Too Many Games!

We’ve been slowly seeing more and more games arrive, more releases as the entire market and Kickstarter come into play.  And I have to say, there’s major disadvantages to this flood of games that keep arriving.

More Badness than Ever

It’s safe to say that there are bad games out there.   In fact, there are horrendously broken games and games with themes that are just wrong.  At the end of the day, there are games that for one reason or another slip past whatever gatekeepers there are and are released into the wide world of distribution.

Let’s assume there are 10 bad games in every 100 releases.  Further, let’s say there are 60 meh games (okay, not great, not bad) and 20 good games and another 10 great games.  Now the last 30 games will switch depending on who you ask (what’s good is after all in the eye of the beholder) and maybe even the bottom 20-30 games will vary (i.e. what’s truly horrible to me might be  meh to another).   We’re still talking about a lot of bad games out there; games that almost everyone can agree just aren’t that great.  Obviously the numbers are made up, but the idea holds true.

Now, if for some reason more capital is injected into the industry – more publishers set up shop, Kickstarter gets even more popular, etc. Let’s say the ratio of good to bad games stays the same.

The end result? There’s even more bad games to wade through than ever.  The probability of you finding those 10 great games suddenly drops off, because you now have to look through even more games (in sheer volume).

Don’t Blink

I’ve talked about the lie of infinite shelf space.  Assume that we want to get as many of those great, good and mediocre games as we can onto the shelves because we know that will sell.  Now, if a 100 games release every month, we need to shift those games ever faster because we’ve now got to find shelf space for those 70 games we’ll bring in next month.

So what happens? We shift some older stock off the list – we say goodbye to Louis XIV, El Grande, Princes of Florence, classics in their own right.  This is happening right here, right now.  Mediocore games, marginally good games, all of them come in and shift off the shelves ever faster because we have to find space for the next new game.  So don’t blink, those games are gone.

Why do you care? Well, perhaps a good game that is good to most might be great for you.  Maybe it’s the perfect game for you and your group.  And you’ll never find it, because it’s gone.

Boom to Bust in 60 Seconds

Think it’s bad for you? Think about how bad it gets for publishers.  Their window of profitability gets cut ever shorter with this.  They need to start making back their funds in ever shorter periods as retailers are forced to rotate stock out.  Sure, Kickstarter might pre-sell a ton of their games but then the question becomes how much more should they print? If your average Kickstarter does 1000 games pre-sold, do the publishers just print 1000 games or 2000? Those last 1000 games have to be sold somewhere – and their window in the retailer’s shelf is ever shorter.

Eventually, publishers might cut down on their print runs further; printing maybe only a few hundred copies more than their Kickstarter numbers because they can’t afford to take the risk of sales through normal retail.  If that’s the case, then games become more expensive (smaller print runs = higher cost) and disappear from shelves ever faster; with reprints not available.

Lower Profits, Lower Service

Publishers and retailers suddenly have less interest in any one game.  If you know you can only sell a 1000 copies (most of it through Kickstarter); then if you want to make a profit you need to pump out games at a faster rate as a publisher.  That means less playtesting, less Q&A when printing.  That means any one single game is less important than making sure each new game gets out faster and that poential errors can be glossed over faster since everyone’s attention span is less.

For retailers, you can’t learn 100 games every month.  So games become commodities, things that come and go.  You can’t provide as good a service because you don’t know the games that well.  You can’t play every game, you can’t even play 10% of those games.

 It Ain’t Over

I’m not saying it’s all bad and I doubt my posts or opinions will change anything.  However, I do think it behooves us all to realise that there are major disadvantages to this move to bypass gatekeepers, to the crowd-funding of games and the increasing number of games arriving.

 

Video Reviews: Battles of Westeros and Tzolk’in

Here’s a double update with all of February’s reviews. It’s been a busy month for us, and the first video slipped under the blog radar when we first posted it.

This week, we’re taking a look at Battles of Westeros, a fast-playing and accessible wargame that uses the popular Battlelore system to simulate battles from George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series.

In our last review, we looked at Essen favorite Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar, which uses an innovative system of moving gears to breathe new life into the worker placement genre.

