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PSA: When Buying New Helps the Publisher, Hurts the Consumer

For years, I have avoided the ‘gut’. Alternatively known as a shelf or display copy, it is a term within the GameStop vernacular which refers to a store’s last display box, remaining after all the sealed copies have been sold. With the case displayed for potential purchasers on the wall racks, the game’s media rests securely behind the counter, prohibiting the possibility of theft. Typically, the gut isn’t in the same pristine condition as a factory-sealed game, having been subjected to the attachment of adhesive-laden price stickers and brutish perusals of the instruction manual.

My resolve to purchase games that were unsullied by human hands finally began to weaver as my interest in niche titles grew. Often a local GameStop would only receive a single copy of an obscure JRPG. As such, I was forced to embrace the ‘gut’, a premise often softened by the sympathetic clerk who would offer a new case for the purchase. A few weeks ago, I ventured into my local store with the hopes of purchasing the recently discounted Alice: Madness Returns. A significant portion of the motivation was prompted by the title’s inclusion of the original American McGee’s Alice. The classic game was offered via a download code, which was part of Electronic Art’s growing incentive to encourage players to purchase new, rather than used disks. Naively, I purchased the last remaining copy of Alice.

After playing a half hour of Madness Returns, the desire to experience the original title emerged. Opening the box and rifling though the warranty insert (the game’s instruction manual is on the disk), I searched  for the online pass code in vain. A call to the store provided no immediate resolution,  but the clerk was kind enough to check another nearby location for the voucher. Ultimately, three adjacent stores each had gut copies, but none could locate a single download voucher. With a growing dependence on online passes from publishers such as THQ, EA, Ubisoft, Codemasters, Warner Bros. and Sony, a worrisome development seemed to be looming. According to at least two Southern California GameStop managers, it appeared customers were stealing the online passes right out of the display cases.

A solution seemed painfully simple: simply store any downloadable codes alongside the game disks behind the counter. According to one store director that method wasn’t so simple, “right now, there’s no way of us knowing which games ship with any kind of [downloadable] codes. Until they [GameStop] send some kind of memo, we just put the disks in the protective sleeves, there’s no room for booklets and sheets.”

With that troubling response, I decided it was time to determine the scale of this concern. Living in Los Angeles, I had the benefit of having fifteen GameStops within a 15 mile radius (in Northridge, two stores are within two blocks of each other!). Using a list of over two dozen games (Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Bulletstorm, Dirt 3, Dragon Age II, Dragon Age Origins, EA Sports MMA, Fear 3, FIFA 11, Fight Night Champion, Homefront, Madden NFL 11, Mass Effect 2, Medal of Honor, Mortal Kombat, NCAA Football 11/12, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, Need for Speed Shift 2, NHL 11, Red Faction: Armageddon, The Saboteur, Skate 3, The Sims 3, Tiger Woods 11/12: The Masters, UFC Undisputed 2010, and WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011) released  across both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 platforms during the last 21 months, I began the analysis. After visiting each location multiple times (as to not raise suspicion) and pouring over the collected data, the study showed a consistent correlation between the recency  of a game and the likelihood of an online pass still being in the game case. As the chart illustrates, buying a ‘gut’ copy of a game released more than four months ago drastically reduced the probability of finding an online voucher inside.

While every attempt was made to preserve the integrity of the study, a few snags could have clouded the findings. GameStop stores periodically receive ‘replenishments’ of  older titles, potentially obscuring the data. Despite the claim that there was “no room for booklets and [code] sheets”, that’s exactly what one store Los Angeles store was doing. Yet even when these variables, the chance of finding an online pass for an older game proved distressing- especially when gamers are paying full price for the pass code.

It should be noted that when GameStop stores were alerted to the absence of an download code, most of them handled the situation compassionately, offered a full refund for the game. However, one  caveat remains: returned ‘guts’ are identified as defective, costing the corporation money. Hopefully, these losses aren’t passed on to the consumer. With a few logistical changes at the store level, GameStop has the potential to adapt to the proliferation of the online pass; let’s hope they make an adjustment that would benefit consumers and the bottom line alike.

About Robert Allen

With over 35 years of gaming experience, Robert 'DesertEagle' Allen is Tech-Gaming's resident worrier/warrior who spends his days teaching at three colleges and his nights devoted to JRPGs.


  1. Shit, I never thought about this.

  2. Edward Penishands

    This just happened to me with Tiger Woods 12. I told the store and they gave me a shop discount of $6 and some beta codes. Still Im down a few bucks.

  3. Refreshing NukeCola

    picking on Gamestop is so Kotaku. Get back to the reviews.

  4. This won’t affect me. I don’t buy from GS. If they offer the gut, I’ll go to another store that want my money just as much.

  5. Deagle, you going all consumerist on me?

    HAha, simple soultion- don’t buy from GS. They are the only chain they I know of that opens their games.

  6. Wait isn’t the online pass only good if you have the game? Why would people steal them?

    • People who have the used game can use them. Ive known kids that take the codes knowing theyll get the game used a cheap one day. Little shitheads.

  7. I got burned on Dragon Age II since I got an open box. Never again, GS.

    Good write up, Deagle. Youre basically screwed after the nine month mark.

