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.


Anonymous said...

Classy. Hooray for actual adults on the internet.

Jean-Christophe Gareau said...

It's good to see people be able to recognize his mistakes...! So, it's good news for Puzzle Strike expansion then? :D

And, I don't know if you heard about Ninjato. I would like to see you review this game! Thx! Always a pleasure to come here and read you!

Phil said...

Interesting article. Though I agree, refusing to sell to online stores pretty much means I won't be buying any games that they have exclusive rights to. My gaming group buys games in bulk every few months and if I can't buy the game from B&B or Thought Hammer, it doesn't get added to the list. Considering the number of great games out there (more then we can buy), losing a title or two isn't a big issue. So they really are just shooting themselves in the foot.

R Singers said...

As an antipodean - which is to say someone who gets screwed on the price of most games anyway - the important thing for me is having a reliable place to buy things on line with decent shipping costs. If they can deliver that then i don't mind that they don't sell to online discounters.

Digiconda said...

Matt - Great image :) and great integrity!

Moonglow said...

I'm kinda with Robert as a Kiwi, I see this as detrimental to overseas access to games. I don't really see the big difference between your first post and the details of your second that explain the big about face. All of our games locally are massively priced up compared to the US - not necessarily unreasonably considering sales tax, duties, import costs etc, but enough I couldnt afford to own all the games I do if I wasnt buying my own from overseas.... not to mention the 6 month to year delays before games even get here! by now you can probably see where this is going....I'm not getting my games from some US brick and morter selling a MRP with huge shipping... I'm buying from discount online stores that when combined with pretty competitive shipping, manages to make a large order worthwhile - and I'm paying as much, usually more in shipping as I pay for the games. The only exception is non language dependent games that I can get from Germany, where they have slightly more expensive games with flat rate shipping....

Regardless whether its Game Salute doing it directly, or the publishers using the mechanism to do it, price fixing to the MRP is just going to hammer our ability to enjoy a range of games.... which is perhaps ok, I probably should play the games I've got more before I buy more...

And I agree, they can do what they want to do, but I can't see anything I want to like in it... and I can't see why you're bending over yourself to apologise Drake. The principles of your post seemed to be correct, perhaps the direction of your muck throwing was a bit off, but not to the extent that your second post seemed to deserve that level of grovelling...

I guess I've always argued that brick and morter need to demonstrate the value they add to justify the large price differential, not just in the board game arena, but photography, nearly any kind of luxury item... some places can and do, they add exceptional value in making sure the product suits you... shit, I'd never buy a suit online....

Perhaps Game Salute does offer that value somewhere in the process, but so far its not something I want to pay for and I resent their influence as detrimental to my ability to enjoy my hobby...

R Singers said...

@Moonglow actually what I was saying was the quality of the service is what is important to me. Specifically access to the service and timeliness.

I buy gaming material from the UK all of the time and it is delivered to the opposite side of the world in around a week. Any problems with an order have been sorted out at the suppliers expense with no argument. Most I have every paid is 15% for post and packaging

The US on the other hand is a nightmare, unless you can buy it from Amazon. I once tried to buy an airbrush from the US and I couldn't find anyone prepared to ship it internationally for less than US$180. I ended up getting it from Singapore, had it in three days, standard post for US$20.

I've attached a link to a concept that UK gaming retailers seem to have grasped but US ones haven't.


Matt Drake said...

Moonglow, I'm apologizing for calling Game Salute everything but out-and-out crooks. I still think eliminating online discounters is a bad idea. But Game Salute doesn't make publishers do that. Publishers do that on their own.

I also agree that physical retailers are not entitled to an existence just because they are there. If they cannot add enough value to their product with the service they provide, they don't deserve my business. I have, and always will be, opposed to the concept of propping up your Friendly Local Game Store, whether or not they're good for very much. There are game stores I have enjoyed a great deal, and I've spent bundles in their stores. There are also stores that sucked, and I am just fine with letting them slide off the map.

lp said...

The reason Meetpoint signed up with Game Salute as only online option was that they work with FLGS.

Having lots of competing, cheap online options will drive more FLGS out of business.

If I find a comparable solution overseas, I'll be happy to work with them, too.

Eric Hanuise said...

I had a chat with them myself, and asked about the online retailers thing.
It's in fact pretty simple : publishers working with game Salute are the ones who choose wheter to allow the to sell the game to online retailers or to make it a Game Salute exclusive and cut online retailers off.
So they do offer both options, and the publishers choose.
Actually, the option for exclusives came to existence following a request from one of their publishers.