Working In Video Games Retail: The Kotaku Australia Review

Working In Video Games Retail: The Kotaku Australia Review

Hot on the heels of January’s hit ‘What’s Your Most Cooked Video Game Retail Story?’ comes its first expansion pack by fan demand

Hello, my name is Jam and I worked games retail for a long time. A damn long time. Too long a time. A ‘Sold Modern Warfare III the first time and the second time’ long time. A ‘became friends with a coworker at my most recent job who remembered me from when I’d serve her at my old job in 2012’ long time.

Some of that time was good! Some of it was soul-grindingly awful! Most of it was pretty mundane! It sure bred a whole lot of stories though, which David has kindly invited me to share some of with you here.

Now, where to begin?

The difficult parents 

I’ll never forget the father who came in with his young boy shortly after christmas wanting to refund a 360 Kinect that the kid wasn’t into. The box the Kinect came in had been completely torn to shreds. He absolutely flipped his lid, screaming at me as I refused the refund. 

I’ll always want to forget the mother of a very young boy who, after asking her in the most normal kid way if they could buy something, dragged him up to me at the counter and proceeded to vent loudly for several minutes about how relentlessly awful it is to have a son.

The time a dad and his 3 boys who would’ve been aged about 15, 12, and 7 respectively came in to buy God of War: Ascension on its launch weekend, which was notably one of the first R18+ rated games in Australia. It became immediately apparent that it was being purchased for the youngest child. I tried my best to explain to his father that the R18+ rating for games was a relatively new thing and that the game was indeed quite adult. The father looked at me as if I was speaking nonsense and said “he grew up playing through all the old ones, now he wants the new one.”

Or maybe my favourite: the time a dad came in complaining to my boss and I about how his kid won’t shut up about ‘Spiro the Dragon’. He’d come to buy it so that he could have five minutes of peace. My manager immediately asked him what platform he’d like the game on. The guy shook his head and said ‘nah mate, just Spiro the Dragon.’ My boss said ‘yeah but, DS, Wii, 360…’ before being loudly and firmly cut off again. ‘Mate, I don’t want to hear it. Just Spiro the Dragon.’ My boss rolled his eyes and grabbed the most expensive preowned Spyro game we had on hand. The customer left happy.

Look, I can’t begin to imagine how difficult being a parent is, and I know that the 15 minutes I spend with a customer isn’t necessarily reflective of who they are as a person or what their family dynamics are. In these situations you just have to be as polite as can be with the whole family and get them out the door as quickly and happily as possible. Or get them to wait while you call child services, which had crossed my mind to do on a couple of occasions. 

The specifically dreaded regulars

Working at a ‘cool’ store in a major shopping centre means you get your rogues gallery of weekday regulars. 

There was the guy who would regularly trade in games that were always thickly smeared with what felt like chip grease.

Conversely there was the guy who would come in every couple of months and buy several hundred dollars of preowned product. He would, more often than not, return them all the next morning.

There was the significantly developmentally disabled man who liked to hang out at the end of our counter and talk to every customer about what they were buying. This wasn’t necessarily a problem in and of itself, except that he would SCREAM at any customer buying a Wii or DS about how they were wasting their money on worthless kiddie shit and should play real games instead. He did this to small children, the elderly– absolutely no-one was spared his intense PS360 proselytizing. 

The thing about most of these regulars is that they’re quite similar to that last guy. I don’t mean the rabid gamer fanboying necessarily. Rather, they’d come in as part of their regular rounds and had little to no intention of spending any money. After many years of working in major shopping centres, moving to a destination store on the side of a highway was a revelation. No longer were the bulk of my customer interactions with folks happy with idle browsing, they were with people who had come to us for a reason. I swore I’d never go back to a centre store after I got my first taste of this, and thankfully I never had to. 

The insane situations caused by forces above us.

There was the utterly ridiculous period where we had to sell the 3DS Ocarina of Time under the counter like some SNL parody of a prohibition speakeasy.

There was the time that Battlefield 3 broke street date hours before our planned midnight launch. Our area manager called us that afternoon and requested that we simply stay open from 6 through til 12:30 instead of closing and coming back as planned ‘in case some people stop by’. Of course he was quick to also clarify that we wouldn’t be paid for that time. My store manager told him ‘yep, no worries!’, then took us all down the street to a bar until 11pm, locking up the store but not arming the alarm so that he’d be none the wiser. 

In fact, there were multiple occasions when an area manager would yell at us. Sometimes it was in front of customers. Sometimes, it would be to demand a massive visual merchandising project that they’d only just envisioned be actioned immediately, on top of our already huge workload. On two such occasions, the area manager returned days later, decided they hated their own idea, blamed it on a staff member who wasn’t in that day, and demanded it immediately be changed back. The craziest part is that two different AMs at two different companies pulled this same shit on me. But that’s what happens when you don’t have a HR department.

These were the incidents that were the hardest to deal with of all. They’re the ones that lay bare just how little you mean to the company that you invest so much of your time and energy in. 

The random chaos demons.

There’s the people who appear whenever a new AFL game releases, who get frustrated about why they ‘don’t just make it as good as FIFA’.

There were two separate occasions where a customer came in excited to buy a game that had only been announced earlier in the day. These customers utterly refused to believe that I didn’t already have their in-development game in my tiny store room and truly thought that I would hold it from sale for many months until the publisher wanted me to put it on the shelf. (This happened to me twice.)

The endless amount of dudes who demand you price match PlayAsia or Target U.S.

The cop who, as soon as he approached the counter, had his radio start blaring about an emergency involving a knife-wielding woman in the street, and who, instead of leaving immediately, asked if I could hurry the transaction along.

If there’s one thing I learnt in over a decade of games retail, it’s that most of the games-buying public don’t know how they’re made, are often unaware of the discourse surrounding them and wouldn’t much care even if they did. People just want the thing, they want it now, and they want it to be good. On some level, I can’t really fault them for that.

But you know what? There’s some truly wonderful stories too

Due to the public transport situation between my store of the day and my then home, I used to get in to work most days a good forty minutes before opening. One morning there was a teenage girl hovering around the entrance when I rocked up. When I opened the shutters almost an hour later she RAN to the back corner where the tiny PC games section was, grabbed the new Sims 3 expansion that was launching that day, and slammed it down on the counter with a big smile on her face.

There was the incredibly sweet elderly lady who would walk down to our store on quiet times when she knew that either I or my coworker and housemate would be in, just to chat about Animal Crossing: New Leaf and trade things with us in it.

There is an enormous list of former colleagues and coworkers who I loved spending my days with. Some of whom I’m still in touch with, many I’m not.

Games retail isn’t all that fundamentally different from any other customer service gig. Its biggest problem tends to be how management exploits its ‘coolness’ factor and expects staff to eat shit and like it due to the always enormous volume of applicants they have to replace you with. There’s good days and bad days, decent bosses and hideous ones. 

Kotaku Australia don’t score their reviews, but I give Video Games Retail a $24.73ph/10.

Image: Jam Walker, Kotaku Australia

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