TheApprentice-300x207[1] By Paco Garcia Jaen

Beware, this open letter is an opinionated rant about games in large department stores.

Last night, after our holidays, we decided to watch the only episode of The Apprentice I could have possibly had any interest in. The episode in which they have to design a board game from start to finish in 48 hours and then sell it.

Let’s not go into the issues of asking a bunch of self-serving, up-their-own-asses, pompous, arrogant cretins to create something none of them have a freaking clue about (I am sure their mum think they are wonderful and that if I took time to “get to know them” they would look or sound so bad; but the fact is that they sound that bad and that’s all I have to go with. Sorry).

Let’s not go into the fact that one of the groups designed – more like put together, but never mind – a game that children were actually enjoying even though it was Pictionary for geography without maps and ugly as hell. Geogeek, I think it was called. At least that one had hope of becoming something better if someone with 1/2 a brain took a look at it.

Let’s not go into the fact that the other game was a sexist piece of shit game in which people were giving a multiple choice question and they had to choose the answer. Questions like “What do women like more in a man? A smile, great clothes, lots of money”. Exactly. Let’s not get started on “The Relationship Guru”.

Instead lets get started on how the buying process from Waterstones and Toy R Us went. And for fairness’ sake, let’s assume this was all staged and it might not resemble reality, though by looking at the selection of games they have in those stores, it is safe to assume also that reality is not too far from that program.

During that process, the sellers pitched their “games” to people who looked like generic buyers and not games specialists (first mistake, dear department stores!) and were only interested in whether the game would sell or not, not if the game was any good or not.

And I know that because none of them played the game. None. A few times they asked the “apprentices” to play and explain the game in front of them, but that was it. No real interest in experience what their customers would go through or how much enjoyment they will derive from it. Nothing.

Still, they sold a lot of copies and even Toys R Us got some copies of the detestable Relationship Guru. That left me totally speechless, but I guess when you don’t have to worry about how much your game costs to produce because we, the TV licence payer is actually subsidising that, you can afford to sell a game for £8 even if it costs £12 or £15 to produce.

To say that I was dismayed is an understatement.

Today I went by the games section of WHSmith and then the shop window of Waterstones and suddenly it all made sense.

The rather poor selection of Monopolies, Boggles, Scrabbles, Risks and the like are there because the buyers are not interested in games. They are not interested in their customer’s satisfaction. They just want to make a quick buck.

And quick is the key word here.

If they were prepared to nurture a selection of customers who will come back time and time again, they’d be prepared to have games that might cost them a bit more than £8 to buy, they’d feel the benefits. If they had someone in the shop able to give an overview of a game that involved more than “roll two dice” or “draw a card and read from it” they would feel it.

But most importantly, if they actually had people who understand games running their games’ sections they could, probably would, become the next wave of games store in every single town with all the benefits that entails. Probably most of the people reading this article would be able to restock the shelves of any major store with a better games selection that could attract more customers.

Imagine this. Go into Waterstones in Brighton. They have a Costa cafe on the third floor. The games are on the ground floor (first floor for you American friends). Buy your game. Sit down with a coffee and start to play.

How could that possibly be a bad thing for any business?

So shops of the world, please get your act together. Hire people to the job who understand the product and, most importantly, the customer. Find a way to balance your need and your ability to sell to promote good games, not the same old tropes. It really doesn’t take much and the long-term benefits will be much, much bigger.

And if you need any help, let me know. I know people who know people who’d be delighted to help you too!