I force myself not to wince as the glare of the scanner hits my eye. For an agonizing moment I think I’m in trouble, but the double doors slide open with a whoosh. Looks like that retinal hack the Doc gave me was worth the pain.
There’s a big security guard blocking my path, looking like he’s itching to bust some kneecaps. I flash him my fake ID, and he waves me in.
According to my intel, the illegal goods are being moved out of this warehouse. If I’m being set up, God help me, I’m screwed already.
With cool, measured steps, I check the conspicuous places first. No dice. Blending in with all the lackeys going about their business, I head toward the back. If they don’t hide the contraband in plain sight, they hide it in the darkest corner they’ve got.
In the back of the store, there’s a disorganized jumble of boxes and crates, and some of them look suspicious. The untrained layman wouldn’t know the difference, but I can tell. Glancing around to make sure nobody’s coming, I slip into the alcove, silent as a weasel (but much larger).
I find one of the suspicious looking crates, pry it open just a crack, and take a whiff. I know that smell – these bastards are going down.
It smells like Dissension.
Okay, it’s possible I’m dramatizing. A little. But damn, I felt like a secret agent, or even like Charles Mousseau from Brainburst, whom I remember as much for his impassioned, humorous writing as for his draconian moral stances and hatred of Swiss-style pairings.
The Tuesday before Dissension went on sale, a friend of mine told me that she bought a Fat Pack at Meijer (to you West Coasters, it’s analogous to your Fred Meyer, and to everyone else, just think Wal-Mart on steroids). Naturally, hearing that the set was on sale early, I thought what anybody would think: “Oh, sweet. Here’s my chance to do a little consumer advocacy!”
Yes, that’s right, I decided to bust them. My reasoning on this was threefold.
Firstly, what they’re doing violates their agreement with Wizards of the Coast. I like Wizards, the lawsuit notwithstanding, and it pisses me off to see a gigantic store violating its agreement with them, either because its management thinks they can get away with it or because they don’t even care enough to know the release date (more likely the latter).
Secondly, and much more importantly, selling the cards early gives Meijer an unfair advantage over friendly local retailers, on top of all the massive unfair advantages it already enjoys thanks to economies of scale. Local retailers give back to the community, hosting events and providing community spaces, whereas – not to sound like a hippie tool, but it’s true – giant megastores like Wal-Mart and Meijer give basically nothing back to the community. The only thing to recommend them is convenience, which is overrated. Moreover, they were selling Fat Packs and theme decks rather than boosters, which most buyers will buy only once. They were stealing sales from local retailers, and I couldn’t stand it.
Thirdly, I enjoy feeling like a secret agent. Yes, some part of this was strictly for my own amusement, and “doing the right thing” and “narking a giant evil” megastore were added bonuses. I don’t think that actually dislodges me from the moral high ground, although it may loosen my footing a little.
The second point is really the crux of the matter. I will always support a local retailer if I can (even if it means spending a few extra dollars), because I like having them in the community, and I’ve seen too many game stores in particular go out of business. Selling cards early gives Meijer an edge. Even if the advantage they gain is small, it is an advantage, and they don’t deserve it.
The only reason not to bust them is that you want to buy cards early. It’s only by a few days, though, which really shouldn’t make a huge difference in your life – and here’s the best part: To bust them, you have to buy cards. Sure, you might not be able to do it again, but in the meantime, buy the cards, bust them, and walk away whistling.
Anyway, as I said, when I heard they were selling Dissension early, I aimed to misbehave. The next day, on my way home from work, I headed to Wal-Mart, because I’d gotten my wires crossed with my friend as to where she’d bought it. After trips to two of our town’s three Wal-Marts and a couple of phone calls, I found my way to Meijer. Let this be a lesson to you, kids: Check your facts before you try to do any investigative reporting.
At Meijer, I looked around the cash registers, but there was nothing there but baseball cards and candy. I made my way back to Toys and Games. The CCG “section” was basically just a giant pile of card boxes, but right there on top was an open box of Dissension theme decks (with a few decks missing) and a Fat Pack. Paydirt.
