Sunday, November 19, 2006

GAME STORE CONFIDENTIAL ~ Sex, Collectible Games & Expanding Universes

Sorry about missing a few Mondays. It's all about this new "job" I accepted and since nothing about the job has anything to do with board gaming... I'll skip the details. Suffice it to say I'm pretty confused about how anybody stays in business. Working for a large company does nothing to dispell the gloomy sense I have that the earth is spinning madly out of control.

Anyway. Games.

I visted BGG several times over the last 2 weeks and discovered that the same-old, same-old is being discussed. While there is a good deal of content dealing with actual game descriptions, reviews, session reports and other items that I would call "information", the bulk of the content that draws a crowd is about contentuous subjects.

So today, I figured I'd address something that keeps cropping up and attracting at least as many posts as The Great RR Tycoon Vs. Age of Steam debate. Or the even greater Local Merchant Vs Online Discounter argument. That is -- the seriously impaired discussion about collectible/expandable games.

First off, let's define, for purposes of this article, what collectible in the gaming or entertainment "sense" means.

Collectible refers to a product that has an intended rarity level for specific key parts of the entire product range. It does not imply that the gaming product is useless unless it's all "collected". Merely that some parts of the game aren't sold in a manner that the consumer can be assured they are getting the more rare of the items that make up the total game or system.

The tradition of collectibility in board games is not a long one. Starting with the Magic CCG in 1993 and perhaps somewhat pre-dated by publishers and manufacturers such as Games Workshop who produced LE, or Limited Edition, items, collectibility in board games is a more recent phenomena. One of the main talking points on BGG (and I suppose other web sites) is the supposedly covert and even evil nature of the publishers who produce collectible games. There is the typical outrage and cries of "foul" from gamers who, I suppose, view games that cost more than $20-30 as evil and somehow intended to make their personal lives unlivable. The idea here, I think, is that if the publisher had any morals or ethics they would never design and publish a game that wasn't already complete. In fact, the main argument seems to be that if it costs more money than the whiner is willing to spend to get the game, it's the publisher that is greedy, not the mooch who wants a $60 game for $20.

Oddly, I've never read where anyone suggests that maybe the gamer who desires ALL of a collectible or expandable product might think about making enough money to buy it all. But that's not really the point from the "victim's" way of looking at things. Their point is simple... they want it all and they want it cheap. Any publisher who fails to deliver is therefore evil and greedy.

Right.

Board gaming politics is like real politics. Words and phrases are crafted specifically to support a theory or platform and any information that doesn't bolster the "point" is left out of the dialog. So... that means a game like the upcoming Battlelore is collectible... at least to those too frickin' cheap and niggardly to pay retail and get some .10 cent hunk of Hill Giant plastic. Whereas games like Carcassone are not collectible. Despite the fact that the Carcassone pantheon of products includes some items that are "more rare" and limited than I suspect the Hill Giant will be for BattleLore.

In the war of words against collectibility WOTC, the publisher of Magic, is the one true God of Evil Publishers. The argument basically runs that MTG is designed in such a fashion as to create a "need" in the gamer to constantly dip into their pocket book for the next booster pack, the next expansion.. the next big thing. Okay. I'll buy that. That's exactly how MTG is designed and marketed. What is hilarious is that the execution of that design and marketing is somehow evil. Because, if MTG is evil then so are the following:

Comic Books
Trading cards
Diecast cars
Movies with sequels
Console games
Cars
Motorcycles
Boats
Houses
Children
Marraige
Music
Furniture
Art
Books
Wine
Stocks
Education
etc...

My point being, most things in life are expandable. Some actually are collectible in the sense that there is a limited availability of certain specific pieces of the whole. If you want those items that are rare, then you have to pay up. If you either are incapable of paying up or unwilling to... then too bad. The only thing wrong in that case is that you're a loser because you are unwilling to make the sacrifices and have the discipline needed to be able to easily afford the rare and expensive items, yet you insist they be given to you at a price you set. The manufacturer is commited to the idea of getting you to part company with your money. If they can do it, then they are what I call "successful". If they can't, then they are what I call "unsuccessful".

