Thursday, August 11, 2005

Will You Accept Magic Beans?

Have you seen those ads for EB Games on TV lately?

Basically they show a procession of people doing all kinds of things like giving blood in order to afford video games.

“There’s no need!” These ads cry. “We’ll trade your games for other games, or even buy them from you!”

“I’ll have some of that!” I thought.

You see, I’m used to PC gaming, and back in England had a few friends who were into PC gaming as well. Basically, I only needed to buy one or two new games every 6 months, and when I got bored of them, traded, swapped and borrowed with friends.

You see, games are expensive. I know this, and I understand why. Games today can cost as much to make as big budget movies…but without the movie theatre run to re-coup those costs. In other words, the price point for a new game is roughly $50 which, quite frankly, is a fair price.

Unfortunately, that fair price is far beyond my means right now. I’m having to stick to pre-owned and budget titles at the moment (which isn’t as bad as it sounds, seeing as I’m currently at the end of a 14 month gaming exile, all those older games are still new to me).

So, anyway, the EB Games advertisment intrigued me. I looked at the games I owned.

I’d finished Splinter Cell and Spiderman 2, and had gotten bored of Simpsons Road Rage, so I thought I’d trade them in.

Now, these are all budget titles right now, retailing for roughly $20.

I knew I’d be getting shafted on the price. I’d bought all these games, apart from ‘Simpsons’ from EB games itself. I figured I’d be lucky to get half my money back on them. That didn’t matter to me. Three old games that I’m bored with = one new game (albeit a budget title).

So I strode purposefully into EB. Games under my arm. I strode to the counter, offered my games and said “What’ll you give me for these?”

The main assistant at my local EB, surprisingly, is an actual gamer, and not a minimum wage shaved monkey (as is the norm). Basically, he’s the rarest of sales assistants. Knowledgeable about the products he’s selling, and will actually tell you to not bother buying that $50 game, because it’s crap. In other words, he’s more concerned with you leaving happy, so you’ll return, that trying to extract as much money from you as possible.

Anyway, he took my games and ran them under the scanner.

“I can give you $11.” He said.

For a split second, I thought ‘Hmm, three games, eleven dollars a piece, thirty three dollars. Not bad!’

However, the assistant’s face said otherwise. To be exact, what his face said was:

‘Yes, I know this offer is insulting, and yes, we’re pretty much trying to screw you over. It’s not my fault, I just have to do what the management tells me. I can tell you’re not a clueless parent with no idea how much these games cost, so lets just forget this right now.’

“Uhhh.” I said. “You don’t mean eleven dollars a piece, do you?”

“Nope.” Said the assistant.

“F**k it, I won’t bother.” I said. “That’s only three-eighty a game.”

“Yeah, I know.” Said the assistant. This time, his face said:

‘You know what? This if f**king embarrassing. I’ve got to offer people peanuts for their games all the time, and I don’t like it. I’d do you a good deal if I could, so please don’t give me a two hour lecture about what a rip off that is. I’ve heard them all before.’

Now, I would have just left it there, except there was a new guy working at the store, who seemed desperate to make his commission. You know the kind of guy. The one who will sell a na├»ve parent a PS2 game for his son’s X-box. The kind of person who will tell you with a straight face, out of either moronic stupidity or to deliberately screw you over, that Half Life 2 will run on a 286 with 1 meg of memory. With a crazed gleam in his eye, he butted in. His expression said:

‘I know you bought your Gamecube from us less than a month ago, so there’s a damn good chance you’re a complete newbie, so I’m going to attempt to screw you over. Commission check, here I come!’

“You know,” he said, “if you trade those three for the new Madden game, you get the game-trade bonus, and you’ll get thirty dollars for them!”

“Nah,” I said, “I don’t like American Football. I’m not into sports games, period.”

“Yeah!” Said the Shaved Monkey, in a spray of commission fueled spittle. “But then you can just trade Madden straight back, and we’ll give you $30 dollars for it!”

The regular assistant genuinely cringed. His cringe said:

‘This new guy is a retard. Please don’t let anything he says reflect on me. To be honest, we’re all trying to get the f**ker fired. I’ve talked to you for a little bit, and I know you’re experienced and you’ll see his bullshit coming a mile off. I want the ground to swallow me up, before I die of idiocy by association.’

