by Mike Brodeur
This being my first article I feel obligated to provide you, dear reader, with some background. I love gaming. Not digital. I love the real deal, analog. Tabletop. RPGs, miniatures wargaming, board, and card. I love the industry. It has paid my bills for the better part of my adulthood. The hobby has been an essential factor in my happiness since I was a kid. I love it so much I quit my very stable job as the Miniature Market Retail Superstore Event Coordinator to strike out on my lonesome as a gaming journalist.
My trip to the GAMA Expo in Reno, NV was my first time at the show since 2015 when I was elected to the Retail Board. I stepped down several months later, but that is a tale for a different venue. The show had changed. The organization had changed. Both just enough that the event was exciting yet comfortable. Publishers, retailers, designers, manufacturers, distributors, pretty much anyone involved in the life of a game except for the end consumer. Even product reviewers and press.
You see, when you go to consumer facing shows it’s all about you, the consumer. The new hotness direct to you, no waiting. No pesky three tier distribution system. Discounts to the end consumer and higher profit margins for the game company. Don’t get me wrong. I would do it too. (If I were a publisher I would absolutely go to cons and sell directly to the end consumer. But I do have a firm understanding of the value that the FLGS [Friendly Local Game Store] brings to a products life cycle.) Consumer facing shows are not the kind of places where industry professionals have the time to talk to the likes of me. GAMA is a business to business expo. Not Bilderberg shit, simply time to focus on industry business with other industry professionals. It’s an opportunity to network, and to let your hair down. It’s a great show and a valuable organization. If you are an industry professional and not a member of GAMA you should inquire. (No, GAMA is not compensating me for my endorsement.) Despite the looming specter of COVID-19, keeping in mind that this was early March, my encounters at the expo this year where plentiful and pleasant.
I did have one bizarre exchange, however, with the OP. Usaopoly. Late afternoon, in the exhibit hall, I had already taken a quite a few pictures and stuck my voice recorder in a number of industry faces. I stepped in front of the OP booth, camera and mono-pod at the ready. Before I could focus on anything, a young woman hastily approached insisting that I may not take any pictures of the booth. I found it odd, but complied. Why come to an industry trade show, set up an obviously professional and well executed marketing display, and not want some free press? Whatever, no worries.
Then she demanded to see my camera.
“Okay,” I thought. “How do I play this?” Fuck it, roll over and don’t make a scene.
I assured her that I had not taken any pictures of their booth. (Which I had not, but the next day sources inside The Influence foundation where able to secure a large number. Both of the booth and the offending sales rep.) I declined to show her my camera and walked away. I know, what a bitch, right? Not her, me! If I walked away from that confrontation what kind of integrity do I possess to pursue a story?
You see, I let my prejudice cloud my judgement. When I think of the great gaming companies the OP does not come to mind. I view them like carpetbaggers. Not legit members of the tribe, but corporatist whores min-maxing profits. It turns out I may well be mistaken. When I reached out to the OP for comment, they were professional and super cool. Fuck.
This is the explanation I received from the OP’s Senior Marketing Manager, Jake Davis:
” Without going to deep into the weeds here, we are unique in several ways that limits any photos that can be taken at the show. Due to so many licensors we work with, we don’t always have final approval to have items photographed. We get special permission from licensors to show to retailers only. We let them know we will not have any photos taken of the booth to ensure we will have something for our sales team to sell and for retailers to view while at the show. And since some things are not final, we need to put a mandate for no photos for the whole booth to ensure nothing gets leaked online before we either have final approval or have even announced ourselves. Believe me, we would love to have everything photographed, but we need to be careful with so many big licensors to ensure nothing gets out before it is supposed to. It creates a lot of problems when this happens.”
Not the conspiracy of Sanchezian proportion I had envisioned. (Though they do have Bob Ross Monopoly… that makes me feel the wiggins. Seriously, who’s the strumpet? The deceased Mr. Ross or his estate?)
My natural inclination is to argue and throw bombs. I have a cork board littered in photos, festooned with push-pins, and bound by the insinuations of red yarn. My white board is bloated with questions for these interlopers, the OP. I mean come on, what a douchey moniker! My instinct was to see them as “other,” not legitimate kin. Surely, I cannot be the only person that felt this way.
I had been out of direct industry contact for too long. I found myself falling into a rooky retailer trap. I let my preference and prejudice influence what I thought was necessary product for the true end consumer. The people whom I deemed as bonafide members of our analog gaming federation. We all make judgement calls about what does and does not fit our brand, but I lost sight of the target audience. Their target audience. Plus, I got butt-hurt that I am not a part of it.
The OP has licenses ranging from Rick & Morty, to Dragonball Z, to Toy Story. Sure, they slap some cool ones on games that I consider shit (Monopoly and Talisman to name two). They also publish truly worthwhile license and design combinations. For example, Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle (a co-op deck building game, which according to the OP website has a second edition coming soon). I may not care for many, and own even fewer OP titles, but they have a place in the hobby. Whether that is providing exposure to the uninitiated or crushing the market with the occasional hit. I’d wager this makes them worth a second look, or at least a slightly tempered and more rational approach than I was originally inspired toward.
Usaopoly is no more or less a part of this industry than they choose to be. Just like the rest of us I suppose.