Wouldn't the same be true of an outraged gamer who wants something they either can't afford or are unwilling to afford?

So let's use marraige as an example. Assume for a moment that you're a man. And being a man, you'd want a hot chick in your bed every night. She ought to be sexy, good looking, a gracious hostess, a fantastic cook, a skilled masseuse, have a six figure income, be faithful to a fault, agree with you in every way, laugh when you fart or leave the toilet seat up and believes in her heart that the Kama Sutra is the finest book ever written.

Now, if that ain't a rare item then I don't know what is. What I do know is that she exists. In fact, there are multiple copies of her. The problem in getting a wife like that into your collection is this --- she costs a lot. Not just in money either. Getting a rare wife means you too have to be rare. You have to be smart, funny, healthy, talented, understanding, a skilled masseur, a hard worker, a fantastic listener, strong, courageous, helpful, disciplined, compassionate and most of all... you have to be in touch with your feminine side.

Phew! That last one is a real deal breaker for me.

Collectibility always has a price. Frankly, I'd like to have a wife or two like the one I described above. But damned if I'm willing to do what it takes to get one. So... no Black Lotus of marital harmony for me... I'll be plenty satisfied with a few Vesuvan Dopplegangers or the occasional Stone Troll.

Children are the same. You want a good one? Then quit being so effin' selfish and greedy about your personal time or your own needs and wants. You can get a good kid only by sacrifice, the enduring willingness to put up with bullshit for several thousand days in a row, constant vigilance, a total commitment to the future and well-being of another life and a case-hardend outer shell that is immune to the fact that, for the most part, you will spend a good portion of your life being hated and reviled by the very people who sprang forth from your loins and who you gave up damned near everything you hold dear so they could have a good future.

With that in mind... is it really suprising that the planet is teeming with socially retarded drug-users who jam sewing needles through their genitals, tattoo tribal death symbols on their foreheads, dress worse than an Ethiopian refugee, treat everyone they know like dirt, spend their days free-basing and playing GTA and only work when it's time to get a new bong or a concert ticket?

You might think I'm stretching things just a bit to compare games to something as deadly serious and important as marraige and child-rearing... but to me there are similarities in the amount of emotion and anger that spews out when publishers don't do what some gamers think they ought to do. Gee, being upset about someone not doing what you think they ought to do? And there is some question about how I see that as similar to wives and children?

Game publishers who produce games that have a collectible, or even expandable nature are actually doing what we, the main gaming public, want. They are extending their franchise deeper into our gaming lives. That's exactly what we want. That's how I felt when I first played MTG and that's how I feel about Memoir '44. When I got hooked on Formula De I realized that above all else, at least regarding Formula De, I wanted more tracks. And more and more and more tracks.

When I read some condescending jerk on BGG asserting that publisher X is a greedy and unethical publisher because they designed the product to have expansions, I shudder... because I get claustrophobic just thinking about how cramped and tiny a mind you'd have to possess in order to be so thoroughly tunnel-visioned that you'd actually announce publically that you're a cheap screw who is childishly pissed off because you didn't get a Mercedes for the same price as a Ford.

BattleLore, Carcassone, Settlers and games like them are NOT collectible. But if you make a personal decision to own all the parts to them, they are more expensive than say... Monsters Menace America. Which is neither expandable or collectible. That's the way the games are designed and anyone who is suprised or angered by that is, to put it nicely, a total idiot. Not to mention a greedy and quite possibly evil little screw. The agenda of these greedy attack-gamers seems to be simple... if a publisher gets positive reviews for a game that somehow can't be purchased with all of it's parts at a drastic discount... then it's the publisher that is greedy. So long as the reader's attention is focused on, in this case, Days of Wonder, it won't be looking at why a person would spend any time at all bitching about something that doesn't even cost as much as a concert ticket to any of the popular geriatic rocker bands from the 60's and 70's.

