ByAna Valens, writer at
Writer and games critic. As seen at the Daily Dot, Waypoint, Kill Screen, Bitch Media, and ZEAL.
Ana Valens

Shopped at GameStop recently for a new system? You might've been told that some of the latest releases are out-of-stock.

But that might not be entirely true. A report from Kotaku revealed that GameStop has a "Circle of Life" program that prioritizes pre-orders, reward cards, used games, and trade-ins over new purchases. And it's causing all sorts of stress.

The program is simple. GameStop stores are given percentage quotas for customers doing the following:

  • Pre-ordering games
  • Purchasing reward card subscriptions
  • Purchasing used games
  • Trading in games

Pre-orders and reward cards are based on transactions, whereas used games and trade-ins are based on transaction dollar value when compared to the entire store's revenue. Still with me?

This means a higher number of transactions without any of the four components of the "Circle" damage a store: employees won't be able to meet the quota if they don't participate in the circle.

In other words, "GameStop is incentivizing employees to stop people from buying new games and hardware," as Kotaku News Editor Jason Schreier puts it. And the company "has threatened to fire people who don't hit these quotas, which is leading to all sorts of scuzzy tactics."

Schreier explains the philosophy behind the Circle of Life: GameStop expects customers to buy a new game, trade in a game for cash, then buy another game. Of course, that's not how GameStop actually works.

Many buyers are wary of GameStop's low trade-in values, and retail sales are most likely to be veered towards new releases: not pre-owned titles that have sit on the shelf for awhile. The AAA video game market is a game of blockbuster releases and front-loaded purchases, more often than not.

The most damaging aspect of the Circle of Life, though, is how stressful it is for GameStop employees. As a report from February 3rd explains, some employees feel pressured to lie to customers. And while some employees vow that they would never knowingly deceive a customer, everyone agrees: the Circle of Life is painful:

"None of us like to do it, but we are all scared for our jobs. I have employees who work at GameStop full time, and every time they sell a new console, or a day like January 24th rolls around where you have multiple new titles releasing at the same time, they all get extremely nervous about whether or not they’re going to hit their numbers."

- Gamestop assistant manager

What That Means For Players

So how does the Circle of Life affect customers? For one, it means inconsistency. Come March, one store in Manhattan might lie about having the Nintendo Switch in stock, whereas a Brooklyn store might be seriously out of the Switch. There's no way to know which shop actually has the Switch in stock, which ones do not, and which ones will prioritize repeat customers that purchase reward cards over those who do not.

In other words, GameStop is becoming a store centered around pre-owned and trade-in titles. To the point that customers looking for new games or systems may be turned away.

Which means the best way to purchase new games and systems is to shop outside of GameStop. Because used games and systems are incentivized more than anything, GameStop should be the first choice for picking up pre-owned games and hardware; not the latest hits.

More importantly, the Circle raises ethical questions for consumers: is it really worth keeping such a stressful system afloat for convenience's sake? Players have the right to vote with their dollar, and in light of Kotaku's report, it's perfectly reasonable to stop visiting GameStop due to the way the corporation is treating their employees. As much as GameStop's Circle of Life is a supply problem, it's also one that comes down to questioning a business's behavior.

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The call is in customers' hands. But either way, something clearly has to change internally inside GameStop. A quota system built on pushing employees to sell pre-owned games and reward cards is, fundamentally, bad for morale.

How do you feel about GameStop's Circle of Life? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


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