Illustration by Sam Woolley
GameStop employees have always been pushy, but an aggressive new policy at the video game retail chain is taking their forcefulness to a new level. And some GameStop staff say it's making them feel like they have to lie to customers or lose their jobs.
For a decade now, GameStop has subscribed to a company strategy that they call "Circle of Life." The idea is that customers should buy games, trade them back into GameStop, and use the proceeds of those trades to buy more games. GameStop's profit margin for used games is way higher than it is for new games, so it's always been in the company's best interest to push used products.
Last fall, however, the company ramped up their goals with a far more aggressive policy that assigns each employee (and each store) a Circle of Life score based on several quotas, including pre-owned sales. Because the pre-owned quota is based on a percentage of the employee's total dollar transactions, this policy has punished GameStop staff for selling new games and systems.
Since reporting on GameStop's controversial Circle of Life program, I've heard from nearly 100 current and former employees with thoughts and stories. Some wanted to point out that they would never intentionally deceive customers. Others admitted that they felt pressured to do so. A few wanted to defend GameStop, but almost all of them said that the Circle of Life program was making their jobs far more miserable.
For this article, I've rounded up around 20 of those employees' accounts, with a variety of stories and opinions. All of these employees spoke anonymously in the interest of protecting their careers, but I've verified that each one works or worked at GameStop. Emails have been edited for brevity and clarity. Bolded emphasis mine.
Current assistant manager:
Your source was absolutely right when they talked about lying to guests. None of us like to do it, but we are all scared for our jobs. I worked two jobs myself until I hit [Assistant Store Leader] just because I didn't get paid enough to support my family, and then shortly after I received my promotion and quit my other job, they roll out COL, and effectively tell us we're used car salesmen now (a term which leadership previously used as a negative to describe attempting to sell a guest something they don't want or need).
I don't want this to sound like a sob story or anything, but my situation is the norm. 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. The worst part is the fact that all of my staff wants to do right by the guests, and we all try to do that as much as possible, but when we're faced with either losing our jobs or selling a product that the guest doesn't want, 9 times out of 10 we'll sell something other than what the guests want.
The only people in my store who aren't currently "used car salesmen" are the people who, like me, have put in their two week notice. This kind of stuff is super frustrating to the guests, that goes without saying, but it makes us feel like shit when we feel the need to lie to our regulars about what we have in stock just to try to keep our numbers up.
Another current assistant manager:
I just wanted to let you know that your GameStop article is spot on - I'm an assistant manager at a midwest GameStop and let me tell you, we ARE directed by higher management to mislead customers.
It might not be corporate, but it's pretty damn close. During an "assistant leader" conference call earlier this week, an employee from another store asked why GameStop won't lower prices of its pre-owned inventory to undercut sales on new items — and what we could do to overcome such hurdles to improve our COL.
Our District Leader straight up told her to direct our guests to the pre-owned items in question, talk up the value of buying pre-owned, and simply omit mentioning any sale prices. In the specific example she used (Watch Dogs 2), our guest would have wound up spending 25 dollars more than they had to! Maximise sales and profit while making service matter my arse.
I don't partake in some of the more extreme measures represented but I do in fact think that we are incentivized to do so because of the truly awful way that we are treated as employees. It hasn't been expressed in as many words but the threat of losing jobs over the "circle of life" is a very real thing that myself and my colleagues have discussed.
On top of all of the COL nonsense we've been pushed into a culture of selling that actively neglects the parts of the business that do not allow us to in fact sell. We're constantly asked to forget about processing shipments and the like to help customers. While this isn't a problem, the problem comes when we are chastised and reprimanded for not processing the shipment. I've had an entire back room full of unprocessed merchandise and then yelled at about it when I was doing as I was asked. This would be possible with more hours but we operate with something less than bare minimum. After my Store Manager and I take our 80 or so hours out of the equation we are left with less than 40 hours to apply to everyone else. This makes for an incredibly frustrating environment.
Current senior game associate:
I'm happy at GameStop for the most part, I absolutely love my regular customers and the conversations that I get to have, and love helping people. My store does things with a pretty unspoken code of ethics. We know not to lie to our people, because them being happy matters more than our numbers.
