Upcoming Events : Greater Vancouver

I thought it’d be worth posting a list of upcoming events that we’ve either sponsored or will be at as a board game vendor:

Sponsors (Charity Events)

Board Gaming for Diabetes : May 1 – 2, 2010

Our 2nd Year Sponsoring this local charity event run by a fellow BGGeeker

Can’t Stop the Serenity: June 26, 2010

In Support of Equality Now; Joss Whedon’s favourite charity and the BC Women’s Hospital and Health Centre.

Vendor (Conventions)

Conquest BC: July 9 – 11, 2010

First year Gaming Convention in BC.  The hotel it’s in is okay, very close to the Skytrain.  Gaming of all forms supported here.

Anime Evolution: August 13 – 15, 2010

Vancouver’s largest Anime Convention.  There’s gaming as well in their gaming center.  This year, they’re back at UBC.

VCon: October 1 – 3, 2010

Location still pending.  It’ll be our fourth year at VCon; BC’s longest running fan convention.  Currently our favourite convention since it’s smaller and more intimate.  The games room constantly has 3 to 4 tables going the last few years and it’s been growing quite steadily.

Market Size – A Guesttimate for Canada

I’ve been thinking a lot about the future, the industry and our future in it lately.  In particular, I’ve been considering how big we can grow.  However, to really know that, you’d need to figure out what the size of the industry is in Canada.

No. of Stores

Now, Gary at Black Diamond Games recently threw out a figure for ‘serious game stores’ of 2,200 in the US. Carry that figure over to Canada, in the same ratio and we’re at about 238 or so major game stores.  Or his guesstimate of about 245 stores.

Average Revenue

Again, no Canadian figures here, but if we keep to the same US figures – it’s about $250,000 per store per annum.

Total Industry Size

So total industry size (using only big game stores) is about $59.5 million per year.  Not a huge industry at all.  Of course, this includes all the gaming types (RPGs, miniatures, board games and CCGs) and accessories.

Board Games in Canada

So let’s be generous and figure board games are about 50% of that market.  That means we’re looking at about $29.75 million a year in annual sales.  Or $30 million among the game stores.

Implications of $30 million

That’s a frightening number really since one of the largest board game focused stores in the US (Funagain) has annual sales of only US$1 million.  And their market size is much, much larger – $550 million using the same numbers.  So figure they’re about 0.2% of the market in the US.  Straight line, to become the FunAgain of Canada (in terms of market size) we’re looking at $550,00.

So a realistic expectation of size for an online company is – what? $300 – 400k at best? Probably less if you’re just a physical b&m store – you’d definitely need to a full-line store to survive.

Anyway, just some initial numbers.  I’m still thinking through the implications and I’d love to find some actual numbers of the breakdown on board games to RPGs to CCG sales.

Chrononauts (2009 Edition) Game Review

Chrononauts is the board game of time travel, where players take on the role of a time traveler attempting to either correct the timeline to his future or to collect sufficient number of cards / artifacts for his benefactor.  To do so, he jumps through time and adjusts the timeline; attempting to finish before his competitors.  A fun time-traveling game, Chrononauts is great to carry around in your bag as it’ll play from 1 to 8 players.

Appearance : The new 2009 Edition of Chrononauts comes in a larger solid cardboard box, with space in both sides for the cards.  As a pure card game, the card stock is heavy and will certainly stand up to repeated use.  In addition, graphics are very simple (if cute) and representative of the various artifacts available.  I do like how the symbols on the cards indicate all the major actions required; meaning that you rarely have to refer to the small rulebook.  Overall, I’d say it’s appearances are adequate but not great.

Rules / Ease of Learning:  Chrononauts is actually pretty easy to learn to play.  You lay out the timeline on a board, with specific years showcasing major events (linchpin events) and flux points in a grid format.  You then receive a hand of cards to use during the game as well as your character.  Your character will have a specific alternate timeline (always 1 ‘real’ event and 2 ‘patched’ events) which he is attempting to return to.  You’ll also return a goal card, that indicates the artifacts you are trying to recover.

