Games for Grades: Interview With Play N Trade Founder Ron Simpson

Andy Chalk | 25 Sep 2007 17:00
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The story of Brandon Scott is by now a familiar one to most gamers: A manager of a GameStop outlet in Dallas, Scott began demanding proof of good grades, by way of report cards, before he would allow school-aged children to purchase games from his store. Perhaps to burnish his harsh-sounding image among the young gamer crowd, he also offered a free game (paid for by Scott) to any student who earned straight "A"'s.

Naturally, this policy wasn't approved by, or even known to, GameStop management, and when they became aware of Scott's activities, their response was as predictable as it was inevitable: The company made forward-sounding noise about "evaluating Mr. Scott's concept" and immediately suspended him from his position.

His story spread quickly, across both online and conventional news outlets. Within days he was transformed from just another GameStop guy to a cause célèbre inspiring heated debate on blogs and forums across North America. Those old enough to be immune to Scott's policy tended to applaud his innovative approach to encouraging kids to do well in school; those caught in his wheelhouse decried his unwelcome intrusion into both their freedoms and their privacy, neither of which were any of his business. And in the more reasoned and rational (and therefore, by definition, less interesting) middle ground of the debate, a question was asked: Wouldn't a similar but less punitive program be a better idea? A program that rewards kids for educational excellence while not infringing upon those who don't is a simple and positive concept; why not do something like that instead?

As it turns out, someone already has. Play N Trade, a U.S.-based videogame retailer that bills itself as "the fastest-growing videogame franchise worldwide," launched its "Games for Grades" program in May of this year, offering discounts to students who achieve good grades, as well as financial support for their schools. The program was first conceived in 2001 at the original Play N Trade store in Colorado Springs, Colorado, which was located next to a high school. As part of the store's promotional effort, store personnel went through the neighborhood putting fliers on windshields, which quickly earned the ire of the local Parent-Teacher Association. Rather than meekly stepping back or picking a high-profile fight, management at the store took their unusual tack.

"We came up with an idea that demonstrated our commitment to promoting responsible gaming, by rewarding students with good grades, as well as our commitment to building strong, positive relationships in the community by making donations to local schools," says Play N Trade founder Ron Simpson, describing the early days of his company's community-based response to what could have been a bad bout of negative publicity. "We worked with the PTA to develop the program, and they became our ally and one of our strongest supporters. When the Play N Trade franchise reached a significant national presence, we launched the program at participating stores across the country, and it is the positive response and energetic support of the franchisees that has made Games for Grades such a success nationwide."

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