November 2006; I woke up early and got my clothes on. I somehow find myself at the front doors of the Sunrise Mall to see two long lines of people stretching adjacent to the main doorway. Each line had around 100 to 150 people on them. I went right past them, right into the maw of this monster called Gamestop. I was 20 years old, and already I was a battle-hardened veterain of the retail world. I went through the travesty that was the Xbox 360 launch, but this was a whole different beast.
To finish the story of that day, Nintendo gave the EB Games and Gamestop store inside the mall additional Wii consoles because the mall happened to allow a giant interactive to rest right at the main doorway. This interactive had units where people could try out the Wii system before it released. Thanks to this console, it created massive hype, and the most interesting time I have ever worked for a company in my life. Looking back on it, I have to say it was kind of fun.
Gamestop is a company that every young kid wanted to work in. Imagine this: a store that was filled wall to wall with video games. You got to play video games for a living, or so you thought. But you got to talk to people about games! You even hoped that you would get some games early. Some of that was true, but behind the shroud of what seemed like a fun company was a terrible truth: it was a business.
Yes, Gamestop was a fun company to work for, looking back on it. Back in 2006, I had already experienced a lot. It was before Gamestop went to become a publicly traded company. It was before they started to sell toys and shirts. It was Gamestop in its purest form. They already ate up the competition by that time, obtaining EB Games, Funcoland, Babbages, Software Etc, and a couple more companies. They were on an upswing.
Then 2008 happened, and the company shifted. They went from being a company that seemed fun to a company that became more transparent about numbers and making as much money as they could. Gamestop started it’s freefall the year of our recession; and it only got worse. To the point where today I read an article on how they are going to close 300 more stores, and I’m not surprised. After all, they also refused to close during a massive pandemic, calling their business essential.
So as far as I am concerned, Gamestop is on life support. It becomes rather clear why Gamestop fought tooth and nail to stay open during this state of emergency. They are attempting to grab what they could before they get sucked into the black hole. Seeing people home, desperate for entertainment, is the strongest reason for them to stay open. With reduced staff, more people willing to pay out of pocket for entertainment; anyone with half a brain will try to capitalize on that (and trust me, more companies are). But it left a sour taste when word got out that they wanted employees to argue with cops to stay open. Of course, now this stance has changed, and I think Gamestop has welcomed the last stage of grief: acceptance.
I’m not here to give you a whole history of the company or an in-depth analysis of recent drama. There is enough internet out there that you could just see it without actively looking for it. But when I look at Gamestop today, and how I have become distant from them; I look back on it and the people I have met with a new appreciation. Maybe some level of nostalgia hits me like a truck. Maybe I want to talk about them one last time, like an old friend who is fading away. Perhaps this is an obituary for a company that defined a whole decade of my life. So here we go.
Oh The People You’ll Meet
Gamestop had a thing for employees named Brian. My first manager was named Brian, my old friend who rehired me for the 4th time was named Brian. The guy who got fired for planking is named Brian. At one point, we had three Brians working in a single store. There was just something about that name, but each one was an awesome person to work with. We eventually had to tack on numbers so we all knew which one we were talking about. Although, today there are no more Brians that I am aware of. They have all moved onto bigger and better things; pretty much meaning they have gone to companies that most likely pay them more and treat them with respect. This kind of backhand talking will happen through this whole thing. Sorry Gamestop, I’m not here to spare you completely.
The memorable employees weren’t always the ones that shared a specific name. There is one who will remain nameless because, well, I’m sure he would like to remain nameless. I would consider him to be the father of the region. The helpful fellow that always looked out for you, gave you advice, and even though he wasn’t necessarily a mentor to me, he steered me in the right direction more often than not. He has done the same for many people, and continues to still work tirelessly, dealing with 20 year olds calling out so they could go to the beach during the summer. I respected this man the most, and I will always think he deserves more for his time and dedication.
There was also the employees that did some devious deeds. One manager got arrested for “not paying his no seat belt” ticket. Then another manager got arrested for stealing money from various deposits. We are all pretty sure he owed the mob. I have even seen district managers come and go, leaving with clear bags full of our daily earnings, never to be seen again. But there is one person, whose whereabouts are unknown, that was the most devious in such a strange way. He did say and do things that would be rather unorthodox, but it wasn’t anything that was outright fireable. He just lacked a sense of empathy, and was able to divide himself out of the status quo.
Two things I remember from this specific individual. One time during the busy holiday season, a mother with her son were shopping for a game. It was busy, so very busy. We were already working too much and dealing with enough assholes for me to write a book about. But this one woman pushed this employee over the edge. She asked for a game that was rightfully sold out. When he delivered the unfortunate news to her, she responded with “Tell my son why Santa will not be bringing him this game for Christmas then!”
Now, this employee kneeled down to this kid’s eye level. With a stack full of empty cases in his hand, he looked at this kid dead in the eye, and said, “Well son, it’s because Santa doesn’t exist.” He then got up, and put those game cases back on the wall, without a single minutia of hesitation. She filed a complaint.
There was another time where I was working in another store during the holiday season and at this point it has been my 42nd hour of the week in a company that didn’t want you to work overtime, at all. So I called in my not-mentor but totally was my mentor, and I told him the situation. My store manager at that time was missing and the assistant manager had a strict “not answering the phone when I’m off duty” rule. So I called the other guy. He then told me he was going to send someone, and that turned out to be “Santa isn’t real” guy.
