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Friday, September 10, 2010

Interview - Bartertown.Com Admins: Part I with MagikalMemories

Lets face it, there is a cost to participate in just about any hobby.  Even if your hobby is say jogging, you better believe you'll end up spending a good chunk of change on decent running shoes (if you don't you risk injury or spending lots on multiple pairs of cheap sneakers).  Warhammer 40k is no different.  I mean GW keeps raising prices and we're still going to the LGS or our favorite on-line retailer and dropping our hard earned $$$$$ on little plastic or metal men.  So what's a gamer supposed to do?  Some sites out there offer anywhere from 10-30% off GW's retail - AWESOME!  Then there's eBay where the frugal buyer can take their chances on picking up anywhere from an oop MkI Landraider that has a horribly gooped on paint job or individual minis still in their blister.  But lets face it, eBay?  Really?  Is that the best we can do?

Enter the topic of Trading!  WOOT!

Trading communities have been around since the dawn of time.  Before man was printing and minting the "coin of the realm" they were trading, and bartering for what they needed.  I remember when I lived in Korea both as a kid and then a service member heading off base into the local shops where NOTHING was purchased for what it was originally priced.  Same process occurred when I was in Ethiopia when we adopted our youngest.  Barter is everything there and if you don't barter you actually offend the shop keepers.  It's part of the culture.  LOVE IT!!

So trading communities are out there, but there's really only one site I've found that is totally dedicated to this aspect of our hobby.  Yes there is trading going on within sites like Dakka-Dakka, Bolter and Chainsword, and Rogue Trader, but these are GAMING sites where trading goes on.  Their primary purpose is to eat, sleep, and talk GAMING not TRADING.  I'm talking about a community who deals primarily in TRADING.  That site is Bartertown.

I've been a member of Bartertown (user=iPAINTminis) since April of 2004 and I can't tell you how much $$$$$ I've saved.  Not to mention advice on gaming (again it's a TRADING site, but we're still GAMERS).  It's also been a source of clients for many years for the studio, no matter what name I'm running it under this year.  Two of my clients (past and present) are site administrators Eric (MagikalMemories) and Jim (porkuslime) and I spoke with Jim about the possibility of doing an interview with him and Eric about B-Town (as it's commonly known), trading, and the trading community in general.

Below is what transgressed via myself, Eric (MagikalMemories).  Due to the length of the post Jim (porkuslime) will be posted as a seperate entry.

BJC: How long has Bartertown.com been operating?

Eric: Fourteen years. Started in 1996.

BJC: How did it come about?

Eric: It was a college project of Adam Tobia (TrademasterAdam) that went on to have a life of it's own.

BJC: How did you come to be associated with the site - as a user/trader and as an admin?

ERIC: In 2002, I was becoming a regular on the forums over at castlemolds.com. Someone posted a link to here in a thread over there on trading. I visited the site and was instantly hooked. I was just starting into wargaming at that time.

Eventually, after establishing myself as a presence on the forums, I was made a Watchman. A few months later, I became a Moderator. Maybe 6 months after that, Jim (Porkuslime) and I approached Lin. We knew the site needed more Admin staff. We made some suggestions, but nobody was interested/had the time/etc. Jim and I were both willing, but we knew what the new Admin had ahead of him. Neither of us had the time to handle it all. So, we both volunteered, provided we were promoted as a "package deal."
The rest, as they say, is history.

BJC: How would you describe the ideal of bartertown and its affect on the gaming community who use it?

Eric: I'd say that the ideal Bartertown was one that offered a complete package for it's members. One that had forums specifically for trading and some just for "discussions." Not as large as the larger "discussion" forums out there, but enough to offer some diversity.

Then, of course, there are the obvious things. A site where scammers and dishonest traders stayed away would be wonderful. 

The effect I'd love to see is, essentially, an extension of what we have already. Because we are diligent about promoting kindness and respect amongst our members (flaming, trolling and general disrespect are immediately addressed and dissuaded), our more active members tend to feel a true sense of community. Though most of us never have met each other -and, likely, never will- we feel a certain bond of friendship. Because we typically operate in a respectful manner with each other, we can really get past some of the more annoying factors of the internet.

BJC: What do you think attracts the frugal gamer to choose a trading site over say ebay? 