It feels like the company is hurting big time though. People (at least in my district) are quitting or getting fired left and right. Morale is absolutely horrible, and it (in my opinion) all boils down to there being a new crisis every few weeks. One week, we desperately need trades. The next few weeks, we need to focus on preowned. Then because we focused on trades and preowned, we didn't get preorders.
So I think focusing on the COL was their way of trying to do everything at once. That focus just put intense pressure on us within the last month. I get 10-20 hours a week in my store now because they cut hours so much, and they expect me to have the responsibility, accountability, and performance on par with my managers who are there almost 40 hours a week.
I'm a student, and I love the people I work with and the perks that working at GameStop sometimes brings, but man I hope things improve from this story breaking. I'm kind of afraid employees will be blamed for it. I've been with the company for a over two years, and I can personally say that it feels as if we get less praise & incentives by the month.
From upper management's point of view, we should feel lucky to even work at GameStop, talking about the things we love and dealing with games all day. They say that during conference calls, and those kinds of messages appear on our TVs when we open and close. The dichotomy of getting paid $US1 ($1) over minimum wage for being "management," yet being expected to act like a car salesman accountable for my sales shouldn't be lost on them, but it is, and that's perhaps the most frustrating thing. They can't have it all, but they want it all.
Former assistant manager:
I was an assistant manager at a GameStop until last Thursday (I had enough of the company.) Circle of Life (COL) was something that has been always a part of GameStop but got revamped around October for the holidays. The goals for our store were as follows.
- Reservations: 11%
- PUR Pro Renewals: 13%
- Pre-owned sales: 34%
- Trades: 22%
- GPG (Game Protection Guarantee) 20%
- PRP (hardware warranty) 33%
These goals had to be met everyday or we would get a call from our District Manager (or District Leader, as GameStop would have you call him) to alert us about our low numbers and warn us. Our DL would routinely threaten our jobs over low performance so much so that he fired all the employees at one location (admittedly, this location had been a trouble location. But to fire the entire staff?)
I have worked at GameStop for over 7 years now. The comments you've received, I can almost guarantee you are edge cases. GameStop has an open door policy with its leadership, and the discussion and instruction around new policies comes straight from Paul Raines all the way down to the lowest level.
COL is one of the more strict selling behaviours this company has enforced, but it's not out of bounds. Trade and pre-owned are where we make our most profit, with PRO Cards and Reservation growing the ecosystem. While those are always our biggest focus, company policy is, and always has been, customer first. Always offer customers the best value.
In our training videos for COL, they specifically stated situations where new is a better value, and how the bottom line should be helping the guest. Any district leaders forcing inappropriate behaviours around COL are acting strictly out of line, and I have seen these behaviours get them fired.
As far as being fired for COL, as I said, it is strict, but not without reason. GameStop needs to stay focused on generating profit, and we do so best with COL. If someone is fired over their COL score, it's over months of bad scores, with monitoring. District and Regional leaders are now required to spend enough time in stores coaching specific employees that have room to grow. If their behaviours don't change, actions are taken, but it's not done without time and effort. As I said earlier, District Leaders encouraging incorrect behaviours around COL are at risk of immediate termination.
And in regards to not selling new products just to push pre-owned, that's an easy way to tank your store. Labour hours allocation is based strictly on trade and net sales, not pre-owned. We still make profit from new sales, otherwise why would we offer new product. Anyone pushing sales away is purely acting that way, because they're already not performing well.
And it doubly doesn't make sense with new releases. Pre-order numbers and percentages are some of the most largely emphasised and tracked stats in the company, but for every pre-order we get, we get negatively affected in the end by pick-up ratio. If you get a bunch of people to pre-order Tekken 7, but then 40% of those customers pick-up, your pre-orders mostly end up hurting you. The company puts a focus on quality reserves, not just getting pre-orders to have them.
I hope you can add some of this perspective to the narrative. I know it's cool to hate on Gamestop, but they're still a large part of the gaming industry, and there are still a lot of honest, hard workers here. I'm sure you've seen the stats on the amount of new games we sell through pre-orders, and how much we drive trade incentives towards pre-orders. Also, people forget that niche retail is extremely competitive with not-the-highest job security, either. It just comes with the territory.