After agonizing for a short while over whether to buy the Simic or Azorius precon, I decided on the Simic and headed out. While I was there, though, I did some grocery shopping… they’re just so damned convenient! As I bought my pack, I felt even more like a secret agent. Here I was, sneaking out with contraband, right under their noses! I bought the pack with cash in a separate transaction from the rest of my shopping so that I’d have a receipt.
When I got home, I looked up the Wizards of the Coast Customer Service Line online and gave them a call. I told them what I had to say, and they put me through to Pat (or Cat?) in Merchant Services. Pat listened carefully to the details. She asked for the store’s phone number, which I had. She asked if I’d just seen the cards for sale or had bought them, and seemed very pleased that I’d bought them and even more pleased that I’d kept the receipt.
She told me that she’d call them and talk to them, and that she’d call me back if she needed a scan of the receipt or anything. She called me back the next day to let me know that the distributor in question (Wizards doesn’t sell directly to the store) had been given a warning, and that if they were reported on this again, they’d start getting their product shipped late. She thanked me for letting her know about it, and told me that they really do try to police this stuff and they appreciate my help.
Naturally, right before Coldsnap I’ll be checking up on them. As it’s not just this store but an entire distributor that will be punished, that’s even better. I ended up returning the theme deck, because I’m short on money and I’d rather spend my Magic Bux playing Limited.
I’m glad I busted them, and I’d do it again. The only question that remains in my mind is what I would have done if the store in question had been a Friendly Local Retailer. Would I have stood by my morals and reported them, because it’s the right thing to do?
If I heard about it, I’d probably ignore it. If I saw it for myself, I’d mention to them that they’re not supposed to do it and that (as I know from first-hand experience) they could get in trouble for it. If they made a habit of it, say three sets running, I’d probably report them, but I sure wouldn’t feel good about it.
At first that felt really hypocritical to me, and it kind of tarnished my moral self-satisfaction in taking the Big Evil Store down a peg. I realized a few facts that let me justify this stance as not actually morally inconsistent, all related to the size and nature of the stores but not (at least, I hope, not directly) to my basic and pervasive assumption that large corporations are basically evil*.
You see, at Meijer, I wouldn’t know who to talk to about it at all, and I wouldn’t have any faith that he or she could actually do anything about it in the future if I did. In short, the talking option is much harder and much less likely to help. At the local retailers, I know the owners. I know that they can do something about it, and I know that they might listen to me. Hopefully, taking it upstairs wouldn’t even become necessary.
Further, the local retailer, as I’ve noted (okay, belabored), gives something back to the community. They run tournaments and provide spaces to play and hang out. They also sell the cards, with much better selection (and sometimes better prices) than the big stores. On a personal note, I wouldn’t shed a tear if every Meijer and Wal-Mart closed their doors, but I like all our local retailers and wouldn’t want to see them go. Because I value them more and feel like I owe them some loyalty, I’m willing to discuss the matter with them rather than report them right away.
Above all, I would urge you to report early sales of product. I already went into the reasons why; the only other thing I can say is that it really is a personal choice and an ethical dilemma, and I’d urge you to use your powers for good instead of evil.
In the end, it’s up to us – yes, every one of us, to you and you and you and me, not that guy over there, us – to maintain the community of which we’re all members. That community relies on communal spaces and events provided by local retailers, and on a certain set of rules and agreements – game rules, floor rules, and vendor rules alike. Selling packs before their release date kicks all of that in the nuts, and it’s wrong.
Next time you see a retailer violating their agreement with Wizards, stand up and say something. Raise a little hell. Take some action. It may not be much, but it’s a hell of a lot easier than ending world hunger.
Plus, getting people in trouble is fun.
*I’m not saying that big corporations aren’t necessary for the economy, or that the people who run them or work for them are evil, but the fact is this: A corporation exists for one purpose, and the vast majority of the big ones are structured so that the people at every level pursue that purpose single-mindedly in order to please the people in the next level up. The whole thing is morally bankrupt, and terrible at long-term thinking that doesn’t involve its own direct gain. If you disagree with all this, feel free to say so, but I guarantee you we won’t get very far. I’d much rather debate my actual thesis in this article, which is that you should bust big stores that sell Magic before the release date.