Coalition of the Unwilling
Since we decided to design a board game based on the war on terror, we've become persona non grata in many circles. Some reactions have been inevitable, some have been confusing, while others just plain hypocritcal. So we thought we'd share this little insight into the irrational corporate world.
We don't expect Mothercare to stock our game. Or even Toys 'R' Us. We know this game isn't for everyone, so the companies and businesses listed on this page are only those who had no good reason (or offered none) to back out.
In roughly reverse chronological order ...
Zavvi are an unfortunate addition to our infamous Coalition of the Unwilling. We didn't want to see them here. They could have been heroes but instead... Well, let's go back to the beginning:
Back when Zavvi were still Virgin Megastores, they placed a massive order (for us) in Summer 2007. In fact, after our Powerpoint presentation was shown at a big purchasing meeting of all store managers, they were so taken by the idea they ordered 5,000. They said War on Terror was going to be in all 130 stores and form a "major part of their Christmas offering". Our first High Street outlet! We were grinning like Cheshire cats at this point and it was pretty difficult keeping the news under our hats.
We had to borrow quite a bit of money to get Zavvi's games made, but that's OK because a purchase order is a binding contract. It's a promise to pay. No worries. The first shipment of games arrived and got sent out to all Zavvi stores, nationwide. When the big day came, we checked three different stores and were puzzled to find no War on Terror anywhere. Apparently, while virtually everyone at Zavvi was extremely excited about the game, MD, Simon Douglas, was unaware of the deal until the moment he saw War on Terror on the shelves of his own shop. Douglas reportedly "kicked off" and the games were promptly pulled the very day they went on sale.
Zavvi then refused further delivery and became reluctant to pay for games they suddenly decided they didn't want. That was kind of inconvenient since we were dependent on their prompt payment to keep the debt collectors with baseball bats from our door. It was a stupid situation, caused by a stupid decision that didn't seem too well thought-out. A legal battle ensued. Lawyers were involved. All that fun. Luckily though we avoided having to go to court. About 8 months later, we finally settled and came away happy for once: we got paid in full and allowed to keep half the games.
In all that time, we never really knew why Mr Douglas made such a rash decision. It was only when The Independent wrote about the story that their intrepid journalism elicited a formal response from Zavvi. Apparently "poor sales" were the reason for the sudden same-day recall. That's pretty harsh. Especially as we were told by the staff at the Sheffield store that they had sold "surprisingly well" in the few hours they were on the shelf. Not only that, but apparently the staff their were quite frustrated by the fact they wanted to buy the game but couldn't, despite the fact they were piled up in the store room. If you work at Zavvi and have any more information on this, we'd love to hear from you.
Although this particular saga in TerrorBull Games' history has a happy ending, we'd be a lot happier to actually have our game in Zavvi. So near, yet so far.
(All quotations taken from the Uniserve website)
Following our abrupt falling-out with Charles Gee (see below), we were initially very relieved to find Uniserve willing to pick up the slack. They agreed to import our games, warehouse them and deliver our website orders, all over the world (except N.America), quickly and for a decent price. What luck!
"the worldwide transportation company with the capacity to deliver every time ... "
But remember, if something looks too good to be true, it probably is... First of all, in the run-up to Christmas 2006, things were far from quick. There were delays at every turn, cock-ups and general idiocy but it was no more sinister than just being slightly incompetent. Since we're optimistic chaps, we thought we'd put this all down to experience, a bit of a baptism of fire, and that the new year might start afresh.
"experienced and passionate employees... highly professional personnel ... "
It gradually transpired, however, that people simply weren't receiving their games. When we were able to get a response from Uniserve, they swore blind our games were being delivered. So what was going on? Well, in a nutshell, they were falsifying delivery reports in order to save face and buy a bit of time because no one had been sending our games out for several weeks. Brilliant.
Then our account handler was sacked and we thought this might be the dawning of a new age. Indeed, Uniserve sent a senior manager to apologise to us personally and they promised to put everything right for us "in 48 hours". What happened in those 48 hours, we shall never know exactly, but Iain Liddell, the sole owner of Uniserve, got involved and just two days later we were served notice to get our stuff out. Iain didn't speak to us personally and no one else could explain this behaviour.