Former store manager:
I worked for GameStop for over 12 years and was a GameStop store manager for the last eight. Emphasis on "was." I was just fired from the company over this exact program two weeks ago. During the holidays, my staff was afraid of being fired because of this program, so what I did was pass off my transactions to them that would improve their COL score while I took the transactions that would otherwise harm their COL scores. I did it to help ease their minds and the pressures from corporate. I thought I was safe because of my excellent track record with the company and the overall COL score for the store was above the company average.
Unfortunately, they fired me because "I was not an effective leader by not leading by example." I did what I felt was right to my employees and I don't regret it. This program led to my employees going into the back stockroom when they knew a customer only wanted new items, didn't have a Pro card, trade, or didn't want to reserve something... and I know my store was not the only one like this. People in general deserve a better place than GameStop to buy their games.
First, while not every associate at GameStop uses these dishonest practices, I know many who do. I have worked at 2 different stores (in both management and non management positions) and have seen people outright lie about things that would be in games to get people to preorder. Another thing people do is get people who don't work often (8-10 hours a week) to do transactions under other associates' names so as not to hurt the store's numbers. These associates can't possibly make their quotas, due to the limited number of hours they work, therefore they have to hurt someone else's.
Believe me, we are all very tired of the COL, and it hurts morale overall.
Hello there Jason, I just read your article on GameStop's Circle of Life program and I'd like to inject my thoughts on the matter. Yes, I'm a former GameStop employee and I do agree the COL is not perfect by any means. It's true GameStop corporate is expecting employees to have a minimal of 75% a day/week, but they will average your scores if I remember every six weeks. In this average, if your score falls bellow 45%, shit starts happening.
Now, I'm not new to retail, I've been in the retail/service workforce for seven years plus it's a numbers game I know that by heart. There is more to the store than just the COL. It's all about store profitability and COL is tied directly to it. I can't speak for all Gamestop stores, but the one I worked at we never turned down a customer who wanted a new game or system. Yes, it doesn't add anything to the COL but there is another thing that corporate looks at with a magnifying glass and that is customer surveys.
On the bottom of every receipt there is a survey link with a chance to win a gift card thing. Those reviews if a customer has filled out carries weight and one of my old managers at the end of every transaction as a friendly reminder encourages the customer to fill it out. He ends the conversation like this, "I like working here" or if I was working along side with him he would do the same thing with my customers. Just take out the I and replace it with me :).
I was disciplined for having a low COL score and that basically was that I couldn't work the register for a couple of days. Which I kinda broke that rule out of necessity but I left the company soon afterwards. I was working a second job at the time and I got a better deal with my current employer. In conclusion the COL is not perfect and it does pit employees in a desperate situation cause it assumes that every day is going to be a perfect day. At the end of the day it's all about numbers and having strong numbers is always good. GameStop at a corporate level that's all they see and look at are numbers.
Current game advisor:
I have been written up for both having a low COL and for "not pursuing potentially key COL sales." I was most recently talked to this Sunday because I allowed a customer to return a sale that hurt our score.
Our store has not kept new games hidden, at least to my knowledge, however we do "juggle" sales in order to play the numbers. For instance, if a customer comes in and purchases a used PlayStation, games, etc from me, they will give me a positive Pre-Owned score. From then on, I will be the employee that deals with all New sales for the rest of the day, because my personal numbers can take it. We have even gone so far that my co-worker has given me their computer login, so that a positive purchase from me will even out their numbers, and vice-versa.
We do this so that we don't have to do something like turn a customer away, but we have been told several times by corporate managers (mostly district manager) to cease doing this.
You pretty much nailed that on the Circle of Life. I've been a employee of Gamestop for about 7 years and this isn't a really new program. It's been around for years but around the holidays they revamped it and enforced it. It's honestly the most ridiculous thing that GameStop has forced. The company has been trending in a downward spiral. Out of all the categories the only one that is feasible, should be the preowned sales. Mainly because that's the majority of their revenue. But other ones are solely on the customers, and employees will ask.
