As a writer I must be open to inspiration; it can hit anytime and anywhere (just like digestive issues after eating at Taco Bell) and trying to resist it results in a big jumbled mess in your head. Inspiration hit me just the other day; as I was heading into my local Kroger I saw a long line at the Redbox Kiosk outside the store. It was then that I realized just how much I miss being able to go to a video rental store.
For many of the younger generation of gamers, going to Blockbuster or Hollywood Video to rent a game probably seems strange but for us older gamers, going to the video store was a staple in our video gaming diet. For me, very few things could compare to going into the store and spending an hour or more looking at all the game boxes and trying to decide which game to rent for the week. Given that this was pre-internet, one simply could not log online and read numerous reviews prior to visiting the store. You had to read the game descriptions on the boxes carefully, compare the images and debate with yourself over which game would be worth getting and hope that when you got home the game didn’t suck.
As I thought of all the fond memories I had that were related to going to my local video store (which I worked at after high school for a year and a half), I began to mentally compare the services of Redbox as well as Gamefly and the digital library of Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation’s Network to the services of a old fashioned brick and mortar video store.
Beginning with Redbox, I came to the conclusion that it is simply the “self check out register” of video and game rentals. It operates the exact same way as a standard video rental store only you do all the work instead of someone earning a weekly paycheck to assist you with your rentals. When you break it down, Redbox actually has the disadvantage when compared to a rental store. First off, all Redboxes are outside, which is fine during the summer when it’s warm however it sucks during winter and bad weather. Why would anyone want to stand outside in the cold to rent a movie when they could be inside with racks and racks of movies and games? Secondly, Redbox has a limited quantity and selection of movies and games, which consists of mostly newer titles as well as “B” movie knockoffs. Compare this to a standard rental store, Redbox can’t compete. The best thing about Blockbuster and Hollywood video stores were the use selection of movies and games. Plus the stores usually got so many copies of new movies that it was fairly easy to get a copy, plus you could always call ahead and have one put on hold. Redbox has a reserve system in place now but again, their quantities are limited.
One argument I hear a lot in favor of Redbox are the cheap rental rates. One dollar to rent a movie or game is great, but you only get it for one night. If you keep it past a certain time you get charged another dollar. At the video store where I worked a video game rental was around $3.50 each but you kept them for five nights. Let’s face it; rarely can a game be beaten in a day, unless you do nothing but play. Some of us older gamers have to go to work, do house chores and take care of our family. We tend to need more days to finish a game and Redbox does get expensive when you add up the charges.
In preparation for this article, I googled reviews on Redbox’s services. Most of the positive remarks were geared towards the convenience of locations as well as being able to return rentals to any Redbox. The criticisms were focused on things like the Redbox not recognizing when a rental is returned and thus the customer gets charged again until they call the customer service number to straighten things out. Also I found very few positive remarks about Redbox’s customer service, many of the reviewers stated that they felt like the customer service representative didn’t want to help them or the person had a really bad attitude. This just shows the kind of logistical problem inherent in a rental service such as this, at least with a rental store you have someone you can talk to in person. As a rental store employee, there wasn’t a problem that couldn’t be solved thanks to a store manager. Thinking about it logically and logistically, there is no reason why Redbox should even be in business. In my opinion, when stacked up against a rental store, Redbox can’t compare.
Don’t think that I’m only picking on Redbox. As a gamer and with no way to rent games in town I turned towards Gamefly. I had an account for about 6 months and I must say that it made me miss my Blockbuster all that much more. When I first opened an account, I went through and added games to my wish list. The problem that I had was that most of the games I truly wanted to play took the longest to get. I know that Gamefly has to contend with gamers across the country but again this shows the logistical issue of quantity vs demand. With a rental store you’re only competing with gamers in your town to get your hands on a game. But again, you can reserve it ahead of time and it only took about a week or so until you could play it. One game I had listed on Gamefly took four months to get and it wasn’t even a new game. Plus there was the cost of the account. Fifteen dollars for one game at a time just seems too much for me. Yes, you keep it for as long as you want without late charges but again, older games with real world responsibilities don’t get to play as often as a teenager or preteen. I averaged out to playing only one or two games per month. Do the math here: two games per month for a total of $15 through Gamefly. Through a rental store, I could get four games in a month for $3.50 each which totals $14. The rental store would still be cheaper than Gamefly and I would be more apt to get the games I wanted sooner, since I could reserve and not have to wait 4 – 6 days for the game to travel through the mail system. I ended up closing out my account with Gamefly since I could just buy the games I wanted from Gamestop.
When you take the time to compare these new rental services to the old school rental stores it’s easy to see that the store actually have more of an advantage over these more “convenient” services. Netflix, Hulu, and other such services are nice (I use Netflix extensively, myself) but they have their limits. Netflix doesn’t update their selections often enough in addition to being subject to the contracts it has with movie studios. Rental stores had no such contracts. They ordered movies through distributors from all studios and once the movie was in store it stayed there (unless management decided to sell it). There are so many movies in existence that only a small percentage of them are actually available for legal online/streaming distribution. For example less than a quarter of my personal vhs and dvd library has ever been available online. There are movies out there that will never become available due to low popularity or a conceived notion that it won’t generate any profits if released.
Frankly, I miss video rental stores and I think the world needs more of them. Maybe not corporate owned stores like Blockbuster or Hollywood Video but maybe some “mom and pop” owned stores. Let’s face it, the primary reason people use all these new “convenient” services is because we don’t have a choice. It was all thrown at us so quickly and since it was new and cool and so much easier the limitations of these services were forgotten or ignored. But a side by side comparison to an actual brick and mortar store shows that the rental store actually has the advantage over these other services.