"managers and directors are hands on ... "
Bear in mind, Uniserve aren't owned by some dodgy wheeler-dealer with a leaky lock-up at the local industrial estate. They're the largest singularly owned haulage company in Europe - or something like that. They deal with haulage and shipping logistics on a global scale with some of the largest names in retail ... but the only way they could solve this problem was to get rid of us?
Turns out the MD of Uniserve isn't too fond of our game and never wanted his business associated with it in the first place, so faced with a massive problem and the opportunity to be rid of it, we were served notice. Despite numerous requests to be contacted by Iain Liddell himself, we never received so much as an email apologising for, or explaining, this bizarre decision.
"we make commitments and we deliver, with no nonsense and no excuses ... "
We had two weeks to move our stock, but when we arranged to pick up our games, we were told we couldn't because we owed them money. Since we never had credit with Uniserve and always paid upfront, we weren't sure this was true. In any case, they said we owed them £4,500 and since they had £60,000 of our stock in their warehouse, surely we could collect most of it, right? ... Half of it? ... How about just enough to fulfill the backlog of orders that Uniserve were responsible for in the first place? Not likely. In the end, we had to get a van, drive down to their offices against their advice and refuse to leave until we had 300 games which would enable us to start clearing up the logistical nightmare Uniserve had created.
Then they produced the invoices to show how much we were being charged to deliver these games - £65 to Iceland, £56 to Hungary, £48 to Norway ... Seems like Uniserve misquoted us originally when they told us £10 to anywhere in Europe. Naturally, when you misquote someone, the ethical thing to do is pass on your mistakes to the customer, regardless of whether you're a multi-million pound global giant or not.
"we are proud of our reputation as an honest, respected and trustworthy company, and that we attract the best staff in the industry ... "
They had a gun to our head and they said as much. We pay up, or they keep our stock (warehousing companies have legal right to do this if an account is in dispute). On top of this, Iain Liddell (indirectly) issued an edict that demanded, as "part of our exit terms" (terms made up by Mr Liddell on the spot), that we sign a letter waiving all legal rights and promising not to pursue damages or similar claims against Uniserve in the future. It took another two weeks of arguing to put that one to rest.
"we believe in nurturing a close relationship with every client ... "
In the end, we paid an amount that was pure fabrication, but wouldn't cripple us and would enable us to retrieve our stock. Throughout all of this, we were constantly reminded of how much money this had cost them - as if it were somehow our fault - and that they had spent upwards of "20 - 30 hours" sorting this out.
"customer satisfaction is very important to us and we will do our utmost to provide and deliver the highest quality of service ... "
We spent weeks sorting out the mess Uniserve made. We've had to shut down our operations for 10 days. We've issued refunds. We've been unable to replenish our stock in the States for over a month. In short, Uniserve have brought us to our knees. And all for the sake of an MD who has some beef about boardgames and a couple of thousand pounds - probably less than they earn in warehouse rent in an hour. Cheers, Iain - now we see how you earnt your place amongst Britain's top 100 entrepreneurs: champions of British enterprise. A champion, indeed.
Borders stores have the flexibility to stock local products without having to go through a central buying process. So Borders Cambridge have been saying they'd stock the game for almost a year. Recently we confirmed order numbers and even talked about a signing session. The path to retail victory was laid out before us ...
And then 'Head Office' issued a mysterious directive to all Borders stores not to stock our game because it was likely to upset customers. Bugger.
Reason given: We spoke to the head games buyer, Jaymini Green. She admitted she hadn't seen our game, she had just "heard about it" and decided that it was "not appropriate for Borders". Jaymini said she didn't have anything "personal against it", it was just a "political hot topic" and "too close to the bone". She also mentioned the likelihood of negative press.
