CT Collins is a pseudonym. VICE Games agreed to use a pseudonym because Collins signed an employment contract that forbids the disclosure of internal GameStop information. VICE Games independently verified their employment status.
It may have taken a terrible response to a global pandemic, but last week, I finally left GameStop. COVID-19 started to spread across the world and, given the opportunity to do the right thing, GameStop made it clear that making money was more important than the health of their employees and their families.
I started working for GameStop back in 2012, and while I haven't been around all seven years uninterrupted, I have always come back. I loved the people I worked with, the customers I got to help, the games I got to talk about. I enjoyed my job despite its imperfections. It was a job after all.
Watching GameStop struggle hasn't been easy, and the process has stomped-out a lot of the enthusiasm and love I used to have for the place. Watching the customer base dilute their physical purchases with digital, requiring them to come in less frequently, making their membership less and less of a priority. The stages of separation were easy to see.
Honestly, I have never seen a company so ready to blame its people like GameStop has. As the company struggled to find footing, the reminders on attach rates (adding warranties and additional product) and memberships became persistent, to the point that I would have to send multiple updates a day. People who didn’t meet numbers were let go, or their hours got cut back until they quit. The company’s approach to its employees was to point out their shortcomings before offering tangible, actionable help. It was death by a thousand “why don’t you stop hitting yourselves?”
All of this was manageable for a long time because I still loved to do the day-to-day job. I made friends with the people I worked with, made friends with regulars, some of those people even followed me from previous stores. All of those things made my misgivings with the company's direction ignorable. I tried to make a difference on the ground level, making sure as many people as possible were as happy as possible.
But the culture started to rot. I noticed it at my store—and others. As corporate continued to increase expectations, associates began to lose motivation altogether. Since holiday alone, my store saw increased expectations in every metric we were tracked on, despite January and February being extraordinarily slow months. They roughly doubled their expectations for sales of warranties on games, warranties on hardware, memberships—everything went up. This despite the fact that our store had struggled to meet the previous targets, and our new game sales were nearly halved from the previous year. Conversations focused on the decrease tended to blame the new consoles on the horizon.
There was also a strong lean into “Tech Trades.” In the last couple years, GameStop has made phone, tablet, and smartwatch trades a huge priority. What started as a service we offered that other places didn’t evolved into one of the most tracked metrics GameStop has.
We were expected to get at least five tech quotes a day. This meant mentioning the fact that we took devices in trade and gave cash back, asking the customer if they had any devices they wanted to get rid of, and then finding their device in our system so we could quote them the value of said device. It was corporate’s (or perhaps just my district manager’s ) belief that 1-in-10 quotes became actual trades. That number was repeated as if it was fact, despite the fact that what that statistic translates to is a reality where 90% of customers just won’t come back with devices to trade.
Stores were expected to get five tech trades a week.
"GameStop made it clear that making money was more important than the health of their employees and their families."
As each of these expectations evolved, my district manager became increasingly passive aggressive. Sending emails to all stores, calling out the bottom performing stores, saying that if things don’t change people are going to start getting let go. I understand that underperformance needs to be addressed, but the conversation can’t end there. I coached as many associates as I could, but more often than not I was, instead, helping those around me combat the feeling of inadequacy that came with each transaction.
If you didn't get a PRP (Product Replacement Plan), GPG (Gameplay Protection Guarantee), Pro Card, or Reservation, you left the transaction feeling like you failed. Not because you had actually failed, but because the only feedback you were going to get would be based on that. There was never any training that came along with that feedback. Never. It has been six years since I have seen a manager coach an associate on how to interact with people. Now, it never happens.
Then, on top of all of this: coronavirus. It was a perfect storm to expose GameStop's problems.
I wanted to see GameStop do the right thing. No matter how bad GameStop's gameplan has looked, I have always found a way to see the good side of the coin. There wasn’t a good side of this coin: we were promised sanitation supplies we never got, then were asked to buy them ourselves. We were given a piece of paper to print out to give to authorities should they come ask us to comply with closure orders. My district manager told us not to show that paper, comply with a closure demand, and then call them to let them know.
But this shouldn’t have been a surprise, considering the company's Black Friday policy walkback over the last five years. For context, back in 2014 and 2015, GameStop took a stand for what they called “Protecting the Family,” a phrase they had embedded in their core values. Stores would not open on Thanksgiving so employees could be with their families. In 2017, stores opened at 4pm on Thanksgiving Day. The conference calls informing us of this change said, “many of our store associates and guests have asked for this.”
Two weeks ago, GameStop was doing great business, a fact that I imagine made corporate feel justified in their stance. None of our customers adhered to any social distancing guidelines, we were harassed when we had to ask people to wait outside. When we stopped taking trades, we had to argue with people every 20 minutes, and people “jokingly” coughed at us. The last week was absolute hell.
The last conference call that was on was full of people who didn’t sound like they were taking the coronavirus as seriously as they needed to be. Questions about closures were dismissed. An employee who felt uncomfortable having to come to work was brought up by his manager, and after recommending the employee reach out to HR, the district manager joked: “He doesn’t want to work anyway, I don’t know why he is using that as an excuse.”
Most GameStop employees are young. I imagine this kid had roommates, at the very least. That is enough reason. We were told that if employees wanted to stay home they would have to use PTO, a luxury only afforded to full-time associates. I have worked at GameStop for nearly eight years, and I have never seen a full-time associate outside of the manager and assistant manager.
After nearly 15 minutes of discussing COVID-19, the conversation on the conference call shifted. The district manager was upset with us and wanted us to “get back on track” because “in the last week we have really fallen off.” No one suggested that we might be experiencing lower numbers because there was a global pandemic. I was too shocked to open my mouth. Then, the blame landed on our shoulders again. “If you have employees in there that aren’t driving numbers we need to get those people out of there.”
Before I called my district manager last week, I was sitting in my office at home, shaking. Furious. GameStop had issued the “we believe we’re essential” statement. Fabricating a reality in which GameStop—as a business—was "essential" to people's survival still feels like a bad joke I read on Reddit.
I spent a lot of time believing in this company. For them to just discard our health felt like a stab in the back. Within minutes, I was talking to my wife about the feasibility of an exit. But here’s the thing: not everyone can do that. I am extremely fortunate to have a support system that can sustain me. I have friends that are still working, that have to keep working.
On a call with my district manager, I told them that I couldn’t justify coming in. If my whole family is home for quarantine and I am going out to work every day, then the preventative measures they are taking would be useless. I worked the following day, understanding that finding a replacement would take some time. The following day, I went up to my store to help my replacement open, and to hand off my keys. Three days later, I sent my letter of resignation.
I wish I had told them to stand next to their employees and run some transactions with them. I wish I had told them to go to their stores and talk to each employee about how they actually feel about GameStop. Then again, the company decided long ago that there were some things it didn’t want to know, and some answers it didn’t want to hear.