Monday, March 19, 2012

Elitism vs. Professionalism

Working in the game trade can be intensely frustrating. Most, not some, but most people you work with on a professional level don't have their act together. Part of this is the barrier to entry in the game trade, which doesn't exist. If you want to start a restaurant, the city will put hurdles in your way: sewage hookups, health inspectors, extra fees and certifications. Distributors in other trades might have minimum initial orders of thousands of dollars. Want to start a game store? Great, sign a lease and put in your first $100 order.

I'm not going to argue that there should be a higher barrier to entry, although I have in the past. It's incredibly easy to start a game store, publish a game product, or even start a distributorship, if you know where to start. That's the trade. The guy with the home office is on the same playing field with the staff in the multi-story office building. The 10,000 square foot game store is in the same town with the guy with 40K racks in his T-shirt shop. Unfortunately, this leads to ... inconsistencies. It leads to a level of confusion, lack of communication, and jackassery that you might not be familiar with if you came from, say Earth.

In the face of such jackassery, asshattery, or my favorite from the late Amy Winehouse who asks "What kind of fuckery is this?" the tendency is elitism. Elitism is the turning away. It's turning your back on all the nonsense and cloaking yourself in your consistent, happy reality. The game trade is plagued with elitism. The publishers hate the retailers and the distributors, seeing them as an unnecessary evil and turn instead to the fans as their salvation. The distributors turn their back on the publishers, paying them slowly and communicating with them (and about them) poorly. Retailers become haughty and cagey, with inscrutable business decisions and a tendency to look down on customers who don't see things their way, publishers that don't tow their line, or distributors that don't understand them.

What we end up with is a silo effect. Very good people with very good businesses stay in their silo and decide not to deal with the outside world. They skip trade shows, they shun customers, they create processes that are all about them, and not about their clients or customers. They despise other retailers who don't do it like them. The silo is a symptom of elitism. The silo takes the people who could make a difference and locks them up in self-imposed exile.

What we need is more professionalism. Where elitism is turning your back on what plagues you, professionalism is facing it head on, every day. It's taking on the stupid, on a daily basis, and maybe, over time, finding a way to fix the stupid. This openness is where we find growth, both as individual businesses and as an industry. In fact, the beacons of professionalism in this industry tend to be the ones that are wildly successful right now, be they publishers, distributors or retailers. I know, because I seek them out. I want to stand next to them. I want to give them my money or my respect. Their open attitude keeps me from hiding in my silo. And when I start acting more professional with my peers, it turns out it doesn't look so bad out there after all.

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