Monday, July 30, 2007

Hated Questions

Ah, retail. Everyone has horror stories, or glory stories, or something. I have my hated questions. Questions that I hate to hear. They aren't bad questions - in fact, they are good questions, but they're asked by the wrong people, or at the wrong time.

Let's tackle the first one. Person walks into the store, looks around a bit, perhaps a bit of initial banter betwixt me and they confirming that yes, indeed this is a game store and we sell games. Perhaps a bit of clarification about the lack of video games. Then it comes.

"What's the hot game?"

ah. If only there was a proper answer to this1. An honest answer that I could feel good about. But let's run through the real problems with this question. You refers to the person mentioned above. Not you, the Gone Gaming Reader.

1. There are about 4-8 major categories of games in this shop2. Different people shop for different games. Do you want the Hot Roleplaying game? Probably not. So which type of game do you care about?

2. The "Hot" game isn't necessarily the game you (the asker) want to be shown. Case in point - Spring of 2006. Caylus hit US shores in December of 2005. Supply was short and wouldn't even out until May of 2006. It was in demand. No one could deny that Caylus was the "Hot" Strategy game. And I would never mention it to anyone who didn't already understand the words "Settlers" "Ticket to Ride" and "Puerto Rico". So you probably don't want to know the hawt newness.

3. Really, you are probably asking what the newest FAD is. You've heard about Pokemon and Yugioh. You remember Trivial Pursuit and Pictionary. Perhaps you want to be ahead of the curve with "What the Kids are playing these days". Unfortunately, most of the time, the newest fad isn't a game. Games made great fads when manufactured party games broke into the mainstream, but that was twenty years ago. Sadly. And the days of fad CCGs are over3. Thankfully.

So really, there's no answer that is satisfactory. I can make a couple snap judgments and talk about Pokemon making a comeback, or talk up Ticket or Carc or Settlers, or mention that Dungeons and Dragons is still around. Toss around the big names. But ultimately, there's no really good answer. Maybe you leave impressed with the variety and ingenuity of games these days. Often you leave wondering why there isn't a new Trivial Pursuit4. So I'm left to rant.

Another question.
This one is situational, and mostly down to my own preferences, because it is:

"What's your favorite game?"

Oh how I cringe. First, see item one above. I'm blessed and cursed to have played and enjoyed multiple games in many genres. Can I really compare a role-playing game to a board game to toy soliders?

Second, I'm not usually asked this by a seasoned gamer. It's usually someone to whom I'm currently explaining Ticket to Ride or Warhammer or Settlers. Segueing from Ticket into an 18xx game isn't really the best idea. Not only will I probably lose all chance of 'making a sale', but I'll probably also lose any chance of 'making a gamer'. All from a perfectly reasonable question5

Finally, I personally fail royally at naming a 'favorite game'. I'm constantly amazed that 'geeks can make Top 10 lists without major qualifications. Oddly enough, this is related to my inability to rate games. This year I took myself to task and have managed to start rating games under the special aaron scale - Great, Good, Okay, and Horrible. Even that is hard for me. My list of great games is long. My list of Horrible games is short. So even when qualified properly - i.e. "What's your favorite Ticket to Ride game?" I wind up dithering between Marklin and America+1910. Sigh. I'm such a failure.

Of course these questions follow me outside the store as well. I'll be at a party and when the inevitable query about jobs cycles to me6, these are the two most common follow-up questions. Even harder to answer when you are sitting outside and trying to not think about selling games. Probably just as hard to answer if I didn't sell games! To continue beating my analogy to death, it's much faster to explain my 'favorite' game Ticket to Ride than my 'favorite' game 1830. At least there's no chance of 1830 being the 'hot' game.

Ah. Ranting.


1Don't get the wrong idea about this - I've got nice pat answers to these questions, developed through extensive testing (uh, yeah). Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. So in some respect, I've found the proper answer. But I still like to rant about it.

2Depending how much you want to break "board games" down. I usually break it into Kids, Strategy, Party, and Classic, which sort of covers the different type of people that might be looking for a game. (Miniatures, RPG, Collectibles, and Puzzles are the others).

