Monday, August 07, 2006

GAME STORE CONFIDENTIAL ~ Blood on the Gaming Highway

"Hey DW? How much is your rent here?"

"What do you pay for a box of Magic cards DW?"

"How much do you make every year selling games?"

Me, being the uber-friendly type, I always answered my customers questions. Of course I always lied, but I answered them anyway. But I have never felt any obligation to reveal to customers or anyone else the answers to questions that really are personal.

There are two sources of inspiration for today's thoughts: Mel Gibson and Eagle Games.

Mel Gibson because he pissed off a bunch of Jewish people, made the Liberals in Hollyweird happy and made the majority of people in America who don't have thier own TV news programs wonder what the fuss is all about.

Eagle Games because they ran out of money and had to sell everything off, which generated somewhere between 10-13 pages of snickering, bickering, speculation, postulation and constipation on BGG.

I'll deal with the whole Mel Gibson thing first... mainly because I don't think he's a gamer and he just happened to get drunk the same week Eagle Games closed down. Okay....Mel Gibson? Hmmmm.... Mad Max! Drank some shooters and said bad things? Ahhhh.... okay. Who gives a crap? And if you do, then you might possibly be as creepy as the customers who used to ask me how much my mark-up was.

Eagle Games though, that's a whole other level of creepiness. Because Eagle is part of a very personal hobby there is an intense interest in everything about it... including the reasons it failed. On the one hand I think a certain level of interest is healthy and natural. On the other hand the creepy thing creeps me out. You know what I mean. When casual interest and even bona fide concern and compassion turns into an almost unhealthy speculation and accusation from a contingent of gamers who want to feast on the bones of people who have had problems in their lives, failed at business or just, in general, hit a few bumps along the way.

The Forum thread on BGG ran the gamut from huffy know-it-alls declaring Eagle Games business model flawed and therefore doomed from the outset to Glen Drover personally screwing over the Eagle staff, BGG and anyone else he could get his claws on. For the most part the thread devolved into a 250+ entry session of rubber-necking an accident. After all, when you really think about the fact that Glen is a member of BGG and has been a great supporter of the industry and BGG itself, then it's a little creepy to read some dufus game geek's opinion that the reason Eagle failed was that every Glen Drover design was horrible.

I'm not really suprised by this because I've been around long enough to have seen it happen with SPI, TSR, Heritage, Grenadier and a few others. And even when I have known the pertinent facts about the how and why of a failure - such as TSR's demise and rescue by WotC - I have still been flabbergasted by the feeding frenzy on false facts and the eerie bloodlust surrounding the scene of a gaming accident. Oddly enough, Glen posted on the thread and explained loosely what happened. I'm not sure I would have done that personally. Nonetheless, like an accident scene, the thread still has 30+ posts after Drover's... the Game Geek equivalent I guess to lingering around after the bodies have been removed to discuss how much bloood is pooled on the highway.

All of this makes me curious about why some people personalize their gaming hobby to the extent they do. Role-players, CCG players and most certainly Games Workshop players do. And they tend to take the personalization to obscene levels. I'm sure that several of you may have read and/or participated in the old Games Workshop newsgroup that was moderated by a very harried GW staffer. That bit of usenet history is worth looking up if you want to read how truly mean, nasty, creepy and generally insane some gamer's can get about game companies. The only unsenet group I recall seeing that inspired so much hate and bile was the anti-Scientology newsgroup. Both of them were extremely popular in the 90's... before the WWW graphical upgrades reduced usenet to a porn ghetto.

I think part of what happens is that some fans personalize games to the point that they have trouble seperating their emotions about themselves from their emotions about distant people and distant companies. Eagle Games has inspired some of the most emotionally troubled commentary on BGG that I've ever seen. It's almost like watching British soccer fans from two different camps brawl. Or NASCAR fans of one driver getting into a shouting match with another driver's fans. Eagle Games has inspired bad feelings amongst some Euro-Snoots because some EuroSnoots are basically snooty pricks. To be fair though, some war gamers are arrogant assholes... although I can't really think of anyone in particular at the moment.

