GameStop’s New Low: Lying to 6-year-old Kids?

Confession time: I love playing Pokemon on my 3DS. Over a decade ago, I took a trip to the Philippines with Denise, and on a whim we picked up two Gameboy Colors and copies of Pokemon Blue & Red. We battled, traded, and adventured our way through those games and had an absolute blast. Since then, I’ve always had a soft-spot for the game.

While I’m mostly a tourist when it comes to playing Pokemon these days, I recently picked up a copy of Pokemon White, and I’ve been enjoying it. Nintendo has been doing some really interesting things with both social gaming (e.g. Streetpass) and DLC-like content on the 3DS, so I wasn’t surprised to find this email in my inbox on Friday:

This email opened my eyes to a bunch of cool stuff Nintendo has been doing with its Pokemon franchise, and I was eager to try it out for myself. Nintendo’s instructions for acquiring Keldeo are pretty straightforward, here’s what is listed on their site:

Visit participating GameStop stores starting on August 27th to receive Keldeo in your Pokémon Black Version or Pokémon White Version game via a special distribution event. This Keldeo will appear as No. 153 in your Unova Pokédex, and it will have the moves Aqua Jet, Leer, Double Kick, and BubbleBeam. Plus, it has the Justified Ability, which it shares with Terrakion, Cobalion, and Virizion. The distribution event is for a limited time only, so don’t wait to get Keldeo at GameStop stores!

Remember, Keldeo is available only from August 27th to October 6th, so don’t miss this brief opportunity to get this awesome Pokémon!

How to get your Keldeo at GameStop

To get Keldeo, you need:

  • A Nintendo DS, Nintendo DSi™, Nintendo DSi XL™, or Nintendo 3DS system
  • A copy of the Pokémon Black Version or Pokémon White Version game
  • The Pokédex within your game
  • No more than 11 Wonder Cards in your possession

They go on to list the specific steps to receive Keldeo in your game, the first of which is visiting a participating GameStop. The implication here is that the character is a playable Pokemon, which is genius because it aligns with the whole mythology of the series (e.g. Finding and catching rare Pokemon to then train and battle them with your friends). Anyone familiar with the franchise will immediately understand what is being offered.

Anyway, Iwas excited to see how this worked, and on Saturday the opportunity arose when we decided to grab lunch at Chipotle in Sunnyvale. Lucky for me, there is a GameStop next door. When arrived at GameStop, it wasn’t immediately clear whether I needed to be on their WiFi to complete the exchange, so I waited in line to ask the clerk for help. There was a 6-year-old girl waiting in line with her mom ahead of me, and I noticed she was clutching her pink DSi — obviously she was here for Keldeo, too.

When their turn came, her mom asked about the free Pokemon. What the clerk proceeded to do is so despicable, it still pushes me to frustration. Here is the exchange, paraphrased for the most part from memory:

Mom: She has a question about a free Pokemon?

Girl: The computer told me that if I brought my DSi here I could get Teldeo.

Clerk: Yeah definitely. Are you planning to get Pokemon Black or White 2?

Mom and Girl are confused.

Girl: Yes, I have Pokemon Black, and it said I could get Teldeo.

She takes out her cartridge to show the Clerk.

Clerk: Right, you have Pokemon Black, but they are going to release Pokemon Black and White 2 in October. See, I could give you Teldeo now, but it really would be pointless because as it turns out he isn’t actually playable until you get Pokemon White or Black 2. So if you’d like to go ahead and pre-order either of those, you only need to put $5 down and I’ll be happy to set you up with Teldeo.

Mom: Wait, you have to buy something for this? She thought it meant that she was going to get a little action figure…

Girl: No Mom, it is supposed to be a new Pokemon in the game.

Clerk: Right, it is, but you won’t be able to play him until you get the new one. Would you like to pre-order?

Girl looks longingly at Mom…might have whispered a please to her.

Mom: Let’s think about it, maybe for Christmas.

Mom and Girl leave and Clerk apologizes.

The entire time during this exchange I wanted to chime in, but I had no way of knowing whether or not Keldeo was playable or not. Maybe this was a horrible ploy by Nintendo to help boost pre-orders? I regret not saying, “I’d get the download anyway, just in case.”