In my district in Massachusetts, individuals are to be at 50% without facing punishment. I was actually told by my manager that our district manager wanted to get rid of me for having a 0% during the holiday season. It was absolutely ridiculous, my manager did not agree with her. But I was somewhat punished by my manager just to appease the district manager. What you did say about employees lying about certain things to get their numbers up or keeping them up. We refer them as "padding numbers," and there is some shady stuff that employees do. In all the years of working there, not 1 of their programs have ever been about customer satisfaction.
Your article was honestly pretty accurate in regards as to how COL works. That being said, I feel that (while sometimes warranted) it paints us employees in a bad light. Of course, I cannot speak for all stores, but within my district, I am very lucky to have leaders that are kind and understanding. We push COL as hard as every other district, but the punishments are less severe. No one has lost their job due to their performance. And as employees, we will not lie to a customer to up our score. If someone wants a new PS4, and I can't talk them into a pre-owned PS4, then so be it. I take the $US300 ($391) hit. And that's ok. Since I'm in such a forgiving store/district, I will do this as much as I need to, if it means the customer gets a better deal.
My store's employees consistently hit 50% or above weekly, not because we deceive our customers, but because we work hard to push recommended products in an honest manner. We are able to keep our score by constantly checking COL, and distributing sales to who needs more of a category, or letting someone take the hit for someone who is already under in a category. COL hurts us all, as myself and many of my associates genuinely care about customers and meeting their needs, but are discouraged to do so by our own company.
So, tl;dr: COL sucks, it stresses everyone out immensely, but the average employee is not as scummy as the article seems to portray us. We care about the customers, we just want to also keep our jobs. It's really scary to know that I could lose my job for working in the customer's best interest, and it's beginning to drive away a lot of my staff from the company. Honestly, I'm scared for what comes next in GameStop's money making plans.
I won't do any of the shady practices they basically tell us to do, without actually saying it.
But the COL does force us to push products on our customers since we are essentially threatened with termination every day via emails. They want sales numbers but don't offer any commission system. I know they aren't breaking any laws with our pay but I've been here 4 years, I'm a key holder (SGA), and I only make $US10.25 ($13) in the state of NY. That's only 50 cents ($0.65) higher than minimum wage. They also keep us at a skeleton crew but tell us it's our fault if we don't take our lunch breaks, and that we will be fired for it. There are days where I'm the only one in the store until I'm scheduled to leave, making it impossible to take my breaks or lunches. This is because they cut store hours to the bare minimum to keep us open. I can't even use the restroom without closing the store down temporarily.
I'm sure you've received a lot of emails since posting the article on the GameStop Circle of Life metrics, but if you wanted more insight into it I am a Store Leader at a store that consistently ranks top 10% of the company in the Circle of Life and I hate it. The goals can be met without lying to guests but they cannot be met without some sort of gaming the system. My own District Leader has flat out told me to have employees that are weak on performance ignore guests that come into the store and never step foot behind a register to prevent scores from dropping.
Monday through Wednesday have brought about guilt trip calls, and conversations questioning whether or not my employees "really want to work for GameStop or are just wasting our time" because they got excited about Resident Evil last week, sold us completely out of copies, and tanked our pre-owned numbers.
Very much in line with what you said, the pressure on us to hit numbers goals is real. According to corporate policy, being below 50% on COL for 3 consecutive weeks is supposed to result in termination. Some district managers may enforce this, some may not. Mine does. So very often we are forced to do whatever we have to do to get these numbers, but it goes beyond lying about new/used game stock. A good example is preorders, if a guest has no preorders and doesn't preorder something that hurts our numbers. If the guest preorders a game that obviously helps. If the guest has a preorder and makes a payment on it, it has a null effect on our preorder percentage.
So, last week my DM taught me to add a penny to every preorder a person already has because nobody notices an extra penny and it boosts my numbers, even though it isn't very ethical. COL promotes a poor selling culture. As a employee that receives few hours as is, one bad week of COL could cause me to go a week with no hours, or greatly reduced hours. So I'm in a situation where sometimes I tell people I can't do transactions if they don't have trades, I may trade shifts with someone on days a major title releases (like recently with RE7), or preorder games for guests when there is a trade bump toward that game even if they have no intention of preordering it (causing them to have to cancel later and hurt one of my co-workers). It sucks to do, but it keeps my job.
