GameFly and I Part Ways

I cancelled GameFly this week. I was doing the bills, and there it was on the credit card statement right next to NetFlix. All I could think was, “I know NetFlix, and you, GameFly, are no NetFlix.”

Sure, GameFly seems a lot like NetFlix, the same business model and such, games through the mail vs. movies through the mail. But having the two services running side by side, including price, where there is less than a dollar difference between the two on my monthly statement, NetFlix shines and GameFly is a bit tarnished.

That is, of course, completely unfair. NetFlix is at least an order of magnitude bigger than GameFly, DVD rentals and game rentals track differently, and I happen to live in an area well served by NetFlix (I could drop off my movies on the way to work if they would put a box outside their corporate HQ) while GameFly is considerably further away.

So GameFly wasn’t awful. If it was awful I would not have remained a subscriber for over a year. But there were the little things.

Delivery Times

As I said, I am completely spoiled by my proximity to NetFlix. I drop a movie in the mail on Monday and I have the next one in my queue at home and ready to watch Wednesday. They hit that 95% of the time. The other 5% of the time is mostly attributable to my either asking for odd-ball titles that have to be shipped from other NetFlix distribution centers or by my dropping the red NetFlix envelope in the mail box too late in the day.

GameFly has to live in that shadow. Their nearest distribution center is down in the Los Angeles area in the City of Industry (not to be confused with the movie of that title), which adds travel time back and forth.

Plus GameFly doesn’t seem to be big on the “next title shipped the same day” thing that NetFlix does. So if I drop a GameFly envelope in the mail on Monday morning, I might see the next game on Saturday, but a good portion of the time it was there on Monday, so a week went by without a game. This is an issue because…

One Game at a Time

At the level of service I have with GameFly, I only get one game at a time. So if I get one new game a month, which is about par for our house, we spend a week out of that month sans game. Yes, for another $8.00 a month I could have had two games, but then we are starting to get close to the price of a new game every month. And I would still be spending a week waiting for replacements. Plus, as I noted, the NetFlix and GameFly monthly fees are very close, so there is a big psychological barrier, for me at least, to give more money to GameFly. Unfair, but that is the environment GameFly has to compete in at my house.

Drawing from the Bottom of the Queue

The biggest divergence from NetFlix in terms of service is how likely you are to get things that are in your queue. I began to think that my queue was somehow inverted, as I would have 8-12 games on my list, but would only ever get things from the bottom third. I understand that a new game is unlikely to get to me, but I had some old titles at the top. GameCube, Nintendo DS and even Game Boy Advance titles that showed high availability, but which we never saw.

So I was never sure what we would get next from GameFly. Compare this with NetFlix. I cannot recall the last time I did not get the movie at the top of my queue at NetFlix, and we put new releases on our queue now and again.

Very Limited Buy Options

I have come to the conclusion that you can tell if a game sucks with only two data points. First, you have never heard of it. Second, GameFly is willing to sell it to you. That is enough for me to wave it off. The test case was Mario and Sonic Shill for the Chinese Dictatorship, a game I detest on a few levels, which is readily available for purchase on most platforms supported by GameFly.

Anyway, GameFly has very few titles available for purchase, and they are usually titles I wouldn’t purchase in any case. For the Wii, this was not such a big deal. We would rent a game, like it, go look if we could buy it, find ourselves thwarted there, and then go buy it at a local store instead. GameFly’s loss is Fry’s gain.

However, once my daughter got a Nintendo DS, things changed a bit. The Wii saves your game information on the console, so buying another disk does not change anything. In the DS world though, your game data is saved on the cartridge. So if you cannot buy the game you have in your possession, you have to throw away any game data you have saved.

This lead to the Pet Horsez 2 incident. My daughter had seen Wild Pet Tigerz and Wild Pet Dolphinz advertised on TV and wanted to try them out. I put them at the top of our queue which meant we did not get them. (Though when Tigerz ended up low in our queue, we got it, reaffirming my inverted queue theory!) As a back up I had put some similar games in the queue, and we ended up with Pet Horsez 2.

My daughter loves horses. She has asked us to buy a horse for her, offered to pay for it herself (if it costs $50 or less), and has suggested it could just live in the back yard and eat the grass. Of course, she became quite enamored with the game Pet Horsez 2. After a rough start, she actually got very good at the game, so much so that she wanted to keep it. She wanted to use her own, saved up money to buy it.

I went to GameFly to see if it was for sale. It was not. I said we could buy it at the store, but she would have to start from scratch again. This lead to a lot of tears, wrenching my own heart. Little girls become attached to even virtual horses it seems. Somebody suggested that I could just report the game lost and keep it, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that or demonstrate to my daughter that such an action was the right behavior. So the it ended up going back to GameFly.

Since then we have approached DS rentals with a much lighter touch, trying to not get too attached, knowing that if we like a game, it will have to go back.

The End

And so, paying the bills and seeing GameFly again in comparison with NetFlix on my credit card statement, I decided to cancel.