How you are in your life outside gaming will, I think, transfer intact to how you conduct yourself in game sessions, on BGG or other gaming sites and in general around other fans of board gaming. If you are so smugly assured that any game you choose to play is superior because, well, because you are superior, then that attitude will be there wherever you go. I don't see any real difference in the smugly superior gamers than I do in the 40K players who carp endlessly about how evil Games Workshop is.

What I think is that game companies rise, fall, succeed, fail, grow, shrink and just in general have "lives" similar to our own. Sometimes they do well and other times they do poorly. Game designers have hits and misses. Some games work for some people and not for others. The creepy part of all this for me is the tendency for fans to group at the scene of an accident and lay down one erroneous verdict after another about what happened and why it happened. And if you read that thread on BGG you can easily see that some people have trouble hiding their glee at Eagle's demise.

In 1987 I sold my 50% interest in Dark Horse Miniatures to my partner. The company was making money, though not huge amounts, so my reasons for selling were personal not economic. Within two years my partner and his new partner had nose-dived the miniature company into oblivion. So, for a number of years afterwards when I attended the trade shows, Origins or GenCon, I was treated to all manner of rumors about what happened... along with more than my share of very personal questions about the failure of the company. Oddly enough, most of the other people I knew who owned or ran competing companies were very graceful and if they engaged into rumor-mongering, they were very discreet. I believe that is because nobody in the gaming industry who has half a clue about how things need to work for the industry to grow wants to see anyone fail.

Failure is bad, even if it's a competitor. Failure is a reminder of how tenuous one's hold on success in a fan-based industry really is. Every product is a risk. There is never, ever enough money. Even the mighty can (and do) fall.

At the moment I own several different Eagle Games and I like them. In fact, I suppose I need to get a copy of Wits & Wagers so I can have a party game in my collection. I personally am not at all pleased by what happened to Eagle and to Glen and Keith. But I understand exactly how such things happen. I do have empathy for them... though I admit to not having real sympathy for anyone on this planet other than helpless women and children and, of course, my own kids... when they can't convince me to buy them something they really, really want.

I think most people don't enjoy seeing failure... and now that I've said that I am getting this weird feeling that a scary amount of people do like seeing others fail... so maybe most people that I'd like to be around don't enjoy seeing others fail. I'm not happy about Eagle ceasing to exist, even though I only own three of their games. I wasn't happy when TSR went into bankruptcy, or when Avalon Hill stopped making war games. I do understand that as something as fan-based as the game industry evolves there will be a higher than normal percentage of casualties... it just doesn't make me happy when I see them.

So, I say good luck to Glenn Drover and Keith Blume and I hope to see them back producing games again. In the meantime... maybe you have a copy of Wits & Wagers you want to trade for? And you know, maybe I ought to get me a back-up copy of Railroad Tycoon while I'm at it.

15 comments:

Jon Oetting said...

I share your sentiments on Eagle. I've always loved their approach to Big Beautiful Games, even if some of the mechanics were choppy. I'll take the great maps, bits, and historical flavor of Eagle games over many bland Eurogames (although there are plenty of Euros I enjoy as well). Their misfortunes are a shame and I can't understand why people feel the need to armchair quarterback the situation.

Scott said...

good post, DW. Not as funny as most of yours are, but thought-provoking.

I think the Eurosnoot term is schadenfreud or something like that. Everybody knows someone (or many someones) that delight when others fail. I only apply that to certain people and then, almost always when I am playing a game against them! :-)

Eagle didn't make my favorite games, but I still wish they were still around, both for the games that I liked and the fun they brought to other gamers, including my son (who loves AoM). And RRT is a great expansion for AoS. :-)

Burninator23 said...

It's that old bit of John Donne,

"Ask not for whom the bell tolls... It tolls for thee"

(aplogies if I got the wording wrong)

As has been pointed out, this is a widespread and recognized phenomenon in human behavior. We are fascinated by accident, failure, demise. There are lots of possible reasons; we might want to avoid a similar fate; we might want to see how the failure relates to us; we might want to see if we can help... I suppose you can look at it optimistically, as the latter, or, perhaps, pessimistically, as people getting some sort of thrill from others failure.

I read the thread on BGG without posting a reply. I wanted to see the real information, why things happened. I've been a gamer since I was very small, and have participated in a variety of aspects of the hobby industry. I still have dreams of someday producing games. The more I read of the thread, the more discouraged I was, until I finally gave up.