I worked as an SGA or Senior Game Advisor from May of 2016 to November of 2016. I was there when the revamped "Circle of Life" was put into place. Although I cannot speak for GameStop as a whole I can say that at the store that I worked at I never once felt pressured to lie to or mislead my customers nor did I ever feel pressured by upper management to mislead anyone as well.
I know GameStop has been known for misleading their customers and some of its practices I don't agree with such as selling games that are already opened as new as well as ten years ago when I first worked for the company and the pressure I faced when having to sell Edge Cards/Power Up Rewards memberships to people or otherwise your job was on the line.
I agree that the current metrics are rather absurd for the Circle of Life. Each metric is 25% of your overall 100% goal and we even had contests each month to try and hit those numbers which could also be the reason why a lot of employees across the company were misleading customers to try and win a contest. Not to mention there was a contest where depending on how well you did on your COL score your Store Manager would win prize money as well.
That is where I believe the problem lies, is that the incentives for Store Managers and employees were so good that it could've caused employees to want to mislead customers so that COL scores would be great. I can also confirm that you did indeed only need a 75% or a 3/4 on your COL score in order to succeed. It can be a lot of pressure to try and hit those numbers especially when you are sold out of say pre-owned PS4's and then go to sell a new one which really hurts and can tank your COL score.
I can confirm some of these behaviours. All GameStop employees are sick and tired of this COL metric, and sick and tired of corporate threatening our jobs over this… The COL score has directly impacted my store in just a couple ways. Everyone seems to be worried about if they're going to be at the percentage mark whenever I print out the last days/week to date COL scores, and that worrying directly impacts their performance on the sales floor. Either they see that they're in a good spot and just try to coast out on it and stop trying or they see that they're below what they should be and then they try harder, which sounds good, but it's that frantic and desperate trying because they know that their jobs are literally on the line and they just seem too overly pushy and you can see the uneasiness in some of the customers eyes when my employee is trying desperately to get an reserve, or a Pro card, or talk them into a used item when they really want new.
And we've been told, as Store Leaders, to cherry pick transactions if our COL score is too low. Like literally take transactions from our employees if we know there's gonna be a reserve or a Pro card, or even if someone is trading in a lot of things to take the transaction from them to boost our pre-owned percentage. Which, I don't do and I don't know of many who will do that, but we've been told to do it.
But the COL also keeps us from actually being happy to make a large sale anymore. My Regional Manager sent out an email because someone at a store made a little over $US1k sale, but everything was new but the 5 used games he managed to sell with the purchase. It was a good sale, but the only thing that helped his COL was those used games, and the PS4 and the VR headset he sold hurt him. I sold $US1400 ($1,823) in one transaction during the holidays, but instead of feeling good and proud about doing it, all I could think was, "Well, there goes my COL score."
This whole COL fiasco has made us all feel expendable and pretty much useless. They remind you on a almost daily basis that they will terminate you for low enough consecutive COL score, and that we need to be writing up and pushing out the employees at our stores who can't keep a high enough COL score.
I worked at EB Games/GameStop from Oct 2016-Dec 30th 2016 as a seasonal "Floor only Associate."
I was first introduced to the "new direction" (as my manager liked to call it) when WW 2K17 was coming out. It was the day before release and we just started opening up boxes of cellophane wrapped games. My manager then starts to tell me to start tearing off all the cellophane wrap from every single disc and to take the disc out, and use the empty case as an "extra source for marketing fill space."
However I was also told when customers were to come in the next day requesting a new copy of WW 2K17, we were to grab 1 of the discs that was already out and opened up, and to put it back in 1 of the already opened game cases with a 1" piece of round tape sealing it after. If we did not sell all opened "new" games in the next few days. My manager would enter them into the system as pre owned then apply the green sticker on them, and continue to sell them at a used price.
