EDIT: Feel free to read this bit, to see what a jackass I am, but after you do, please read the next post, right here. Because most of this article is wrong.
I love to wallow in my hypocrisy. For instance, I fully endorse my son dating pretty much any girl he can catch (and since he's 6 foot 2 and full of muscle, he can catch a lot of them), but when my daughter's suitors come to my house, I make sure to be cleaning a shotgun at the coffee table. I complain about the environmental impact of fossil fuels, and I drive an enormous SUV. But there has to be a line somewhere. So I've decided that I will no longer drink milk right from the carton (though in all honesty, we buy those big gallon jugs, and after the third time I spilled milk all over my shirt, I decided I better get a glass, anyway).
The milk thing has been going so well that I decided I needed to find another way to practice what I preach. And so I've decided that I will not be reviewing games carried by Game Salute any more.
This was not an easy decision to make, and I don't expect it will make me very popular. But then, I'm not doing this to be popular, I do this to get free games. Yes, OK, I'm kind of screwing up that particular goal, but I can explain.
There's been a lot of talk recently about this new fulfillment/distribution thing called Game Salute. A bunch of small publishers have signed up with Game Salute, who acts as both retailer and distributor. The way this works is, Game Salute will not sell games to anyone who will sell them online. They're ostensibly supporting physical stores by not allowing online stores any access to the games they represent.
Now, maybe I don't follow this whole thing. In fact, it's incredibly likely. But I've looked at a lot of different sources here, and I gotta say, this Game Salute thing smells fishy. And I don't mean like the kitchen at Red Lobster, I mean like the pier where they unload the catch of the day. Maybe like the dumpster behind that pier where they throw all the fish they can't sell.
Here's the nitty gritty part, as I understand it. Game Salute agrees to essentially be the distributor and retailer for the games they carry, and the publishers agree that they will not sell their games to anyone else. Then Game Salute agrees not to sell the games to anyone who would sell it online. Then Game Salute is the only place in the entire known universe where you can buy these games. And they're doing pretty well - they've got some really impressive titles, like Yomi and Alien Frontiers.
I'm not an economist. I should say that up front (or halfway through, I guess, since that's where we are now). But I don't think it takes an MBA to know that monopolies are bad for everyone - well, everyone except the company that holds the monopoly. They set their own price to buy, and they set their own price to sell. Everybody in the chain gets screwed, except, as I said, the guy holding all the cards.
I can see why a publisher might think this was a good idea. From where they're sitting, online stores undercut their prices and devalue their products. So the publishers sign up with someone who promises to champion the cause of undercut prices, by not letting those nasty online retailers undersell their games. But there are some painful flaws in that line of thinking, flaws that really ought to be addressed.
For one thing, online stores have to discount. It's how they exist. Are you going to walk up to your virtual salesman and say, 'pardon me, electronic chat window, but can you direct me to something I might like?' You have to know what you want, because even if they advertise, the fact is, there's nobody in an online store who can tell you what you might dig. Physical stores have a huge edge in the interaction department, and without discounting, online stores would die right out.
Second, physical stores are not going to carry as many copies as online stores. They can't. A physical store has limited shelf space, and is generally only going to carry stuff it knows it can sell. Online stores have lower overhead, and keeping stuff online for a year only hurts if their warehouse is smaller than my tool shed. So not selling to online stores means you don't sell as many games. The Spanish have a word for a business strategy that sells fewer products. That word is estupido.
Third, online retailers will account for a hell of a lot more sales than a small publisher is ever going to get selling direct. What makes more sense, selling 10 games and clearing $500, or selling 100 games and clearing $1500? (Yes, I'm accounting for cost of goods sold. I did take some accounting in college.) I'll give you a hint - it's the one that makes more money.
Finally, and in my opinion, most important, is that you don't see the big guys signing up with Game Salute. And you don't see FFG and Days of Wonder signing up because they're not threatened by online sales. Small publishers will get up in arms about not being able to sell their twenty copies direct, where FFG sells 2,000 copies to a discounter in Brazil and laughs all the way to the bank.
Of course I know there is a difference between the big guys and the little ones. But the reason small publishers stay small is because they think small. Acting like the underdog means you get to stay the underdog. The big publishers don't do what they do because they like to waste money or cost themselves sales. They have very good reasons for selling to anyone who will buy a copy, and those reasons resemble small green pictures of dead presidents.
So up to this point, Game Salute isn't so much bad as it is misguided. Deliberately snubbing online retailers might seem like a spit in Goliath's eye, but it's really just kind of short-sighted. I would just shake my head at the poor business practice, and just keep playing some of my favorite games, but then we get to the thing that makes Game Salute look less Dopey Dwarf versus Goliath and more just plain rotten - the monopoly.
By persuading publishers that online retailers will steal their wallets, Game Salute has managed to be the exclusive distributor for their games. Game Salute sells online at full retail, because they can - they've created a market with no competition. Without lower-priced games available anywhere, however, fewer people will buy those games. Publishers will not sell as many games. And physical stores were unlikely to buy them in the first place, because they buy stuff they know they can sell. So your scorecard looks a little like this:
Online retailers: Just Plain Screwed
Publishers: Selling fewer games, so Screwed
Customers: Paying more for games, so Screwed
Physical stores: Not carrying the games anyway, so Breaking Even
Game Salute: WIN WIN WIN WIN
And that's the part that bugs me. To me, that looks like dirty pool. It looks like taking advantage of inexperienced businessmen for personal gain. It just looks sleazy. And I'm not going to use Drake's Flames to help promote sales for a company that I think is sleazy, so starting right now, I'm not reviewing anything else that comes from Game Salute.
This wasn't an easy decision. For one thing, I only write this stupid website so I can get free games, and deliberately cutting someone out of my supply chain means I get fewer free games. For another thing, those free games are some really good games. Alien Frontiers was one of my favorites from 2010, and I am a huge fan of Sirlin Games, and now I won't be reviewing anything from either of those companies. I didn't just jump into this without thinking, and for me to stop getting review copies means I'm pretty serious about this.
My hypocrisy has to stop somewhere. I'm still going to get furious at anyone who flips me the bird, even though I will most assuredly fly you the eagle if you cut me off on the freeway. But once my wife found out that I wouldn't drink out of a gallon jug and started buying the big milk, I have to find some other way to pretend that I have at least an ounce of integrity.
I willingly admit that I could be reading this wrong. There's probably something I'm missing. Please, feel absolutely free to point out my errors. Hell, I want you to. I want to believe that Game Salute is simply making an honest mistake. Because, really, I want that Puzzle Strike expansion. In fact, there's the gauntlet - I'm throwing it down. Show me the error of my ways, and I'll write another whole article about how wrong I was.