It Is All My Fault
This time it didn't seem to get very much attention anywhere. I'm still waiting for the outrage from the players, but I don't see it anywhere. WotC is taking another stab at protecting physical game stores from the on-line stores, and it is all my fault.
Here is how I figure it: A few months ago when Hasbro bought out WotC, I suggested that Magic players around the world should start buying Hasbro stock so that we, the Magic players, could start electing members to Hasbro's board of directors. Naturally I nominated myself as the best candidate for such a position.
(I also warned that my advice to purchase Hasbro might not be financially sound. It wasn't.)
Of course, I was a nobody then. Just some random bum who got his ramblings posted on some back page on the Dojo. Harmless, really.
Now fast-forward a few months and I'm a feature writer for StarCityCCG.com. Doesn't seem like a big deal at first. But, after a couple of months I've gained a loyal readership of fifteen. A readership that I am influencing with wild ideas like reprinting allied color dual lands, creating a sanctioned base set only format, and changing the reprint policy for rare cards from Ice Ages forward.
Yes, such wild and dangerous ideas were fine while I was a random bum occasionally posting on the back pages of the Dojo. But now, with my readership of fifteen (well, five that I can actually prove, but I'm sure that there are ten more out there) I am becoming a force to be reckoned with. A force that WotC hasn't had to deal with since Wakefield took his extended vacation from Magic.
WotC had to stop me, but how? A hit man? No, that would turn me into a martyr and grow my readership to 25 or 30 as everyone tried to figure out why I had been killed. Post vile rumors about me and dirty pictures of me all over the web? No, that would just enhance my reputation among Magic players and grow my readership to 150. Some of them might even take my ideas seriously.
A way had to be found. Then it hit them. Close down StarCityCCG.com's web site. With no forum, I wouldn't be able to spread my wicked ideas among Magic players around the world and I would cease to be a threat.
But like killing me they had to avoid anything obvious. Shutting down StarCityCCG.com's web site by brute force would only outrage players. It had to be subtler. It had to look like a sound business decision by the owner of the store, not an attack on the web site. So, they created a new purchasing system that charged web site vendors more for their product than store only vendors. Surely that would eat at StarCityCCG.com's profits enough that the web site, or at least the featured writers, yours truly included, would be off the web forever.
So, if your favorite internet vendor of Magic cards starts raising their prices in the next couple of months. If Pete has to shut down the web site so that you never get to read my informative missives again. Now you'll know whom to blame. Me. It is all my fault, and I am sorry.
Huh, what's that you say? WotC isn't afraid of me? I'm no more dangerous to them than a flea on a dog's behind! But, how could that be? I'm famous! I have a loyal readership of 15. FIFTEEN!!!
Ok, so maybe I'm having some Delusions of Grandeur. But, I just couldn't let WotC's latest efforts go unnoticed and without comment.
My first comment is a big HUH? Is this the same company that pumped huge amounts of Pokemon product into the large retail outlets that don't support in store gaming while a lot of the mom & pop game stores were buying product off of the gray market or going without? (Read the Ferrett's missive on why we are all a bunch of whiners.)
Sure, something like 90% of the kids buying the Pokemon cards were never going to play, but hey, is that any reason to deny profits to game stores? Maybe some of those kids who never learned to play would have learned if they had purchased their cards in a game store. Maybe a couple of them would have even become Magic players. None of the cards sold at Target, Wal-Mart, and the like are going to result in long-term players.
How can WotC, with a straight face, crack down on internet Magic vendors in order to save the mom & pop gaming stores while they route tons of their most profitable product to large chains that don't have in-store gaming? Is there something that I am not seeing that makes this not a contradiction?
My second comment is that a store where you can go and play is a wonderful thing. No matter how much I love Magic, I realize that it is a niche game. It appeals to people who like infinitely complex strategy games, fantasy, and a certain amount of human interaction. Magic players are a fairly rare breed and without places to go where we can meet and play against others like ourselves there would be no Magic.
If you hang around long enough, you will read about the tragedy of the closing of the local gaming shop. It goes something like this: game shop can't make ends meet, game shop closes up, Magic and other CCGs die in the local community. This, understandably, concerns WotC because without an outlet for their product (customers) they have to close up and go look for a new way to make a living. (Not that the folks at WotC aren't capable of finding new jobs, but face it, playing games all day for a living sure beats most jobs.)
