Grand Theft Auto IV, the GameStop experience

So GTA IV is finally out and available for grubby hands of the world at large. In the weeks leading up to its release the net has been flooded with impressions, reviews (mostly hailing the game as the next best thing to oxygen), and more impressions. And the hype approaching the release of this game was hitting astronimical levels. For some reason I didn’t get caught in the tidal wave until Sunday, a full two days prior to launch. Maybe it was the fact that a lot of my local sports teams are in the playoffs? Or maybe it was the fact that a good friend of mine had spun records at a Rockstar sponsered GTA IV launch party in New York and managed to get a copy of the game a week earlier, and then decided to cut his phone off, vanish off the face of the Earth and keep the game all to himself? Whatever the reason was, I knew I wanted the game bad.

In keeping up with my big game tradition I decided to check and see what stores near me would be having midnight launches. I called everywhere and managed to find that GameStop was the most accommodating in terms of midnight launches.

Now usually I get my games from Best Buy, but for some reason the Best Buy in my area (center city Philadelphia) wasn’t having a late night release. I always dread going into GameStop and game-centric stores altogether. Especially with my last experience with Game Crazy, I was less than thrilled. But I sucked it up and headed down to the GameStop that was open nearest to me all the way on the other side of the city.

I arrived at about 11:30 PM to take my place after about 30-40 people that were already there. By 11:45 there were an additional 40 people behind me. I passed time away in line by talking to the guys in front and behind me about game stuff and why they felt the 360 version was better than the PS3 (DLC). Usually midnight game launches are sterile, but a key thing I noticed was GameStop’s approach to the launch. They had employees giving away a ton of free stuff that wasn’t even GTA IV related, messenger bags, DVDs, Xbox LIVE cards, etc.

Overall, they handled everything quickly and efficiently; if you didn’t have a pre-order prior to waiting in line you could just go and buy the game, so when 12AM came, things moved along really steady.

But the thing that surprised me the most was that they didn’t push one single pre-order for an upcoming game on any of the customers. Amazing, my disbelief was further suspended when I got my copy of the game and in leiu of all the free stuff they had already been giving out to people waiting, they also handed everyone a card to download 2 free tunes via the cell phone mp3 selection in-game.

I was shocked when the clerk handed me the game, the card and a simple: “Thank you for shopping! Enjoy the game!” all with his regional manager standing right there snapping pictures. Didn’t last long though as on my way out to the car, one employee said to me: “So we’ll see you again on the 5th of August?” When I shot her a puzzled look she responded: “For Madden 09, August 5th we’re doing pre-orders now if you’d like to make sure you get a copy of the game…”

And that was that.

[See also: Grand Theft Auto IV gallery]