New Board Games: February 22nd, 2013

New Board Games

Android Netrunner: Cyber Exodus Data Pack
Dragon Leather Dice Cup – Black
Dragon Leather Dice Cup – Brown
Galaxy Trucker: Another Big Expansion
Gale Force Nine 50mm Round Magnetic Bases
Mage Wars: Forcemaster vs Warlords Expansion
Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Shattered Star Poster Map Folio
Pathfinder GameMastery Flip-Mat: Thornkeep Dungeons (2-pack)
Pathfinder GameMastery Map Pack: Sewer System
Pathfinder Player Companion: Animal Archive
Sedition Wars: Battle for Alabaster
Starship Command 3rd Edition
Urbion

In Praise of Distributors

I’ve written before about my issues with purchasing direct from publishers and my thoughts on publishers moving outside the distribution model.  I’ve even discussed the effects exclusive agreements have on my business and why I don’t like them.  While I dislike the consolidation of power in a few distributors and there are issues with direct sales by / from publishers, there often isn’t enough discussion about why distributors are good.

Consolidation of Orders

Shipping cost is a given.  Often you can get free shipping offers if you purchase at a certain level (often $400 – 500).  However, as you can probably see – there are a lot of games we only ever sell 1 copy in a year.   Unless you are talking about a very large publisher with an extensive catalog, you can’t get that free shipping threshold by purchasing a single game.  The ability to consolidate orders is a major boon especially for small publishers.

Better Tools

Almost every distributor we work with has an online sales portal.  Often those portals give us an idea of their stock and their prcies as well as our past order history and outstanding invoices.  Those are all great tools to have, and the ability to place orders online is a major boon.   Most publishers just don’t have the skills, knowledge and funds to devote to creating such a website.  As such, you find yourself sending e-mails, calling or heck, faxing orders in.  And never mind having to ask for information on previous orders or getting tracking information – often, you don’t even get that.

Greater Choice

I’m not talking about catalog choice (i.e. having more games to sell); I’m talking about choice between distributors.   There have been numerous times when a publisher is out of stock but distributors still have them.  Having multiple accounts with multiple distributors can often mean the difference between completing a sale or not.

Better Service (Mostly)

Good tools are nice, good service is better.  Now, there’s no guarantee you’ll get better service (and in some cases you don’t); but I’ve yet to get as truly horrible and unprofessional service from a distributor as I have with publishers.  A distributor’s focus is selling you games; while a publisher’s focus is publishing games.  Sales is but one part of the many balls they must handle.

Consolidated Industry Knowledge

Of all those who have a view of the industry, distributors probably have the clearest.  Their ability to see sales across multiple stores gives them an idea about movements in the industry, which can be of great benefit to a retailer who is placing pre-orders.  Sometimes this benefit happens inadvertently – like a pre-order you placed for a game never being filled because the distributor didn’t reach their order threshold; other times it’s deliberate as when a distributor informs you of a best-selling game.  In both cases, as a retailer you are greatly benefitted.

Gatekeeping

While I’m probably  not going to make any friends with publishers, the fact is that sometimes some games should be kept off the shelves.  Whether they just aren’t that interesting or they are badly designed or have horrible artwork, there are numerous games which are published that just won’t sell on a retail level.  Distributors help keep these games out of circulation and thus reduce the amount of time retailers have to spend researching games.  And when you have over 50+ new games / expansion / components arriving each week that need to be researched, any time savings in that regard are a boon.

Mitigation of Risk

Lastly, there’s the matter of risk mitigation.  If you have a game that you’re iffy about, you could pre-order 1 copy.  Now, you know the distributor is likely to order a few more copies than their pre-order amounts, so if you suddenly sell that 1 copy you can always get more.  The fact that you don’t need to purchase those copies beforehand but have them easily available places the risk of the purchase on the distributor, not yourself.   That mitigation of risk is very important for your profits.

 

New Used Games: February 13th, 2013

February 13th, 2013

Used Games:

Archipelago – Used (Damage Grade A)
Dungeon Lords – Used (Damage Grade A)
Tide of Iron + Normandy Expansion – Used (Damage Grade B)
Race for the Galaxy – Used (Damage Grade B)
A Game of Thrones: The Board Game 2nd Edition – Used (Damage Grade B)
Dungeoneer 2nd Edition: Tomb of the Lich Lord – Used (Damage Grade B)
Dungeoneer 2nd Edition: Dragons of the Forsaken Desert – Used (Damage Grade B)
Dungeoneer 2nd Edition: Vault of the Fiends – Used (Damage Grade B)
Dungeoneer 2nd Edition: Realm of the Ice Witch – Used (Damage Grade A)

Game Salute, Publishers & Online Stores

For those of you who don’t know, Game Salute is a combined publishing / fulfillment / online store in the states that has been attempting to ‘sweep up’ numerous publishers into their fold.  One of the most controversial aspects of their system is their Game Salute Exclusive program.