So now a quick lecture on enlightened self-interest. The basic premise of enlightened self-interest is that you are acting in your own LONG-TERM best interest. Sure, buying cards on the internet can save you a ton of money over buying them from your local game store. But, when you buy at your local game store you are also buying a place to play cards along with the cards themselves.
Think of it like this. If you don't have a group to play with somewhere outside of a game store, if you don't have anyone that can come to your house to play, what are your options? You have to go somewhere else. Someplace that is clearly identified as a place where people can play.
Let's pretend for the moment that you want to start a gamers' club. A bunch of gamers would all get together and rent someplace where they could get together and play whenever they felt like it. A storefront or apartment where all of the members have a key. What would this cost you? Well, it depends on the number of players and the cost of rent. If you could do it for $40/month, or less, per member I would be impressed.
If you buy one full box of boosters each month and can get enough people together to get your share of the rent down to $40/month or less you will come out a bit ahead. So, this might be a good deal for you financially.
But, you and your fellow members are in a contract so each of you has to pay that rent whether you play cards or not. You'd also have to patch together some means of attracting new players so that your club would be viable for as long as anyone wanted to play. Everyone would have to do their share of cleaning and someone would have to manage the money to make sure that the bills get paid. Plus, everyone has to arrange to get their own cards. Make sure you order them far enough in advance that they arrive for Friday's game. And you will have a dickens of a time figuring out how to get your tournaments sanctioned.
Now, I don't know about you, but frankly I don't want to be bothered with the headaches, and thanks to the game store owners I don't have to be. They have taken on the role of club owner/manager. They will let you join the club just by walking in. They have committed to keeping the books straight, the floors clean, and the shelves stocked. All that they ask is that you contribute to the rent just like any good club member.
Imagine that your club had one member that kept "forgetting" to pay his rent. The rest of you would have to cover his forgetfulness or lose your place to play. I expect you'd get ticked at this freeloader and toss him out of the club pretty quickly.
The way you contribute to the rent at the game store is by purchasing stuff. If you don't purchase stuff at the store where you play you aren't paying your share of the rent. If you are lucky someone else will pick up the slack and the store will survive. But, what if they don't? Then you lose your place to play and all the cardboard you bought at great savings is so much recycling material.
If the game store closes and you have no place to play how much did you really save?
If you have a store where you go to play you have to balance your need for a place to go with your desire to save money. If the owner of the store I frequent is reading this he is probably confused right now. He knows I buy a lot of cards off of the internet. A lot more than I buy from him. Given my pretty little lecture on enlightened self-interest how do I justify that?
Here's how I justify it. (I leave it to the reader to decide if my position is consistent or not.) I get to the store to play or trade very seldom. If things are going well I make it about every six weeks. If they are not, I make it about every 8-10 weeks. (I am an occasional player remember.) Most of my Magic activities take place outside of the store. So, most of my Magic purchases also take place outside the store. (Besides who can honestly go 8-10 weeks between "fixes" of this cardboard crack?)
When I am in the store to play or trade I buy stuff. If I need a new Scrye or Inquest and I can wait till I get to the game store I do rather than buying it from the local bookstore. I buy some packs of cards every time I go in the store to play.
If I am in the area and don't have time to play I still stop in if I can (my 4 year old isn't really welcome in the store, something about his tendency to mangle collectable comic books) and buy some cards or maybe a candy bar. This is not charity. This is me making sure that I provide what I feel is my fair share of support to a club I occasion rather than frequent.
The owner of the store might disagree with my perception of what constitutes my "fair share" but my point is I contribute something to keeping the store open. The real question then becomes would store owner be better off if I gave up internet purchases? For me the answer has to be No. Absent the internet I would have given up Magic a long time ago and any purchases made by me would never have happened. Any purchases I made at that store in the past 18 +/- months happened because I had internet stores that I could access and I stuck out the game when I would have quit otherwise.
If I were at the store every week my answer would have to be different. I would need to buy more to provide support commensurate with my usage of the store. Again this is not charity this is enlightened self interest.
Go ahead and buy stuff from StarCityCCG.com (all of your internet purchases for example). If you don't, I can pretty much kiss this writing gig goodbye and that would make me sad. But don't forget to support your local game store. Balance your need for price with your need for a place to play.
And let Wizards know that if they are serious about supporting game stores they should be shipping Pokemon to the game stores first and the chain stores second, not the other way around.