I've worked in several gaming stores, and have certainly experienced the interest and questions DW mentioned. I've dished them out, too, as one of those people who has nutured dreams of opening a gaming store - you need information to do so successfully. I decided not to do so, but I retain the old interest. Now, I advise friends of mine who have taken that particular plunge, and enjoy the ability to do so.

Hobbies in general, like the NASCAR fans DW mentioned, are a part of peoples' lives. For many, in today's information-saturated, fast-paced world, hobbies can almost be life, outside (or perhaps inclusive) of work. A place like BGG is a magnet for people for whom boardgaming has become life, to some extent. Many of the posters feel personally connected to the games they play, the stores they go to, the companies that produce the games, by the way that these games have become their passtime, their intellectual exercise, their social outlet, and, in some cases, their profession. I have known plenty of people who have spent every night of the week at the local gaming store. Who have anxiously waited for preorders for games just because of the designer or company. They don't go out. They aren't married. For them, this is functionally it.

So, when the bell tolls, so to speak, they feel it. It's understandable. Unfortunately, the Internet, and forums like BGG, are still relatively young as a form of expression. I don't object to people being interested, or posting questions, or even some educated speculation. However, the sheer mass of wild, poorly thought-out, and often personally negative writing is something that certainly needs to be worked on. Over time, hopefully, with posts like those that DW and others are good enough to leave, people will develop a little more of a filter for these conversations.

I try to tend toward the optimistic. I look at it as growing pains, and keep reading. Thanks for the provocative article, DW.

GrillTech said...

You mean that when you told me you paid $4.00 per pack of Magic cards and sold them at a loss of .51 per pack, it wasn't the truth. Sheesh and I thought I was getting a good deal.

Really good and insightful post DW.

MWChapel said...

BAH! Eagle made over produced crap. I'm just too much of a cheap bastard to spend high dollar on a pretty game that plays warmed over vommit.

I'm not an arm chair quarterback. I know good games when I play them. All the chrome in the world can't make a Yugo a qualtiy car.

Well I lie, i'm not too cheap as I own Civ, AoM, CotE, SoE..Of course SoE is the only one I play anymore(And wallace just needed a printer for that). The rest are just a pretty box of dust collecting space wasters.

What is sad is i'll probably buy Age of Discovery too, cause I'm a sucker. Well lucky for me, those days of weakness are numbered.

My word to the wise. Use the KISS method.

Anonymous said...

Not really the place for it, I apologize. But where are you located DW ?

Fellonmyhead said...

While I think you make a good point, the posters are only human. You're human too, so I find it easier to ignore your derogatory and unfair generalisation about British football fans.

I'm only human too; so I can be arrogant, greedy and insulting. What's important is I try to be a better person and not use my faults as excuses.

Eagle's demise (if that is truly what it is) set off alarm bells in my mind so I had to go out and buy RT and CotE (two of their games I wanted, to go with the others of theirs I already own). I am guessing these will probably become available again later, but I'm only human. I was slightly upset by the news, but more astonished than upset.

As for Games Workshop, they went from being a game store to being a Games Workshop outlet; it was good for their business as evident in their massive expansion since. I will continue to pine this loss; not only did the games I preferred become very difficult to find but they also altered their in-house gaming magazine to cover GW products alone. I think that's half the reason my gaming dropped off (for almost a decade). This isn't the same as bitching about why there were so many changes between 2nd and 3rd edition WH40K, or why they changed the scale slightly between editions of Epic40K so that you couldn't mix them; but these other minor points are something I have every right to bitch about when changes are introduced directly after massive purchases.

What really annoys me about this response to that particular thread is how you've managed to ignore every sympathetic post (and there were lots) and just pick out the bits YOU want to bitch about. But hey, you're only human too...

DWTripp said...

What really annoys me about this response to that particular thread is how you've managed to ignore every sympathetic post (and there were lots) and just pick out the bits YOU want to bitch about. But hey, you're only human too...

That's because this blog isn't about sympathetic or respectful people. It's about the twerps with bloodlust and an inner need they seem to have to ferret out any dirt they can so it can be spread around further. There were enough creepy and nasty posts to more than taint the whole thread. Go back and look at it now if you want to see how ugly it has become.