Eric: What doesn't?
To begin with, trade sites are more personal than feebay ever will be. You can have a nice, drawn out conversation with your trade partner during the entire bartering/haggling process. You can get to know people & form bonds. Auction sites are so sterile & impersonal.
"Buy item."
"Send money."
"Receive item."
There's absolutely nothing personal about that transaction.

Also, you will come out better on average with a trade site than with an auction site. Rare and LE items might have a better showing at auction sites. Your average item, though, will do better for you when trading. You just get a better final result, typically. People who are trading are often more willing to give up more goods that they have for goods that they want. With cash, which has a broader range of uses, they tend to hold on tighter, though.

BJC: What would you consider to be "essential" trading etiquette?

Eric: Communication.
You cannot communicate too often or too clearly.
Delayed? Tell your trade partner.
Completed haggling? Send a message with the full terms spelled out to eliminate confusion/miscommunication. Assumption is your enemy.
Ask a lot of questions. "Good condition" doesn't mean the same thing to everyone.
When you do communicate, do so honestly and with complete disclosure. Don't leave out any details or questions.

BJC: How do you spot a "scammer"?

Eric: There are as many ways to spot scammers as there are scammers.
Without giving away any "trade secrets," I'll share a few of the more common tactics that scammers use. Please note that, though scammers use these tactics, NOT EVERYONE WHO DOES THESE ARE SCAMMERS.

"Too good to be true." If it looks like it, it probably is. A Bird in the hand is worth a bird in the hand. The two in the bush might not actually be birds. : )

"New trader doesn't trust established traders." This is the most common thing we see in trading, both with scammers AND legitimate traders. Sometimes, people are just worried. They don't know you and don't know they can trust you. Other times, they pretend to be new traders who feel that way. This works most often against low rated or unrated traders.

"Has everything you are looking for." Some gamers DO have a lot of stuff. Sometimes, though, you're just being told what you want to hear.

"Item traded multiple times." If he listed one Forgeworld Dreadnought in his ad, and you find out that you and one or more other people all bought/traded for that item, presume the worst. It's my experience that people will list everything they have for trade. If he had 3 copied of taht Dreadnought, he'd have listed them.

Keep yourself up to date with the "Bad Traders" of the forum you choose to trade on. Any site with trades should keep some sort of forum or list dedicated to people who have had verifiable complaints lodged against them. Until you're relatively familiar with your surroundings, look in that place for EVERYONE you're trading with. There is no excuse for not being diligent.

Look at feedback/references. Again, sites that offer trades should have some sort of system in place to track the trades of it's members. Serial Bad Traders should be avoided, if you are not seasoned enough to instinctively know how to protect yourself.

ASK. Contact a site Moderator or Admin and ask for his input or advice regarding your trade partner if you're unsure.

BJC: Why not charge for membership?

Why charge for membership?
It's not hugely expensive to run a web site.

If you have advertisers, then they likely pay enough to keep the site running. If not, then you're doing something wrong. Either you are charging too little, or you aren't offering advertisers enough incentive to spend their money with you.
If you don't have advertisers then, perhaps, a voluntary donation system might help.

On our site, though, we offer enough benefits to our advertisers that they keep the site free for use. We don't want to make money off of our members. We want to provide the best trade site we possibly can to foster a safe, fun trading environment.

That is something we can definitely do without charging a membership fee.

9) Where do you see the bartertown site heading?

Eric: Downhill fast. I mean, MY GOD! They put me & Jim in charge! : ) LOL

Seriously, though... I see it heading nowhere but up. We're constantly reexamining ourselves to see how we could be doing better. We have a highly active moderating staff who constantly polices the site to keep it fun and safe. We value the input of our members. Every change is posted for opinions. Everything. Sometimes, it's more of a notification but, on a number of occasions, member input has actually changed the way we do things.

We've got a lot of momentum right now, and we're not letting go.

BJC:  If you could add or take away a feature from the site what would it be?

Eric: One thing I hope to see added soon is a "Zero reference feedback" option. Right now, a positive reference adds 2 to your rating, a negative is -10, and a neutral adds 1. I'd like to see neutral changed to 0, or a fourth option added that would show up in the member's reference list, but not be reflected in his score.

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