Monday, 5 November 2012

Maelstrom Games

Well, I guess it was fairly inevitable, reading between the lines of their "final final FINAL sale" notices over the last month. Their site is currently quote 'down for maintenance'. I'm not holding my breath, and, judging by the discussions on Dakka Dakka and TMP, neither should anyone else.

There are a few points I'd like to talk about, though.
...but before I go any further, I'd like to state that this post is informed and hopefully intelligent speculation. I don't have any more facts than the rest of you, but I do have, I hope, a working brain. If you're commenting, please remember there are libel laws and back up what you say with facts and references where you can. Equally, if anyone from Maelstrom past or present wants to comment privately, my inbox is open at fleetfootmike@gmail.com and I'll gladly file any identifying remarks off any information you may want to pass on. I have temporarily enabled comment moderation for all comments, just to be on the safe side.

First off, it's rather interesting that, certainly in the bits of the blogosphere and wargaming news-o-sphere (yes, it's a horrid word, get over it!) that I frequent, it's all been very quiet about Maelstrom. A couple of folks have commented on the fire sale (for want of a better word), but there's been a dearth of informed, or otherwise, speculation (and equally, very little communication from Maelstrom apart from their sale notices). Now, obviously, getting it wrong would be libel, but...

It was, I think, abundantly clear to anyone with half a brain that Maelstrom were probably in trouble: you don't sell off amounts of stock cheap to generate cash flow unless you have a cash flow problem. The economics of it is clear enough - if you have stuff in stock, whether you've paid for it or have it on advance/sale or return/N days invoice, it's no good to you as stock if what you need is money. If you have an item in with a retail value of £50 that you paid £30 for? Selling it for anything is better than not selling it at all, if what you need is cash in the bank for whatever reason.

I have no more idea than anyone else of the specific details how things got to that state, but it is a very tricky state to get out of, especially if, as Maelstrom's mails seemed to imply, you're actually pretty much 'robbing Peter to pay Paul' as the saying goes: in their case, raising cash to buy stock to fulfil orders they've already taken money for.
"...we have decided to clear as much of our hard-earned stock as we possibly can over the next few days - and therefore generate some much-needed cashflow - in order to ensure we can fulfil the orders that you, our valued customers, have placed over the last few weeks." 
Now, you can read that how you like, I guess, but that's how it reads to me. If you got one of those mails and didn't read the fine print, just saw 'Wow! 40% off!' or more, then to be honest, you deserve what you got. Or more likely, what you may not have got, depending.

I certainly believe that the folks on the ground at Maelstrom were doing their level best with customer orders - I spoke to one at the El Cid day, and it certainly seemed that he was busting a gut to sort out what he could for people (although I gather from folks at the FoW day this past weekend that he and/or some or all of his colleagues may not have a job anymore). It would be wrong of me to speculate on the business practices and policy decisions that informed the current financial state of the company, however.

Secondly, how did they get in this state? Well, I'm not an expert at company finance, but a look at their last submitted accounts shows a spectacular drop in book value and the rather unpleasant sum of £130K in trade debtors compared to £30K the previous year. If anyone who is wants to comment further on that, the comments area of this post is open to you, though, again, I reserve the right to delete or ask you to reword anything that could be construed as libel, or can't be backed up with facts.

Thirdly: what happens to them now? Well, there's an interesting tale, mm? Do check out http://www.eye-of-the-storm.co.uk/ - look familiar? Certainly does to me, even down to the stock levels. A check of publicly available information shows, unsurprisingly, both domains registered to the same person, though at different addresses. There's also rumours of 'Maunsfield Gaming' appearing as well.

The key thing here, from a financial point of view, is the whole concept of a Limited company - the company has shareholders, and the liability of the shareholders to creditors of the company is limited to the capital originally invested. In short? It's perfectly possible to walk away from a Limited company that has failed for whatever reason, and start again. People do it all the time. Provided, of course, that Companies House still considers you a fit person to be a company director, i.e. that you haven't, for example, engaged in such dubious business practices as knowingly trading insolvently (at which point, you do become liable for your company's financial position!).

Fourthly: what happens if Maelstrom owe you stuff? I'll freely admit, I'm in this position - I took a punt on their firesale, in the knowledge that it was potentially a risky proposition. I managed to acquire a fair bunch of Napoleon at War and Battlefront stuff, but I'm still short a box of PSC Shermans that have been marked as 'processing' since the order was placed (and some N@W French which are as far as I am aware currently at the mercy of Royal Snail second class post - at least, the order was notified as shipping). I'm not bitter, or annoyed at myself - I knew what I was doing, and it was a risk, however, I have saved more than the value of the stuff I have (so) far not received. I probably wouldn't have done it if I wasn't going to be at the premises the weekend after I placed the order.

