GameStop has told its employees that it considers its own stores “Essential Retail” at the moment and that they should resist any law enforcement efforts to order a store closure. Employees were given flyers with the GameStop corporate number printed on them and instructed to hand them to the cops, should they show up to enforce a necessary public health order.
Two days ago, GameStop told its employees to set demo stations back up after they were dismantled to prevent them from being infectious vectors. It also told them they should buy their own hand sanitizer and soap to keep the store clean and that GameStop will reimburse employees for these expenses at a future date. Multiple employees have contacted Vice (linked above) and Kotaku to confirm these reports.
“Due to the products we carry that enable and enhance our customers’ experience in working from home,” the missive states, “we believe GameStop is classified as essential retail and therefore is able to remain open during this time. We have received reports of local authorities visiting stores in an attempt to enforce closure despite our classification. Store managers are approved to provide the document linked below to law enforcement as needed.”
The note attached to the flyer reads:
Thank you for what you are doing to keep us all safe. If you have questions about our store’s hours, operations or policies could I ask you to please call our corporate office:
GameStop Corporate Office
Thank you for understanding.
In Which I Evince a Complete Lack of Understanding
It’s obvious why GameStop is pulling this stunt. First of all, the company is in dire straits already. Nobody believed that the launch of the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 was going to give the company more than a few quarters of positive figures, given the way gamers are already shifting to online sales. That was before coronavirus started shutting down huge sections of the US economy. Given that 59 percent of all US workers are hourly and 18 percent of all US workers had either lost jobs or workers as of March 17, it’s safe to bet that people aren’t going to be rushing out to buy new consoles this year, either. In other words, GameStop’s hope that it could convince its investors to wait for the end of the year before giving up on the company is going up in smoke.
The US is now projected to lose a million or more jobs by the end of March. That would dwarf the worst monthly decline of the Great Recession, when 818,000 jobs were lost in January 2009. The outlook for April is even uglier. The US economy could contract by 5 to 6.5 percent by the end of Q2. GameStop is almost certainly screwed in a real, life-ending kind of way.
Staying open in the depths of a massive recession offers some faint hope of changing that. After all, gaming is something you can do from home, and tons of gamers now have tons of time on their hands. GameStop might be hoping that with the Wal-Marts and Best Buys closed and services like Amazon buckling under the strain, it can… well, profit probably isn’t the wrong word, but I’m going to say something more along the lines of “Lose less money and create a positive narrative about its own role in helping people fight off boredom.”
And all of that would be perfectly understandable and acceptable in just about any other context. But this is not “any other context.” On March 18, I published the following graph (data is for March 16):
Total cases outside China, March 16. Data by Worldometers.
Note the total number of cases outside China: Just over 100K. Here’s what that looks like as of March 19 (Data is for March 18):
Data from 3/18 by Worldometers.
From just over 100K to just shy of 140K inside two days. Truthfully, even the graph above is outdated, because it stops on 3/18. By the time you read this, the actual figure will likely be 20K – 25K higher than it is in that graph. I’m using world statistics, for the curious, because the lack of testing in the United States throughout the early phase of the pandemic was so poor, we’re seeing a skyrocketing rate of infection in our own country. US data, in other words, looks even worse than most.
In a situation like this, GameStop has no business being open. I’m not thrilled at the idea of putting GameStop out of business; I agree with those who have said this will be a negative for gaming in several important ways. But it doesn’t matter. Every company that remains open in these times sends a message that there may be some hope of regaining normality in the immediate future. There is not.
It is not the job of GameStop employees to confront law enforcement over the legality of leaving a store open in the middle of a pandemic. It is not the job of GameStop employees to push for policies that will make more people vulnerable in this critical window. GameStop is not “essential retail” to any meaning of the word “essential,” and given that the company is willing to ask employees to risk their own health and well-being in stores it can’t even be bothered to stock with cleaning products, I don’t see any particular reason why GameStop should survive the pandemic, either. GameStop already had a number of pre-existing conditions — Covid-19 may just be the complication that kills it for good.
And after this stunt? Good riddance. ExtremeTech recommends buying your games from a company more interested in your lifespan than your used copy of Breath of the Wild.
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