But it's not all bad news, Jaymini closed with the following offer: "If you came to us in five year's time, I'd probably say yes". Yay! We'll just hold onto our stock for a while... Look, we know it's politically sensitive and a bit close to the bone, but so what? That's the point. So we imagine Borders wouldn't dare sell the 'Farenheight 911' DVD? Or any Chomsky books for that matter? What about the Bernard Manning autobiography? I bet that's upset a few people. In fact, I'm a Borders customer and I'm getting upset right now.
Charles Gee only ran for the hills when they saw the word 'sick' in the tabloids. Tim Thompson, a partner at Charles Gee, ended an implicit contract and a six month relationship between us and his company with a short email. This is the main reason delivery of our games has been delayed.
Reason given: It was hard to get a written response from Tim, but we did manage to get him on the phone. He said he "couldn't believe" what his own reps had "got themsleves into". He also said he "should have been involved long ago". Apparently, there is nothing more controversial in their warehouses than this boardgame. After ranting about how wrong our game was, he then declared that his company was a multi-million pound business that "wouldn't be interested in a piss-boring game like this". Another choice quote we got was: "There's freedom of speech but there are guidelines to that and something like this could be a problem". He also added, it's not just the press reaction that would give him problems but "muslims and everything".
The Box People
Not really an issue, but the people who were going to make the protective mailing boxes for Charles Gee also backed out. Well, actually, they said yes first, then they said no.
Reason given: None really. They just got The Fear.
Despite being told back in January that we would be welcome as long as we book a stand, we were recently told that the BTHA (British Toy & Hobby Association) toy fair doesn't allow "games of this nature". We were also told that we wouldn't be allowed to join the BTHA, even though we meet all of their joining criteria.
Reason given: Getting them to define exactly which nature was difficult and eventually came down to "we decide what is and isn't good for our image". It was hinted at that other BTHA members either have or would have a problem with us exhibiting at this trade event.
Had we designed and produced a replica toy gun with realistic shooting sound effects we would be welcomed with open arms in all these places. I put this apparent moral contradiction to the BTHA spokeswoman, who, after a long pause told us, "that's just the way it is".
After going a long way down the application route (and losing money) with Essen, we decided to be completely upfront with New York. We told them about the game, the history and Essen's reaction. Despite thinking New York would be a shining light of reason, they replied quickly in the negative.
Reason given: "Your sensitivities are appropriately placed. The Toy Fair audience is not appropriate for your products". Just two minutes later, we noticed someone very high up at the American International Toy Fair had ordered a copy, followed by several more in the states in the next few minutes, presumeably friends of the original purchaser. It seems personal tastes are at odds with corporate pressures at these events.
We applied shortly after Essen refused. We were told 'no', not once, but twice.
Reason given: Many emails read like the Nuremberg one: "I have run this by my superiors ..." Of course, superior people also seem to be narrow minded. Maybe that's how they get to be superior. Anyway, we requested more feedback to help us with future applications, but our pleas fell on deaf ears.
The one that kicked it all off. Essen organisers had information about our game in March. We updated them with rules, graphics, press releases etc. on a regular basis. Only in August, after we paid and spent some additional money on arranging our exhibition stand, were we told that our game was "sick and ridiculous".
Reason given: Obviously, being both sick and ridiculous is reason enough, but the organiser was very vocal and offered these further gems of wisdom. It is a "mass murder game". It "goes beyond the boundaries of satirical". It's like "a game with a Swastika on the front". However, Essen are exhibiting games such as 'Age of Empires' ("Take the role of one of Europe's colonial powers and stake your claim in the New World") and a game called 'Warangel' where you fight it out to be the master race. In 2004, they even exhibited Pferdemist - roughly translated as 'horse shit'. It hurts when your game is implicitly ranked beneath horse shit. And then there's this disturbing scene from last year's fair*. Maybe we're safer staying away.
* Edit: 09/11/2006 - we've just been alerted that this page mysteriously no longer exists. It's not possible to do the photo written justice, but in short it depicted what I can only describe as a man dressed as a Ku Klux Klan grand wizard welcoming small children to a game he has invented. Chilling.
Edit: 10/11/2006 - After some detective work from a helpful source, we found the photo again. Yay! Here it is.