the store. There is no "XXX" section that we have to keep kids from stumbling into.

- we make FCBD a huge event for neighborhood kids, and we try to have several kid-oriented events throughout the year.

- we make sure our aisles are wide enough for strollers.

Mostly, we just try to be a safe, welcoming environment for all ages, with a wide variety of materials for everyone. I hope that answers your question!

Alicia said...

You may be pleased to know that GameCrazy recently filed for Chapter 11.

(This put a good friend out of work and stiffed me on a paycheck, but GameCrazy stores were so lousy that I'm still pleased to report it.)

Joe Willy said...

I've always wondered why a national chain never happened in the comics store business. I know there's a few regional stores with huge numbers out outlets in that particular area such as Mile High, Lone Star, etc. if I'm remembering the names correctly.

I also wonder if having national competition might not have been a good thing that could have prompted small individual stores to do a better job regarding customer service, discounts, and over all professionalism.

Then again, "Blockbuster Comics" could have wiped out the small stores and we'd just have them to blame for all of our problems instead of Diamond, Joe Q, Image or whatever the villain of the moment is.

seth said...

hey, talk about this:

"Discover Lost in Marvel Comics by ABC Medianet
Now fans can discover elements from the hit series "Lost" in Marvel Comics. ABC marketing has strategically placed images and references from the show in various comic books, including Uncanny X-Men, Incredible Hercules, Thunderbolts and Wolverine Origins on sale now. Examples of "Lost" references include a "Lost" poster, the number 6, and the slogan "Find Yourself" in the latest editions of numerous Marvel comics throughout the month. Expect more "Lost" placements to pop up in comic books on stands January 23 and January 30."

Jack said...

I know I'll get completely burned for saying this on here, but I am currently an employee of Game Crazy. I was just looking for blogs about my store when I came across yours (I don’t search like this every day, I was just really bored), and I have to say that I somewhat agree with a few of your statements. I remember when I first started with my company, I was so excited. I was 18, and I landed a job at a video game store after being a gamer my entire life! And add to that the fact that I got hired on to the best performing store in the district, I was on top of the world! And then I saw how I supposed to do my job. I didn't have to watch the terrible training videos I've heard so much about, but I was told that I needed to attach whatever I could to every sale (Granted, it WAS a week before Christmas when I got hired on). My manager at the time was a casual gamer who cared a lot about sales. He wanted us to be number 1, which we were. For the first few weeks, it was really, really busy. I had no time to spend doing nothing. The only time I played games was when I was either on break or done with my shift. I worked in the best ranking store for about 5 months, and then I was relocated to the store at the bottom of the list.

The things I had heard about this store are the reasons I can believe your experience. The employees there were lazy, rude fanboys. I knew I didn't want to be grouped in with them, so I tried my hardest to stay objective, which is something I've kept to this day. There was only one person who was working there when I started that was like me. We got along great because we were gamers, not fanboys. Eventually, the bad co workers were weeded out and replaced. Our manager was fired, and we couldn't be happier. Our new manager was a guy who I worked with at my first store, who has been great with the position so far. And now, all of us there are gamers. We stay objective because that's what helps our customers. I can't tell you how many times I've had people come into my store after visiting the GameStop down the street and tell me how they are the same way you described the guys from your local Game Crazy. I've even had former GameStop employees come in and tell me how bad the management there was.

Now, I'd like to say that all Game Crazy stores are like mine, but, frankly, I know they're not. Some of them are full of D-Bags who don't care about anything but themselves. And I'd like to say that every GameStop/EB Games store sucks, but I've been into a couple that were pretty cool. The truth is, it all depends on which store you go to. Some could suck, but some could be just what you're looking for. And I know that you're probably already sick of me, but I wanted to go through your list of complaints about video game stores, and see if I could give you some answers (And I thank you for saying the complaints are about video game stores and not just Game Crazy). And remember, these are just views for MY store, not every Game Crazy.