I thought the offer over. I was expecting about twenty or thirty dollars, if I ended up with thirty, it’d be a good deal. Then a thought struck me.

“How much is Madden exactly?”

“Fifty-six dollars.” The Shaved Monkey blurted. He was nodding frantically. He looked like he’d hooked the fish, and just had to reel him in. It was time to burst his bubble.

I sighed inwardly.

“So, let me get this straight.” I said. “You’re offering me eleven dollars for these three games, that you’re going to turn right around and sell pre-owned for twenty bucks a piece…which we all know is bullshit. However, if I part-trade them for Madden, I can get Madden for twenty six dollars, which I then trade right back to you for thirty.”

“Yeah!” He said. He metaphorically started reaching for the landing net to scoop me into the boat. Unfortunately, if he looked a little closer, he’d have seen he had hooked a shark, that wasn’t actually hooked at all, that was about to bite his legs off.

“So what you’re saying is if I trade for madden, rather than walk out of here with eleven dollars, I’ll actually walk out with only four.”

“No!” Said the Shaved Monkey, the stupid bastard actually had the nerve to look exasperated. “We’ll give you thirty!” The fish had turned around and was swimming away from the boat.

“I know, you f…(sigh).” I said back. “But I’ll have just paid you twenty six. If I pay you twenty six dollars, and you give me thirty back, that’s four dollars.”

“So?” He said, honestly puzzled. At this point, he’d hit himself on the head with his fishing pole and fell into the water.

I raised my eyebrow at the regular assistant, who just shrugged.

I picked up my games and left.

In the end, I’m not sure what annoyed me more. The fact that, rather being halfway fair, the exchange policy gives the store a 400% profit margin… or that the Shaved Monkey had either blatantly tried to screw me over, in the hope I couldn’t do basic maths…or that he was as dumb as a box of rocks.

EB Games is the only business in the USA that I’ve come across that seems to follow British Capitalism.

You see, American Capitalism usually works this way: Give the customer the best possible deal, while maintaining a decent profit margin. That way, you get a happy customer, who will come back again and again…and in the long run, you’ll make more money from them.

British Capitalism works slightly differently. It works this way: Screw every single penny you can out of your customers. Go for the highest profit margin possible. The customer probably won’t come back, but you get a shit-load of cash out of them right now.

You see, if EB Games had traded with even a 200% profit for them (IE give me half the price I paid for the game), they’d have given me $30 for $60 worth of games. I’d have spent that $30 dollars right then in their store, and they have three new games to sell to someone else for $20 a piece. Essentially, I’d have been paying them $60 for $30 worth of games, and they’d be able to make a further $60 from re-selling the games I traded.

I would also have kept going back and back to trade my games when I’d finished with them…meaning over time, I’d continue paying them, without permanently removing any of their stock.

I mean, who in their right mind would accept $3.80 for a $20 dollar game? I could get at least $5 in a pawn shop, or better still, just sell them to someone for $10 each!

However, when it comes to games and computers, it seems British style capitalism rules.

My other major bug bear with the games retail industry is the shift away from customer service. Kato recently posted on this. As I’ve said before, computers are complicated and sales staff either seem completely ignorant of the products they’re selling, or are deliberately taking advantage to screw the customer over.

Kato’s story was about a trip to CompUSA where a sales assistant, desperate to make a sale tried to tell him that the CD-ROM version of a game was ‘faster’ than the DVD version. Or once translated from Sales-Speak, basically “We don’t have the DVD version in stock, so I’m going to feed you some bullshit in the hope that you’ll buy the CD-ROM version we actually do stock.”

To me, or someone like Kato, falling for something like a completely false sales pitch, or believing that getting less than a quarter what I paid for something is a good deal is laughable.

However, there are a lot of trusting newbies out there who will swallow everything a saleperson tells them. After all, they’re experts, aren’t they?…aren’t they?

Back when I got my first computer in the early 90’s, I told the salesman I wanted something to do schoolwork on, but would also be able to handle games.

At that time, the Pentium Processor had just been born, and the salesman sold me a (then) blisteringly fast Pentium 75.

