GameStop's Going Retro! (And That's Not Exactly a Bad Thing)

It’s official, Funcoland is back! Well, sort of. GameStop announced yesterday that they will begin testing out trading and selling retro games for the first time since the early 2000’s, and it’ll be happening as early as April 25th. The company plans to run a trial basis in stores located in New York City and Birmingham first, and will roll out the new program to all stores by the end of 2015 if it’s deemed successful. They say they’ll be accepting and selling games, systems, and select accessories for the NES, SNES, N64, Playstation, Sega Genesis, and Dreamcast. I can only imagine that Gameboy/Color/Advance and GameCube would be included too. I totally saw this coming about a month ago when GameStop suspiciously announced that they were, once again, accepting Playstation 2 systems for trade. I’ve been advocating for GameStop to get back into the retro market for a while now, and after testing the waters, they seem to share my belief that it’s a viable and lucrative option.

However, most people already seem to be very upset about GameStop’s new (old?) business venture. My news feeds are clogged with cries of how retro collecting is ruined; “We’ll never get another good score now that everyone will take their games to GameStop!” Many gamers are already upset with the company due to some of its long-standing practices — specifically things like “low” trade-in values and supposedly withholding exclusive games to resell with a huge markup at a later date. Whether or not GameStop is guilty of any of these accusations is debateable (you can make a decision for yourself, but that’s not the point of this article), and, with the exception of a few instances, most criticisms are largely a matter of opinion. However, gamers have a right to be upset about this abrupt move. They see it as the retropocalypse, and only expect prices and demand go way, way up as a result. But is it really warranted?

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For myself, both as a gamer and a collector, I’m really excited about the prospect of an easy solution for my retro requirements. Ever since my local shop shut down in March of 2013, I’ve been dying for a similar, capable outlet to pop up. Sure, the thrill of the hunt is half of the fun, but sometimes I just want to buy a damn game! More often than not, my less-than-ideal solution is eBay, where I pay a lot more than I expected for some game I just wanted to try out. Still, I know many other collectors are not as excited as I am. But why? There are both pros and cons here, but I firmly believe there’s enough positive potential behind this to make it a good move for both GameStop and collectors.

Potential Positive Outcomes:
1. Easy access to retro games.
Right now, there are basically only three ways to buy classic video games: 1.) Online via sites like eBay and Amazon Marketplace; 2.) Scavenging Craigslist and garage sales; or 3.) From Mom & Pop retro game shops that are on the edge of extinction. There are, of course, various other, more roundabout ways of reliving your childhood nostalgia, but those are the most common ones. However, if GameStop starts selling retro games again, it gives millions of consumers easy access to thousands of great games! No more waking up at 5AM trying to beat other people to your local yard sales! No more hoping you won that auction while you’re stuck at work! Just log on, click “Add To Cart”, and wait for your game to be delivered. Convenient.

2. More trade-in options for everyone!
Speaking from experience, you wouldn’t believe how many people stop in, hoping to unload 20 years worth of video games so they can afford an Xbox 360 or a Playstation 4, and unfortunately, GameStop has to turn all of those people away. It’s enough to justify their new market by itself. By taking retro games and consoles in for trade, GameStop is fulfilling a need in the market. Now, more than ever, people are digging their old systems out of the closet and loading up the pages of eBay and Craigslist with them hoping to make a profit. With GameStop taking in old games, now they have somewhere quick and convenient to go, and consumers will have an easy way to turn an N64 collection into a Wii U collection. As a retro gamer and collector, this particularly excites me because I know I have amassed quite a few games that I don’t want and can do nothing with. Soon, I’ll be able to sell them to GameStop and buy something I do want. It’s going to eliminate the need for those shitty claim sales that plague the retro gaming corner of Instagram! Pawn all your Duck Hunts and sports games at GameStop and walk out with Mega Man or Bloodborne.

3. It will put garbage resellers out of business or force them to step up their game with better pricing.
Competition in business is good. It’s the reason Amazon is so much cheaper than most other places, and it’s why most stores price-match. No business wants to lose customers. Regardless of what your opinion is on roadside resellers, GameStop offering retro games will only provide strong competition for both Mom & Pop stores and your traditional flea market entrepreneur. So long as GameStop offers most of their retro inventory at competitive prices (on or below eBay value, for example), resellers will be forced to adjust their prices accordingly to compete. They will also have to pay more for their inventory, so if you still choose to forgo GameStop and go the local route, you’ll hopefully be offered better value for your games. This move will only increase your options as a retro gamer. And let’s face it, you could probably get more from Craigslist or eBay, but walking into a store and having someone hand you cash is a much easier transaction. So if resellers can’t adapt and offer better prices, they die out. Of course, no one wants that for their favorite local retro business (I certainly don’t — I miss you, 4Gamerz!!), but I know that at least a good chunk of collectors would be happy if there was even one less dude on Craigslist or Instagram trying to sell a dirty Nintendo 64 for $100.

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4. It will bring games out of hiding.
One of the arguments made for resellers and reseller shops is that they provide a way to unearth retro games that would have otherwise withered away in an attic. That’s partially true, but how many people know about some guy buying old games out of the back of his truck, and how many people are familiar with a huge gaming giant like GameStop? From my experience, I’d venture to say there are a lot more people who are more accustomed to the latter. For example, one of the jobs of a GameStop employee is to inform customers that they buy old games, systems, smartphones, and tablets. Just imagine if employees also told customers that they're now buying retro games too! This ties back into #2 and giving consumers more options. How many people do you think have never even considered selling their old Sega Dreamcast? Well hopefully, they’ll soon be able to bring that into GameStop and get their collection onto the market. It will help bring more elusive titles out of dusty boxes and into the hands of people who actually want to play them. Plus, we’ve all heard the old fable about a grandson finding a copy of Stadium Events in his grandparents’ basement... Just imagine what else might get dug up now that a huge, national business wants to buy your old junk.

