Wednesday, 13 August 2014

35 'Getting your hands on games - Game vendor problems.' The Cardboard Cartographer issue 10.

Welcome to issue 10 of 'The Cardboard Cartographer,' here on 'The science of selling yourself short.'

In this issue we tackle a thorny issue for many table top gamers.
How do you get your hands on games?

The mantra of the diehard gamer for years has been FLG! FLG! FLG!
(Friendly Local Gamestore).

However, the FLG has always had competition from online vendors who offer a much cheaper and convenient service, with wider availability.

The argument is that you should sacrifice the positives in order to keep gaming alive in your community. Which is something well worth doing, but until recently I don't think I fully understood why.

Before getting into that the introduction of another driving force in gaming should be mentioned.
Crowd Funding.

Kickstarter, Indie Go Go and similar companies are taking the gaming world by storm; allowing smaller companies to reach a wider audience, whilst simultaneously eliminating the risk for bigger companies. While it all seem jolly and good, there are questions left to be answered.

We'll start with the FLG's.

The friendly local gamestore is a direct link between the hobby and the community.
They are the face of gaming.
Admittedly they are a more expensive outlet, and you have to go to the store to pick up your goods. In addition they don't have the most reliable supply chain.

Also the term 'Friendly' can be misleading.
A local, small time hobby store lives and dies by word of mouth.
Excellent customer service is the defining quality of these places, and yet there still exists those that fall out outside of this focus.

There are shops run by the 'snob' gamer. Those who think they are better than you and your ignorance/ lack of knowledge deserves their scorns. Those that fail to recognise and acknowledge your presence in their store.
Don't get me wrong, I spent a while working for Games Workshop, and I know that not everyone wants to be tailed around the store until they cave in and buy something or leave, but you have to do something to let the customer know their presence is welcomed, and that you're there if the need you.
Luckily, by and large, this isn't an issue.
In difficult financial times however, I can see why people would give FLG's a skip to save some time and money.

This leads us to our next vendor.


When it comes to online transactions, Amazon is king.
Not only does Amazon have an outrageously large inventory, but it is all delivered to your door relatively quickly.
The vast majority of the time it is cheaper, less hassle and infinitely more convenient.
As a big gamer, I should probably use FLG's more, but alas, Amazon gets most of my business.
It is hard to see a down side.

Until something goes wrong.

Yep. This does happen, and when it does, you can see why the hardcore gamers are so supportive of FLG's.
Customer service is key in retaining customers. Amazon don't need to.

I'll tell you a tale of two games. This happened to me recently (well, over the last 5 - 10 months)

I ordered Betrayal at house on the Hill (if you've read the Betrayal issue you'll have a rough idea of what happened).
It was delivered on time. Good start.
The game had a slightly damaged piece.
I told Amazon, they offered to replace the whole game, no extra charge.
Still good.

I was informed it was out of stock. No problem. I'd wait.

A few weeks later I ordered another game. Mice and Mystics.
This was the 11th of March. The maximum delivery time was two months. Though like all products was estimated to be delivered in five days.
Five days later. Nothing. Fine. Two months later. Still nothing. Not fine.

I get an email form Amazon saying that there has been a problem with supply and dispatch and the product would be on its way soon.

I thought at this point I'd see if Betrayal was back in stock.
After three months, it wasn't.

I thought I'd contact my FLG to see what the deal was with both games. Turns out the supplier (the people who make the games) were out of stock.
In other words, the reason I hadn't received Mice and Mystics was because there was no product to receive.
Amazon had essentially sold me something that didn't exist.

Now, I can understand that to some degree.
What irked me the most is;
a) They had not told me Mice and Mystics was out of stock
b) The game was still advertised as available on their site.~

So I complained.
Their solution?
They offered express delivery. On a product that they don't even have.
The joke about express delivery is that it only arrives a day or two faster than standard.
This, I feel is a wholly inappropriate form of compensation.
That wasn't what annoyed me the most.
They still hadn't told me that the product was out of stock at the supplier.

So I complained again. I got a much more co-operative response.
I didn't get a better compensation offer.

Another two months go by.
Both Betrayal and Mice and Mystics miss their deliver estimate. Again.
I get an email saying that Mice and Mystics is in the process of being dispatched from the supplier.
I check Amazon. The game is available for 'pre-order.'

It has now been dispatched and will be with me soon.

As for Betrayal? Still nothing.
Almost 6 months later.

Finally this brings us to our last 'vendor;' Crowd Funding


I'll be the first to admit that I was late to the whole crowd funding concept.
It is safe to say that is has exploded on to the main stage over the past few years.
Some very large and famous projects have been funded. None more so than on Kickstarter. 

If you're unfamiliar with Kickstarter, go read this -

Kickstarter is a mixed bag.
You get some great things on there, but your get some utter trash.

At its best, kickstarter is a platform for very small companies to find the funds they need to launch a product that would have otherwise never seen the light of day.
This is awesome as it allows for more talent to get out into the world, and it adds a greater depth of games to choose from.

The main issue I have with kickstarter is big companies.
More and more you have companies that already have fairly large fan basses using kickstarter to launch new products.
One such company is Mantic.
Mantic started off as a small time company. Initially using Kickstarter for good purpose; to show case their miniatures and adjoining game. These were outrageously successful.
Since then, every time they decide to launch a new line and/or expansion they use Kickstarter to get the funds.
This at best turns Kickstarter into a shop as opposed to a platform for the unknown.
I don't think it is fair to the indie developers being over shadowed in this manner.
It is however, inescapable; something will always get more support than you.

I can accept that.

The main issue for me is risk.
What kickstarter does, regardless of your current level of success, is that it eliminates a large amount of risk form the process.
The funds gained via kickstarter will cover all cost in the process, bar possibly research and development (but even then, in some cases this is factored in).
For a small time company this is an amazing opportunity to get your name out there; if you flop on your first couple of games it could spell the end of your company, even if the games aren't bad in themselves.
For a company like Mantic on the other hand this isn't a problem. It has already been proven that people will buy their product; the kickstarter and continuing sales post kickstarter have proved that. However, the risk is still removed, guaranteeing them almost cost free profits.

It seems at odds with the ethics behind Kickstarter that a company as successful as Mantic can fund itself this way.
Games Workshop, for all their flaws, fund themselves.
They make products, we buy them, or don't.
Risk is a part of business. It is a competitive market.
Another company prone to these risks is Gale Force Nine; it makes its games on the chance they will sell, and they do.

What Mantic do, is essentially remove competition from business.
I just don't think it is how Kickstarter should be used.

Alas, it isn't against the terms and conditions, so it is perfectly 'legal' as it were, but it just irks me.

Either way, for better or for worse, Kickstarter is still growing, and I will continue to back Indie games that catch my eye.

That is all for this issue.
I know it was a bit more of a ramble than usual, but it is something I wanted to cover.

How do you get hold of you games?
Have you any Amazon horror stories?
What FLG's do you use/not use? Why?
Do you crowd fund? What have you backed so far?

If you want to answer any of these questions, or ask me anything about this post and/or the rest of my blog(s) then feel free to drop me a comment on this or the relevant post, or hit me up on Tiwetter @DarKHaZZl3

Thanks for reading.


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