Communication Breakdowns

(A not-so-fictional story, presented in three parts...)

 

Episode I Mean People Suck

 

It is a period of uncivil war. Old guard retailers, vocal and openly hostile to publishing, strike out with impunity against the people who should be partners in their money-making endeavor.

During these wars publishers begin to withdraw from the battlefield. It is not worth fighting a battle where the other side cares nothing for your business concerns and is not interested in understanding you. Pursued across media by anger and vitriol, publishing found an unlikely ally, younger retailers, newer retailers, who understood the importance of open communication and mutual respect between the tiers. Relentlessly heckled by the 'old guard', these retailers bravely crossed space to hold open and respectful communication with their publishing partners....

 

If that sounds like fiction to you, I quote from a great movie when I say 'It's true, all of it.' The tiers were toxic to one another, respect existed only between small groups or individuals and the two sides of this great uncivil war were unable to come to any agreement on what customers wanted, and how to best steer our dungeon dwelling hobby into the hearts and minds of more people, and put more games on tables. Into that fray stepped my predecessors. Called all sorts of horrible things by ancient, nearly extinct, dinosaurs of the retail industry, these brave men and women fought back. They showed our publishing partners respect, and slowly made it possible for publishers to share information, to solicit new ideas, to discuss some of the challenges they face. We came out of the dark times, and as we came out of the dark times the industry flourished. Both sides suffered some challenges; retail feels the pressure of eCommerce and discounting, and publishing feels the pressures of a market glutted with product. The great games still get found and put on tables, but good games get missed as retailers and consumers relentlessly pursue the next fidget spinners. How long ago was this? Not that long. As I entered the industry six years ago we were still feeling the effects of those times.

 

Episode II Things Suck Less

 

Through the efforts of new leadership, things get better between publishing and retail. The old guard has been driven from their positions of implied power, and a collective of retailers works with publishing, and with one another, to insure that everyone in the industry has access to the tools needed for success. Evading the dreaded old guard, these newly empowered retailers seek out new allies, new friends, new kindred spirits, to push forward the hobby in a time of further digitization. The evil old guard, pawn shop owners and junk dealers, continue to spout their hatred, and attempt to recruit new followers into their backward and counterproductive movement....

 

This is roughly akin to the place the industry was when I first joined. Facebook groups were loud, angry, places, where a handful of counterproductive voices attempted to bewitch new retailers to their previously failed methods of communication. I was stuck in a cesspool of anger and hatred. I never learned anything except how to be more angry and more filled with hatred. But, I also knew what I didn't know, and at that time I didn't know a damn thing. A decade of running bars, nightclubs, and restaurants, doesn't prepare you for this industry. I'm not actually sure anything prepares you for this industry. But knowing what I didn't know was a great blessing. I sat silently for that first year, just trying to learn which voices provided signal and which provided noise. When I attended my first GAMA Trade Show in Vegas I sat quiet as a mouse, and if you know me you know how hard that was. In every room I identified the people who asked good questions, and the people who traveled to Vegas to drink and criticize. I went out of my way to meet the former, and I avoided the latter, unwilling to be covered in the stink of their negative attitudes and unwillingness to listen to multiple sides of any issue.

 

Episode III The Golden Age

 

Our publishing partners have opened their doors and shared with us, and together the tiers have escaped from the horrors of an adversarial past. But little did we know that the old guard has found a new tool, and new allies. Social media platforms have both made it easier for our partners to share with us, and made that sharing more fraught with perils. Striking from behind their keyboards, 'retail justice warriors' make a mockery of the work done before them. They build little coalitions and attack every announcement from their potential partners with the most hateful of terms. If they get their way, we are not far from publishing taking their toys and going home. Why share your exciting news when it is met by hatred by a faceless mass of people who care for nothing but their own business....

 

What brought on this story today, you might be asking? Well, today's story was inspired by an announcement from WizKids and Games Workshop, that was graciously shared across social media platforms by Justin Ziran, the man in charge of WizKids. It didn't come through some media aggregate or a press release, but through the President of WizKids, who took time to share a press release across platforms so we could be better informed retailers.

The response from these suddenly informed retailers was toxic, and I was ashamed to be one of you that day. Believe me when I tell you it wasn't the first time I was ashamed, and I've been ashamed again since that day when retailers attacked a Wizards of the Coast employee for asking a question. There is a right way and a wrong way to talk people. There is a method of communication with our partners that shows them we respect them, and they in turn will respect us. It is okay to disagree with one another. Hell, I encourage us to disagree with one another. I would encourage every person I know to surround themselves with smart people who regularly disagree with them. In disagreement we find progress. In a variety of ideas we find the best one, the one that does the most to advance us as retailers, and as an industry. We all want to make money; publishing and retail. We all should respect that open, honest, and productive, communication, helps us to make money. We make no money saying "This product sucks" or "Look, this will just be another damn exclusive with some distributor." Does a product not work for your business? Do yourself a bottom-line favor and DON'T CARRY IT! There's a better way to discuss your concerns. We live in an age of Facebook, and nearly instant communication. I mean, some of the publishers like to sleep from time to time, but every publisher I've dealt with is very responsive if I reach out with a concern, and I tell them what my concern was, and share feeling on how things could have been done differently. Modern communication methods make it easier for us to complain, hidden behind our keyboards, but they also make it easier to discuss our concerns calmly, and in a proactive and helpful fashion. Nearly every publisher will make direct social media contact with a retailer who wants to discuss things, discuss, not yell, argue, or debate. Many publishers gleefully hand out their cell phone numbers. Seriously. Attend a trade show where WizKids is in the room and Justin will put his cell phone number on a slide so you know who to talk to if you have concerns about anything. There is no reason to greet every announcement with anger and vitriol. I believe we are better together, retail and publishing. I believe that when we work together, when we better the lines of communication, we come closer to that GAMA goal - A Game on Every Table... Let's not return to the olden days of animosity. Let's talk to one another as we truly are; friends and partners, in this spectacular industry.

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