Game Salute Exclusive

The Game Salute Exclusive program allows publishers (at their request) to restrict their sales to B&M only stores and online through Game Salute’s webstore at full MSRP.  They thus do not sell to any online board game stores like us.  While technically this is restricted to only publishers who request to be on their Exclusive program, if you are with Game Salute you are exclusive.  Game Salute makes no attempt to differentiate between exclusive and non-exclusive partners and in-fact are incentivised to not clarify this and won’t.  This happened to Tasty Minstrel / Lions Rampant and Canadian sales as we found out a few months and numerous e-mails ago.

Why do they do this? Simply because Game Salute’s goal is to:

  • protect B&M stores (probably because one of the founders is a B&M store owner)
  • generate as much profit as possible.

Obviously, this is a rather contradictory pair of goals when you include Kickstarter support in this; but at the end of the day Game Salute is offering a service.  It’s publishers who decide to go with the program / Game Salute.

The Publisher’s View

Having read some posts / comments on this, the financial reasoning for these restrictions seem to come down to this:

  • Online stores discount games, reducing the incentive for B&M stores to carry a product
  • By selling direct at MSRP, the publisher gains the most profit possible from customers who purchase online
  • As all products are at MSRP, the incentive is higher for B&M stores to carry a game, thus increasing overall reach and thus sales for the publisher

Now, publisher’s selling direct is not new.  Neither is the attempt to restrict sales online (see Wizards of the Coast and Magic, D&D and of course Games Workshop).  What Game Salute and these publishers are doing isn’t so much new as more extensive – at least in terms of number of games if not $ of sales.

Tradeoffs & Assumptions

There are some base assumptions involved here that roll into the tradeoffs.  These assumptions include:

  • The steepness of the demand curve

As prices go up, the number of customers who will purchase a game go down.  The true question is, at what rate does this happen? Unfortunately, the data on this is either very low or non-existent

  • The Tipping Point (or lack of) for demand

In the same vein, is there a tipping point where a game demand increases exponentially? As more games reach the hands of gamers, is there a point where demand due to buzz (ratings, reviews, word of mouth, etc) reaches a point where your demand curve changes dramatically?

  • The degree of substitution between products

If your product is no longer available at online retailers; to what extent will customers then search for your product instead of substituting for another? Again, this is an interesting question and it varies I find depending on the specific game.  Some (e.g. Eclipse) are almost impossible to substitute, while other games (e.g. Cuba, Resident Evil Deck Building) are much easier.

  • The degree of substitution between retailers

To what extent are the customers at a specific retailer (online or B&M) ‘theirs’.  If a customer can’t find a game at their favorite retailer, is she going to purchase from another? Can she? How much more trouble / energy will a customer expand to find your game at another retailer, especially if it’s one he dislikes?

  • The degree of free shelf space at retailers

I’ve discussed the lie of the infinite shelf space, the conceit that every game will find itself onto the shelves of retailers.  This is, as mentioned, a lie – there’s just no way for this to happen except perhaps for the very largest retailers.  The question then is to what extent stocking decisions at a retail store are based on availability of the game in other locations.

Numbers, What Numbers?

At the end of the day, we all make assumptions because there just aren’t any numbers in this business.  We’re all guessing and hoping what we do works out right.  Sometimes those guesses are educated guesses, others we just stand around and flip a coin on.

As an online store, we don’t believe that the publishers going with Game Salute are correct.  We feel that publishers are deliberately reducing their sales to a segment of their customers, in the mistaken belief that B&M retailers will then support them in mass.  At the end of the day though, it’s all a guessing game till a publisher (or two or three) release their numbers.

Used Board Games: February 8th, 2013

February 8th, 2013

Used Games:

Java – Used (Damage Grade A)
Pizza Box Football – Used (Damage Grade A)
Leonardo Da Vinci – Used (Opened)
Terror Network: Agency Resource Guide – Used (Damage Grade A)
Terror Network: Counter Terrorism Roleplaying Game – Used (Damage Grade A)
Age of Napoleon – Used (Damage Grade B)
Wallenstein (includes “Emperor’s Court”) – Used (Damage Grade B)
Catacombs (with Dark Passageways & Caverns of Soloth) – Used (Damage Grade B)