3Except for some foolish insanity about the World of Warcraft CCG last fall. But thankfully it went away quickly. Very quickly. Barely even counted as a fad.

4A side note. This year has been the year of suck for trivial pursuit. Hasbro usually issues a new edition every 2-3 years. We've been stuck with 6 for a couple years (plus all the mostly-bad decade editions). This year, Hasbro not only did not release a new basic set, they discontinued shipping on Edition 6 and have announced the release of "The Best of Trivial Pursuit". Wow. What a lame edition. "We couldn't come up with any new Trivia, so we're recycling old questions"! And the retailer is left with no Trivial Pursuit to sell for most of 2007.

5At this point I usually rephrase the question into "oh, between Settlers and Ticket I like Ticket better!"

6And it's clear that these same questions would pop up if asked what my hobby was, or some other way. But it's far more frequent to be asked what your job is than what you do in your spare time.


Anonymous said...

Variety is the spice of life.

Smatt said...

My answer to the first one: Blokus, Ticket to Ride, Settlers. Usually this person will be fascinated with Blokus enough to buy it. Missoula is a bit behind the times, so to speak, so the Blokus craze has hit last year and this year.

My answer to the second one: chess. People seem to get it without further explanation.

What kills me is when people question my judgment about what they might like or not like. How can you know? is usually what I get. The answer is I can't know for sure. But I go off averages. My answers are not bible truth, but I've played so many games and watched so many reactions to so many different games that I have a better idea than the average person. If someone's grandma likes dominoes and cards and games that last 20 minutes, it is unlikely that they'll embrace Shadows over Camelot with open arms. Time and again, I watch personal friends torture their other friends with a game of Settlers when I knew in the first minute if that person (or persons) would like it or not. When will people trust the game guy?

This is of course counterbalanced with the array of wonderful customers who listen to a recommendation (a rec that was given after careful consideration), buy a game, and a week later tell me how well it worked out. They can't all work, but if customer and salesperson work together to find a good match, it will work out much more often than not.

Anonymous said...

That makes me think of this odd movie with Matthew Broderick called "The Night We Never Met" in which he plays a chef that works in an upscale deli. He's driven crazy by customers that want what's popular, rather than what he thinks is good. Very funny movie.

Annie said...

I used to work at a game store and find myself at the store a few times a week at different game nights, etc. And friends all know that I know a lot of games. So I still get the "what's hot? What's your favorite?" questions all the time. I completely agree with you, this gets old real fast. But if the questions are well-intentioned and people don't have expectations and actually listen to what you have to say it can actually lead to a decent conversation. So at least there's a potential for a positive interaction (though as you are well aware this isn't always the case).

But the comment that really drives me crazy is when I mention a game maker's name or say something like, "this game is by the same guy who created Settlers (or whatever)." Sometimes I see people's eyes get big, "Wow," they say, "People actually make a game maker or something." This revolutionary realization also comes to some people/friends when I introduce a few new games to them over the course of a few weeks or months. Somewhere around week 4, they look at me all proud and say, "man, someone actually made this game, don't you think? I mean, I wonder if there are people who's job it is is to make games. Wouldn't that be fun?!"
While I applaud the realization, I'm also shocked that it isn't obvious sooner. It makes me want to look at a book shelf in one of their homes and say, man, did someone actually "write" these books? Or are they computer generated? (And, I might add, "Wouldn't it be fun to write books, since they're so enjoyable to read, they must be fun and easy to make!").
I'm never quick enough in the moment though and usually end up just awkwardly listing names of my favorite game makers, or else telling people about meeting game makers at Origins.
What I really want to say is, Come on folks, people have been inventing, making, creating, games since the beginning of time. Just because the boxes at the game store are all shiny and new does not mean this is some new art. Thanks to game makers through the ages, life is a lot more fun than it would be otherwise. I'm just sorry that game makers don't always get the credit (even just conceptually) that they deserve from mean, non-gamers.