Meet (v.) Andrew Poirier
Merchandise Manager: Video Game Category
Nov. 1, 2017
Growing up with a deep appreciation for video games, Vancouver native Andrew Poirier talks about the game he was introduced to as a child and how it influenced career and life decisions. He seems to have the perfect job as a Video Game Buyer for Best Buy Canada Headquarters – but as much as he’s passionate about the industry, it’s not always easy when the nature of the job influences your behaviour in ways that aren’t comfortable or natural to you.
He tells us how he’s learned to disengage himself from the workplace so the stress doesn’t bleed into his personal life. He also shares his thoughts on gaming addiction, how video game trends identify behavioural shifts in society, and why there is no question in his mind video games = art.
Where it all started
Tell me how you got your foot in the door in the video game industry.
I’d like to talk about how I became an Assistant Buyer for the office first, if that’s okay. I was working at a store for about five years. A PR Manager from the office would come into our store on a regular basis and talk to the staff. He did these shows on CTV in the mornings and he’d rely on our store – and eventually me – to source the products and bring them down to CTV.
We bonded over gaming. He was definitely more of a casual gamer, but he was very interested in the gaming community and the gaming culture. That evolved over time, and he approached me one day in the store and said, “We’re working on this really cool project. You’re a really engaged gamer. We want you to help us drive this message.”
The project had a codename: Tofupusher. (laughs) Great name. And it was this underground gaming initiative which was called the G-List, essentially a “Secret Society” not bound to any corporation.
It was a collection of five or six websites, one of which was the core login page where the forums were housed. But to the bystander it just looked like a page that looked like The Matrix, almost. There was no login, there was no information. There was an “About Us” at the bottom and it led to these other five pages. They were all fake pages, but they all had riddles embedded into the website.
You had to go through all of these trials to get membership. I had to figure out how to get into the website on my own, which was actually really difficult. You had to understand a bit of HTML to find the hidden messages and to find the right spots to do certain things.
I became really involved in this project he was working on, to which he also introduced me to the Communications Director at the time who was the chief person in charge of the project. Eventually I became one of the main spokespersons of this project. We called them Mister’s, so there was Mister R, or Mister Z.
They were the faceless automatons behind the project. In the forums, we’d talk in weird sentence structures. We helped host the Video Game Awards, and embedded images in video game Steelbooks that went out into the market, like Assassin’s Creed. It went pretty extensive.
The tipping point for me was when they set up these tournaments. They wanted to get a bunch of Meetups, almost. One in Vancouver, one in Toronto, and they needed Mister’s to host them. And so they flew me out to Toronto to host this, and it went well.
It came down to this connection that I made through gaming with our PR guy, which eventually got me to, “Hey, there’s an opening for an Assistant Buyer in Gaming up at the office. We’ll help you push through the recommendations.” So that’s what got me in the door, is this connection to gaming and this social construct we made up around it. And eventually I got the job – funnily enough in movies, not in gaming. (laughs)
How did you transition into your current role?
I worked in movies at the time – Blu-rays, DVDs, all that stuff. When I was Assistant Buyer we identified this shift where customers were buying more and more products off digital stores like iTunes instead of coming into the store. And that was eating away at Best Buy’s retail sales.
I figured we needed to make an emotional connection with the movie consumer because the things that were selling in movies were the high-end collectors editions – the things that were hard to find. So with this mentality I tracked down an art contractor, Mondo.
They were very small at the time but they did very nice, beautiful pop culture art and they had this business where they would print a hundred posters and sell out within 40 seconds of going online for like $100 US. So we negotiated a contract. Not between Best Buy and Mondo, but between them and Scanavo, who makes movie packaging – primarily in metal – called Steelbooks.
Those are nice.
Right? I was always a big fan, so I was trying to find a way to innovate SteelBook. So we got this contract set up, and we created the very first Mondo x SteelBook as we call it, and created a bit of a brand around that. It was a pilot.
We went through so many movies and tried so many things before we actually landed a license that we were allowed to use and was what we wanted. Took about a year to do that the first time. We piloted the first title and we used the movie Drive, which I know a lot of people love that movie and it has a big cult following.
This movie was selling for $10 on Blu-ray at the time, about 50 units a month. And we had them create some unique art from one of their best artists, throw it on a Steelbook and treat it very nicely. We had found a way to make this emotional connection with the consumer, and we ended up selling 4000 of these Steelbooks at $30.
