After several bouts of restructuring and trying to stay afloat, Game Crazy stores– and their parent, Hollywood Video– are being pulled from life support and will be liquidated within the next few weeks, followed by total closure. It’s been a wild ride for the chain, which grew dramatically during the early part of the last console generation, but the proliferation of online commerce, the rise to power of GameStop, and several other factors all have contributed to the chain’s ultimate fate.
Game Crazy was born in 1999, which was before GameStop came into existence. FuncoLand, Babbage’s, and Electronics Boutique were all still separate entities. Gamers were about to be introduced to the Dreamcast and were still actively playing Nintendo 64 and PlayStation games. It was a great time for the console gaming industry, and there wasn’t a clear-cut leader in gaming retail at the time… so it only made sense for Hollywood Video to spawn their “store within a store” idea and try to get their piece of the action. Initially, many of Game Crazy’s ideas were very similar to those of FuncoLand. There were to be plenty of demo kiosks with many of the current consoles, along with a few of the “older” ones. Customers were encouraged to try games before they bought; even if the games were new. Although Game Crazy’s pricing scheme was higher than the competition, the stores by and large felt like destinations for gamers. There were periodic tournaments to foster community, and everywhere you looked, you saw games.
Game Crazy saw its biggest success during last console generation, between 2001-2006. By the end of 2006, over 630 Game Crazy locations were open and doing business, and it made sense as the PlayStation 2 was a juggernaut and the new Xbox from Microsoft were powering console gaming to new heights of popularity. Despite the appearance and subsequent growth of GameStop– which was the result of mergers and takeovers including many of the other major gaming retail chains of the late 1990s and early 2000s– Game Crazy was managing to expand and exist. There were changes that came into play that were unpopular; for example, Game Crazy instituted their MVP program, which mimicked GameStop’s similar EDGE card. Sales of these cards were a primary responsibility of Game Crazy employees, along with disc cleaning packages and preorders. Many employees engaged in similar aggressive sales tactics that GameStop used, leading to a more negative shopping experience.
As GameStop continued to expand in the late 2000s, Game Crazy was starting to see signs of trouble. Business wasn’t great, the Great Recession was taking its toll, and online shopping started to accelerate. Game Crazy, in adopting many traits and sales methods of its competition, had become a less-significant factor. In 2009, Game Crazy stores began closing, starting in September. October of 2009 saw over 40% of Game Crazy locations shuttered. There was some hope that things would improve with a lower bottom line, but Game Crazy parent Hollywood Video was suffering too, thanks to Netflix and Redbox.
Now, all Hollywood Video locations and Game Crazy locations will be shuttered within the next few weeks, marking the end of an era.
It really is unfortunate to see this happen. Personally, I generally had good experiences shopping at Game Crazy locations. I even worked for the company for a spell. They were the last major gaming retail chain to deal with “classic” consoles like the NES and SEGA Genesis. I enjoyed the tournaments. I liked being able to try games out before buying them. It felt like an alternative to GameStop, which is nice every now and again. Unfortunately, Game Crazy copied its competition too closely and became almost indistinguishable from GameStop in a lot of ways. Even regular tournaments began to be less frequent and as Game Crazy did finally move away from non-current games and consoles, it lost almost all of its advantages. As recently as the middle of 2009, I had visited locations that were unkempt and looked almost defeated inside. It was almost like they knew the end was inevitable.
As it stands, video gaming specialty retail is in flux. It’s tough to compete with “big box” locations like WalMart or Target. Online commerce is becoming more accepted and a gradual move towards digital distribution is ongoing. It’s also a giant challenge to compete with GameStop, as it’s the dominant chain in this area of commerce and pretty much everyone knows who they are. Play ‘N Trade is making a valiant attempt to compete, and reminds me a lot of Game Crazy in its earlier days, but it’s a distant runner to GameStop and major general retailers. Aside from small and independently-owned game shops, video game retail has become big business with success coming for only a chosen few entities. There’s no real money in gaming-centric retail unless there’s a pre-owned sales component to it. Big box stores rely on other items to make money. GameStop’s pre-owned business and lucrative in-store advertising deals make it profitable, plus it’s the most visible and recognized gaming chain out there.
Hopefully, the soon-to-be displaced employees and managers will be able to land on their feet soon despite the challenging employment environment.
As video game consumers, we also lose out here as our choices have just become a bit more limited. I don’t have a problem at all going to my local GameStop store– as the staff is awesome and earned my business– but I like the idea of going to different stores and seeing what’s out there. GameStop rarely does tournaments to promote community– this is done via waiting outside for midnight launches. Demo stations are few and far between at GameStop, and you can’t try games out before you buy them. There’s little invitation to go to a game store these days and look around or get involved like there was during the FuncoLand days. Gaming retail has degraded from being enthusiastic about what’s being sold to making it all a speedy business transaction.
Some of the best gaming memories I have are from my tours in gaming retail, believe it or not. I used to be the one to organize and run tournaments. I ran a Madden tournament for GameStop one year and it was a blast. I organized and ran a Soul Calibur event for a smaller independent store I worked at back in 2000. I love just talking to people about gaming– like I do here with this blog– and if I can help to make a good buying decision without pressure, it’s an awesome feeling. As an enthusiast, I want to go to a location where I can play a bit, talk a bit, and buy without having to be inundated with options that I don’t want or need. I was never great at selling cleaning kits for FuncoLand. I was never great at getting people to preorder or buy EDGE cards at GameStop. I was, however, good at being approachable and knowledgeable. I can talk almost anyone under the table when it comes to console gaming, and I love every minute of it.
Game Crazy’s rise and fall is a symbol of where video game retail has succeeded and failed in the last 15 years. When Game Crazy began, it was all about the customer. It was about making a shopping destination for video game fans and giving them a place to go that was generally for them. FuncoLand was generally the same way. Then, as time went on and video games soared in popularity, enthusiasm was replaced by big business and importance of upsells. Game Crazy did what GameStop did; they engaged in pushy sales tactics because jobs depended on these upsell items. In the end, Game Crazy became exactly the opposite of what they intended… and without any advantages, the end was certain.
This is not a victory for GameStop; it’s a unfortunate milestone that reminds us of the fact that video games are more of a business than they have ever been, and we, as consumers, are merely pawns on an ever-shrinking chess board.