Play continues in a simple ‘draw 1, play 1’ format.  the strategy of the game comes in the types of cards you draw and play, from flipping specific linchpin years to change history (for that year and all other linked event years) to  collecting / stealing artifacts or even ‘patching’ the timeline.  I should note that patching the timeline is a very good thing, as it stops the universe from exploding from too many Paradoxes (8) as well as giving the players an extra card for doing the deed.  That leads to the last method of winning – gaining 8 cards in hand.

Gameplay: I like Chrononauts a lot.  It’s fun, fast to teach and moderately quick to play.  The fact that you can play solo or up to 8 players makes the game quite interesting, with strategies changing as you increase the number of players involved.

In addition, while gameplay is simple, there’s a depth of strategy to it as you manage not only your hand but attempt to guess the goals of your opponents.  Since  everyone has 3 major methods of winning, 2 of which are hidden, it’s important to keep an eye on these factors as well.  On the other hand, Chrononauts is not an extremely difficult game to learn / play either, which makes is a good light-medium weight game to introduce to new gamers.

Conclusion:  Chroonauts is a great card game – a continuously altering landscape / game board, hand management and multiple goals all make it a great unique card game that should be added to any players collection.

Accessories – Any Requests?

We recently received a  huge e-mail listing all the Ultra Pro accessories available at our distributor.  Currently, we’ve limited the number of accessories available to mostly Mayday and FFG sleeves with a few, basic, deck sleeves from Ultra Pro and a ton of dice from Chessex.

We are wondering if there’s anything in particular that we should stock.  Among the potential additions:

  • More Dice Sets (d6, bags of dice, different colours, etc.)
  • More sleeves from KMC (kmcsleeves.com) or Ultra Pro
  • Deck Vaults
  • 4 and9 pocket portfolios
  • Player Mats
  • Different types of game counters
  • Storage boxes / bags
  • Dice Towers

I’m sure there’s more that haven’t come to mind.  So the open question is, is there anything else that we should add or that as customers, you’d like to see?

Pricing Strategies and Sales

We recently received an e-mail asking us to discuss our typical sales and our margins / pricing strategy.  I declined to discuss our sales figures since I am still somewhat uncomfortable discussing sales in public.  It’s competitive information that, while I understand is interesting for our customers, is also potentially dangerous to discuss.  It’s also a misleading number to mention to customers – revenue is only one side of the equation.  And being online, with a low margin business, it’s actually the less important part of the equation.

On Pricing Strategies

The second part of the customer’s question though, on pricing strategies, is something I feel comfortable discussing.   Pricing strategy in the board game industry for retailers can be viewed in context of MSRP:

  • Above MSRP – maximising profit margin per sale; generally useful if you expect very low demand and very low competition
  • At MSRP  – status quo pricing. Moderate but stable levels of profits generally occur here
  • Below MSRP – generally to maximise revenue, not profits.  Margins are impacted; the amount dependent upon the discount.  The goal in this strategy is to reduce your overall cost per game
  • Below Cost – only viable if your major business isn’t actually sales of the board games.  An example would be Tanga and Amazon in our business – their revenue streams include advertising to supplement the revenue they lose by selling below cost.

Obviously, we’ve (and pretty much every other online game store) have taken the below MSRP / revenue maximisation model.  The goal is to gain as much revenue as possible while lowering cost.   Of course, the trick is working out exactly what your margins need to be for your expected costs (which; in many cases is variable as well).

 On Pricing Tactics

Of course, strategy is just the overall picture.  Beneath that, you have pricing tactics.   There are numerous pricing tactics available, but Im just going to discuss the one that was enquired about.

