Last month, GameStop announced new stock bonuses for store managers and hourly raises for other employees. It seemed like some relief was finally coming for the staff, who have been through so much these last few years, all while watching investors profit off unprecedented meme stock hijinks. Over the past week, however, employees learned those raises would be measly at best. Only $0.50 an hour in many cases. Even lower in others. All while GameStop reported its CEO made $16.8 million last year.
It’s been a rough couple years for GameStop employees. First covid hit. Then the store closures. Turnover rose as the burnout set in amid a record meme stock frenzy coupled with little help for staff on the business’ frontlines. While local stores cut hours, executives left with golden parachutes. But in August, after the latest round of brutal corporate layoffs, GameStop CEO Matt Furlong announced the company would make major new investments in its store managers and hourly workers. Managers would get $21,000 in company stock that would vest over three years. Other employees would get hourly raises. Maybe some of that meme stock gold was finally starting to trickle down?
Not quite. Five current staff tell Kotaku the standard hourly raise for regular store employees is only $0.50. One reported getting even less. “My raise is a whopping $0.38 cents an hour,” they told Kotaku in an email. “I’ve been there 10 years; I’m insulted.” Even with the raise, they say they are still well below the $15-an-hour starting rate at the nearby McDonald’s. (Employees names are being withheld because they were not authorized to speak to the press.)
GameStop did not respond to a request for comment.
The GameStop subreddit is full of similar frustration. “My pay went from 13.30 to 13.85,” wrote one person. “That’s a slap in my face considering how much work I do and constantly coming on on my days off or using my car to go get something from another store to transfer.” Wrote another, “Quitting because I got a 55 cent raise. Went from $10.50 to $11.05.” That person apparently worked in Florida, where the minimum wage is about to go to $11 an hour anyway.
Assistant store managers, meanwhile, will receive $1 more an hour. However, that comes at a time when three store managers have told Kotaku that GameStop is freezing hires of new assistant managers to replace the ones who are leaving or being cut. They say some regions will have one manager for every two stores, or an “area manager” overseeing four. Their raises? Just $1.25 more an hour despite the extra work, stress, and headaches, they say.
“Pretty much everyone I talk to is looking [for another job],” one store manager told Kotaku in a phone interview. That’s even with GameStop’s new equity bonuses. They said they would have preferred an extra dollar or two hourly raise. Currently, the new stock options don’t start vesting until 2023, and even then the full amount won’t be available until years later. Store managers will have to stick it out through another rough holiday season doing more work than ever to get any of it. Plus, the payout is in a meme stock—who knows how much that will be worth once employees try to start dumping it?
“My district leader was trying to be upbeat about it but there was silence on the call after he ran us through the details,” the current store manager told Kotaku. They said others in her district felt like it was more of an insult than anything else.
But GameStop appears focused on grinding through one way or another. In addition to the skimpy compensation for its lowest-paid employees, the employees Kotaku spoke with say pressure is ramping up to meet sales goals and acquire “wins” in important categories like Pro memberships, pre-orders, and warranties. Stores with the lowest number of wins will lose staff and get folded into the management of higher-performing ones, asking both to do more with less.
What does this look like in practice? If you worked in a GameStop store last week you were busy preparing for a stacked Friday. That’s when NBA 2K23 was coming out, alongside Splatoon 3 on Switch. Stores were also getting their latest shipments of highly sought-after PS5 bundles. Some stores worried about not having enough stock to cover their existing pre-orders, let alone people walking in off the street to buy some of the biggest releases of the fall season. Others had to rely on the lowest-paid employees to open and close stores by themselves. All the while, online requests for orders piled up in the back.
If there’s an endgame in sight for GameStop board chairman Ryan Cohen, the employees on the ground Kotaku has spoken with can’t see it. The meme stock apes cheering Cohen along on Reddit see the company’s future in a full-blown pivot to crypto. Results on that front are mixed as well. On the same day last week that GameStop revealed its latest round of bad earnings, it also announced a partnership to sell FTX crypto gift cards in stores. Just today, however, GameStops’ head of blockchain tech, Matt Finestone, announced he was leaving the company after only a year, the latest high-ranking employee to cycle out of the ailing retail behemoth’s current moonshot attempt.
It’s not clear where all of this fits into Cohen’s plan, but like everyone at the top of GameStop he’s making plenty of money in the meantime. Just last month, the pet food tycoon turned meme investor king managed to unload his entire investment in Bed Bath & Beyond and make a cool $59 million in the process. The chain’s stock plummeted 40% the day after. A bunch of store closures and layoffs followed.