1. "Unnecessarily large staffs who still manage to spend more time talking amongst themselves about disliked customers than actually doing any work"

My current store has 4 full-time employees. We've had the same staff since about October. We worked the entire holiday season with 4 employees because there were no possible good choices for more employees in the area we're in. I know I've been in some stores where I've seen an employee once and not seen him again for a while because of the other 7 employees that are rotating in the schedule. So, not all of us have huge staffs, and in my store's case, some of us have tiny staffs. I know the customers in our area love the fact that every time they come in, they recognize the employee. And, yeah, we complain about customers sometimes, but come one, some people are douches. We get people who try to cheat us and complain about the stupidest stuff. Sometimes we vent for a little bit, but we don’t go to work everyday for the sole purpose of bitching about customers. I like 90% of the people that shop in my store, but I wish some people would not shop there.

2. "Clerks more interested in playing game demos than ringing up customers"

I've actually seen this happen in my store, while I was off the clock. A customer came in to look at PSP games, and my co-worker was playing Guitar Hero. The mand asked if we had a game, and without looking away from the screen, he just replied with a ‘Nope’. When the man asked about another game, he got the same response. Needless to say, that worker got fired soon after. Because we sell games, we get demos of a lot of them beforehand. I'll admit, we play just about all of them (I was giddy when the GH3 demo came in). But if someone comes in the store while we're playing, we put the controller down and offer help. If they say they're just looking for now, sometimes we go back to the demo. Is that wrong? I would rather play a game than to seem overly pushy and make the person never want to shop there again. Plus, if someone is actually interested in the game we’re demoing, we let them play it.

3. “A brazenly anti-kid attitude in a business with a huge juvenile traffic”

I’ve actually been anti-kid sometimes, but there is a reason for it. If a kid comes in without a parent, it usually means the parent just dropped the kid off for us to babysit them while the parent goes somewhere else. Most of the time, I don’t mind. The kid will come in, play some games and be happy. But sometimes, a kid will come in and just try to annoy us. Something that happened to me recently might help you see what I’m saying. A kid came in without parents and started playing a demo. We had no problem with him, and we were even talking to him about games. After a while, he started to get more comfortable with talking to us. He started swearing while he talked, and we still didn’t mind. Then we got a shipment of new stuff in. After we opened the boxes, the kid tried to see what was in them. Out of nowhere, he just came behind our counter and started going through the boxes. We told to get back, and he did. But then he kept coming behind the counter, so that’s when we got mad at him. After that, we let him play a game on out 360, and he kept swearing when he wasn’t doing good. I told him about 4 times to stop swearing or I would turn the game off because there were other customers in the store. After the last warning, I turned the game off and he just stood there, mad. Eventually he left, after we told him we would have a manager kick him out if he didn’t stop swearing. I know this was an isolated incident, but it makes me weary of some of the kids who come in to my store. So, we don’t try to be anti-kid, but sometimes we have to be strict.

4. “Open partisanship for particular consoles which puts similar attitudes in comics shops to shame”

This one is half right. Everyone in my store has a favorite system. I know I have a 360 and a Wii, so I know more about those two systems compared to the PS3. That’s not to say I don’t know anything about the PS3, because I do research, but I have just have much more experience with the other two. When it comes to handhelds, I don’t know a lot. If someone asks a question about the PSP that I don’t know, I tell them I don’t know. One of my co workers is practically an expert on the system, so I tell them they should ask him. System loyalty will be anywhere, but some of us care about all of the systems. I get asked everyday which is the best system, but I don’t respond with “Teh 360 totally PWNS the PS3!!!!11!!!1 It’s 1337!!11!!! ROFL!!1!1!!11" I tell them that it’s all about personal preference and a handful of system exclusive games or content.