When my turn came, I cut through the pre-order upsell and asked the clerk to set me up regardless. When I got home, I completed the instructions and discovered that not only is Teldeo playable, he’s awesome.

What happened in the GameStop is revolting for several reasons:

#1: Everything the clerk said was a bold-faced lie aimed at upselling kids into pre-ordering the latest version of the game.

It’s cheap and disgusting. Now, the Clerk might have actually believed what he was saying. The retrieval process requires that you go to the PokeCenter in a specific city in-game to meet a messenger who is carrying your Teldeo mystery gift. Perhaps the Clerk didn’t read the final steps? Perhaps he expected that Teldeo should automatically appear in your Pokedex, and when that didn’t happen he assumed that the character isn’t playable? Maybe, but I doubt it. Having worked in retail, special partnerships like this are usually announced to employees with detailed instructions from the corporate office. My hunch is that they seized this opportunity to boost pre-order sales in their stores.

Which brings me to…

#2: If this was an instructed approach, GameStop is making Nintendo out to be the bad guy.

If this turns out to be the official GameStop approach to handling inquiries about this promotion, then they are painting a really horrible image of Nintendo in the eyes of their customers. Nintendo crafted a fan-centric promotion aligned with the mythology behind the Pokemon franchise. As I mentioned earlier, any an of the series would read these instructions, just as that 6-year-old girl did and immediately understand what was being offered. When those feelings of surprise, delight, and geek joy are met with corporate chicanery and sneaky bottom-lining, you risk destroying the relationship established between customer and content producer around their product.

Edit: The fact that Nintendo already had a baked in upsell should be pointed out. The idea behind the whole promotion is to reward faithful Pokemon fans with a free Pokemon that can only be evolved into a super awesome state when transferred to the newer unreleased version of Black and White. The concept sells the new product all by itself, it doesn’t need a GameStop Clerk to intercept the free reward in an attempt to upsell.

If I were Nintendo, I would seriously reconsider doing business with GameStop in the future if this turns out to be the result of instructions from their corporate office.

Which brings me to…

#3: These lies undermine geek credibility.

This is a tougher one to explain, but here goes. I was the kid who grew up trying to convince my parents to let me do shit like this. I saved my allowance for months when I was 10 and convinced my Mom to let me go to a comic convention in search of rare gems. I walked my Mom through ordering my Dad a 49ers jacket via a scary new thing called “The Internet” before e-commerce became commonplace. I know what it is like to try convincing your parents to go in on geeky stuff like this, and luckily for me my parents learned early on to trust that I knew what I was talking about. Next time that 6-year-old asks to partake in any fun Pokemon promos how do you think her Mom is going to react? With skepticism. And all of that will have been based on the lies told by some GameStop Clerk who was either towing an underhanded line for his employers or didn’t care enough to figure out how things really worked before spouting off assumptions.

Either way, the whole thing stinks, and in the end I feel sorry for anyone who fell victim to these lies. As for the 6-year-old kid, I hope she is able to sort things out in time to get her free Keldeo. Like I said, he’s a pretty cool addition to any trainer’s collection.

Edit: I wrote this late last night, and re-reading it in the morning I realize that my point was not as clear as I’d hoped. I’ve updated the title with a question mark, as my intent was not to make a definitive statement. My hunch is that there is something there, but it is merely speculative on my end. Below you’ll find the address of the GameStop I visited, so others can make a decision as to whether or not they would like to continue doing business there. I’ll be taking my business elsewhere going forward.

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3 thoughts on “GameStop’s New Low: Lying to 6-year-old Kids?”

  1. Sounds like you just had an idiot associate.  I ran this story by my local GameStop and he said it is lack of training.  Don’t trash the whole company just because of one idiot.  Trash that particular store.  At least now we know NOT to go to that particular GameStop since the associates are NOT trained.  You need a new GameStop.

  2. Curious, how did you check with your local GameStop already? I published this well after they closed on the West Coast, and your comment was posted at approximately 5:20am on the West Coast, which would be 8:20am on the East Coast?

    Anyway, I updated the post. My intent was to suggest that this could be something fishy with the company at large, but at least surface the bad practices of the local GameStop I visited. So, the new update hopefully clarifies this, and I added in a map to the local GameStop for reference — as I’d intended to but errantly forgot.

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