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24 Jan 2018

The Growth (and Problem) with Counterfeit Games

Two weeks ago I came across an interesting interview of Christian Pedersen, the CEO of Asmodee North America. (For those that aren’t aware, Asmodee is, by far, the largest board game company in the US, controlling titles such as Ticket to Ride, Catan, Pandemic, Fantasy Flight Games and a slew of others)  In the interview, Christian explored the growing problem of counterfeiting in the gaming industry and the resulting impacts and dangers.  You can read the full interview here.

It got me thinking quite a bit about this particular dynamic and what we, as a store, could do to help educate and protect the community from this type of problem.  Counterfeiting in a number of areas has gotten much easier in the past decade, with advancements in printing, scanning and imaging technologies.  According to the International Trademark Association, $460 billion worth of counterfeit goods were bought and sold in 2016.

One area within gaming that this has been a relatively well-known problem is within the collectible card game area, specifically Pokemon and Magic the Gathering.  I’ve heard a number of stories of well-intentioned parents, grandparents and players going online to purchase cards at remarkably good prices, only to find out later that the cards are indeed fake.  That’s why we take extra steps of precaution to do our best to evaluate cards we purchase in store for their authenticity. We want customers to have as much confidence as possible in the products they purchase from us.

While I had been hearing rumblings of an increase in board game counterfeiting, I had no idea of the extent to which it had grown.  According to Christian at Asmodee, they believe that for some games, more than 70% of all sales in the US market in the past year have been counterfeit product.  I was absolutely floored by that. Games like 7 Wonders and Catan, which are great games to introduce to folks who are just getting acquainted with the industry, have been some of the titles most affected.

What’s the big deal, you ask?  A board game is a board game, the rules are the same, etc., etc, right?  Not exactly.  Putting aside all the arguments of wanting to protect and reward the intellectual property rights, as a parent of four kids, the biggest concern I have here is safety.  Asmodee spends a lot of money and resources on testing for things like lead paint and phthalates and making sure that their suppliers are being held to high standards.  As Christian mentions in the article, “if you’re going to walk around and have your kid suck on counterfeit little roads from Catan, you’re probably dealing with a hazardous substance exposure.”  Peace of mind around having some assurances of safety is worth something to me.

Outside of the safety concerns, the other big problem for me as a consumer is the lower quality of all the pieces and components of the game.  One of the ways in which Asmodee has been able to sniff out problems with specific games is to look at the history of reviews posted online.  Christian uses the example of 7 Wonders, stating that in the last 12 months, the game has been plagued by reviews siting quality issues that Asmodee knows does not exist in the game, or at least in Asmodee produced products.

 

So…..how do you protect yourself from making a purchase of a counterfeit game, complete with all the safety and quality concerns noted above?

  • If you suspect you may have purchased counterfeit product and would like to get a 2nd opinion, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us or bring in the game and we can take a look at it. We have a large number of popular titles in our demo library and are happy to do a “side by side” comparison to help determine authenticity.  Often, flaws in paper/card stock quality or the size of miniatures or plastic pieces can become apparent in these side by side comparisons.
  • Avoid Amazon and Ebay and instead make your purchases from a “known quantity”. While I would love you to purchase the game at Fair Game, I recognize that isn’t realistic.  . shop at another local game store or Target or Barnes & Noble, etc.  I know Amazon is convenient and easy.  I know their prices are (often) good, and I know the statement of “don’t buy games off Amazon” is also self-serving.  I use Amazon for a bunch of things, but have come to recognize that neither Amazon nor Ebay have much in the form of checks on sellers.  It is remarkably easy to set up a store front on Amazon or Ebay.  With the Fullfilled By Amazon (FBA) service, it is also remarkably easy to purchase a pallet of fake goods from China, bring them to the US, send them to an Amazon fulfillment center and sell your pallet of goods under the guise of what appears to the average consumer as a very legitimate source.  While Amazon has done a wonderful job of ensuring that if anything “goes wrong” with your order/shipment, they will do whatever they can to fix it, realize that when you purchase that attractively priced copy of Catan, you’re not buying it from Amazon.  Rather you are picking up that copy from “Trinkets, Etc” or “stores123” or whatever random name a non-transparent seller came up with when setting up the account.
  • Talk to your local game store about where they source their products from and support those that are acquiring product through the proper channels. It will likely cost you more than the cheapest option you’ll find online, but as a consumer myself, I’m ok with that.  For Fair Game specifically, we are an Authorized Asmodee North American Retailer, having gone through an “accreditation process” that provides you, the consumer, with peace of mind about the products you’re bringing to the table with your friends and family.  We’ll stand behind the quality of the product and, in the off chance something is defective, we will work with you to help get it resolved.  Again…your purchases don’t just have to be through Fair Game…. there are hundreds of authorized Asmodee Retailers across the US.  Find one!

One last thing…. I hope I’m not coming across as a “scaremonger” who’s trying to smear the competition and get you to buy more through your friendly local game stores.  I truly was floored by the extent of the problem and the potential ramifications and wanted to do what I could to provide some insight into how I’m personally dealing with this dynamic. Counterfeit products (whether they be games or otherwise) are a growing problem, but by being educated myself about the problem and being deliberate in where we choose to purchase things, I hope any potential issues can be avoided.