It cost us more to do but we were able to sell this three times more expensive product at almost ten times the monthly volume in a single day. We don’t hold the exclusive rights at Best Buy anymore, but there’s like twenty of them out there now, and we held the rights to the first eight.
What are some awesome things that you get to look forward to once in a while? I’d imagine going to E3 or CES is pretty cool.
Well there’s the big industry events that we get to go to like you mentioned, and the other major one is New York Toy Fair. Basically, we get to see all the upcoming year’s toys and collectibles before they’re made public. That’s an awesome event. We would do our standard business meetings where we see and play the games but the evenings are packed full of industry parties and fancy dinners.
What kind of personality or characteristics as a person do you think are essential to excelling at a Buyer role?
You need to be able to stand your ground for sure when it comes to being a buyer. Because you’re always going to have pushback from vendors or from internal resources.
You need to be able to understand the results. Understand the numbers. I’d say for a traditional Buyer, memory is a very key thing that you need because you have to be ready with certain numbers all the time … Almost as a rebuttal. I rely a bit more on my instinct, which I think is also important.
I think passion is important. You’ve got to be doing something you enjoy, or at least associate with something you enjoy. Otherwise it loses its magic over time. I’m not someone who loves to talk to people. I think it’s important to be able to talk to people and convey what you need from the other parties, but I don’t think it’s 100% necessary that you need to be an extrovert. Introverted can work if your passion can drive the conversation. Passion can overwrite the inability to strike up a conversation with just about anyone. Ultimately as a gamer I get passionate about certain kinds of games and you can’t shut me up.
We’ll get into that later, don’t worry.
(laughs) But you find someone who’s passionate about one specific thing and they will drive their point to the ground, even if they don’t like talking to people normally. I do have friends that I would consider severe introverts as well. One of them actually worked for me in the gaming department, but she was able to have conversations with customers.
That’s really difficult for an introverted person, to have a conversation with a total stranger. It’s mentally exhausting. So like I said, passion can overwrite. Extrovert’s not necessary. Society tells us it is. Not convinced.
How do you try to relax as much as possible to unload the stress of working? What do you to make you feel at ease after a day at work?
I’d say the first year was tough, because I didn’t know to switch off. There’s all these things going on in your head. I’m sure I’m not the only one but … Nightmares. (laughs) You have nightmares about, “Did I do this”, “Did I not do this.”
Just disconnect yourself from the email environment as soon as humanly possible once you leave the office because email can be toxic. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like having notifications even on my screen, because as soon as I see that email and it’s marked “Unread” I feel like I need to read it immediately.
I’m a weird kind of lazy person where I find automated ways of doing stuff. So I wrote scripts on my computer to intentionally hide my emails from my phone. Only the most important emails make it to my phone and everything that can wait for the next day ends up in another folder, which means if I really wanted to look at it on my phone I have to go looking for it.
Over the last two years I started grinding my teeth when I sleep, which is extremely bad and you can feel it in the morning. I’d say it’s gotten better over the last few months since I started trying to disengage from my work email more and more.
Let's Talk Games
Do you remember your very first experience or exposure to video games?
I do. The very first video game I remember playing was on a Windows 32 computer. And it was Betrayal at Krondor, which was a turn-based RPG (role-playing game). Came on 8 floppy disks. As a 7-year-old kid I had no idea how to play, and it was incredibly hard.
I revisited it many years later after reading the books a few times. I remember my dad saying, “You know, it’s based on a series of books. Here’s the first one.” It actually got me into reading that whole series, which at the time was like, 12 books. But it’s kind of funny, my first video game got me into one of my favorite authors of all time, Raymond E. Feist.
So would you say that set the precedent for your interest overall in video games?
It would. Especially thinking more and more about the kind of games that I play on a regular basis – the ones that capture my attention – they I would say are a very similar kind of game. Strategy or role-playing games. A few years later one of the biggest RPG’s I was introduced to was Final Fantasy 7 and I was hooked, like that.
Would you say that is your all time favorite game?
Yeah, I would say that is, actually.
My dad played Final Fantasy 7 before I did. I remember how he described it to me, how it happened. He told me that he didn’t leave the house for like four days and played it all the way through. He’s said, “Yeah, I didn’t smell so great by the end of it.” This is only something he told me recently, but it’s funny that we both had that same interest in a game like that.
I personally consider video games a form of art. Would you agree?
I would agree, yeah.
But I’m sure you’ve met a lot of people that would also disagree. What is the primary disconnect? What is it that they don’t get in your opinion?
