Let’s Talk About the Good Old Days of Video Game Rentals (or Why I’m Cancelling My Gamefly Membership)

I’m going to assume if you are reading this particular post on this particular blog you at the very least dabble in the occasional video game.

And chances are if you are in my age group you remember being able to go to one of a number of different physical stores and being able to walk among several isles of video games on shelves and racks.  From these shelves and racks you were able to grab a game or two and for a nominal fee get to take them home for what was usually the better part of a week (five days in most cases).

Later on many of these physical stores started having “special” membership programs where you could pay a flat monthly rate and have as many games out as you wanted for as long as you wanted (provided you paid your monthly fee).  I happened to live about a block from my favorite rental place and it was amazing being able to grab a game, take it home and play it for as long as I wanted/until completing it.  This meant if a game was not enjoyable all I had to do was drive/walk a block or so and get a different game.  The store was well stocked and very rarely lacked something interesting to play (they had lots of both new releases and older games).

Sadly those days are long, long, long behind us.

Replacing these brick and mortar places with real live, knowledgeable and friendly people who could help you if the need arose we now have two main options: Redbox kiosks and Gamefly.

Redbox lets you take home a game from their extremely limited selection for $3.21 a night.  As many games take upwards of multiple dozens of hours to complete this is not the most cost effective option, especially for those of us who work 40+ hours a week and can not spend two or three days straight on a game.  Automatically this relegates Redbox to the quick “I have a night free might as well check this game out” kind of rentals where you pick up a game with dinner and cross your fingers in the hopes that the disc won’t be too beat up and scratched to play.

The other main option is Gamefly.  Gamefly is sort of the Netflix of video games (or at least it was back when Netflix was a DVD by mail service and not a binge watching year old or more television shows and/or original programs) in that after signing up you create a “queue” of video games and they send you them one or more at a time depending on how much you are willing to spend.  I put “queue” in quotations because in most places queue tends to mean an ordered grouping intended to be retrieved in sequence but Gamefly has other ideas (more on that later).

On its surface it sounds great.  I was a subscriber of Netflix back when they were primarily a mail order company and they were fantastic.  I could get a movie on Monday, watch it, get it back in the mail for Tuesday and by Friday have a movie.  More over it was almost always the first movie in my queue and never any lower than third.  Netflix understood how to service its customers, they had plenty of their product in stock and had plenty of distribution centers to get said product out to their subscribers.

When I joined Gamefly around five years or so back they apparently missed the memo.  I often found myself waiting and waiting and waiting for games.  I quickly tired of this and cancelled my membership.

Five whole years have passed so I though last fall I would give them a try.  They were running a deal for $9 and change for the first three months and I figured with the passage of time they would have gotten their act together.

I was wrong.


Why can I only choose one when at least 3 apply?

Today I cancelled my membership one day shy of starting my 5th month.  From the 4th month onward I was expected to pay $15 for the privilege of one game at a time, from a very limited selection of titles that themselves were available in very limited quantities.  This brings me to the queue concept from earlier.  In Gamefly’s world a queue means a list of items that can be pulled from at random.  This time in my four months as a subscriber the games I received were from all over my queue, the last game being the 6th game in the queue and at one point a game was sent from lower.

They justify this because of “limited” quantities of titles but this shows a distinct lack of interest in properly servicing their clientele.  For a company to charge $15 a month and consistently fail to provide their customers with the games they want to play is inexcusable.

On top of still not being able to provide the desired games they are still horrible at consistently getting them to their customers in a timely manner.

I for example live in Cincinnati.  My “primary distribution center” was in Pittsburgh.


See that?

Not even a five hour drive.

Yet there were times when I would send a game out and five or six days later receive an email saying they got my game (if I received the email at all).

A day or two would pass and I would get an email saying whatever game they chose at random from my queue was on its way and if I were lucky I’d see it in about four days.

The last game they sent, never arrived (on its first attempt).  I was told it was sent on the 18th (mind you I sent the previous game in on the night of the 11th and according to email they received it on the 15th).  Yet by the the 25th I had still not received the game (but they made sure to send me a survey asking about how quickly I got it), so I filed a complaint early in the morning hours and by evening they sent the game again.

It arrived today.

Just in time for me to put it in the mail, come back home and cancel my membership.


Last game going back on Jan 27th, 2016

It is going to Pittsburgh and will be picked up in about 3 hours from that mailbox.  Gamefly very clearly states that they will charge me retail price for the game if they don’t have it back in seven days.

They should have it Friday at the earliest, possibly Saturday.  It better not “disappear” for 8 days (expect an explosion if I end up charged for the game).

The Gamefly business model doesn’t work and it is a crime that they continue to operate when far superior options closed their doors years ago.  I would willingly pay more (and did, as my monthly membership at Hollywood Video was $20-$25) for better service.  Being able to immediately take back an unsatisfying game and get a new one alone makes the higher cost worthwhile.  Not to mention getting to pick the game you want yourself instead of having it randomly pulled for you.

Gamefly is barely worth $9 a month and certainly isn’t worth $15 or more.

I typically don’t rate services but if I did Gamefly would be looking at a big fat:

2 out of 10 (for the 2 out of 5 games they provided me that I actually wanted to play)

Stay away from them.  Stay away from them like the plague.  Stay away from them like a toxic ex.  Stay away from them like a stinking mountain of garbage on a 100 degree day.

They have a broken business model and plainly don’t know anything about properly servicing their customers.  They charge too much, offer too little and take too long to deliver on their misguided product.

Sadly though this means you’ll have to gamble with Redbox or simply hope you can borrow a game here or there from friends.

And let’s have a moment of silence for the bygone era when a gamer could find a rental service that actually took care of them.

-Shad (@PolyNerdic)

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