Some people are just cheap. It's not an illness, it's a condition. And it's more than okay to be cheap. Hey, I shop at Costco too. That means a game system like the upcoming BattleLore or Settlers or any of the dozens of popular systems designed with expansions in mind probably aren't targeted at the uber-cheap game geek. My beef isn't with a gamer who understands what he wants and needs and adds that to his life within a budget. No, my beef is with the screeching freebie-whores who rant and rave endlessly on BGG about how awful publishers are for having the temerity to target a game system at someone other than them. And, to top it all off, to produce the system in a manner that makes it cost over $30.... even with the mega-parasite online discount.

Anyway, I'm mighty pleased to be writing about games again. I'm even happier that BGG has provided me with a new source of enjoyment and amazement. If I get the time I'm going to head over there and troll for a while.

Have a great Thanksgiving and keep the shiny side up!

17 comments:

Michael Leuchtenbung said...

I think you've misunderstood the objection.

What I see people objecting to is pig-in-a-poke style collectible games. It's one thing when you buy a box and you know exactly what you're getting, e.g. Blue Moon. It's not the same thing when you buy a "booster pack" and get some random selection of cards, none of which you may want.

Many of your "also evil" examples fall into the former category. The differences are things which obtain their value in the future. But movie tickets? Console games? Cars? I know exactly what I'm getting when I buy one of those. In the cars case there may be some variation in quality, but I can read about any production problems ahead of time.

Now, I wouldn't qualify making CCGs as evil. But I'm not going to play any pig-in-a-poke games either. I know I can't afford them, so I don't buy them. Simple as that.

Philippe said...

First, I have no strong opinion on the debate at hand. Still, I don't like logical fallacies no matter which side uses them. I therefore find it funny and sad to find one here in the form of a straw man argument:

"But that's not really the point from the "victim's" way of looking at things. Their point is simple... they want it all and they want it cheap. Any publisher who fails to deliver is therefore evil and greedy."

Immediately followed by an appeal to a presumed fallacy from the other party:

"Words and phrases are crafted specifically to support a theory or platform and any information that doesn't bolster the "point" is left out of the dialog."

If a text is meant to be funny and interesting to read, don't craft it as an argument. If its meant as an argument, please beware of logical fallacies that work more towards heating a debate than towards discussing a point.

Gerald McD said...

DW -- You don't need to go trolling on BGG; looks like you are doing quite well here on Gone Gaming.

I have to agree with you completely, which is a bit unusual for us. I've complained about the amount of money I spent on collectible games (MTG) in the past, but I also recognize outstanding marketing and retailing. I just gave up the game and quite buying the product. That doesn't change the fact that it's a highly successful venture, and I have no problems with the company producing more of the same.

I liked your article very much ----- unless you have a hidden paragraph that you will sell on eBay for an outlandish amount ---- in which case you are truly evil!

Fellonmyhead said...

Now wait a minute; I have an extensive collection of boardgames from the cheap to the unique and it took a long time and a lot of money to build up.

I am NOT a cheapskate, I do NOT expect something for nothing but I never look a gift horse in the mouth.

Now you pipe up and tell me I AM a cheapskate because I dismiss the collectible hobby as expensive and not worth the potential outlay before I can actually compete? Do me a favour!

Game producers who release a collectable range of any description are NOT doing what we - the gaming public - want. They are a business and the whole concept of collectables is a money-spinner as it always has been. Call a game expandable, collectable or whatever you like - the extras are there to entice the buyer into parting with his or her dosh for the latest cards, minis, opportunity for extra players, scenarios or whatever.

The concept is much older than collectable (or customisable or expandable) games - cigarette cards, marbles, models, train-sets, toy soldiers, conkers and the like have been collected, compared and contested for longer than any of us can remember. The economic model is older still; so don't try filling our heads full of this fantasy that it's being done for our benefit.

