Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Ass Pain Award

--Bully Pulpit Mode On--

Each year the game industry gives out awards to the companies that are the biggest pains in the ass, disproportional to their sales levels. For example, Wizards of the Coast would seem like a major ass pain, with product released to mass market allowed to break street dates while they hold back product from the game trade. However, their sales levels are high enough to not make the list. In other words, their ass pain is in balance, even if they make the same mistakes repeatedly and take up a lot of our time. This award goes to the small companies that cause more ass pain than warranted.

Actually I'm making this up, but let's run with it.

Here are this year's ass pain winners:
  1. Rackham. Rackham gets first place this year. Their product was delayed for most of 2007 and they lied by blaming their distribution partners. Then they turned around and went with another ass-pain winner for distribution, Fantasy Flight Games, reducing the margins for retailers without raising prices. This retailer squeeze is a major ass pain for sure. Worse, a good number of their AT-43 models, probably 10% or so, arrive broken or damaged. Add to this a bankruptcy in France and the need to explain this to their customers and you've got the 2007 Ass Pain Award winner.
  2. Whiz-Kids. Here we have a company that tries very hard, has its heart in the right place, but falls down a lot. We began the year with Whiz Kids announcing an exclusive distribution deal with Alliance. This means that if you don't use Alliance primarily, ordering their product is a major ass pain, as it doesn't come in on your regular order. For us, it's almost like going direct. The real pain has been in the early release of product to mass market, like Target and video game stores, despite written assurances that this would not happen. And of course, it happened repeatedly. This makes stores look stupid when they find out from customers that a game is in EBgames, for example, before the game store gets it. I'm just glad they figured out how to do "hang tabs" so product doesn't continually fall off the shelf, a problem we had for two years with Heroclix. Whiz-Kids is excellent at damage control, I must say, but it comes from lots of practice.
  3. Fantasy Flight Games. Reducing the retailer discount without increasing prices was last year's move, although this year we have the Starcraft board game at a miserable 38% discount. This year has been about availability and under printing product, either intentionally or without much thought. At the same time, they've got plenty of stock to sell direct at conventions or on their web site. Combine this with distributing for Rackham and we've got a major ass pain. Kudos though for getting Arkham Horror out in time for Halloween, the first time in three years.
  4. Upper Deck. This is a company that only gives support to direct Upper Deck accounts (although they didn't seem to be taking new accounts last year). It's a company that signs agreements with mass market to give them two week headstarts on their new releases. In other words, they're happy to use the game trade as a test market for the mass market. They have no street dates and rarely give distributors enough time to pre-order. As games become successful, the slowly squeeze the margin. They claim they don't do this because Upper Deck doesn't believe in "retail pricing" although they sell their own product on their website (a de-facto retail price).
  5. Mongoose Publishing. It's not telling customers they're shorting the US market on Battlefield Evolution and that they should get their product direct from Mongoose that gets them on the list. The ass pain with Mongoose is in their switchover to self-published books for their various role-playing games. These warped, overpriced monstrosities turn what should be a pleasant purchasing experience into a distressing situation. It's barely a step up from a Kinko's job and worse, the page count doesn't justify the price. To add insult to injury, new books are coming out that combine past books -- that should have been combined all along! Mongoose is just a minor ass pain for us, since we know not to expect too much.

Those are the top five winners for 2007! Thanks everyone for voting. There will be cocktails in the lounge.

--Bully Pulpit Mode Off--


  1. As a customer the biggest ass pain on that list is Mongoose. Whereas many of the problems you gave for the other manufacturers are only visible to the retailer and not the consumer, the Mongoose issues are very visible to the consumer. Add to the ones you listed that they either don't playtest or ignore their playtesters and you end up with ugly, overpriced, and unplayable books. On top of that, the one thing that they do well is to license popular properties.

    So, if you're a fan of Conan, Starship Troopers, Babylon 5, RuneQuest or now Traveller, you can't just ignore them as the hacks that they are.

    You know what the most common reaction I saw to the news that Rackham was entering bankruptcy? "Why couldn't it have been Mongoose?"

  2. As an aspiring retailer I was aware of most of these issues (Upper Deck was a new one to me) however it's really good to see these put into context by someone in your position. So thanks from me for this.

    Aside - Why do you keep referring to WizKids as Whiz-Kids?

  3. My mistake for not referring to them with their proper name, WizKids. I'm not sure why I think there should be an "h" in there.

  4. Perhaps this might help?

  5. I just figured it was a freudian slip ;-)

  6. Mongoose have said that they will replace all books that aren't up to standard - Mongoose Guarantee - although not sure if that applies to retailers...

  7. Does that include the ones that are poorly written? ;-)

    The problem is that I've yet to see a single book that I'd consider to be "up to standard" since they switched to their print-on-demand system. Every single one of the covers is warped, and it seems that it's a fault of the system they are using. I'd be surprised if they could supply me with a book that I would consider to be acceptable.

  8. I should check the link before posting. They don't mention the warped covers, just loose and wrinkled pages on a few select products. From what I've seen, they don't seem to consider the cover warping to be a major issue.

  9. How could it be a major issue if you bought the book with that warped cover on it. We've got your money already, so it's not an issue to US...

  10. I know you're being tongue-in-cheek, but the warped cover has actually been the deciding factor in keeping me from buying several Mongoose books. I might overlook it if the rest of the product was stellar, but it isn't.