It was a good computer, however, it was also ridiculously expensive, and not what I needed at all.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved that computer, but I’d paid about 1600GBP (about $3100) for a machine that wasn’t suited to my needs. At the time, the Pentium 75 was roughly the equivalent of a 4ghz processor today. For school work (word processing and the like) it was pure overkill. Like buying a Dodge Viper when you only drive a mile and a half a week, along roads where the speed limit is 15mph.

Also, when it came to games, this was during the birth of multimedia PC’s, and my new PC didn’t have a soundcard or a CD-ROM drive.

It’s true that an extra couple hundred dollars got me the soundcard and CD-ROM, which gave me a top of the line gaming machine…but for half the price I could have got a machine that was adequate.

Looking back, I got screwed. Plain and simple.

The Moral of this story is simple. Just because someone works in a games store or a computer store doesn’t make them an expert. To be a good salesman, you don’t need to be an expert in the product you’re selling, you just need to be an expert in bullshit. Stores don’t exist to give you a good deal and let you leave happy, stores exist to make a profit…through fair means of foul.

My advice to anyone who wants to buy a new computer, a component or anything computer related is this. Find someone who is a genuine expert, or at least knowledgeable. Take them with you as your personal bullshit detector. That way, you won’t pay through the nose for a bunch of bells and whistles you don’t need, and you’ll be sold stuff you actually need, and not just because the store has a backlog.

A good bullshit test is to get into a computer store, tell them you’re just looking, and want a very basic machine, because all you need it for is word processing. Make it clear that you don’t want a gaming machine, or anything fancy, just something you can type on, and it will print it.

If they try to sell you anything other than the cheapest machine in the store…run the other way…preferably giving them the finger while you do so.


Perdita said...

I hear you.

Have you thought of trying gamefly?
I have saved a mint! With not having bought games I end up not liking and being able to buy (pre played) the ones I do and just playing thru and getting another the rest of the time.

MC Etcher said...

I unserstand completely. The last time I went to EB was a year ago, on an errand for work.

Gamefly! I'd like to sign up for it, but I play games very on and off... Weeks can go by and I don't touch my consoles. Seems like it would be a waste.

Kato said...

That's the unfortunate thing about the retail industry--it isn't staffed by people who actually know what they are talking about. My dad laments the fact that you used to be able to walk into a Radio Shack and ask them for some obscure transistor or something, and they'd know exactly what you're talking about and have it for you in moments. Now the 18 year old behind the counter looks at you blankly and asks if you want a cell phone instead.

EB/Gamestop/Whatever is a rip off when it comes to trade ins. It's like selling back textbooks (at least here in the U.S.). You pay 50-100 bucks for the book, you get maybe 10-20 back for the same book, and they resell it for 40. And it's not even the authors getting rich, it's the people inbetween.

There are a couple of places online, though, where you can trade up games with other people which is pretty cool. You set up a list of games you want and what you have to trade and then people contact you, or you contact them and arrange it. Game Trading Zone ( is one such place, though I have no personal experience with it. Although the service usually charges a fee, it tends to be pretty cheap (like $20 a year or something). Might be the way to go.

The bargain bin is also pretty good, especially if you don't have a bleeding edge PC. It looks like PC games will drop in price in about a year after their release, so you can get quality titles for half or even a third of their normal cost.

Paulius said...

Perdita and Etcher...I would love to try Gamefly, but you kinda need a job and a bank account to join (job for the money, bank account to pay), and until my paperwork from the immigration service arrives, I don't have either.

Also, I don't really like renting. If a game is really good, I know I'll want to play it through again at some point in the future.

Kato...My PC here in the USA is ancient. it's a PII 500, 64 meg of memory, onboard 4 meg graphics (shared with system memory) and onboard sound.

The last game I got for the PC was 'The Sims'.

I am sticking to the bargain bin for Gamecuberight now, pre-owned and budget titles...except when the Almight Mike and Irrepressible Cindy send me games for free (thanks guys) but as I've said before, I've been in gaming exile for 14 months, so 'older' games are still new to me.

Craig said...

This post cracked me up, because I have gone through the same type of thing at these stores. They have games that are ancient that they still sell for $20, but a newer used game you want to trade in is only worth a buck fifty.

I like the idea of Gamefly, but I'm afraid I'd have the same issue I did with netflix. No due dates=no pressure to return=keeping the same discs for over a month=not cost effective.