One of my favorite Black Friday traditions is scrolling through GameStop on my phone and getting a bunch of cool games for cheap. Usually it works out just fine. Last weekend it was a nightmare. It’s hard to convey just how terrible navigating the experience of trying to buy something from GameStop has become in 2023, but I’m going to try.
Shopping at GameStop was never great, yet amid meme stock shenanigans, continued cuts, and a flailing c-suite, things have somehow only gotten worse. Through it all I’ve remained a subscriber to the company’s Pro rewards program because I 1) buy a lot of games and 2) like having a reason to walk into a store and chat with strangers who like games IRL. It used to be a pretty good deal, too. Now not so much. The price went up, the perks went down, and there are all sorts of new restrictions aimed at ripping you off. This has been clear in a general sense for a while now, but one specific Black Friday ordeal cemented just how bad things really are at the retailer.
One of GameStop’s big Black Friday promotions was “buy 2 get 1 free” on pre-owned games. My five-year-old recently became a capital G Gamer and told me at breakfast over soggy Cheerios and orange juice that Santa was bringing him a new Zelda and Mario game for Christmas. News to me. So in-between the warmed-up Thanksgiving leftovers and Bluey marathon I started scrolling through the GameStop app—which I have installed on my phone because I am a loyal customer.
I settled on buying Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity because my kid spends most of his time running around The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom raiding the same goblin camps over and over again. I started filling up my cart with other possibilities in the neighborhood of $35 to maximize my savings: Yoshi’s Crafted World, Kirby’s Return to Dream Land, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. Sonic Frontiers was too cheap. We already had Skyward Sword.
It was dinner by the time I settled on Luigi’s Mansion 3 and Link’s Awakening and started visualizing my kid’s gleeful surprise as they opened each successive present on Christmas day. I’d nab three good games for just $20 bucks. Like I said, I enjoy the art of curating a great gaming deal. Then GameStop started to ratfuck me.
I viewed the games in my cart only to see that, despite qualifying for free shipping, I was still being charged $10 for it. I searched stores within 30 miles for one that had everything in stock at a single location and finally found one a half hour’s drive away where I could pick everything up in store instead of paying the postage fee Then I tried to use my last monthly $5 off coupon but the app rejected it saying nothing in my cart qualified, a mysterious but increasingly common trend and the reasons why I usually waste so many of the coupons. I added a Link amiibo. A perfect stocking stuffer. This is good. This is fine. Then I tried to redeem my 50,000 GameStop points I’d stored up for years to pay the lionshare of the bill. This was not good. This was not fine.
The company forces you to redeem your points in small increments either for online or in-store purchases. But which one was my order considered? A quick Google search of Reddit threads revealed it counted as an online purchase, despite the half-hour drive ahead of me. Unfortunately, while you can redeem points for $25 off in-store purchases, the highest amount online is $15. Whatever. Then I saw the fine print: No duplicate coupons can be combined in a single transaction. If you accidentally redeem all your points in $10 increments you will be shit out of luck. This also means the maximum you can discount a single transaction online is $34. That’s one $15 coupon, one $10 coupon, one $5 coupon, and one $1 coupon. Lol. Lmao even.
If it all sounds needlessly complex and more than a bit scummy the answer is yes. I redeemed the arbitrary amounts and tried to apply them to my cart. Again the GameStop app rejected them. It refunded the rest of the Link amiibo ($11) and then claimed nothing I was ordering qualified for my reward points. Whether through simple malice or poor backend design, I learned the coupons can’t be combined with another sale like store credit or gift cards. Cool, cool, cool. I went to bed and wondered if there was a non-zero chance GameStop might implement a completely new shopping experience by the morning. It did not. I deleted everything from my cart except Age of Calamity and the Link Amiibo. Rip that brief daydream of my kid losing his mind sucking up ghosts in Luigi’s Mansion on Christmas day or me quietly reliving my childhood that night playing Link’s Awakening.
I ended up spending $17.52. I have no idea how or why. Age of Calamity was actually on sale “new” for just $30, but all of those copies sold out immediately, so I was still stuck with the more expensive used copy. Make it make sense. Most of the GameStop coupons are still sitting in my account with an expiration date of January 31, 2024. I haven’t picked the game up yet but if the cartridge is in a plastic sandwich bag instead of the original case I will lose my shit.
I recounted these trials and tribulations in detail to my friend that night as I sped down the highway to the 7:10 p.m. showing of Napoleon. He kept trying to change the subject and I kept forcefully interjecting to let him know the story wasn’t done yet. He asked if I dropped acid before I picked him up.
GameStop is hardly alone in being full of annoying sales nonsense. Almost everything online sucks. But the one thing GameStop still has going for it is that there are physical stores you can go into where you can deal with another human being instead of an algorithm or robot. Unfortunately, those people are all overworked, paid like crap, and continually chased out of the company. The satisfaction of a big Black Friday gaming deal is feeling like you pulled one over on something. Everyone else gets ripped off but not me! It turns out I was a mark all along. Until next year.