I definitely need to do some major prefacing and preemptive damage control before I go on with this particular op-ed, as I am a member of a number of retro gaming enthusiast communities and communities that deal in the peer-to-peer buying, selling, and trading of retro games, and much of our readership comes from those communities. And it has to be said that the majority of the people in those groups who do sell a lot of retro games do so primarily for the mission to support retro gaming and to get retro games in the hands of the people who truly want them and will appreciate them, with making a buck the secondary reason for doing so – even those that actually have retro game stores. While I myself have been involved in very few transactions among these groups, from what I’ve seen most of them go off without a hitch, with both sides being equally satisfied that the transaction was mutually beneficial to both of them in terms of value, both monetary and personal. So I sincerely hope that everything I am about to say is taken with all of the preceding paragraph in mind, and I apologize in advance if I rub any of the wonderful people in the retro gaming community the wrong way.
All of that said, I think that everyone needs to settle down and relax about Gamestop entering the retro gaming market.
First and foremost, I seriously doubt that Gamestop buying and selling retro games is going to have much of an impact on the hardcore retro collecting scene. Most retro collectors have already spent years building up a network of friends, stores, groups, websites, etc that they trust and turn to when they need to buy, sell or trade a retro game. Gamestop also selling retro games isn’t going to suddenly collapse that network. I’d even be willing to bet that most serious retro collectors won’t even turn to Gamestop if they are undercutting the prices of the people in their network, and would gladly pay a few more bucks to continue to support their friends and the overall retro collecting scene, not to mention for the piece of mind of knowing they trust the word of someone in their network over whatever flimsy policies Gamestop might have in place. I just read today that Gamestop is considering possibly only having a single SKU for every game they sell regardless of its level of completeness (though they may change that depending on what kind of inventory the end up getting in), and we all know they are going to go with still pricing games on the higher end of the spectrum. Meaning, it’s far more likely that people will be paying closer to CIB (complete in box) price for a game that may or may not be complete, rather than paying loose prices and occasionally being pleasantly surprised when a CIB game happens to show up. How many serious collectors are going to roll the dice on that bet, rather than just paying a specific price for a specific level of completeness? In addition, most people seem pretty confident that Gamestop is going to overprice most of their retro stuff anyway, so why even be worried about a store carrying games that they are offering less for and charging more for than local collectors? Again, it seems like whatever Gamestop is doing isn’t even going to be on their radar or have any major effect on the scene anyway, so what’s the difference if they want to try and do it or not?
On the flip side, I would like to talk about the positive things about Gamestop entering the retro games market. That’s right, I said positive things. For one, I’m willing to bet that the average person who would consider buying and selling their retro games at Gamestop aren’t the people who are already big in the local and peer-to-peer collecting scene, as I’ve said. So who is Gamestop ultimately targeting? The people who just occasionally get an itch to buy some random old game or system and turn to the quickest, easiest ways to do so – eBay, Amazon, and local shops should they happen to have some in their area. Let’s look at eBay and Amazon first. We all know that those sites, especially Amazon, are chock full of people and stores selling games for ridiculously high mark-ups, and the only reason they get away with it is because people don’t know any better. The shopper goes with the cheapest Amazon listing available – which most of the time is still way more than most honest resellers and collectors would charge – 1-click check out, done and done. Sure, we could try and educate these people, but what a mammoth undertaking that would be – and would they even listen? So one way that Gamestop could be a positive force in this area is that they’d most likely be able to undercut those greedy online sellers, and charge people a little bit closer to fair prices for retro stuff – and with the added bonus of legitimate guarantees and return policies. Gamestop has said that the policy for retro games will be a 7-day no-questions asked return policy, and a 30-day policy if something breaks. I can’t imagine too many random Amazon sellers would give a damn if I bought a Dreamcast from them and it broke on me 3 weeks later – but Gamestop would replace it for me. It’s hard to argue with a safety net like that.