However, I was smart enough to order them on a credit card (not least because Maelstrom were no longer taking Paypal, which is interesting in and of itself). If you're in the same position, go to your credit card company and ask them to 'chargeback' the amount owed. This comes from Maelstrom's bank, not Maelstrom, and effectively makes their bank the creditor for the amount instead of you. It's a normal, routine thing CC companies do all the time, and should not be a problem, especially if you have a full audit trail of emails, invoices etc.

Finally: What do I think?

As I said at the top, there are libel laws, so I'm going to be fairly careful what I say. However: as far as Maelstrom goes, what's done is done. If the company has, as it appears, closed down, it's a Limited company (subject to the above provisos) and fundamentally? What's gone is gone. If you're a customer owed orders, you have recourse via your credit card company, as above.

As far as the other aspects of it go: I hate to see Maelstrom-the-gaming-venue go - I've had some excellent games there and it's a really nice play to play. (Although I would note the drop in catering facilities since the 2012 WAB GT, and wonder how connected that is...).

As for Eye of the Storm/Maunsfield Gaming? Personally, I would be very cautious in dealing with them for anything I couldn't hold in my hand prior to handing over my money. I do not mean to imply in any way that the people involved have been behaving in a deliberately fraudulent manner, but by their own admission they have effectively been taking orders for stuff they wound up not having the werewithal to satisfy, for whatever reason. Go read that quote from their sale email again and find me another interpretation if you disagree with that one.

It's all a very sad business. Maelstrom have contributed a great deal to the hobby, not the least by providing an excellent independent games venue and carrying a wide range of stuff. I shall be sorry to see them go.

7 comments:

  1. None of this reads as a surprise to me having been there to play in a competition a few weeks ago. There were tell tale signs which is sad. It has been an excellent gaming venue and the staff seemed to work hard to make being there an enjoyable experience - especially the ladies who prepared the competitors' meals and worked behind the bar.
    Good luck to them all for the future.
    Phil

    ReplyDelete
  2. Well, it seems that they never even tried to fill those back-orders. I was screwed out of a relatively small amount, 25 pounds for a pre-ordered X-wing box, and about 10 pounds of store-credit I got from previous orders.

    I'm really pissed about it, because X-wing was released at the end of august and hit stores in UK and rest of europe around mid-september. This was before Maelstrom announced their fire-sales. I do not know wether they ever got any X-wing products, but I DO KNOW, since I checked at least twice every day, that no Fantasy Flight Products were added to their web-shop during september or after that. I do not know why; if they didn't have the money to order stuff from FFG, or if FFG stopped sending them stuff, or if any products arriving from FFG was put into the new company or their physical store.

    I also do know that they listed a lot of PSC stock at the beginning of october, all stock-levels went from zero to about 30 of each, including 10 copies of Battlegroup Kursk. It was around the time of the first fire-sale. This prompted me to order a box of PSC carriers for my store credit which immediately went to packing status. I then read on Warwick Kinrades blog that NO COPIES of BattleGroup Kursk had yet arrived to PSC from the printer, and no copies had been sent to any shops or distributors. A few days later all PSC stock levels went to zero again. No communication regarding my order, and when I tried to cancel it I got no response. So they were lying (wether by mistake or not) about some things in their webshop and it surely looks like just were trying to screw as many people out of their money in the end.

    I will not deal with Eye-of-the-storm no matter how great deals they have in the future.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As you probably noticed from the original post, I'm in a similar position as regards PSC stuff. I was told (in the store on the 14th) that a delivery was due the following Tuesday and that they had no PSC Shermans of *any* kind in (I'd happily have taken a different version at that point).

      I'd like to believe that I was being told that in good faith.

      Delete
    2. Yeah, I hope so too. It could also be the case of the staff not knowing how bad it was until at the very end.

      Delete
  3. Didn't Andrew Chesney work for GW once upon a time..?

    ReplyDelete
  4. I am about £25.00 down and have just written a post about why I will probably not be gaming there any more on Scrivsland.

    http://scrivsland.blogspot.fr/2012/11/was-this-my-last-game-at-maelstrom-games.html

    From what I can tell there are a lot of people each down a small amount of cash, but all added up it has to be quite significant.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree: even a cursory glance at various fora suggests that you can multiply that figure by a goodly number of people in just the fire sale, not counting those with big outstanding orders from as far back as August.

      I respect your decision re the Eye of the Storm venue - it's a bit of a wrench, either way. I've had some really great times there (several of which were your doing) and it's a superb venue, and a part of me really wants to believe that the folks on the ground were acting in good faith.

      Delete

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