It’s been a gangbusters year for those at the top of the GameStop pyramid. Revenue is down and stores are closing, but the stock price continues to hover around an unprecedented $US200 (A$280) a share, forging gilded parachutes for its fleeing C-Suite. For many at the bottom, however, it’s been one of the worst in recent memory, with the current holiday onslaught driving a final nail in the coffin for those tired of all the bullshit.
The GameStop subreddit, a digital water cooler employees gather around to commiserate, has been even more grim than usual. “I did the best thing I could think of doing for my mental health…and dropped those keys,” one user wrote over the weekend in GameStop parlance for quitting. “Last year is when things started to turn into a psychologically abusive relationship between me and this company,” wrote another. “The last few weeks have been the worst.”
There have been a flurry of posts like these recently as the company approaches its busiest time of year. GameStop has always been a notoriously difficult retail job that people put up with in order to be in proximity to video games, but the ongoing pandemic, labour shortage, skyrocketing inflation, and transformation of the company into an online sales giant has put strain on employees like never before. “Every store is held together by tape and glue,” one current store manager told Kotaku.
GameStop did not respond to a request for comment.
Following the collision of online meme lords and Wall Street earlier this year, GameStop’s stock price has inflated to record-shattering heights. In June, the company exploited what that store manager described as “dystopic stock market bullshit” to sell $US1.1 (A$1.55) billion in new stock, bringing its total cash-on-hand up to $US2 (A$2.82) billion. But many stores have barely seen a dime of that, six employees from different locations throughout the country told Kotaku. Instead, a pay freeze they say has been in place for the last two years has kept employees at minimum rates well below industry averages.
“I could fucking go to the Target right down the street and make more money stocking shleves with milk and cheese over night than I’m making right now running an entire store,” one current employee said. While big box stores and supermarkets are raising entry-level rates to $US12 (A$17) and $US15 (A$21) in some places, GameStop keyholders in charge of opening and closing stores are making $US9 (A$12.67).
Places like Target, Walmart, and Best Buy were closed on Thanksgiving, but not GameStop. Word of the surprise opening came down from management in early October. The GameStop subreddit filled up with complaints from employees who would no longer be able to travel for the holiday to see families some hadn’t seen in over a year because of covid. “We don’t get Thanksgiving off because Corp values cash more than its employees,” wrote one user.
A year after launch, the PS5 is still continually sold out everywhere. But three GameStop stores told Kotaku they had anywhere from a handful to more than a dozen in stock starting on Thanksgiving, followed by Xbox Series Xs, Ss, and Nintendo Switches on Black Friday and into the weekend, propelling an even bigger holiday rush than usual at some locations. “People are ravenous for these systems,” one employee told Kotaku.
Compounding this onslaught was a massive increase in the number of online orders each store was expected to ship due to huge Black Friday discounts and pre-owned deals like buy two, get one free. Online order counts that rarely surpassed 100 were now breaking caps of 300 or more, some employees claimed. Three employees from different stores told Kotaku that cash registers went occasionally unstaffed and some had to work late in order to keep up with all of the new orders. One store manager said they started Black Friday at 6:30 a.m. and didn’t leave until 11:30 p.m.
“If we are going to treat stores like Amazon fulfillment centres then we need Amazon fulfillment centre hours god damnit,” one user wrote on the GameStop subreddit. “Shut up before corporate hears us, removes our bathrooms and gives us bottles to piss in instead,” wrote another in response.
Part of GameStop’s exploding stock price has revolved around the company’s takeover by former Chewy.com founder Ryan Cohen, who made billions selling pet food online. He installed some former Amazon execs at the company, and GameStop has since reduced online shipping times for games from weeks to days. According to some employees Kotaku spoke with, the company has been pretty transparent about a new push to transform existing stores into online distribution centres. But without better pay or improved infrastructure, the new strategy is falling entirely on the backs of already exhausted and browbeaten staff.
Every employee Kotaku spoke with said turnover has been at an all-time high, with those who last more than a year taking on the mantle of seasoned veterans.
“They’ve got kids [running these stores],” said one store manager. “They can’t even afford cars. Mum drives them to work. This company is continuing to boldly go where no fucking retailer has gone before.”
While GameStop has traditionally found no shortage of young gamers whose passion it can exploit to upsell customers on useless warranties and pre-orders for the latest Funko Pop!, it may have finally soured the deal too much for the newer ranks. One employee said when they started they used to at least get codes for the latest Call of Duty. Now they are lucky if they even get point cards to spend on Call of Duty’s battle pass.
“Employees are forced to hear repeating messages daily about how ‘gamestop cares’ but every action has proved otherwise,” one store manager told Kotaku. “Store morale does not exist. Upper management wants us to hire anyone with a pulse despite experience or knowledge of the space. I’ll be honest, I contemplate dropping my keys and walking out almost every shift.”