The cancellation process is easy enough. They ask if you are sure. They offer you another month at a reduced rate. They warn you that all your coupons will go away, though since they are only useful for purchasing games, and since they don’t have much for sale (literally just nine DS titles when I looked that night), that particular step encouraged me to continue the cancellation process. They give you one last chance. And then you are done, with a note about how you can reactivate, should you wish to in the future.

So, as I said above, GameFly wasn’t awful. I am not going to go register or anything. (Somebody is already sitting on that domain… probably GameFly.) But the combination of small annoyances plus the obvious mental comparison with NetFlix every time I dealt with them just got me to the point where I could no longer justify paying for their services.

15 thoughts on “GameFly and I Part Ways

  1. Kendricke

    Thanks for the read, John.

    As an aside, file this suggestion under the too little, too late label:

    Another option for Pet Horsez 2 would have been to buy a used copy and then to send THAT back to GameFly, while keeping the game you already were playing. GameFly still would have received the game you owe them and your daughter wouldn’t have lost her saved game.


  2. Graktar

    I’d say that overview of Gamefly was pretty spot on. I cancelled mine a month or so ago after being a member for a year or so. For me it ended up being a combination of frustration over inability to get games, inability to buy games I liked, and limited play time. If I have a game that requires a lot of time, such as an RPG with 60+ hours of gameplay, at my current time-allotment for gaming that’s going to take me a month or more to play through. At that point I’d rather just buy the game because 2 months rental for 1 game makes no sense at all. If I could try the game with gamefly, find i want to invest 60+ hours in it, and then buy it from them, that’d be great, but that rarely worked.

    DS games were absolutely the worst — having to lose all your progress and start over because gamefly won’t sell is demoralizing to say the least, and really makes you not want to bother with renting.


  3. syncaine

    Makes you wonder why they don’t sell more games, especially for current systems. Seems like they are giving away a huge revenue source.

    The netflix comparison is indeed tough for them, but that is the reality. I use netflix, and love it. They just deliver on exactly what they advertise, quick delivery of movies, with a huge selection.


  4. p@tsh@t

    Was considering it, but when I penciled it out and evaluated in light of my time budget for console games, etc. it just didn’t make sense.

    If the selection was 2x or the price was 1/2x and you could be assured you could buy that might change things.

    By contrast, we upped our Netflix allotment since we’ve been plowing through series backlogs in lieu of abyssmal tv and still like to have a few one off movies on hand when the mood strikes us.

    In the mail Thursday, next in queue Saturday. What’s not to love?

    Netflix should just buy Gamefly.


  5. Genda

    Thanks for this, the option of joining has tempted me on a few occasions. I think I’ll take a pass now.

    I’m going to sign up for Netflix though. We have a DC here in Austin, so I should get similar results to yours, plus the new announced XBox Live connection to Netflix is very attractive, especially since we can share the movies with others on our friends list if they want to “watch with us”. Digital delivery to a box that is already connected to my HD plus cue management right there too? Sold American.


  6. Tim

    I have subscribed twice and canceled in short order twice. I subscribed about a year and a half ago, and got a few PS2 games. I kept it going about 3 months because I bought a Wii some point in there. However, at that point their only distribution center was in LA (I’m in FL) so your week estimate for getting games back was far too optimistic.

    I subscribed again this summer when I got a PS3. Now they have a distribution center in Tampa. Much better. The return times were very comparable to Netflix, which also has a center (or three) in Florida. But I just found I had too limited game time to feel like I needed to play games to get my money’s worth.

    In theory, I really like the service. For about $20/month I can always have one game, sometimes two. At the going rate for new PS3 games, that’s like buying one PS3 game for every 3 months. And I get to play the games as long as I want, which for a console game is usually just a couple of weeks.

    But, in practice it just doesn’t work for me.


  7. Dan

    Wow, I’m suprised about your review. Had gamefly for years and i love it. What do you mean they don’t have a lot of games on sale? They have over 5,000 games and almost all are for sale way cheaper than anywhere else. Are you sure you’r talking about

    I’m confused by this too:
    “I went to GameFly to see if it was for sale. It was not. I said we could buy it at the store, but she would have to start from scratch again. This lead to a lot of tears…”
    Gamefly gives you the option to keep whatever game your renting for a great price. Why didn’t you do that? Also, Gamefly doesn’t have stores, it’s completely online with 4 ship centers throughout the country. And last, even if you did get the game somewhere else, it is saved on your console and she would never have to start from scratch.

    I understand it’s seems natural to compare Netflix and Gamefly. Truth is that DVD and Video Games are completely different. Most Movies are released in theaters, right? So when they come out on DVD the demand has been satiated. With games they are released and are on gamefly. The two industries have completely business models, different demand curves, and demographics.

    The way to deal with you Q is to look at the game availability. It is constantly changing, but if you fill your Q with games that aren’t available they’ll send you the first one that is. I limit my q to about 10 games and get them in order like clockwork with it taking 2-3 to get a games.

    Bottom line is if you buy 3 new games a year, it pays for a year of gamefly. GF has probably saved me at least $1000 over the years because I no longer buy games for $60 and being able to try a game before you buy is priceless.
    Nobody is offering a service like Gamefly. They have all games and new releases and tons of features like, keep-it option, trade-in old games, rewards, mp3 downloads, etc etc.


