Games

GameStop Has No Idea What to Do About Coronavirus

Employees have been asked to buy their own cleaning supplies, and re-install demo stations after some stores took them down.
March 17, 2020, 6:15pm
A photo of the video game retailer GameStop.
Image: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

In the wake of the ongoing spread of the novel coronavirus (or COVID-19), a number of retail stores have voluntarily shut down, in an attempt to protect their workers. GameStop is not one of those companies, and according to a series of memos reviewed by VICE Games, is struggling to adapt to supply shortages that have left a number of stores without adequate cleaning supplies without any signs the company intends to close in the immediate future.

According to the memo, first reported by Kotaku, GameStop is also asking employees who removed interactive demo stations paid for by major companies back in place and to clean them regularly. And only today did the company decide to suspend its famous late night launch events, where gaming fans would queue up outside to buy brand-new video games.

GameStop did not respond to a request for comment by VICE Games, which also sought clarification, among other things, on the company’s sick leave policy and whether it would be altered because of coronavirus. Update: In a statement to VICE Games, GameStop senior VP of store operations said the company "is working diligently during this unprecedented time to provide our customers and associates with the safest environment possible," and reiterated many of the changes outlined in various memos. The company did not address questions about sick leave. The statement continues:

"Like many businesses, we are taking action to institute multiple social distancing practices in our stores, such as only allowing 10 customers in our stores at any given time, cancelling all gaming events and midnight launch activities until further notice, disabling temporarily all interactive gaming stations in our stores, introducing in-store line management practices that creates a 1-meter parameter between customers in checkout lines, and encouraging customers to leverage our online ecommerce capabilities and direct deliveries to their homes from our warehouses or stores."

“Obviously there are many many many employees extremely frustrated and anxious about how undervalued they are being treated,” said one GameStop employee, who asked to remain anonymous. “It's been laid bare that the company values money more than its associates and I have personally debated leaving over concerns around their core morals as well as to protect myself and others by not participating in willingly spreading this epidemic.”

GameStop has financially struggled in the transition from physical to digital, leading to open speculation began as to whether GameStop has been "headed for bankruptcy."

In a memo released to employees this week, the company told its workers that if they themselves or someone they knew became sick, even if they weren’t absolutely sure it was coronavirus, they should stay home. It came with no clarification on how it would impact their sick days, but two employees told VICE Games they’re currently being forced to use existing personal time off, vacation, or sick time, and there is no emergency pay being offered.

By contrast, retailers like Hot Topic have voluntarily closed and will pay all employees.

“Your District Manager is empowered to request an associate to stay home and work remotely (if applicable) until symptoms are subsided,” reads the memo, “and that they be cleared by a health care provider/doctor before returning to work.”

The company recommends they “not report to work for 14 days.”

Because GameStop is still open nationwide, however, it means people are frequently coming and going in the store. Though video game releases have been a little quiet so far in 2020, March is a big month, with both Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Doom Eternal set to launch on Friday. An employee VICE Games spoke to said people were coming in to switch their orders from physical to digital, but that still involved employees interacting with people.

The problem is that GameStop’s promise of proper cleaning supplies hasn’t materialized.

“Recently, stores were informed that a cleaning supplies package would be provided to include hand sanitizer, among other items,” reads a memo sent this morning. “Unfortunately, the source from which [GameStop] was prepared to purchase these supplies was ultimately unable to fulfill the order, and stores should not expect to receive a shipment of hand sanitizer solution for several weeks. Instead, all stores will be receiving an additional supply of hand soap.”

Employees were recommended to purchase “any necessary cleaning supplies from local businesses,” with an assurance that GameStop would cover the costs. It did not include recommendations on what employees should do if they could not procure these supplies.

“No stores in my area have received cleaning supplies or hand sanitizer,” said one employee. “On two different conference calls we were told we had to ‘think about the longevity of the business’ and that GameStop would have to close stores permanently if we closed for health reasons. So they've basically guilted us into working or we will lose our jobs anyway.”

One memo advises employees to clean “high-traffic areas twice daily,” including door handles and the store’s cash counter. It also recommends they “wash their hands frequently” and “utilize hand sanitizer when able.” Again, employees have to buy these products on their own.

Currently, GameStop is advising that employees turn off their “interactive gaming stations” where customers can play games. However, if companies like Nintendo, Microsoft, or Sony have bought space in the store, that setup must remain working because it’s been paid for. The memo states some stores have turned off all stations, paid and not paid, and that’s against policy. The memo instructs employees to put paid interactive stations they removed back, and to clean them regularly.

“As with other highly trafficked areas in your store, these surfaces must be wiped down regularly with disinfectant wipes,” the memo reads.

If you can get the wipes, presumably.

One of the more important recommendations being made to society at large at the moment is what’s called “social distancing,” with people, infected or not, staying away from one another. The CDC recommends people should be, at minimum, six feet from one another.

If you’ve been to a GameStop store before, however, you know most of them are small and cramped. It would be tough to be more than six feet from someone, and with a busy week for games, that means GameStop suddenly becomes a place where people are hanging out.

In the memo sent this morning, the company said it was “best to avoid situations where large numbers of guests (10 or more) are gathered indoors or standing in a line,” but without recommendations on how employees should actively enforce this.

Hours later, however, two employees showed VICE Games a company flyer enforcing a social distancing policy of only allowing 10 people in the store, “including store personnel.”

“Please come in, unless otherwise directed by an associate,” reads the flyer.

Follow Patrick on Twitter. His email is patrick.klepek@vice.com, and available privately on Signal (224-707-1561).