Finally, and most importantly...

5. It could potentially deflate the market and pop the retro bubble, which desperately needs to happen (See: “But GameStop will overprice everything!”)
The biggest concern that’s been voiced thus far is that GameStop will do nothing but overcharge and drive up the prices of retro games. It’s a legitimate fear, one that lingers heavy in my mind, but most evidence points to the contrary. In fact, GameStop’s new endeavor could help notably level out the grossly inflated retro gaming market. Yes, there have been some questionable mishaps on GameStop’s part, like the Xenoblade Chronicles fiasco (and that wasn’t all bad as it drove up demand, which got a sequel made for the Wii U, and got the game ported to the New 3DS), and some games are definitely more expensive at GameStop than other places. But for the most part, GameStop prices their games competitively, and a lot of the time, much cheaper than online.

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For example, as I researched rare games that GameStop currently sells versus eBay prices, GameStop consistently beat out most completed eBay listings. This included incredibly rare and hard-to-find titles like Afrika (PS3), Super Robot Taisen OG Saga: Endless Frontier (DS), My Horse & Me: Riding For Gold (the rarest game on the Wii), Ocarina of Time 3DS (3DS), Raiden IV (Xbox 360), and even Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii). That’s right, GameStop sells Xenoblade for about $20 less than most online listings. There are tons more games sold by GameStop that don’t even come close to touching their online value. GameStop has to know that these games are incredibly hard to find, so why don’t they mark up the price? Because that’s not how they make their money. Their bread and butter are the Mario’s and Call of Duty’s, not obscure JRPGs or African safari simulators. For the most part, they’re not concerned with the niché market.

Besides, GameStop would be stupid to sell these games for more than they’re currently worth. They couldn’t feasibly enter the market at or above market value because then they’d have no edge on the existing competition. It doesn’t make sense for them to sell much of anything for more than it already sells for on eBay, because that would hurt their reputation with customers and people would just continue buying their games from eBay or wherever else.

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Point is, even with a questionable past, GameStop throwing its sword into the ring is a good thing. The retro market needs a giant like them to step in and help regulate prices. Right now, the retro market is operating off of whim. “It’s Mario/Zelda so it’s RARE!”; “This might be SO rare in a few years! I mean, look at Stadium Events!” Everyone is boarding the hype train, hoping to cash in big down the line, and it’s causing value fluctuate like crazy. We need a controlled market to bring down prices and only a big company like GameStop can help do that. GameStop jumping into the foray could probably help quell the hype. They may have overpriced games in the past, but I’ve watched rare titles drop in price, and now, almost no used game sells for more than original retail value. If we can apply that kind logic to retro games, it’s only going to help the scene.

They all laughed when I bought 200 copies of Jurassic Park for the Super Nintendo. Well... Who’s laughing now?! I’m rich!!! (Big thanks to K3VB0T on NintendoAge for the photos!)
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Of course, there is also the very real chance that this undertaking could go horribly, horribly wrong. We could be looking at GameStop taking complete control of the market and laughing at us as we fork over $60 for Super Mario World. There’s also the gnawing fear that they will offer laughable trade-in value for these retro rarities, cackling as Grandma hands over Little Samson for $5. Every company can be greedy, but without any way for the average consumer to informed about what they have, it could be incredibly easy for GameStop to take advantage of customers. Luckily, that doesn’t seem too likely based on the company’s current trade-in model. Researching trade values at gamestop.com shows that while they do offer what some might consider a meager amount for more common titles such as dated sports games, they do offer, on average, between 1/3rd and 1/2 of the value (more with their membership) for popular and uncommon games like Mario Kart Wii, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, New Super Mario Bros. DS, and Xenoblade Chronicles. Still, there’s no real precedent set for retro games like there is for current-gen titles, so just as your average schmuck on eBay decides the value of his copy of Streets of Rage, so could GameStop.

There are tons of other lingering questions still tangled up in this new idea. What about the original packaging that gives most retro games their value? Can we trust GameStop to properly assess the worth of the original boxes and manuals? As a collector, it’s an absolutely jarring thought to think that an original box for Earthbound might go straight into the compactor. And what if GameStop forces all of our favorite small business to shut down? They’ve already been putting competition out of business for around a decade now, but GameStop having a hand in the pot definitely isn’t an advantage for any small retro store.

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No matter what way things go, there’s no denying that is going to be a very interesting endeavor both for collectors and for GameStop. The retro gaming fad is at an all-time high right now, fueled by 90’s nostalgia and the reintroduction of products like Surge and late night re-runs of Rugrats. There is already a huge demand for this stuff, as evidenced by eBay, Instagram, YouTube, and reddit. Hopefully, giving GameStop a stake in the claim will fill a growing void in the retro market, allowing prices to plummet and stock to become plentiful. At the very least, things can’t get much worse for the retro gaming scene. Here’s hoping that the world’s most popular gaming store doesn’t crash a train into a beloved hobby.

(Disclaimer: Yes, I do work for GameStop. However, I do NOT represent the company, nor do I claim to. These are purely my opinions and speculation about news that was posted online. I did not write this to defend nor chastise GameStop, but as a vehicle for discussion.)

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