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.
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.
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 gameflysucks.com 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.