Why I canceled my GameFly membership

Gamefly logo It's happened to the best of us. Even the most cautious consumer has acted in a moment of passion and purchased a game that wasn't a sure-fire hit. Oh sure, it boasts of a lengthy single-player campaign and robust online features, but who can say for sure? Emboldened by an opportunity to discover a potential diamond in the rough, you purchase the game and head home without a shadow of a doubt that you're in for anything but a great time.

But just ten minutes after tearing off the shrinkwrap and unceremoniously tossing the manual aside ("seriously, who reads things?"), it dawns on you: This single-player campaign certainly is lengthy, but only in the why-won't-this-horrible-game-just-be-over sense of the word. Those robust online features amount to a half-dozen variations on deathmatch that, between the crippling lag issues and a total dearth of players with whom to compete, add up to zero enjoyment.

Sixty hard-earned American dollars, gone in the blink of an eye. Poof. And all you've got to show for it is your shiny new copy of Bionic Commando and a room stacked to the ceiling with your metaphysical shame.

But what else could you do? While it's dying a slow death at the blood-red hands of Netflix, Blockbuster is only stocking a few of the biggest new releases -- meaning sleeper hits and lesser-known titles are impossible to try before buying. Hollywood Video is closing its doors in rapid succession. The last option is GameFly, a Netflix-like subscription service for renting games.

I spent six months with GameFly across a variety of plans, and I ultimately ended up canceling the service with no intention of ever restarting my account. While it may be a fantastic concept on paper, its execution leaves plenty to be desired.

1. It's slow. GameFly currently has four distribution centers across the United States, with only one on the west coast. Comparatively, Netflix ships from more than fifty locations throughout the country. What this means is that the two-day turnaround you've come to expect from a service like Netflix is conspicuously absent; expect a week between games with GameFly. And with limited availability, many games often have to ship from a distant location, resulting in even more downtime. In my experience, a game sent back on a Monday probably won't be received until Thursday, unless the US Postal Service scans a barcode on the shipping label and notifies GameFly through its "Fast Return" service. Of the dozens of games I shipped, this only happened three or four times. And once it's received, the next game usually won't ship until the next day -- Friday, in this example -- meaning it won't arrive until the following Monday.

2. It's expensive. This means a single-disc subscription is almost worthless. Assuming you keep a game for a week at a time, that's 50% of your $15.95 per month going to time spent without a game. I stuck with this plan for the first two months before opting to upgrade to two games at a time for $22.95 -- steep, but still less than half the price of a new game at retail. This allowed me to alternate with a game at home each week, which would have worked out pretty well, except...

3. It's unreliable. Like Netflix, GameFly ships games to you based on what you have in your queue; simply make an ordered list of games you'd like to play and GameFly attempts to ship them to you in your desired order, based on availability. This sounds fair, except GameFly's limited resources simply can't compete with what people expect in terms of selection from a service like Netflix. In practice, it's exceedingly unlikely you'll receive a new or popular game within the first couple months of its release. Instead, GameFly will dip into the depths of your list and pull out something shameful that you never expected you'd end up playing -- Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard comes to mind.

4. It's a waste of time. Because it's such a scattershot method for playing games you're genuinely interested in, GameFly tempts you to add a wide variety of games to your queue to ensure games are shipped out regularly. This means you'll probably end up with a whole lot of games you'd never consider buying but may have considered playing on the cheap -- in other words, games that probably aren't worth your time. And although subscribers are rewarded with increasing discounts on purchasing used games (5/10/15% over three/six/twelve months), the discounts are rarely as steep as the occasional sale at Fry's or Best Buy. When you consider the high annual cost required to qualify for these discounts, it doesn't stand out as quite as generous an offer as it might initially appear to be.

My recommendation: Be a clever and conscious consumer. Bargain shop with the help of sites like the unfortunately named Cheap Ass Gamer and check major retailers like Amazon for regular sales. Clearly GameFly's massive selection of games (more than 7,000, according to the site) can be alluring to any avid gamer -- it certainly drew me in -- but consider just how many of them are really worth your time. We all have lives, right? We do more than play games. Don't feel like you need to go overboard.

Bonus point: Its advertising is ludicrously bad/offensive/sexist

I don't think I need to explain what I mean.