Monday, December 12, 2011
Total Retraction - Game Salute is Actually OK
I'm wrong a lot. Usually, it has to do with a game (probably because I review a lot of games). And usually, all I really have to do is edit the original review a little, and point out where I was wrong. Usually, there's very little egg on my face.
This time, however, I have cooked an omelette directly into my beard. That's how much egg is on my face. And now, to go with all that egg, I also have to eat some crow. I just hope I can find some fresh-squeezed OJ to wash it all down.
I completely misunderstood the Game Salute thing. Well, not completely, but I missed several very important distinctions, and came to some incorrect conclusions based on limited information. In other words, I jumped the gun, got egg on my face, and had to eat crow. If I can find another metaphor, I'll shoe-horn that sumbitch into this article, one way or another.
I talked to some of the Game Salute guys over the weekend, and considering how I compared their program to rotten fish, they were pretty darn nice. I would have been going through the files for a home address so I could hire a thumb-breaker who makes house calls, but they were very friendly.
So, here's the actual deal. Game Salute is not even remotely a traditional distributor. They don't buy the games from the publishers. They take a commission for every sale, which means if the games don't sell, they don't get paid. They are not holding a monopoly on anything, because they don't actually have anything on which they could hold a monopoly. They run the store front for the publishers, with the end result that however you buy the game, you're buying it from the publisher.
And they also have an entire host of things they do to help out the publishers. Like, they do an incredible amount of marketing to get game stores to pick up games they would have otherwise ignored. They even help stores promote the games so that the stores can sell what they buy. Where most traditional distributors are sort of faceless machines doling out product like a street-corner drug dealer, Game Salute puts a considerable emphasis on relationships.
To go one further, Game Salute vets the publishers they carry. They won't just accept any knucklehead with a self-published gaming disaster. They recommend printers (which I can tell you, having attempted to find printers myself, is a huge help all by itself), they consult on the graphic design, and otherwise make sure that stores aren't buying crappy games.
Heck, they even arrange international distribution for their publishers, so that game stores in Germany can get copies of Alien Frontiers. You still can't buy it online, except through the Game Salute or the publisher, but they've found ways to open the markets for their publishers.
So whatever smelled fishy about this entire thing was not Game Salute. It was probably the raccoon that died in my attic. Game Salute is not setting prices, so they can't do any price-fixing, and whatever market manipulation they're attempting is relatively benign. They're not screwing anybody.
Now, I'm not taking back everything I said in my last post. I still don't think eliminating online retailers is a good idea, because one website is simply never going to have the same market penetration as ten, especially when those ten sites carry a hell of a lot more games and are in locations all over the globe. Customers who can't get discounts online are going to be a lot less likely to buy, and when they can't bundle up shipping with products from nearly every publisher on the planet, some of those games just aren't going to get sold.
But I learned something else from my discussions with the Game Salute guys - they're old-school industry guys who have been in game stores since before you could buy games on the ol' interwebs. Not that Game Salute was a cover to ratchet up more dough for their storefronts, or anything, but I can sure see how a guy who owns a physical store would be interested in blocking online discounters. Everything about Game Salute is meant to make things better for physical retailers, because those are the people Game Salute understands.
The final score on this Game Salute thing, then, is that these guys are not profiteering assholes trying to rape and pillage their way to a quick buck (especially since they're not expecting to break even for a couple more years). They have a vision, one based in large part on their experience as physical retailers, and they're attempting to see it out. They've come up with some pretty innovative ways to make that vision happen, but they're not crooks. If they're guilty of anything, it's not telling irresponsible game reviewers how things work until those game reviewers go off half-cocked and start spouting off without knowing all the facts.
I still think it's ultimately counter-productive to cut out the online stores, and if I were a publisher, I don't believe I would consider signing with Game Salute. But that's not a moral decision, it's a business decision, and it's not even remotely sleazy. In fact, it's also a business decision I don't have to make, and it's not one I have to approve. I think it's safe to say it's not even really any of my business, except that the place where I personally prefer to buy games - Noble Knight Games - isn't going to be able to carry all the games I like to buy. On the other hand, there's a good chance my local game shop is going to carry those games that retailers normally wouldn't touch, because Game Salute is busting ass to make sure those store owners know how good the games really are. There's a trade-off, and a long-term investment in traditional game stores, and I think a lot of people are going to respond to that.
So after our lengthy conversation, the Game Salute dude said he was putting the new Flash Duel in the mail. Like I said, these guys were a class act. Not only were they not verbally abusive, as I most assuredly would have been, but they're actually sending out review copies right after I was all stupid and wrongfully accusatory (I'm not sure if those are actual words, and I don't know if used them correctly, but my spell checker didn't flag 'em, so I'm leaving them right there).
Only time will tell if this business model is successful. The Game Salute guys are putting a lot on the line to bet that it will be, though, and they've put their money where their mouth is. I, on the other hand, have put my foot where my mouth is, and while my personal guess is that those publishers might have been better served with a different strategy, I'm still rooting for them. Game Salute isn't bad. In fact, it might just be what this industry needs.
While we wait to see if Game Salute revolutionizes the way gaming works, I'll keep reviewing games and occasionally talking out of my ass. The Game Salute guys will be working 90-hour weeks, and I will be picking egg out of my face hair. You can just keep doing what you've been doing - ignoring your day job to read my ignorant boob jokes - and we'll all just keeping playing games.
Posted by Matt Drake at 9:39 AM