  8. Of course, I bought NCAA from Play N Trade and they forgot to put the pass int he box. The didn’t believe me for the longest time.

  9. I just bought a gut copy of SuperHero Squad:Infinity Gauntlet, and it still had the Captain America code in it. The GameStop closest to my house keeps the codes in the paper sleeve with the game.

    The tricky thing about gut copies is that many GameStops allow employees are allowed to check them out and take them home, like a library for games – supposedly one of the perks of working there. The idea of DLC vouchers makes things a little hazy. If an employee takes a new game home with a DLC voucher and loses/uses the voucher, it’s theft, but it’s not a type of theft that GameStop has caught up with yet, so I’m sure it happens a lot.

    I don’t think the age of the game is as much a factor here as the popularity of the game and, sadly, the intended audience. I brought up my copy of Super Hero Squad because it doesn’t really appeal to the GameStop Clerk demographic. It’s a children’s game based on a cartoon; chances of it going home with the clerk are pretty slim. Games like Call of Duty or Alice – “core” games – have probably been checked out by multiple employees, and over time (as the graph shows) those codes have switched hands enough times to make it impossible for GS to track who should be punished.

    I’ll still buy gut games – it counts as a used game when trading in old titles toward it (extra 50% trade in toward a used game), but I’m generally cautious over which titles I choose.

    • note to self: proofread before clicking “Add Comment”

    • First of all…NOLA!!!

      Second, I also bought Infinity Gauntlet and I’m 29 years old. No shame there.

      Third: I’ve bought the gut of Dante’s Inferno and Dead Space 2(I didn’t see the PS3 versions on the list) a few months after release. Both were missing the voucher. Each time I told GS and they took care of it for me. Luckily, they were sent a few extra codes it seems. Or they skimmed them.

    • “I’ll still buy gut games – it counts as a used game when trading in old titles toward it”

      What, I’ve never heard of this. As far as I know (and I worked at GS until a month ago) a gut is considered new all around. Maybe the manager was doing you a favor.

    • I think it’s more of a time thing. No of the clerks in my store had any interest or knowledge in Alan Wake. Bought the gut and you can guess the rest of my story.

    • I have two stores nearby. One tries to put the codes away. The other would lose a 2 ton elephant.

    • I more inclined to believe the time explanation after I bought the Sims 3 recently and no code was in the box. Not exactly a ‘core’ title.

    • Are you podcasting again NOLA?

  10. Ive been waiting for this since you mentioned it on the podcast. Good write up.

  11. At my store, employees aren’t allowed to take DLC home. Also, it really it hard to keep up with which games have DLC. Some use a separate piece of paper, while some write the number of the booklet.

    My idea: a removable stick which come on the disk.

  12. i haven’t had any problems with vouchers. It’s probably the games I play, which are dome dingle-player based.

  13. I’m not a fan of online passes, seems like there should be another way for publishers to deal with the used market.

  14. Did you get The Thanos Throwdown as well?

  15. I guess I’m lucky that GS isn’t the closest games store for me.

  16. Amazon is the way to go. I don’t have to even set foot in a GS.

  17. Beta codes alwaysdisappear from the guts at my store.

  18. eternal nightmare

    Thanks for the info. Crysis 2 didn’t have the bonus content for me, but I went back and they had extras.

  19. There is plenty of room to tore the content vouchers in the sleeve. We do it in my District as it is mandatory. Not only that, but on “GO STORES”, (which is a private instruction/information site for GS employees) its clearly stated in our SOP that this is what we have to do. So either all the gamestops around you are ran my morons (which honestly wouldn’t surprise me) or your research is flawed.

    • IMO, most Gamestops are run by morons. There’s always the employee who just wants a retail job but knows nothing about games. The lazy employee, the goof, etc. Managers who play favorites and give you crap hours just cause they don’t like you.

      Worked there for two and a half years, and I’ll admit it, I took some DLC home!

  20. I was trying to find a copy of NCAA 12 today. Guess what, no online pass in the gut? I asked the store what their policy was. Basically, the manager said they try to put codes away, but occasionally forget.

    Count one for the morons.

  21. Good article, it hasn’t happened to me yet but only because I don’t shop at GS much.

  22. I just recently purchased skate 3 “New” from Gamestop and honestly, I had never done research on the company and assumed it was a packaging error when I didn’t have my code to access most of the online features of the game.

    I returned to the store and they said that “If it wasn’t in the case then there’s nothing we can do.”. Luckily, EA support was able to resolve the issue after sending them six photos one including my face, my name and address on a sheet of paper, the receipt, the game manual and the actual game itself.

    I did manage to get the key but I’m kind of upset that my “new” copy had been previously tampered with(From what I’ve been reading about gamestop I believe this more than it being a packaging error from the publisher) and possibly played before I got my hands on it.

    After finding all of this out, I’ve gone and canceled all of my pre-orders and will not be shopping there again.

    Eff gamestop, they’re off my buddy list.

  23. Also, and now Im just giving people Ideas, the same can be said about Nintendo 1st party games and specifically their Nintendo club registration cards. Whats to stop some one from stealing those and rack up free points?

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