  8. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    Well Dan, I have to take issue with your assertion. There was no option to keep that game, nor has there been the option to keep any of the DS games I have rented. Sorry, but you are simply wrong.

    Perhaps you haven’t been looking at DS, Wii, or GameBoy Advance titles.

    Plus, as I wrote, DS games save on the cartridge, not the console.

    And, as for nobody offering a service like GameFly… well, there is also Gottaplay.

    Hate to say it, but you sound awfully like a shill for GameFly there Dan. If you’re just an incredibly satisfied customer, good for you, but I do not share your view nor have I apparently had similar experiences.


  9. Dan

    I was just trying to say that if you use gamefly right it’s an awesome deal. And, that since I’ve had them for a while and I haven’t had any issues you’ve had. Yes shipping used to be slow, but that was before they began shipping from other places.
    My mistake on the DS, I don’t have one, I didn’t know it saves to the game. But I did buy my last 3 Wii games (mario kart, boom blox, and raving rabbids 2) and a psp game through GF’s keep it option and got them at an unbeatable price. So, yes I am a satisfied customer and was surprised to read your evaluation, and wanted to tell my opinion. I don’t see how that makes me a shill.


  10. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    I said you sounded like a shill, not that you were one. A fine distinction yes. But I am told I sound like a bear when I snore, yet I have never been proven to actually be a bear.

    The shill-ness aspect for me derived largely from your long, very glowing response in defense of GameFly that ignored key pieces of what I wrote. The DS save mechanic was one. Telling me I need to make sure to keep high availability stuff at the top of my queue, which I had indicated I was doing was another. And I would ask you to go check how many DS titles they have available to buy before you tell me how many games they have for sale.

    Insisting that the “keep it” option is always available is was also somewhat grating. While I did not say above, I have used that option twice for Wii games, so I know how to use it. It is not always available. I was very surprised when it wasn’t there for the DS title my daughter wanted. Since that point, I have kept an eye on what titles I can keep and which I cannot. I have even had it change on me. For example, we had Pokemon Battle Revolution out. When we got it, I figured we would probably want to keep it, so I checked the site to see the price. A week later, when I went to pull the trigger and buy it, keeping it was no longer an option. Another sale for Fry’s.

    Also, as a side point, I disagree with your assessment on how game rentals and video rentals differ. Demand has not been sated for a movie when it comes out on video. That is why Blockbuster has lots of copies of new releases on their shelves while only one or two copies of older movies.

    The real difference is how long people keep titles. I send back a NetFlix title in a week or less usually, unless we get in our “NetFlix remote storage facility mode” where we suddenly stop watching movies and they sit on our counter for a few weeks. With game rentals, we almost always keep a title for at least two weeks and usually a title stays with us for a month.

    And, all that said, I didn’t come out and say “GameFly is bad.” I said it wasn’t for me. After 18 months as a customer, given the price, being without a game for 25% of the time, the odd relationship between my queue and what games I actually get, and having no option to buy the DS games we rent, all that finally added up and made the deal not worth it.

    I’m not saying it isn’t a great deal for you. You are happy with GameFly, and if you had said that with some support, like maybe you always get the items off the top of your queue or delivery is fast in your area, I probably wouldn’t have responded. Just another data point for people who read the post. But ticking off reasons why I am wrong in being dissatisfied that aren’t actually valid, that gets a response.

    Yes, I have been accused of being this guy.

    That is the real reason I stay out of game related message forums.

    Anyway, I don’t mean to be a complete jerk to you or anything. Thanks for posting your comment.

    And should I go out and buy Boom Blox? It was, of course, one of those games on my queue I never got!


  11. Gaff

    You should only play first person shooters when not mining in EVE. It will help you hone your killer instincts for 0.0. We all know it is a hard heart that kills.


  12. Dan

    Seems I touched upon a sensitive topic. Sorry man, not trying to hijack the comments. I was not calling your review wrong. I was just surpised and I wanted clarification. You’ve given me that and more ;)

    I never insited the keep it option is ALWAYS availbable, but every game I’ve ever wanted to keep, I had the option. You imply in your review that “…GameFly has very few titles available for purchase” not that DS games for sale is limited. Because I for other console, GF has tons of games for sale.

    Yes. good point, people do keeps games longer than movies. That combined with the fact that movies are released twice, in theaters, and rental, and videogames are released once, adds to a bigger demand for games especially for new releases.

    I think Boom Blox is pretty fun and I got it for $35 so yeah it’s worth especially because I’ll proably trade it back in to gamefly in a couple months.

    You’re writing about interesting stuff, keep it up.



  13. Talyn

    John, have you tried trading services like Goozex? I’ve signed up, but haven’t actually tried it out yet, but I’ve heard good comments. Only thing is you’re likely not getting things right away so that’s always a consideration.


  14. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    I have not looked into Goozex yet. But I am generally pretty slow to purchase games these days, and when I do finally pony up and buy one, it tends to be a keeper. So I am not sure a trading program is quite for me. Still, it is interesting to see what options are out there.


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