Friend of the Chicago Geek Guy, James Nettum returns to offer some thoughts on a recent shift in the game industry.

[OBLIGATORY DISCLAIMER: The following is my opinion alone, and doesn’t reflect that of places I work, or the people I work for. I’m writing this on my free time, after all.]

Here’s a thought experiment:

Pretend that the Walt Disney Company makes a deal with AMC Entertainment that gives AMC theaters exclusive screening rights to all future Disney movies and re-screenings shown in the United States. Naturally, this would affect all Disney holdings, like future pictures by Lucasfilm, Marvel, and Pixar. I think that getting tickets to see the next Disney Animation/Star Wars/Avengers/Incredibles entry would get a lot harder. AMC may be the largest theater chain in the USA, but they aren’t everywhere. Wikipedia says that AMC has 7,852 screens, but that won’t nearly be enough to seat everyone who wants to see Episode 8. A deal like this would make Disney’s distribution a lot easier, and would definitely make absolute bank for AMC. And just as definite would be how much worse it would make life for everyone who wanted to go to the movie theater.

Here’s my thought process on that last part: Want to see a non-Disney movie at your local AMC? Too bad

Here’s my thought process on that last part: Want to see a non-Disney movie at your local AMC? Too bad, all screens are currently showing Toy Story 4. Don’t live near an AMC? Looks like you’re going on a road trip. (Hope you got your tickets in advance.) Want to make a complaint against some really bad customer service you got from AMC? They aren’t going to listen, because Disney, Marvel, and Pixar movies sell themselves. Your ticket money won’t be missed. This imaginary arrangement is seriously anti-consumer!

Thankfully, the above is just a thought experiment. (And as side note: I only picked AMC because they’re the largest theater chain in the United States. I don’t actually have anything against them. They’re okay in my book.) Unfortunately, something similar actually happened in the gaming industry today, when Asmodee North America announced an exclusive hobby distribution deal with Alliance Games Distributors. (ICv2 has a good summary here: https://icv2.com/articles/news/view…) Asmodee North America handles all North American distribution for Asmodee, Catan Studio, Days of Wonder, Fantasy Flight, Plaid Hat Games, Space Cowboys, and Z-Man Games. Alliance, meanwhile, is the hobby games distribution arm for Diamond Comic Distributors, Incdistributor to that part later.) My initial thoughts on this pairing are fluctuating between “this isn’t good” and something comprised of 90% obscenities that I will not type out.

I feel that both the Friendly Local Game Store, and the end user are going to suffer a lot under this arrangement.

Given how my mind isn’t currently stuck on the obscenities, I’m going to explain why I think this is a bad thing. And I’m speaking both as a lifelong gamer, and a ten plus year employee of a brick-and-mortar game store. Because I feel that both the Friendly Local Game Store, and the end user are going to suffer a lot under this arrangement.

Let me start off by addressing exclusive distribution deals in general (at least in terms of the gaming industry): I don’t like them. Currently brick-and-mortar stores have several distributors available to them. If one distributors is out of an item, a store isn’t out of luck because they have other options. If a high-demand product is going to release soon and shortages are anticipated, a store can put preorders in with multiple distributors who will carry the product, helping to ensure availability. But when one distributor has an exclusive, that flexibility is gone. Every store in the nation now has the same one option, and if that distributor can’t help them, the store is screwed. Which, in turn, means its customers are screwed.

Speaking of highly demanded product, in my experience exclusive deals don’t actually help shortages at all. When multiple distributors are putting in orders for a hot item, more options open for the manufacturer. They have a better idea how much of a product to make; they have multiple warehouse to store the product; they have multiple sources of income to fund the printing, and shipping. If a manufacturer goes though one distributor only, the paperwork probably goes down. But they also lose multiple buyers, multiple warehouses, and multiple sources of revenue. Less product gets made because less product can be stored and distributed effectively. Which, in turn, means customers are screwed.

Of all the distributors I’ve worked with, Alliance has been the biggest source of trouble.

This brings me to Alliance. Of all the distributors I’ve worked with, Alliance has been the biggest source of trouble. In the interest of fairness, will first say everything nice I can about them: All of the sales reps I’ve worked with have been extremely friendly. … That’s it.

As for the troubles, I will attempt to be brief. Rarely have I checked in a shipment that isn’t damaged somehow due to poor packing. Only slightly more rare are the shipments with incorrect quantities or flat-out incorrect items. Fixing all of those problems in a long process. It takes days to get a call tag to ship out the incorrect/damaged goods. It can take weeks to get the credit applied to your account. Hope you have more money to reorder the items you didn’t get, or didn’t get in salable condition. Hope your customers are forgiving and don’t demand refunds.

Now imagine combining the problems with exclusives with the problems with Alliance. Actually, stop imagining it because it’s happening now, has happened before, and will happen again. Alliance has the exclusive deal on Attack Wing, Dice Masters, HeroClix, Mayfair Games, and others. They used to have (and soon will again) the exclusive deal on Days of Wonder, and Z-Man Games. (In a painful twist of coincidence, it was originally Asmodee who broke that exclusivity when they acquired Days of Wonder, and Z-Man.) Now that list is about to grow on August 1st. Supply problems were bad for Star Wars Destiny in the past. I can’t see them getting any better now that every store in North America only has one distribution channel to get it through. Combine this with Alliance’s history of damaged and/or misshaped product… Hello once again, customers getting screwed.

You cannot run a comic shop without dealing with Diamond.

And this leads me straight to Alliance’s parent company, Diamond Comic Distributors, Inc. For those of you who don’t know, for years now Diamond has been the exclusive distributor to the comic book specialty market for Dark Horse, DC, Image and Marvel. You cannot run a comic shop without dealing with Diamond. And if you want to know about Diamond’s customer service, sit down with a roomful of comic store owners and ask about their experiences with them. I can practically guarantee that you’ll far more complaints than praise.

After all, why should Diamond change? Comic stores have no choices besides dealing with them, or going out of business. And now Alliance has just taken a big step into holding that same threat to any hobby gaming store. I cannot imagine running a store without Catan, Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, Splendor, or the myriad of Star Wars games that FFG makes, among other products that have become staples of the industry. Therefore I cannot see Alliance’s customers service to those stores improving any time soon.

And once again I see the end user, the final customer, the gamer, getting screwed the worst. I hope I’m wrong, but my experience doesn’t leave me feeling positive.

And now the obscenities are creeping back into my brain. I’m going to vent them on video games now. Friday the 13th is the likely choice.

 

[REPETITION OF OBLIGATORY DISCLAIMER: The following is my personal opinion, and mine alone. It does not reflect that of places I work, or the people I work for.]

About the Author

James Nettum started playing RPG’s while in fourth grade, sneaking in sessions of AD&D on the playground of his Catholic school. He went pro at the age of 25 when he took a position at Pegasus Games in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been there 10 years and plays every sort of game, except collectibles.