This could stem from an older generation where they grew up with analog stuff or less technology. Video games are a very clear representation of the progress of technology, and that mentality gets instilled in some of their kids, as well.
This is the digital medium of the future, it’s showcasing what we can do as a society in an inventive way and produce this new kind of art, that this older generation’s like, “No, no. Art is a painting, and that is the only form of art.”
Many a people have spent hundreds of hours building this world or immersive experience that is a representation of a vision they had in their head. An artist might operate the same way. They’ll spend an insane amount of time trying to show you the vision in their head.
You talked about how the very first game you ever played influenced you to read books, which then led you to discover your favorite author. In what ways do you think video games have influenced you in real life?
It helped foster my imagination, especially when I was younger. Me and my friend would have very active imaginations and go play all sorts of games outside, or we’d construct these fantasy worlds.
Imagination is what benefits me today when it comes to innovating at work, so I can make a connection there.
I’d say even from the way I behave today, I try and adapt to situations. I think I learned that from video games, where at the very basic level every game has different controls or different rules to the physics of the game, where you have to try and figure out or push the limits of what the game can do. And you have to be adaptable to the different play styles, or controls, or whatever that situation may be.
In your opinion, what’s the most underrepresented and underappreciated genre of video games?
A very underappreciated sector is … Specifically in North America is the Japanese RPG. Well I say Japanese RPG, that just means classic style RPG – which has been going away in a large sense because North American customers just aren’t buying it. The genre that’s being unappreciated is the one that requires you to put in 80 hours just to get the full story of the game. And that’s slowly going away too, which is kind of unfortunate.
That might be a reflection of how hectic and busy our lives have gotten. Maybe people have become less and less patient, perhaps?
Movies have trained people to have shorter and shorter attention spans. You can see this very clearly when you look at a movie from the 80s and watch the pacing. The pacing is very slow and deliberate with a very methodical build to a climax – horror movies, for example. You might go the first hour and a half of a movie of basically no action and it’s just story, character-building and a slow, intense buildup, all for the great finale.
Even the shots – you might have a still shot on a character doing a monologue for minutes. And the shot never changes, the angle doesn’t change. In modern cinema, even if someone’s doing a five-minute monologue, literally the shot angle changes every half-second. The average shot length is about one second right now.
I can also attribute it to the way the next generation of gamers is consuming their content. The next generation is very app focused, playing games on their phone or on a web browser. They’re all about mobile and quick experiences on their phone that are unlimited play or free. Bejeweled, or brawlers, or whatever that is. Candy crush…
Gaming Addiction and the Future
I just wanted to talk a little bit about gaming addiction. I’m sure you’re well aware how bad it can get, especially in countries like Asia where kids die from starvation, malnutrition and lack of sleep. What is your opinion on it, and at what point would you consider it an addiction?
Like many things, I’d consider it an addiction when you don’t feel like you have the willpower to stop. You could even take it as far as, “You have an addiction to drugs.” I’m not saying gaming is a drug, but at the same time, society classifies alcoholism as a disease. If we agree with that thought process, then gaming addiction should be considered in a similar fashion. If you can’t tear yourself away, it’s essentially the same thing.
Seeing how you’ve played a lot of RPGs, have you ever dealt with it yourself? Have you been able to find that balance?
Definitely in the past, but I wouldn’t say it’s gone to the point where it’s permanently harmful. There’s definitely been times where I want to finish a certain part of a game before I go to bed and I lose sleep over it. But it’s all about restraint in the end, right? One more chapter, or one more quest. That can be really appealing.
The funny thing about gaming as well is that it has its own sense of reward. You finish a quest, “Here’s some experience points.” Even if it’s a sports game, “Hey, you’ve won these series of games, here’s an achievement.” The gaming community does drive addiction too.
I don’t see the manufacturers or the industry itself finding the proper way to control it yet, and maybe is adding too many addictive factors.
And even making money off of it, especially mobile games.
Mobile games are very harsh – it’s very addictive to keep doing micro-transactions of one or two dollars here and there to just get ahead. Pay to win. I think mobile gaming is probably the epitome of how we create an addiction over time.
So would you consider that unethical, dangerous? Or just a different model?
You look at online gambling, there are restrictions in place because of legislation. It has limits, or at least warnings of limits.
Microtransactions in mobile gaming has no warning of, “Hey, you just spent $500 buying 500 one dollar packs in 24 hours. Maybe you should stop.” Or, “We’re going to put a cap in place for a while.” I think the sense that we haven’t gotten to that point yet means it could become unethical soon. But I don’t think it’s totally there yet and I don’t think we’re responsible though, if that makes sense.