You, out of all of us, ought to know for the whole collectable thing to work best there needs to be a mutual benefit - it's clearly there for the few but imagine what kind of profits a firm would make if we all thought it was a great idea.

Now look what you've done to me! I'll have to take BattleLore off my wishlist!

Then again, perhaps not...

Iain said...

Game producers who release a collectable range of any description are NOT doing what we - the gaming public - want.

Rubbish. If they weren't producing what people want, they'd stop it and sell something else.

Or do you actually speak on behalf of all the gaming public, rather than the game buying public?

I dismiss the collectible hobby as expensive and not worth the potential outlay before I can actually compete?

but you don't actually have to compete for Big! Money! Prizes! Magic and VS (which is the only CCG I'm collecting because of my comics jones) can be played casually and often are. It's been pointed out time and time again, you choose how much you want to outlay. There are formats for those who like the system/components but don't want to buy everything (like me) and there are formats for those who want to win Big! Money! Prizes!

Sure the publisher can skew things to encourage people to buy the latest cards, but ban lists and so forth only exist on the tournament circuit - they don't have to be an issue for the casual gamer.

And CCGs (like many other small pleasures) can give you a cheap little buzz every time you open a booster. I don't find that objectionable.

Craig said...

While I agree with your sentiments on this one DW, I find it slightly ironic that as the champion of "buy local" you made reference to shopping at Costco. That is all

DWTripp said...

What I see people objecting to is pig-in-a-poke style collectible games.

Not so. Many, many of the threads are filled with outrage at BattleLore, which is NOT collectible. But, it has been branded as such by the mini-mooches. Why? because they wanted the stupid Hill Giant and the 35% discount.

But even automobiles are sales that have "expansions". That's why they only have one set of mats (if any) and a host of other things to buy after having paid for a perfectly usable car.

Phillipe ~ Straw man arguments are my specialty. While what you cite may or may not be a logical fallacy, it most certainly is adding heat to the fire. Believe it or not, there is a huge point in my article... but's hidden amongst the dross.

Thanks Gerald and yes, my British friend is cheap. But it's a good, solid cheap. Not the whiny and weak cheap we all scorn.

Rubbish. If they weren't producing what people want, they'd stop it and sell something else.

Iain and I are on the same page here. I visited the two main locals stores today. The shelfs were racked to the limit with true collectible games of every stripe. Both selling well, while I was visiting. Fact is, CCG, CMG, CSG and whatever the hell you call that collectible chip game, they are still the 800 pound gorilla.

Oh yeah, and the Costco I use is local, just like my friendly Walmart... plus, they have great deals on coffee and meat.

Fellonmyhead said...

Or do you actually speak on behalf of all the gaming public, rather than the game buying public?

Well alright, I can't speak for everybody. I was referring to the gaming public (as DW did, it appears, wrt BGG posters) but realistically only a small cross-section are actively complaining.

As for the game-buying public, I will never really be able to speak on their behalf - they only think they want it because they haven't got it. And that's the same hook that any collectable product has used over the last century (and to be honest I even take the bait myself from time to time - that's why I only get to play one third of my collection).

Peer said...

We just had the same discussion about Battlelore on spielbox.de - i might put a link here ;-)

I do understand people who dont buy collectibles, because its too much a hassle, since you dont know what youll get (I dont buy CCG).
What I dont understand is to dismissing games like Battlelore on the ground, that "I cant buy everything from Battle lore -It will be too expensive. And thats makes me mad" I believe its teh same crop, that whines that collectors items sell so expansive at ebay (or the Essen Fleamarket). Well here is message: If they werent expensive, they werent collecters items!

Anonymous said...

The original argument against CCGs was that having bought the most cards was at least as important as skill, when it came to winning the game.

DWTripp said...

The original argument against CCGs was that having bought the most cards was at least as important as skill, when it came to winning the game.