Our erstwhile questioner asked about loss leaders to which we replied a negative on its use.  The goal of loss leaders are to generate traffic, allowing the retailer to upsell the customer.  A really good loss leader generates repeated visits from the same customer, allowing the retailer to continually gain a share of the customers wallet.  Bread & Milk in a supermarket are great examples of this.  After making your trip to pick up the bread and milk, you’ll likely end up continuing your grocery shopping.  And of course, after a few days, you’ll be back to get more bread and milk, continuing the cycle.

However, look at board games.  Our most popular seller – Settlers of Catan is generally purchased singly or with its expansion.  Customers don’t stop to purchase ‘Steam‘ or ‘Dominion‘ or any other board games, because that’s not part of their shopping list.   In addition, you aren’t likely to see them back for weeks, even months as they enjoy the game.  So your loss leader is just a loss.

In addition, most of our other customers aren’t here for Settlers / Ticket to Ride / Carcassonne.  Instead, they’re here for the other 1,500 plus games we stock.  We can’t guess which one’s they’ll want, so it’s actually better strategy to provide a low price for everything and just not the most popular products.

Oh, and one other piece of information to consider – the bestsellers continue to make up a significant portion of our sales.  At last look, Settlers of Catan (not including expansions) made up about 2% of our revenue.   Creating a loss leader out of the game would significantly increase our breakeven point.

Of course, the entire reasoning for not using a loss leader is based on the assumption that the revenue from returning ‘loss leader customers’ is less than the cost of goods sold to all other ‘loss leader customers’.    It is, so far, an unfounded assumption but it’s not one that I’d be willing to risk the company to challenge.

Gaming for Diabetes : May 1, 2010

We wanted to let you know about an event that will be held soon:

Gaming for Diabetes

Date & Time: May 1, 2010 (10am to Midnight) and May 2, 2010 (10am – 6pm)

Venue: The Royal City Curling Club; 75 E 16th Ave, New Westminster

Last year there were about 40 – 50 people who attended.  It’s a board gaming event – with everyone bringing their own games and then placing them out for peple to play / use.    As such, there’s a wide variety of board games for everyone.

Also, there’s always a 50/50 draw and a Silent Auction which holds quite a few good, fun games.

It’s also relatively cheap and for a good cause – $20 for Saturday and $15 for Sunday or $30 for the weekend.

If you’re going, make sure to say Hi! I’ll be there for certain on Saturday and quite possibly Sunday.

Independent Publishers : How to Get a Games Store To Stock You

Occasionally, I get e-mails from independent publishers asking me to stock their games. Many times, I’ve replied to these publishers and more often than not, the deals have fallen through.  for a number of reasons.

It’s worth noting the average number of games I sell from any independently published board game I’ve stocked is between 0 to 1.   Occasionally, these games sell between 2 to 3 copies.  A rare few have sold more than 4 copies.  I’m much more likely to stock a game if I can add it to my usual order from a distributor than if I have to buy the game myself.  The cost of shipping these games (from you to me) impacts my margin quite significantly, so if I can allay that in any way, it makes sense to do so.

With that said, here’s a list of things that will make it more likely I’ll stock your games:

  • Be polite & professional.
  • Include all the relevant information you can, in an easy to read format.  This includes:
    • Name of your game
    • Age range & no. of players
    • Theme / Setting of the game
    • Target audience (party, wargame, eurogame, etc.)
    • MSRP of the game
    • Awards won (if any) or reviews (by a notable persona; e.g. Drake Flames, Board Games with Scott, etc.)
    • BGG listing (I’m going to look it up anyway)
    • Who your distributors are (if any)
    • Images of the game itself
    • Your contact information and website
  • Provide a decent discount.  I can’t sell a game if my discount purchasing direct from you is 15%.  Industry standard discounts from MSRP are between 45-50%
  • Be willing to ship one or more copies. Especially with independent games, I am not likely to stock more than a few in my first purchase.
  • Follow up.  Sometimes, I get so busy I don’t reply because I’ve put aside your e-mail and them promptly forgot about it.  If I haven’t told you no, there’s a shot.  Just make sure to give me at least a week though.

