Friday, September 4, 2009

My Anti-Social GameFly Experiment

Hi, I'm Sue. I'm on a Ahab-like hunt for a coelecanth, and I am an Anomaly.

I recently finished a 15-day free trial with GameFly, and thought I would share my findings with all of you. The purpose was threefold: to test some games I was thinking about buying, to test the GameFly service itself, and to have a topic for another post. I've come to call this my "anti-social" experiment because one of the games I tested was Animal Crossing: City Folk and, well, I'm completely addicted (My friend code is 4082-4437-4246... come visit!) For example, last Saturday, I played it for 14.5 hours. I've been getting up early to play before work, and coming home and playing into the night (once the Yankees game if over, of course). It's becoming a problem. There might be cause for a Wiintervention. At any rate...

First, a little background: I am no stranger to internet rentals - I've been a Netflix member since June 2004 - they've followed me through 5 or 6 different residences. I'm under the impression that I have been spoiled by Netflix with their fast shipping times and excellent selection and availability (in my experience). In that time, I'd read both positive and negative things regarding GameFly. Since Netflix has no plans to rent games in the near future, I decided to give it a go for myself.

My immediate observations upon visiting the GameFly website?
1. The standard trial period is 10 days. 10 DAYS! A little short, methinks. Netflix and Blockbuster both have 2 week trial periods, and have promo codes readily available to extend that to a month. I could find a GameFly promo code, so I signed up anyway. I found one later... which was the cause for my contact with customer service, mentioned below.
2. GameFly is expensive! I have the standard 3-DVD plan from Netflix for $16.99 per month. GameFly's standard plan is 2 games at a time for $22.95 per month. Ba-zing. I know that games are generally more expensive than DVDs, but come on.

So, here's how it went down:
Day 01: Signed up, added games to MyGameQ. You do have to give a CC so they can auto-renew you if you don't cancel in time.
Day 02: GameFly shipped 2 games (1:09pm, 4:14pm). Via Twitter, found promo code for 15 day trial, emailed customer service (6:32pm) to see if it could still be applied.
Day 03: Hadn't heard back from Customer Service. So I located the CS Chat function, and they applied the promo code for a 15 day trial.
Day 04: Both games arrived.
Day 05: One of the games crashed my Wii! (Sunday - no mail)
Day 06: ...
Day 07: Returned a game, dropped in the mailbox at 11:45am.
Day 08: ...
Day 09: ...
Day 10: GameFly's received the game mailed on Day 7, shipped the next game in MyGameQ (1:49pm)
Day 11: ...
Day 12: ... (Sunday - no mail)
Day 13: Next game arrives.
Day 14: ...
Day 15: Canceled the service and dropped both games in the mail at 5:15pm.
(Day 17: Both games received by GameFly - they needed to be returned within 7 days or they'd charge the membership fee)

Incidentally, I ordered AC: City Folk from Amazon on Day 7, the same day I returned a game. It arrived one day before the replacement from GameFly. Way to be awesome, Amazon.

The PROs:
*You can add game systems to your profile. If you then attempt to add a game to your GameQ that's not on a platform you own, there an "Are you sure?" message. I assume it can get annoying, but just add all your systems, and I think it would be rather useful.
*The customer service chat feature. It's actually a person, not a bot, who's there to help you. And, when you've ending the chat, they email you a transcript for your records.
*The "Keep" feature. If you really like a game, you can log into your account, view your GameQ, and choose "keep." They charge your credit card on file for an amount shown (they seem to be pretty reasonable in terms of pre-played game prices), you keep the disc you already have, and they ship you the case and instruction manual, and the next game in your GameQ. I didn't use it, but I think it's pretty neat.
*The twitterfeed, @GameFlyInc. They use it as another customer service outlet. Again, an actual person you can contact who will help you out.

The CONs:
*I couldn't figure out how to consistently access the customer service chat. It doesn't seem to have a standard location on the website, and I couldn't find it via search, either. It would just occasionally appear in the side bar.
*Lack of response from an email to customer service.
*The price, as discussed above. There are "better" deals (4- and 5-game plans) available to those who are long time subscribers, but it doesn't seem to get much more cost effective.
*There are only 4 distribution centers: Pittsburgh (my closest), Tampa, Austin, and Los Angeles. Which means longer shipping times. There is a "FastReturn" program, in which USPS scans GameFly returns, reports back, and GameFly immediately sends the next game in your GameQ. But, it appears very few post offices actually have the equipment to do this.
*Popular and new games have extremely limited availability. Almost nothing in my GameQ was "available now", and I wanted to try games that were released last Christmas.

Untested Features:
*Trade In - only renting members with at least three membership charges. But, depending on the value you get for your pre-played games, this could be a nice feature.
*Gamefly Rewards - "You'll earn benefits for every 3 consecutive months that you rent from GameFly, including GameFly Dollars and percent-off discounts that you can use to save on Buys and Keeps of pre-played games."
*Friends Referral Program - Refer a friend with your referral code. If they stay with GameFly for at least two monthly membership charges, you get a $20 gift card. So they have to spend $46 for you to get $20? Just give me the $46. ;)

My goal as a member of GameFly would be to try different games to see if I felt they were worth buying. Based on my experiences recently, I estimate that I would play games for 5-6 days to get a feel for them and form an opinion, and then return them. If I staggered playing time between games, played every day, and factored in shipping, I could probably try 5-6 games per month, max. But I don't necessarily play every day (except Animal Crossing, apparently). And I'm also not the type, generally, who will play a game incessantly until I've beaten it. I put things done and come back to them, sometimes weeks later - I haven't gone on tour in Rock Band for months...

So, I've determined that GameFly is not for me. The biggest problem, in my opinion, is the combination of price and shipping time. As I said before, games are much more expensive than DVDs, so there's a higher cost to their inventory. I get that. However, I'll bet they're making a pretty penny off trade-ins and "keep"s. And, I live pretty close to Pittsburgh, my distribution center. I wonder how long it takes games to arrive for people in Missouri... or wherever the midpoint is between PA, TX, FL, and CA. Assuming that an increase in distribution centers in not plausible with the current economic climate, maybe they should rethink their pricing. If it were 3 games at a time for $22.95 - or even 2 games at a time for $19.95 - I think the general public would think it a much better value. I think that I might. And I might have just continued the service. I'm no economist, but my friend Alexis (who is) agrees that they'd probably be making much more money from the casual gamer if they lowered their prices just a smidge.

However: if you are not a casual gamer, but a serious, avid video gamer, GameFly might be for you. If you can play one game for a week, beat it, and move on, this could save you some serious cash, spending $23 per month instead of $50 per game. (Although, after a few months, most games can be found for $20-30 on Amazon.)

Of course, don't just take my word for it. If you want to try it for yourself, you can get the 15-day trial by going to and entering the code 1TWITTER5. (Twitter's awesome.) Just remember to cancel on time and get those games back within a week!

Personally, I'm glad I tried it out, but I think I'm going to stick to the old-school Blockbuster pay-per-rental way of trying new games. I still have my poorly laminated 1998-issue Blockbuster card in my wallet... Wait, they still rent that way, right?

Anomaly Staff Writer
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1 comment:

Jen said...

A very thorough review, Sue. Thank you. As a gamer I find your post exceedingly helpful. Customer Service is very important and if it stinks, no matter the company, I am reluctant to patronize said company. Thanks for giving us your opinion on the matter. :) Jen