Major game retailer GameStop has been having more than its fair share of struggles lately. After giving up on a search for a buyer in January, the company posted a massive loss of $674 million for the most recent fiscal year.
As of today, GameStop stock is trading at less than 9% of its recent peak value in late 2015, and the continuing rise of digital game downloads and even game streaming isn’t likely to help the company recover.
GameStop’s COO and CFO departed the company after multi-decade tenures earlier this year. And the bad fortune continued yesterday as news broke that GameStop was laying off 50 of its “field leaders,” including regional managers, HR staff, and loss prevention leaders. This move comes as part of a “Gamestop Reboot” program designed in part to rebuild stores as gathering places for esports and retro gaming fans.
For many consumers, the seemingly imminent demise of GameStop is not a cause for sadness. The company has a reputation in many corners for poor prices on trade-in games, high-pressure sales tactics for extraneous add-ons, unfriendly staffers, poor return policies, and, in recent years, stores filled with toys and Funko Pop figures instead of games. (RIP to GameStop subsidiary ThinkGeek, by the way.)
But when I put the question of GameStop’s eventual demise to my Twitter followers a few weeks ago, I was somewhat surprised at how many people say they’ll be sad to see it go. This isn’t mere nostalgia for the retail brand that has subsumed stores like FuncoLand, Babbage’s, and Software Etc. I heard from a significant portion of gamers who think the gaming world will be markedly worse off without GameStop in it.
Here’s what they said they’ll miss.
Browsing the aisles
By far the most common reason my Twitter respondents want GameStop to stick around is the store offered a convenient place just to browse aisles full of physical games.
“Having a shop dedicated to gaming is something I’ll always want,” user @Under10Hours wrote. “I live in New Orleans, and GameStop is the only place that fits that description. Sure I can buy games at Best Buy or Target, but the selection is way more limited.”
The relatively limited gaming selection at big box stores, compared to GameStop, was a common refrain. “Target, Best Buy, Walmart just provide goods and games happens to be one of them,” @EPlaysChords said. “Best Buy carries only the 10 newest games,” @AlexQRyan added.
Online retailers like Amazon and eBay might have a better selection, but looking through the physical aisles of GameStop allows for more “serendipitous discovery,” as @ConanOfLibraria put it. “Amazon can do some of that, but the reality of picking it off the shelf with that range of older games will become that much rarer [without GameStop]. That I’ll miss.”
@Omahdon echoed this same sentiment of self-discovery. “If I’m shopping online, I know what I want to get and the price I’m shooting for? But wandering a shop is like a crapshoot of ‘Oh, this is neat! I never considered picking this up before but I might get it for the funsies.'”
GameStop can also be a gaming bargain-hunter’s paradise if you’re not too picky. “It’s the only place I can reliably go to find an old used game for like $3 in any city I’m in,” @zachheltzel said. “I’m impulsive and will spur of the moment want to try out a game I never got around to from years back, but they’re often still $20, $30, $40+ on digital storefronts. I can almost always count on GameStop to deliver when I randomly decide today’s the day I play .”
“I will [miss GameStop] the same that I miss Toys ‘R’ Us and Blockbusters,” @ZacGunnell said. “They held a significant role as the places that people went to to explore for new stuff and talk to people face-to-face about our favorite hobby.”
Talk to me
While generalized gripes about rude or ignorant GameStop employees are not hard to find, many respondents said the staff at their local stores provided a friendly face and sense of community that they’d hate to see go.
“I’ve always really enjoyed going in-person to preorder a game or buy a Nintendo console or whatever, and having a little excited conversation at the register,” @Jennatar said. “The employees are fans of games, and their enthusiasm is infectious. … GameStops have that ‘human touch.’ If you’ve never been to a record or book store where an employee said “huh, interesting choice”—if you’ve never been judged on a purchase by a peer, basically—you’ve missed out on a crucial moment of social connection.”
For some, GameStop took the place of the neighborhood bar. “My local one is like my ‘Cheers,'” @Gamera_Heisei said. “Everyone knows my name, we chew the fat. They will flat out tell me if a game is worth it or not cause they know my taste… I will miss it.”
That kind of advice and personal attention from a knowledgeable GameStop employee can be invaluable. “The day came out I walked into a GameStop and the guy at the counter asked me if that’s what I was there for (yes). It was nice, and I don’t think it would have happened at Target.”
“When I first ordered , Amazon was out of stock, so I hit pickup at my GameStop store,” @WildLibrarian25 said. “When I went in they had changed it out for the Limited Edition with 1&2, plus all the DLC and with the DLC. For the same price.”
Some GameStop fans seem to realize their local employees are succeeding despite the pressures from their corporate parent. “While the upper management of GameStop is terrible, local people at the shops are usually great,” @thenerdyarch said. “Employees that are working at my GameStop are cool, chill, and self-aware of all the annoying GameStop policies, which makes it better,” @TheTubbymora added.
“I’ve heard the horror stories and I too remember being aggressively asked to preorder games, but most GameStops I go to are pretty chill and have employees who actually like video games,” @Twilight5parkle said.
And the rest
Besides losing the retail shops themselves, some worried about the knock-on effects of a world without a GameStop.
“[I’m] definitely worried about Game Informer,” @metallicaisrad said. “I’m not sure how much of their size is directly related to GameStop’s rewards program. If that goes away, does GI lose a massive amount of its subscription base?”
Others worried about the larger economic impact of yet another major retailer going under. “I’d miss them, as I miss anywhere that still employs people,” @OakalyDokaly said. “Some who celebrate the demise of businesses forget hundreds, if not thousands, rely on them to pay the wages which feed and provide for them and their families worldwide.”
“I honestly don’t get the anti-GameStop crowd,” @Rumbles82 said. “It’s gonna fast track the demise of physical media. Sure trade-in [value] is never tons. But how do they stay profitable? They don’t need that 80th copy of so yeah, dude, it should be $0.25.”
One of the most surprising pre-mourning sentiments for GameStop came from someone who you’d think would benefit from the chain going under. “Having a generally reliable ‘mainstream’ version of what we do available only makes us more relatable and attractive to customers,” writes Kelsey Lewin, co-owner of Seattle-area retro game shop Pink Gorilla. “[Especially] if they’re looking for a more personalized experience/service/selection. It also pushes us to be better.”
For a lot of customers, though, they’ll miss the promise of GameStop more than the state of the stores as they currently exist. “I think I’ll miss the idea of GameStop more than the reality of it,” @Nick_Tylwalk said. “I’ll miss the idea of Gamestop,” @HorrorGeek added. “A store devoted to games. A better selection than the big box stores. Used games. All that. The thing is, that GameStop is already dead.”