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Mergers, Splits, and Distribution Deals: Changes at GAMA, and Distribution Dealings

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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(While cleaning up ahead of 2019, I ran across this first item in a Sept. 2018 draft. I was sure that I had published something on this topic, but nope, I had done everything except actually publish it. Here it is now, followed by other items rediscovered in my inbox.)

• Changes are taking place at the Game Manufacturers Association, a.k.a. GAMA, with Executive Director John Ward due to be replaced when his contract ends. Here's a press release that GAMA issued on August 24, 2018:

The Board of Directors of the Game Manufacturers Association (GAMA) has passed a motion electing not to renew the current employment contract of its Executive Director, John Ward.

John Ward has served GAMA in the Executive Director role for ten years. He led the organization through a difficult time by building its annual events — the Origins Game Fair and GAMA Trade Show — and retiring its debt. The Board thanks John for his service and wishes him the best in his future endeavors.

In looking ahead to the next ten years, the board's vision is to build a trade organization that supports the businesses of its members by promoting tabletop gaming more widely than ever before, collecting and making available useful and up-to-date industry data, educating members about opportunities and best practices, and sharing ever-increasing resources among the membership. In the spirit of the organization's purpose, mission, and vision — updated in 2016 by a special committee whose work was ratified by the membership — the board sees GAMA providing exceptional educational programs and opportunities, organizing high quality information and resources into accessible hubs, promoting gaming as quality social entertainment to the widest possible audience, and more.

GAMA is the non-profit trade organization of the hobby games industry. Its mission is to be the essential nexus for new and experienced game industry professionals, and its vision is to see a game on every table and a table for every gamer.

An Executive Director job description and call for applicants will be posted on the website when the board is ready to consider applicants. The board encourages all enthusiastic, qualified candidates to apply. The board also thanks the outgoing Executive Director for agreeing to help during the transition period.

The board of directors always welcomes both members and gamers to contact them by email at about any matter of concern, or any suggestion for improvement. All emails are read and entered into GAMA's records.

A Special Membership Meeting has also been announced. Its agenda, in part, is to hear feedback from GAMA members and the public in service of the board’s values of consensus and transparency. The meeting will take place in Columbus, Ohio (where GAMA's staff and office are located) on September 24, 2018 at 1:00 Eastern time in the Union Station Ballroom of the Greater Columbus Convention Center. Members may also attend by teleconference.

Further information on this option will be posted at prior to the meeting. Members of the Board of Directors are elected to two-year terms at the organization's Annual Membership Meeting each year at the Origins Game Fair, save the representatives of the Retail members and Wholesale members, who are elected to one-year terms at the GAMA Trade Show.

The GAMA bylaws vest in its Board the responsibility to hire the organization's Executive Director to carry out the day-to-day affairs of the organization. The non-profit's bylaws are available online at its website,
Jeff Tidball, a member-at-large on the GAMA Board of Directors and COO at Atlas Games, has written about his vision for GAMA and what it can do to achieve its mission, purpose, and vision, noting that "GAMA could perhaps do all of those things given enough time, but it can't do any of those things without the will to do substantially more than put on two conventions a year. In my experience, that will is simply not there at present." As for Ward's impending replacement, Tidball writes:

I wasn't on the GAMA board ten years ago when John Ward was hired as its Executive Director. Many people, some of whom were intimately involved in the hiring process, some of whom were on the board at the time, many of whom were acquainted with the state of GAMA at that time, have assured me that John Ward was the best candidate for the position of ED when GAMA faced existential crises of finances and responsible organization. I believe them.

It's been suggested that because John was the right person for that job, ten years ago, he must therefore still be the right person for the current job. There's a logical disconnect there. The right person to turn a company around is not necessarily the right person to envision its future. The right person to fight a war is not necessarily the right person to rebuild the landscape. And so on. The skill sets are different.

Circumstances change, and GAMA's have changed. The change is largely thanks to John Ward. The board gives him credit for what he's done and applauds what he's accomplished. So make no mistake: I thank John Ward for the hard work he's done for GAMA. At the same time, I believe that a new voice and skill set would be better to lead GAMA for the next ten years.
• In July 2018, German publisher Hans im Glück announced that its distribution agreement with Schmidt Spiele would end after 2018, with Asmodee Deutschland serving as HiG's distributor in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland starting on Jan. 1, 2019. An excerpt translated from the press release: "Since many of our games are aimed more at specialists than random shoppers, we are happy that they will eventually be available again in smaller games stores. We share many views and approaches regarding the marketing and viewing of each game with Asmodee."

Asmodee already distributes HiG titles in the U.S. and France, and Asmodee Digital recently released a digital adaptation of Carcassonne for multiple devices.

• In October 2018, PSI — which is a distribution company of sorts that helps game publishers place titles in the hobby market, specialty toy and game retail channels, and mass market — announced that it would start representing the works of Facade Games, which makes sense as titles like Salem 1692 and Tortuga 1667 have a great mainstream-friendly look that would attract casual buyers.

Ares Games has released a few titles in the U.S. that originated from Pendragon Game Studio, such as Last Friday and Stay Away!, and in 2018 it extended the partnership between the two companies, with Ares distributing English-language titles produced by Pendragon without necessarily co-producing a version themselves. As part of this new arrangement, Ares is distributing two Pendragon titles that previously had only limited availability in English: 2014's Hexemonia from Fabio Attoli, and 2015's Waterloo: Enemy Mistakes from Aldo Ghetti and Paris Poli.

CMON Limited has signed distribution agreements with both GTS Distribution and Southern Hobby Supply, so as of January 1, 2019, U.S. retailers can order CMON titles from these distributors in addition to getting them from ACD, Alliance, and Peachstate Hobby Distribution. The press release announcing this deal also states that "There are no other changes currently being made to CMON Inc.’s unilaterally adopted brand protection policy (MAPP)."
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