Gamestop’s brick and mortar presence would also be good for those more casual retro collectors as well, the ones who wouldn’t necessarily search for specific games online but would pop into a store and browse and say “Oh hey, I remember this game/system! Sweet, I’ll pick this up!” Now before you flood the comments with chants of “Shop local!” and “Gamestop is going to drive the few remaining retro stores out of business,” I hear you. And that is certainly a legitimate concern. However, I still feel, as I mentioned before, that the serious collectors – the ones who have kept those local shops open all these years in the first place – won’t suddenly go across the street to Gamestop to get their N64 games and will still continue to support their local game store, that chances are is run by their buddy. But the truth is, most areas of the country don’t have such a local retro game store within the average person’s casual shopping radius. So what are those people to do? Not everyone is hardcore enough to make a 2 hour pilgrimage to the nearest retro gaming store once a month, but they will drive to the Gamestop a mile away. And people shouldn’t just miss out on the greatness that is retro gaming because they aren’t lucky enough to have a retro store near them (and don’t have the savvy – or are just too lazy – to shop online).
So what about those places that do have game stores? What if Gamestop is able to significantly out price them? Well, I’m a bit conflicted on this. I’ve always been an advocate for shopping local and supporting the quirky local indie music store, for instance, but when Best Buy came into town and were charging literally half the price for CDs…I’m only human. And I’m not rich. Paying a premium to support local businesses adds up after awhile, and I understand they are trying to make a living – but so am I. It can be a tough sacrifice to make for me to buy less things with my limited income in order to supplement someone else’s. Why is their bank balance more important than mine? With all due respect to anyone who is struggling trying to make ends meet and keep their local game store in business, I’m struggling too, and I need to balance my own bills with my gaming hobby. I’m sorry, but my bills matter too, as does making my spending money go as far as it can go. That said, I seriously doubt my local Gamestop is going to suddenly have the Virtua Cop 2 w/ Stunner set I’ve been looking for – I’m still going to have to go to a dedicated retro game store. So Gamestop’s potential ability to undercut a local seller’s price on something like that is a moot point. However, when it comes to more common retro games, like say Super Mario Bros. 3, I have no problem with heading over to Gamestop if they are only charging $10 for it vs. the $40+ I currently typically see it for when I happen across it at a used game store. And that is one thing I “blame” the retro collecting community for is hiking up the prices of once dirt-cheap common games. I was able to find a FuncoLand price guide as recently as 2001 that was still listing SMB3 at $2.49. So at what point in the ensuing 14 years did the price increase by thousands of percent? When FuncoLand/Gamestop got out of the “retro” business and only the dedicated retro stores and online resellers were selling them anymore. I don’t know the exact logistics of how it all played out, and I’m sure the prices weren’t raised maliciously as an attempt to “take advantage” of the sudden need to turn to retro resellers when no other options were available, but the fact remains that the prices have gotten out of hand even on games that we all know are plentiful. Some other prices from that same list: The Legend of Zelda for $7.99, Earthbound for $24.99, any and all variants of Super Mario Bros. at nine cents (and that’s without added overpriced shipping, you sneaky penny Amazon sellers). It goes on. And sure, them listing games like Little Samson for $7.99 and Stadium Events for 29 cents is meaningless since the likelihood of games like that randomly showing up at a FuncoLand was pretty slim, but I would imagine plenty of FuncoLands had plenty of copies of Mario and Zelda to sell and they were selling them for next to nothing.
“But wait,” you say, “that means they were only giving those people, what, 10 cents for that copy of SMB3, whereas someone could get so much for your copy now, and isn’t that better?” No, I don’t think it is. Sure, FuncoLand was still seeing pretty hefty profit margins from that mark-up. But at the end of the day, people were able to buy Super Mario Bros. 3 for $2.49 instead of $40. It’s hard to argue which of those scenarios is better for letting people play and enjoy retro games, which is supposedly what this is all supposed to be about, right? But I don’t want to end this piece defending a situation that isn’t the reality anymore, as we all know Gamestop has no intention of selling SMB3 for $2.49. So to bring it back to the discussion at hand, I just don’t see Gamestop having much effect on the true retro gaming enthusiast circles, and therefore there’s no point in getting so worked up over it. And if it means even one overly greedy, intentionally price-gouging Amazon seller (and we all know the ones I am talking about) gets driven out of business, then I declare Gamestop’s venture into the retro gaming business a rousing success.
Also, we still have no idea what this program is even going to look like or what anything is going to cost. How about, just once, we aren’t immediately jaded and cynical and just see how something plays out first. I know that goes against our impulse as gamers and all, to not assume the worst, but we should try it sometime. We’ll probably all live a bit longer and have lower blood pressure.