5. “Constant pressure to preorder games”

I really agree with this one. We do it. We try to get as many pre-orders as possible. I don’t always like to pitch them, but I have to. The only good thing I can see about getting pre-orders is that sometimes a smaller game might not come in to my store on the day it’s released unless someone pre-orders it. I know it sucks, but that’s just how we do it for some reason. Plus, some games have gifts for people that pre-order. But sometimes, I’ll admit, we do get a little pushy. Sorry about that.

6. “Contempt/fear of those whose preferences in video games differ from their own--for some employees, the Wii is basically equivalent to Cancer Comics”

I don’t have contempt for people with different tastes as mine, but I do have problems with people who try to put me down for having a 360. I could debate the pros and cons of systems with a cool customer all day, but not everyone is like that. Some people are stuck with their views and just will not budge. And when it comes to games, some customers ask us our opinions on them before they buy. If I know a game sucks, even if it’s expensive, I’ll tell the customer. If you don’t believe me, that’s fine, but I’d much rather have someone buy a $20 gem than a $60 piece of crap. Happy customers tend to come back more than mad customers. And, for the record, I love the Wii.

7. “Complete lack of knowledge about upcoming releases, ordering obscure titles, etc.”

Working for a game store, I find it necessary to keep up to date with mew release and games on the horizon. I have 3 video game magazine subscriptions that cover all of the systems, and I read them all. I don’t always know every little bit of info on every game, but I try to know enough to inform someone who has only heard of the title of the game. For example, if someone comes in and asks about the game Mass Effect because they heard something about it on FOX News, I know enough to tell them about what the game is about from my experience playing it. And, being a big gamer, I just love hearing about cool new games. When it comes to obscure titles, I’m not always an expert on some. There are a lot of games I’ve simply never heard of. But I try to keep myself ahead of the game, no pun intended.

8. “Extra, unwanted attention paid to any female customers”

This can be true sometimes. Sometimes a really cute girl will come in the store, and we flirt. But I’ve never seen an employee drop everything for a girl in the store. This is going to sound weird, but I would much rather have a conversation with some random gamer dude about, well, games than to talk to some random girl about the time she played Halo with her boyfriend and he let her win. It doesn’t hurt that I have an amazing girlfriend, so I don’t need to try to impress every girl that comes into my store.

I know that this was a very, VERY long response, but I had fun. If you took the time to read it all, thank you for having an open mind. Like I said, these were just views from MY store, and not a view at Game Crazy in general. I would love to have an ongoing conversation about the subject, and maybe even talk about some comics. If you would like to, send me an e-mail at Have a good day/night, whatever time it is when you read this.

Marcelino said...

This is a nice coincidence. I was doing the same thing Jack was doing because I had heard from a coworker about a blog post about someone who had a horrible Game Crazy experience and wanted to look into it.

My story is similar to Jack's except that I got hired in a store that is at the bottom of it's district, has recently replaced the manager, and is in the process of either hiring new personnel (such as myself), retraining old employees, or weeding out the bad employees.

Something I wanted to build upon in Jack's post. The store I'm at, more specifically the newer employees, are more than kid friendly, we're family focused. We realize that with the advent of the Wii that there are a larger number of families getting into the hobby, so we make a habit of talking to moms and dads that don't know much about gaming, explaining the ESRB and it's rating system so they can monitor what they're kids are playing. If they have questions about the rating, we do whatever we can to help them.

Personally, I pride myself on being as helpful as possible to customers that are genuinely confused or having problems. Granted, I get the occasional phone call that is less than reasonable (why would you try ask for the Trade In price of a XboX AND ask how much a used one would cost? that's fishy), but I do my best to help people.

An example: I had a day off and stopped by to see how things were going in the store, we're in the middle of a massive clean up and rehaul of the store because the old manager left it in such bad shape. A lady was having issues with 2 items she had purchased. She was holding a Wii points card in her hand and a classic controller, both of which appeared to be unopened. The employee was basically telling her that without a receipt he could not give her a refund for the items. Beyond that, if the items had been purchased more than a week ago we wouldn't take them back anyway.

