Every store owner has problem players; the person who attends an event and by their mere presence, makes a negative experience for other participants.┬áSometimes it’s the store’s fault for providing poor customer service, this is fixable. Correct mistake, apologize and make right, move forward. Sometimes this really is no one’s fault. The player has an expectation, perhaps set by misidentifying the species of game store they’re in. Communication or heading to a new venue can fix that one. Sometimes the player is socially awkward or doesn’t quite get it, and can just be spoken to. Sometimes the player is an asshole. That last one requires banning. Immediately.

We have a code of conduct and a no-bullshit-tollerated attitude that weeds out a lot of problems after one trip to our store with no further adjustment needed. Sexually harassing someone? Gone. Arguing with a tournament official and holding up the event? Toast. Being a know-it-all jerkweasil that needs to be right? GTFO. We make our Magic prizes “flat” (everyone gets something), we run learn to plays and every casual event we can find more than tournaments. But still, sometimes you pickup a problem player, so what do you do?

Code of Conduct

Have a code of conduct for your events. Good community control begins with that code. It’s not for you, the store owner. You can just tell customers causing problems to get the hell out. You know a bad egg, but the code of conduct is for your staff. If you don’t, go write one, it will help you in the future.

Ours? It let’s us ban, on the spot, anyone who signs up for an event and swears, gets angry, uses hate speech, brings in an outside drink, and so on. We adapted this from Gnome Games to suit our needs. Do we typically instantly ban someone for these behaviors? No, typically we take a 3 strikes approach with lots of friendly warnings and reminders, but the point is when the problem player says “WHAT DID I DO?!” Your staff can point to the code of conduct hanging on your wall and say “Rule 4 says: Thou Shalt Not argue with Tournament Officials.” It gives them confidence.

But okay, sometimes someone obeys all the “letters” of the code you’ve written, but they’re still a bad apple, but maybe they don’t do it in front of you or a manager. Maybe they do it only on security camera, or wait until your least trained staffers are on and then corner them. Oh no! What now? Ban them anyway. Seriously. Here’s how.

An illustration

We had a customer, let’s call him “Jim McMagicPlayer,” who had consistent complaints about our events. And we’re not talking “He made a complaint, we fixed it, and that was it for a while.” We’re talking 1 complaint a week about problems we just fixed. Upon review, 60% of all the events he attended, he complained to the staff or a manager about something. By itself, not a problem. Except that at 80% of those events, 1-3 other customers complained about him and his lack of sportsmanship and attitude problems, aggressive behavior toward staff, or general unsportsmanlike play.

Why was he such a problem? I don’t care. I’m not in business to run a psychological encounter group for 28 year old grown men, I’m in business to make a living providing a fun and enjoyable experience to hobbyists. I also don’t own an Event Center, I own a Neighborhood Store, and that means my first duty is to my regular customers who “just want to have fun.” Someone is spoiling that fun? They’re gone. Here’s the hardest part, some of his complaints were valid issues that we addressed, but he still had to go because he communicated those complaints in a way that ruined the play experience for the other attendees.

So on a Sunday afternoon, my day off, I pulled his email off his membership and sent Mr McMagicPlayer an email. The text is below, feel free to copy and past as you like.

At Just Games we work very hard to foster and open, inclusive, and casual community not focused on prizes but focused on fun.

Your attitude of general disrespect toward our staff makes it clear you do not care for the experience we offer. Now, our staff have thick skins. Ordinarily we would explain our policies, consider your point of view, and move forward.

However, I have now received multiple reports from people you have played against or near at our events – our other customers – that you have been angry or disrespectful toward them during a match, suggested that they go play at another store, or expressed anger toward our policies or event decisions in a way that created a negative play experience for our other players. Upon reviewing our security footage, it is clear to me that these reports are both correct, and probably under reported. Those behaviors are all serious violations of the Just Games Code of Conduct that have resulted in a negative play experience for our other guests.

You are therefore banned from attending all future events at Just Games Rochester. You are likewise banned from patronizing our establishment in any way in the future. Please do not return to our store under any circumstances. Should you find it necessary to continue playing Magic, we feel certain the other excellent venues in Rochester will be able to meet your needs.

Notice that the email has several distinct rhetorical parts. At the outset, I am sure to say what we do, and why we do it. I then move immediately to what the issue is and why he has violated our code of conduct. Finally I land on the ban, but notice that I bounce immediately to “You can go play elsewhere.” Why end with this? Because he is likely, in his rage, to reply to me with “Yeah, well, I’ll go to store X where thing Y is better,” and implicitly and without realizing it accept all the rest of my email as true. By avoiding the argument, I get him to accept that he has already lost. By focusing him on what he’ll do next, it also moves him off of being angry at my store, and reduces the odds that he will come at me with angry backlash, negative reviews, etc. This is not perfect. Sometimes customers are so mad, they stew over an encounter like this and flame you online for months. Usually though, it’s better to say “We’re a bad fit for you, why not go away?”

The bottom line is that sometimes a customer is a bad match for your business model, and doesn’t understand or see this. Debating this is pointless. The goal is not to make them agree with you; the goal is to make them go away so you can focus on your other customers. The hard truth is that they are so much worse for your business than a rage-quitter, because the player base will slowly be soured by them to not benefit.

Ban them, and move on.