Right, because people should be free to choose.
They should be. But I think that the developers need to be responsible as well. It’s not responsible to let people buy $500 of digital content that’s really worth nothing.
So where do you see the gaming industry in the future – the next five, ten and beyond years?
Five years? I see the amount of console and computer games being released going down as the market size shrinks and shifts more to mobile. I see people playing specific games for longer instead of widening their assortment of games. So as that focus on the number of games narrows, the developers aren’t going to be able to financially support themselves.
Ten years, I see the industry teetering on the brink of collapse as it did back in the 70s or 80s, as mobile gaming becomes the primary form of consumption and the console and PC gaming generation just fades away. I don’t necessarily think phones will be around for that long.
But mobile gaming could be something like an augmented reality where the games are visually displayed in front of you, or interact with the environment. I see more moving and getting out to play a game happening over time, to the point where gaming is going to just look like real life and be integrated.
It is kind of a scary thought because thirty years down the road, do we have smartphones? Probably not. Do I know what form that takes? No. But the natural progression of technology right now is that we move from this to augmented realities, to virtual realities to … Who knows what comes after that?
The Matrix, yeah. This all leads to The Matrix. (laughs) I think the Wachowskis were spot-on. 500 years from now, that could be reality. (laughs) Ten years ago, I don’t think any of us could’ve said that’s a possibility of the future. But with what we see in innovations and technology it’s already moving in that direction. And I could see how it progressed to that dystopian scenario. It’s true. There’s got to be a collapse eventually, down the road.
Now gaming’s going to take us there? I don’t know. This is a total string theory, right here (laughs). But it’s an interesting thought. Gaming will evolve to point where it’s not recognizable as a console or a system.
What about yourself in the next five, ten years and beyond? Do you see yourself continuing to be in the gaming industry in one way or another?
I really want to own my own board game store. I like the idea of being able to interact with people that share this interest or passion and be able to show them something new that they’re not expecting. I don’t necessarily see myself in the video game industry in ten years, but the gaming industry as a whole.
It’s quite niche.
You’re right, it is niche, but it’s growing too, right? People are putting more and more time into board games. I find for myself as an introvert, board games help fix that awkward social situation that’s draining as well. I see that helping more than anything. As mobile gaming takes hold, board gaming might actually replace console gaming over time as a possibility.
The board game industry is growing – and I don’t mean like Monopoly – I mean like the specialty board games. Settlers of Catan kind of kicked that off. They had been around for a while, but in the last few years, it’s really made board games more mainstream. Cards Against Humanity helped push that envelope some more. It’s not really a board game, but definitely in that same kind of realm and thought process.
And more recently, with Codenames. You have games building on what Settlers of Catan has made popular. And so, the amount of games available – specialty games – is quickly growing as console gaming starts to fade out. And I talked to people who play console games, a lot of them play board games too, and enjoy them. So there’s a connection there that I can see it becoming no longer a niche.
What makes you happy?
Happiness for me is making sure that I can provide for the people that I need to. That’s a very basic thing for me. So if someone’s relying on me, I don’t want to let them down. I’m at my happiest when I’m deep into … A convention about something to do with astronomy, or something that aligns with my passions and is an activity of some sort that I can still kind of return to at the end. For me, it’s adding up all of those enjoyable experiences. I don’t necessarily have that need to own certain things to make me happy. It’s about being there, or doing that. Experiencing it before I lose the chance to.
Can you remember a time recently that you felt a huge sense of pride and accomplishment? What was that like?
I hate to say it, the last time was that Mondo x Steelbook thing. I felt a tremendous pride and accomplishment for pulling that off. Plenty of things I’ve worked on since then haven’t necessarily panned out in the same way.
We have a movie buyer who will often come to me and ask for my opinion. It gives me a lot of pride to know that they still value my opinion in that category that I’ve been removed from for so long. And to see that stuff out on the market at more than just our company, that’s really exciting to me. ‘Cause even if my name’s not on it, still I feel associated to this now multi-million dollar project that’s taken a life of its own.
And it’s funny, even my followers on Instagram or Twitter, they’ll engage with me any time I mention something about a Steelbook. And to this day I have people coming to me and asking me for news about a Steelbook. That’s given me a lot of long-term fulfillment at least. So executing on that next big thing is my next goal.
You’re not done. Never satisfied.
You can be satisfied, just not done. (laughs)