I hope American NASCAR fans are as understanding about my generalization about them as you are about British soccer fans.

One important thing you made me think about is how just a few people can spoil something for a much larger group of people.

malloc said...

I have to agree with DW, the scene on BGG was way out of control. I avoided that post when I saw it. (anything on BGG with more than 15 reply's is a red flag for me).

Anyway I am sad to see eagle go. I was burned by a few of their games that I payed for and do not play. But the more recent efforts were better. And no one can complain about the bits.

I had reserved game like Civ and War!:AOI to be used when My children got a little older to suck them and their unsuspecting friend into gaming. Trapped by colorful plastic soldiers.

Like the games they made or not, Eagle was on to of games with plastic mini's. FFG certainly started taking a page from Eagles book and the hobby is better of for it.

This little world of ours is small enough, losing any game publisher only puts us one step closer to extinction.

-M

GROGnads said...

Well, I'd missed that "forum" thread I do believe, more to avoid 'salting' a "wound" than anything else. I have to repeat that I didn't find ANY of their 'stuff' of interest to myself as well. There were some that I would have liked to get someday and then "fix `em UP right" WITH additional 'whatever' I could 'create' from such. While yet many others have already done just that and I wish these guys WELL & 'better' in the meantime.

DWTripp said...

Yet again the cowardly Wabbit has spewed his annoying comments on my blog page. As promised, I have removed his post and will continue to do so until he gains enough self-confidence to have an ID.

But, despite being a skulking loser, he did put in a terrific link to one of my favorite board game bloggers -

http://ekted.blogspot.com/

DWTripp said...

To anonymous poster #2.... wanna bitch about me and my viewpoint? Fine. Make yourself known and I'll stop removing your stupid comments.

Anonymous said...

I cannot tell you my ID because I am a principal involved in the Eagle Games problem. You want the inside dirt and the real facts? Here they are:

1. Drover did not declare bankruptcy. Therefore a complete list of creditors has never been assembled to meet over terms of the liquidation. All Drover did was hand over all asstes to a s single, secured creditor and made some side deal about the website.

2. The Illinois State Attorney General's Office has opened a file on the case on the complaints of some unsecured creditors.

3. Eagle Games had one officer and that is Drover. He is liable for all debts of Eagle Games and this appears to be an attempt to avoid personal bankruptcy.

4. The auction is in limbo from what I hear. According to federal bankruptcy law unsecured creditors get the next shot at assets of the company before an auction.

5. There have been questions asked about whether Drover has given friends inside information that has been denied to other creditors, and that this may be the basis of bids on the auction and the low price set on the assets by the bank.

6. The company I work for is considering legal action along with other unsecured creditors. We will force the bankruptcy of both the company and the officers to recover money. There is over $1 million unrecovered so far.

This is not a very nice situation. Drover has not been an honest businessman and there is a long list of grievances over his handling of credit and contracts. I will say as much that the word fraud has been thrown around as people are connecting the dots.

If you want to start a blog about Eagle Games, you should know the facts. This is a matter soon to appear before the courts.

DWTripp said...

Thanks anonymous. That's a more than acceptable reason to remain anonymous.

As I said in a private email to another involved party... if the demise of Eagle and the way it's happening is unsavory then the injured parties NEED to contact the AG and get things cleared up.

There is a huge difference between poor business practices and outright fraud. Bitching about somebody in a public forum because they (and the person complaining) made mistakes is pointless, irritating and leaves a bad taste.

OTOH, if there was real fraud or other illegalities then the correct thing to do is get the authorities involved.

Overall it's sad to see this happen. There's really no reason that business failures and the resultant tide of emotions shouldn't also happen in the game world... it's just that when it does there is usually so much speculation that it makes the whole niche look unprofessional and weak because there is way too much public specualtion and mudslinging.

As for me, I would have preferred that Eagle's issues and the trauma of the participants had not been made public. But, I am a member of the public and now that I know more I'm even more resolute that too much personally charged data without real understanding is a negative experience.

Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous,

Please contact me as soon as possible using my user id and email at www.boardgamegeek.com; My user id is 'Benvenuto Cellini'. From there, I will be happy to contact you by phone. We have been severely affected by this and have been completely in the dark trying to unravel everything. We have plenty to share.

Kyle
Rebel Forge Games