True. To some extent though this is also whining. In most serious forms of competition the spoils almost always go to the competitor who is the best prepared. Preparing nearly always involves a greater financial and time commitment. Whether it's athletics, racing, console gaming or CCG's, why should the individual who efforts the most be hamstrung because others want to win without making the same efforts he did?

WotC "solved" this with Type II while leaving Type I in place for the "real" MTG players.

From my perspective competition CCG tournaments are fair because the ground rules are set, transparent and anyone who enters is aware beforehand of what they are up against.

Most of the whining on other forums stems from the same loser attitude that irks me about board gamers who get pissed because they want something but don't want to spend the money to get it that is often required.

Anonymous said...

>>The original argument against CCGs was that having bought the most cards was at least as important as skill, when it came to winning the game.

DW>True. To some extent though this is also whining. In most serious forms of competition the spoils almost always go to the competitor who is the best prepared. Preparing nearly always involves a greater financial and time commitment.

Me-> So this is about serious competition now? How about the MTG playing 10-12 year olds at my son's school. There's some skill, sure, but victory goes to the kid who's parents will pay for the most cards as far as I can see. A game in which victory goes to the person who spends the most money is a game about, duh, who spends the most money.

Al Tabor

Fellonmyhead said...

Have you seen the related thread on BGG (a similar subject but not so much whining)?

In my case BattleLore will probably receive similar treatment as I have minis from various sources at a similar scale coming out of my ears.

It's a shame we can't take the same approach with games such as MTG as I might play them more...

DWTripp said...

A game in which victory goes to the person who spends the most money is a game about, duh, who spends the most money.

Ah, now we're talking about kids in elementary and jr. high. The fertile spawning grounds of the world's future mega-whiners.

Look, it's simple - if you spend 10 hours a day playing Halo and I spend 2 hours a week at it, then you'll most likely kick my ass every time we play. So, if you spend $100 on a CCG and I spend $10, then when we play you'll most likely have better cards... and, unless you're really stupid, will beat me almost all the time.

What would I do? Why, I'd find someone to play against who was less committed... perhaps to a similar degree as me.

Of course, I could always just go to BGG and bleat endlessly about how awful it is that the evil publisher produced a game that was too expensive for the level of commitment I was willing to offer... which, of course, makes them bad and me the victim.

Dr. Matt J. Carlson said...

It's funny, I don't really mind WoTC and MtG too much simply because they hadn't "intended" to produce a collectible game as a marketing tool. (It was a cool game mechanic at first...)

I'm interested in CCGs and collectible games, but don't care to play them precisely because of the more money=more power formula.

I'd be willing to spend extra time to learn a game to get better (uggh... Quake), but I see no challenge in simply buying more cards to win a game. Where is the challenge in that?

Also, collectible games often hide their cost. I find this frustrating. Can you really play a decent game of Magic with two players and two starter decks? So many of the collectible games have areas of the game that only come into play if a player has access to a large library of cards of minis. I'm not willing to buy that much stuff.

Yes, I'm cheap. $70 is fine for a game if I know I'm going to get value for my money (BattleLore), but there are plenty of CCGs or collectible mini games out there where I would need to spend far more to be even slightly competitive with local players.

I do agree that BattleLore, Heroscape, etc... are all NOT collectible games. I don't find problems with them at all. I just don't like games where the return for my investment is uncertain.

DWTripp said...

I do agree that BattleLore, Heroscape, etc... are all NOT collectible games. I don't find problems with them at all. I just don't like games where the return for my investment is uncertain.

Well said, and pretty much fits the way I feel about collectible games.

Chance said...

Let the gamer beware seems to be a good attitutde to have when dealing with collectibles. I got caught up in the original Magic craze and didn't like it so I got out. So now when I buy a game that is considered collectilbe I try to make sure I can play it without the expansion. Then IF I like I'll pick more pieces. Some like Formula DEU (not truly collectible I realize) I end up buying all sorts of bells and whistles others like HEROCLIX (I'm embarassed to admit) I bought because I like the little figures.