Even After Stonks Madness, GameStop Is Probably Still Doomed

Illustration for article titled Even After Stonks Madness, GameStop Is Probably Still Doomed
Image: Spencer Platt / Kotaku (Getty Images)

GameStop is dead, long live GameStop. The embattled chain might be improbably back in the headlines, but that doesn’t seem to have convinced game-shoppers to game-stop avoiding GameStop. So what happens to GameStop now? On this week’s episode of Kotaku’s Splitscreen podcast, we discuss that pressing matter, as well as GameStop’s history as a bonafide video game institution—an era that feels like it happened several lifetimes ago.


To kick off the episode, Ashley Parrish, Michael Fahey, and I talk about GameStop’s heyday, during which we—youths at the time, except Fahey, who was already a significantly taller man than either Ash or I ever will be—discovered a sense of community within the store’s box-lined walls. Or at least, that was the case for Fahey and me. Ash, the truest gamer among us, mostly just went there to buy games.

Then we interview a real, live former GameStop employee... who happens to be Fahey. We also talk about Ash’s time selling games to famous basketball players at FYE, as well as the moment my life almost went down a very different path, when GameStop tried to recruit me to community manage its brand. For our final segment, we bring on Kotaku’s own Ethan Gach, whose last name we finally know how to pronounce. He walks us through where GameStop stocks are at now, and then we talk about life after GameStop. Will the world be better off without it, once it eventually and inevitably passes? Probably. But we’ll still miss it a little.

Get the MP3 here, and check out an excerpt below.

Ash: So, my question: What does this ultimately mean for GameStop? What happens to them now? It seems like they are, despite all this buzz, not seeing a lick of this.

Nathan: Yeah, and Ethan, I know that in your piece you also talked about what GameStop workers are going through at the moment, and things still seem really bad for them.

Ethan: Yeah so, the quietest player in all of this is GameStop itself, which has not to my knowledge really put out a statement. They have not issued more stock, which is a thing you would normally do; if your stock is in high demand, you would sell more shares of it, and then you would use that money to pay off debt—which AMC did. Or you can use it to, god forbid, give a bonus or hazard pay to your employees who are currently working in stores during a pandemic.


Because I did speak to a number of people who are working in different stores, and the reaction was either like “Yeah, this is barely a thing. No one has even talked about it. My manager didn’t even know about it,” or customers come in and joke about it, and it becomes annoying very quickly. It kind of sucks to see this money shooting around and headlines of “So-and-so was able to sell stock and get this much money,” and meanwhile workers are making between minimum wage up to $15 in some cases if you’re a store manager—which comes with tons of responsibility and headaches and overtime hours. They’re sitting there asking, “What’s the endgame for us?”

One of the big things about this rally on Wall Street was people thinking that Ryan Cohen, a new board member of GameStop who’s famous for pet food-selling website Chewy, was gonna revolutionize the brand to be an online entity that is still selling games, but not having physical locations—send things directly to your house. A lot of people now will have big sales on the website, and you can buy stuff, and it ships pretty well. The endgame of that is to not have people be in stores and working anymore. So even this success scenario for GameStop as a financial entity does not necessarily lead to success for the people who’ve been working in their stores for upwards of a decade.


Ash: So it all sucks.

Fahey: At best, it made their work a little more interesting, but it all feels really long and drawn out at this point, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t GameStop have died several years ago?


Ash: How would all of us feel if GameStop were to go the way of the dinosaur?

Ethan: I would be disappointed. I mean, it’s hard. Watching the movie You’ve Got Mail, which is about this independent bookstore in New York fighting against this Barnes & Noble-like retail giant, it reminds you that in the ‘90s there was this sense of, like, Barnes & Noble coming in and just completely shuttering all these local bookstores. People hated it. It was this faceless giant. Now I look around, and there’s one Barnes & Noble within a 50-mile radius of me, and it’s the one place I can go to actually physically look at books, and they play jazz, and you can look at books and hang. It’s nice compared to what the alternatives are at this point.


That’s where GameStop is for me at this point. I don’t like going in there and being upsold stuff or being walked through these convoluted trade-in deals that even a lot of the people working there don’t always understand because they’re trotted out by the marketing team every other week. But it is a place where you can go, and there’s a bunch of games on the wall, and they’ve got used games that are sometimes decently priced. You can talk to other people who are excited about games. Fortunately, there are more and more retro used games stores around, where you can find similar sorts of people. But I would hope that in the future there is room for a place where you can go—in the same way that I wish there were still more music shops where you could go and just talk to people about music. Have that connection and community that wouldn’t exist otherwise.

Nathan: Right. On one hand, you mention Barnes & Noble specifically and how it came in and took over and displaced all of these smaller bookstores. I know that in a lot of cases it doesn’t end up working this way, but still, my hope is that when these giants collapse, it creates maybe a little bit of space for specialist mom ‘n’ pop shops to exist again, because they’re not being crushed completely by these behemoths that can just plop down wherever and take up all the good real estate and pull in all the customers.


Ash: They’ll just get bought by Amazon.

Nathan: [Rueful laughter] Right? It’s probably just going to be somebody else—somebody else big and powerful and with tons of money. But as a lot of retailers, goods, and services move online, then maybe at least some places can serve the purpose not just of selling things, but also being a place you go to. There’s a lot of that in the tabletop and board gaming worlds. Maybe there’s room for that in video games, too. LAN cafes continue to exist, at least.


Fahey: There’s a place here in Atlanta, and I will plug them—because they’re good, and their food’s awesome—called Battle & Brew. It’s effectively a place where you can go and talk about games. They have computers and consoles set up. They serve food and alcohol. That was the gathering spot. One of the times I was there was during a League of Legends championship, and man, I felt so at home there. I knew nothing about League of Legends, but I was like “Here’s a gathering of gamers. We’re all geeks.” We vibed. The whole place was just vibing with video games. That’s what I’d get when I’d go to a sci-fi convention with a gaming room and hang out in there. It’s still around. We’re just gonna have to find new places to get it.

For all that and more, check out the episode. New episodes drop every Friday, and don’t forget to like and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Stitcher. Also if you feel so inclined, leave a review, and you can always drop us a line at splitscreen@kotaku.com if you have questions or suggest a topic. If you want to yell at us directly, you can reach us on Twitter: Ash is @adashtra, Fahey is @UncleFahey, and Nathan is @Vahn16. See you next week!


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Kotaku senior reporter. Beats: Twitch, streaming, PC gaming. Writing a book about streamers tentatively titled "STREAMERS" to be published by Atria/Simon & Schuster in the future.



...but still, my hope is that when these giants collapse, it creates maybe a little bit of space for specialist mom ‘n’ pop shops to exist again

This may be a scenario that could happen in some places, but in major cities and suburbans areas (at least those in my country), commercial rent went through the roof in the last decade or so, and in most areas, it means only big-chain retailers or super popular trendy shops can afford to stay afloat. AND it doesn’t help that many owners of vacant space aren’t lowering the rent to attract smaller businesses, as they can use the loss of revenue for deductions on their tax bills. So basically, commercial space has become, in many places, out of reach for mom ‘n’ pop shops, while at the same time, you can see more and more empty spaces on commercial avenues.

As an example, there are less and less independent coffee shops around, and more and more McD’s, Starbucks and Tim Hortons. Because they’re the only ones capable of affording the ridiculously high rent. Same for bookstores. Same for most specialised stores too.

Although, some smaller shops do still exist, but often in less “desirable” areas for retail businesses, meaning not always as accessible as those big, standardized, commercial behemoths.