Moments after I hung up the phone, a large woman passed out, and fell at the entrance of my store that opened up into the mall. I have to specify this, because at that time we had the Nintendo Wii interactive units right outside the door, a mere 20 feet away from this entrance. Mix that with a crowded mall during the holiday season, and boy do you got a good ole fashioned spectacle! So not only did I have to worry about getting yelled at for working overtime, and being the manager on duty, I had to now worry about this woman who needs medical attention. Of course security was on it. But who comes walking in, my relief, who spared no humanity when his entrance included stepping over the passed out woman without a single care in the world. Like it was a normal occurrence. He looked at me and said, “well, you can leave now.” Like I could even go anywhere. I sat in the back room for twenty minutes until i was actually free to go.
There were many more people that I met along my venture at Gamestop that I could write about. So many were impactful and unforgettable. But the true scuttlebutt came when the manager’s conference came around. Every September (or so), the managers would all fly out to a conference where they were supposed to learn more about products and the company. This week-long event left all stores at the mercy of the assistant manager, with no supervision available. Everyone store manager level and above would be out, leaving assistant managers and the three IT guys in the call center the only people around.
After this week of hell, managers would often come back and give some of the free games away as gifts to their staff. Others kept it all for themselves, and those managers didn’t stick around for too long. I could write a book about that too. But the one thing that came back wasn’t a physical item, it was the odd glances, the aura of unease.
See, the one thing that managers conferences were famous for, besides being used as a tool to get assistant managers to work hard saying how they could be considered to be a manager when the spot eventually opened up, were the stories. Yes, see kids, what happens in Vegas doesn’t actually stay in Vegas.
Female managers were rare in the Gamestop world at that time, so managers mostly consisted of men. So if you take tons of men and put them in Las Vegas, or anywhere for that matter, you are bound to hear a laundry list of stories. So here are a few.
One manager was missing for three days as he went on a bender and was found sleeping on a bench located on the main strip. This was one of the arrested managers. Another group of managers were fired after they were caught with hookers in their hotel rooms. They were not from our district, but it was still expected. The most famous story that I know is when a manager thought, or still thinks, that he killed a prostitute. He didn’t. She got up and left after smashing her nose in the bathroom, leaving blood all over the place. Didn’t stop that one drunken manager from freaking out though.
The Bad Times
The worst moments that I worked at Gamestop mostly came down to the numbers aspect. I loved talking to people, and I still love doing that. But when it came to sales and metrics, boy was I bad at that. For good reason too.
Gamestop had a program that for $15, you could save money on used games. Used games are where Gamestop makes it’s money. So this membership would help people save, but I was a terrible salesman, or at least a rather arrogant one. I didn’t sell those memberships too often. I also didn’t obtain pre-orders that often either. When people said “no” then I let it just die, which is a terrible sales tactic. Numbers came when I felt desperate enough to actually sell them, or when I found them to be actually useful.
Down the line came GPG’s, which were warranties on games. For $3 you could warranty your game so that if anything happened to it, you could come back and get a new one. This made sense on hardware, which it wasn’t available for at the time. But for games that started to release on Blu-ray, a medium that was scratch resistant, it just didn’t seem to make sense. Also, this GPG was introduced about five years ago, where every platform started to use the Blu-ray format and right when digital games started to become popular.
This was also the same time stores started to become filled with useless plastic bullshit. I am talking boxes and boxes full of whatever Gamestop could muster. They purchased ThinkGeek, so might as well start moving that crap into the Gamestop stores so they could offload them. Soon, every store was overtaken by massive boxes filled with stuffed animals from Five Nights at Freddy’s.
Theft became more problematic as smaller items were often lifted, and in the more intense moments, bigger items could have walked out the door (and sometimes did). The company started to cut hours and leave just one employee to look over the store. The last several holiday seasons, stores were working on less and less staff. Some stores hired holiday help, only to give them one 4 hour shift a week.
I remember the first time we were given 85 hours to work with. Manager hours didn’t count, but with that kind of payroll, you could only have two, maybe three people working the whole week. If there were marketing kits to be done, it was even harder as one person had to put it all up as the other helped the sea of customers that would show up every Sunday.
This is where the stress came, and this is where a lot of people started to see the light of the company. This is where I stood outside myself. The 20 year old version of me that loved to work for this company became older. The stress was slowly sinking in. Looking around the store, I realized that the company has changed so much. The old friend I have made moved onto other things or have been fired. Old customers that I enjoyed talking to left. I didn’t find myself relating to the new wide-eyed employees. I found myself at an emotional impasse when it came to the company. My time with Gamestop had to come to an end, and I somehow had to move on.
What I Got
Understanding where you stand in the universe is a hard thing to do. My time at Gamestop was odd, fun, stressful, and incredibly weird at times. Trust me, I have more stories to tell about my experience working for this company. Maybe one day they will be told. Who knows. Either way, I can’t say I walked out of that company empty handed. Besides the free stuff I got, the life I have now is only because of Gamestop.
You see, back in 2009, I saw a girl working behind the counter. We talked briefly, and to make a long story short, in 2016 we got married. Last February, we welcomed our child into this world. So maybe all the bad times I had with this company, all the stress, relationships I had with people, the ups and downs, maybe they all added up to this. Even though Gamestop took a good portion of my 20’s away and made them stressful and agonizing at times, they gave me a reward worth more than any amount of store-credit they could offer me. So in a way, I am thankful for you Gamestop. Now good riddance.