Doomed if you don’t read the Fine Print: GameStation Channels Mephistopheles Online

GameStation's Immortal Soul ClauseEver wondered how many people actually read usage agreements, product warranty documents or web site privacy policies?

If you were to extrapolate your own behavior to the world at large, my guess is you’d probably admit that practically no one does.

And in that case … you’d be right. Proving the point, last spring GameStation, the U.K.’s leading video games retailer, took a page right out of Goethe’s play (or Gounod’s opera) Faust. GameStation inserted a clause into the purchase of online game products in which buyers turned their souls over to them!

GameStation added the clause allowing it to claim the souls of online game purchasers as part of an April Fool’s spoof. The clause in the user agreement stated clearly that customers granted GameStation the right to “claim their immortal souls.”

Specifically, the “soul” clause stated:

By placing an order via this Web site on the first day of the fourth month of the year 2010 Anno Domini, you agree to grant Us a non transferable option to claim, for now and for ever more, your immortal soul. Should We wish to exercise this option, you agree to surrender your immortal soul, and any claim you may have on it, within 5 (five) working days of receiving written notification from or one of its duly authorized minions.

But all shoppers were also presented with an tick-box option allowing them to opt out of this startling condition – along with getting a ~$10 voucher towards a future GameStation purchase.

It turns out that nearly 90% of all buyers – that’s around 7,500 people – neglected to check the box in order to claim the bonus voucher – as well as protect their immortal soul. This led the retailer to conclude that practically no one reads its sale terms and buying conditions at all.

I’m sure Mephistopheles would be mighty proud of the clever folks at GameStation. But fortunately for us, GameStation doesn’t drive as hard a bargain as the devil did against Faust. Instead, the company simply sent a follow-up e-mail to each unsuspecting customer nullifying any claim to his or her soul.

Thanks, guys. That was mighty sporting of you.

What does this prove in the larger scheme of things? Perhaps that people are gullible? Or that folks find all the small print in user agreements intimidating or indecipherable?

Most likely, it’s just that people are lazy.

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