Remember reading/writing about how Gamestop had broken some records for pre-orders for Pokemon Sun/Moon? Well when I first started, our district manager had come by to check up on the store and urged everybody working at each location to pre-order 2-3 copies of Sun/Moon each, whether we were interested in the game or not. In fact my manager basically told me I was not being a team player if I didn't pre order more than 2 copies of the game. Apparently this was going around at every district. After the games shipped, 2/3 of employee cancelled the pre orders.
...The last thing I will mention is that time and time again, my manager would tell customers that they could only get a copy of the game from us if they pre ordered the game. If a new game was not pre ordered and the day of release someone came to buy that game, my manager would refuse a sale, and tell him to pre order the game next time... or he could buy a pre owned version for 20% higher price.
Current assistant manager:
As a current assistant manager at a GameStop store in NY I can promptly tell you that almost everything that was brought up in the initial article was absolute bullshit being complained about by shitty employees who were also probably just shitty people in general. Those kind of employees make up a very small minority of GS associates and honestly give the rest of us a bad name.
No one ever gets threatened to be fired for that kind of stuff unless they have been lacking for months on end. And it's never even a majority of the staff that gets threatened. It's always the store managers first because they set the tone of the store and frankly if they can't get their employees to do their jobs then they are either terrible managers and shouldn't be running a store in the first place or should fire the staff and get people who will actually put the effort in and do the work.
I love working here. Are there times when they tell us we absolutely have to do certain things or meet certain numbers? Of course. It's a business. For some reason people just like picking on GameStop as a business because they have had bad experiences with bad employees. But it happens, thats normal in any business. COL is not something new. It's been around forever. It's what makes GameStop run as a company. Best Buy, Walmart, Target, etc. they all have the same shit. If you don't help grow the business or you are losing the company money you're gonna get fired. That's how the world works. Does it sometimes suck? Sure, but you can't complain about a business doing what it has to do to make money.
Just chiming in as an SGA/keyholder. The first article seems mostly accurate. Personally, I have deceived guests before on a few occasions because this program has bad incentives. For instance, when DOOM was on sale new for $US30 ($39), somebody asked me what the price was and I said "I think it's $US60 ($78)" and he bought the PO copy for $US54.99 ($72) just to not hurt my numbers. I have never said "we don't have this in stock (when we actually do, that's a new one!). Other occasions, somebody comes in to buy Rocksmith for XB1 and I once tried to get him to take this used 360 copy which somebody left here (GS doesn't take it in for trade) but he still wanted a new copy so I sold it to him.
...As far as job threatening, I have had this occur multiple times over the past year for different reasons but numbers hasn't been one of those until the COL metric came in to play. Now, my DM is telling us that anybody who has a 0% COL score for the week should not be working for the company, which is understandable. However, his attitude is what gripes me and he is treating us as if it's a commission based job in terms of how aggressive and competitive it is when the only "incentive" (lol) we have is to not get yelled at or fired for poor performance. If I wanted to be yelled at about numbers, I'd go work for a company that will pay me commission and a living wage.
I obviously don't know everything you've been told, but your articles are pretty spot on. I've been with the company for nearly 5 years and never have they pushed COL so hard. It's always been a part of the culture, but most of us have never feared losing our jobs over not making the right score.
First, thank you for reporting this. Our company is turning into a sinking ship, and everyone but corporate seems to see it.
Second, I'd like to point out that not all of us are going to lie to customers. A good bit of us simply won't. However, there are are lot of people who, out of fear of being fired, will. There are district leaders who even encourage their stores to apply a game warranty without first asking the customer. It used to be "would you like to add it" and now it's turned into "Your total with the game warranty is x.xx".
The company also took away our employee information hub for about a week last year, claiming later it was to "help us focus through the holiday weekend" (holiday was father's day, by the way) but originally telling us it was because we weren't doing our jobs well enough. So this new push for COL is only among things worse. I've watched my store leader go from someone who liked his job to someone who can barely find it in himself to interact with even his favourite customers because he's constantly being scolded about things out of his control.
GameStop used to be a great place to work, but now we all bond over the fact that corporate is determined to drag us down with them, blaming us the whole way.