Granted the new 7 day and used 90 day policy is there to avoid people from contriving whatever ways they can to abuse our store, there are obviously the occasional exceptions.

It turns out an employee told her that in order to download old games and play them, all she needed was a wireless network in her home. At the time, I wasn't positive, but I told her that I thought she would need an additional part for her Wii that would allow her to use it with her wireless router. I informed her that the employee that told her otherwise no longer worked with us for various reasons, this possibly being one of them. She turned back to the other employee asking; "So I basically I bought this for nothing?" The employee responded with; "Yea, I guess so."

Granted, it was busy in the store, but that doesn't justify his behavior.

I could see the customer growing angry and I pulled her aside, asking her some questions about her home network (thank god I know some things about setting up wireless networks, being the only tech savvy guy in my home is a good thing at times). I explained to her the issue at hand involving the 7 day new policy, which states a customer has 7 days after purchasing something new to return it, with the stipulation that the product is still unopened and in good condition. She explained that she lived a sizable distance away and could only return on the weekend.

I asked that she fetch her receipt from home and return next weekend, I'd make sure to let the building director know of the problem, make sure he was in and we'd figure SOMETHING out. That we'd do SOMETHING for her. She nodded, still looked exasperated but thanked me for my honesty and effort to work with her. I smile nodded, gave her my named and told her that if she needed anything from the store to ask for me.

It's doing things like this that I push everyone to do. We may get the occasional asshole who's in the store to do nothing but screw us, but those people are few and far between, especially when we catch on and ban them from the store.

Everyone else gets respect and 100percent of my effort until they show they don't deserve it.

It's all about the individual people at individual stores. Sometimes, a few jerks slip under the radar.

I'd gladly discuss this at great lengths as well, feel free to contact me at fuufuufuu at gmail dot com.

I wish you better luck at whichever store you go to in the future.

G said...

Don't hate an entire company just because you had one bad incident in one of their branches. Assuming that the entire system is like that is just ignorant and unprofessional.

I, like Jack and Marcelino, also work for Game Crazy. I can tell you that employees like the ones you described would be fired within the week at the location I work at. We take customer service very seriously, and although we're regularly at the bottom of the district list (explained later), I can assure you that we cut no corners.

Customers make up a business, so why shouldn't you treat the foundation of your company and even your job without respect and even admiration. Every customer who walks through the doors at my location, I devote myself to 100%. If I'm playing a game, I pause the title, put down the controller, and happily greet them and ask if there's anything I can assist them with. Of course, you're going to have your bad apples. As Jack stated, you'll find this in every single company across the planet. Yes, you are correct for assuming that corporate franchises are going to get these more than a regularly monitored small business.

One thing you have the power to do is get in contact with this store you dislike, calmly ask for the contact information of the District Manager or the Corporate Number, and contact them with your complaint. I would advise you don't do this with any signs of anger, as the employees may warn their Store Manager and/or District Manager about a "ticked off customer" and this could actually hurt your chances. Do it as if you wanted to pay a compliment to one of the employees, then let them have it.

I say this to you because I don't want these type of employees working alongside me as much as you don't want to engage them whenever you visit that location. Also, I would again just like to point out that a decent store manager and any district manager would never stand for this kind of employee behavior, and you would certainly never see it at my store.

Hopefully your opinion of us can be repaired, because refusing to shop with a store like Game Crazy because of one moody employee would be a terrible thing to do. If you ever manage to walk through the door at my location, I promise that you'll be downright impressed with how you're treated.

Dick Hyacinth said...

Is Game Crazy corporate sending you people here? The store I was complaining about in my former city of residence eventually closed, to the surprise of no one. The one in my new town also sucks, and will probably be closed within the next year. Seriously, of the dozen or so Game Crazies I've been in, only one had anything approaching decent customer service, attractive/functional store layout, and updated prices on used games. And even that one seems to be suffering from poor used selection, probably because the chain's reputation is so bad that no one actually shops there.

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