On Competition in the Gaming Business

Occasionally, I get asked what I think of so-and-so game store.  Most recently while gaming with some fellow BGG’ers about a new game store in Vancouver.  Mostly, my reaction to such questions is along the lines of – “oh yeah, those guys.  They look cool.  I hope they do well.”

It might seem like a very diplomatic answer, but the truth is, competition (or the lack of) isn’t the driving force behind our business decisions.  As such, I have no antagonism towards our competitors.  Competition sets the stage, it doesn’t dictate our strategy.

If you think of business in the context of the role-choice games like Twilight Imperium or Race for the Galaxy, you’re always aware of what “roles” your competitors are going to choose.  However, it’s your choices and your strategy that is more important.  Make a mistake there – go down the wrong path for optimisation, decide on the roles and you’ll affect yourself more than you affect them.

In addition, even if your competitors decided to choose the exact same strategy (online or brick & mortar or a mix); your different starting hands (your skills & capital) and your card draws (the suppliers; employees & customers you gain) will all change how you play your game.

It’s also worthwhile noting that the victory conditions in running a store is entirely up to the players involved – some people give themselves years, others decades.  Some are willing to take minimum wage, others need more.  Since the victory conditions are generally hidden, second guessing your competition is difficult at best.

Cross Sells, Upsells and Related Products

With sales slow this March, I’ve had lots of time to work on a number of projects that I’ve been meaning to complete.  The customer rewards program was obviously one – and with that launched, I’m quite happy.

The other aspect has been fixing a number of cross-sells, upsells and related products on the site to better reflect what we have.  What a B&M store might do automatically via clever placement of their games and a good sales person, we have to do manually on the backend.  Since we don’t have a salesperson talking to the vast majority of our customers, unless we take care to showcase games, they never appear to our customers.

Unfortunately, the system currently doesn’t do this automatically.  I’ve been looking at various modules that could automate this somewhat; but like most things, it requires quite a bit of testing to make sure the settings are correct.  In addition, there’s a cost to purchasing and installing these modules.  So for now, everything has to be done by hand.

So I’ve been going back, adjusting stock as best as I can. It’s a time consuming process since load time / save time and verification takes between 4 to 5 minutes each game.  And right now, we’ve got over 1,700 SKUs on the system and it’s just going to get worst.

It’s  part of the reason why we haven’t done anything for our retail prices yet – it takes too long without getting the software’s mass import / export fixed.  Which is on our next list of things to do.

April Newsletter : Anniversary Sale & Customer Rewards Program

Anniversary Sale

Our Anniversary Sale starts April 1, 2010 and run till April 30, 2010. We have over 100 board games on sale, with some major discounts on many of the games for both old and new.

Contest Winner Announcement

This month’s winner is Maxime with his review of Dominion. One of our consistent bestsellers “Dominion and it’s nice card drafting mechanic is very quick, simple and actually addictive”. Congratulations Maxime!

Ongoing Contests
The monthly review contest is continuing this month and the winner of each monthly review contest will receive a $20 gift certificate. In addition, the winner is enterred into the end of the year draw for the Grand Prize of $250 of board games! So start writing your reviews now, since every review is an individual entry into the monthly contest.

Site Updates
The Customer Rewards Program launched last month for testing. To join the program, all you need is a customer account. Every order after that that ships will automatically log the points that you get – with 10 points awarded for every dollar spent on products.

Lastly, the everyday reward redemption rate is 1,000 points for $1. On select products and shipping methods throughout the year; points will be redeemable at an even higher discount level. So watch out for the announcements on the newsletter and blog

Upcoming Games
We’ve got a lot of interesting new games coming this month including Horus Heresy , Race for the Galaxy : the Brink of War, Cyclades and the Dominion : Alchemy Expansion .