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.

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)

Independent Contractors

I’ve talked about volunteers, interns & other free help before.  So today, let’s talk about another one of the most common ‘shortcuts’ businesses take in terms of cost and hiring is to hire an individual on as an ‘independent contractor’.

The Business Case

Hiring an independent contractor to do work for you has some advantages for a business, at least at first glance:

  • Less bureaucracy –  You get an invoice, you pay it.  You don’t need a Canada Revenue Agency Payroll account, you don’t have to withhold funds for EI or CPP or deal with the paperwork involved
  • Lower cost – you don’t have to pay EI or CPP or WorksafeBC.  Often, you can ‘bargain’ lower salaries / rates overall because the contractor sees more of their actual pay.
  • Quick termination – if they are contractors, there’s a lot fewer requirements if you are looking to terminate the contract
  • HST / GST savings –  as an ‘expense’, you get to clawback some of your HST / GST revenue if the contractor charges HST

The Contractors Case

So why do these contractors agree to this? Well, here’s a few reasons why:

  • Lack of power – sometimes, the job is offered only on these terms.
  • Expenses – whether it’s HST / GST that they charge and thus can use for other input tax credits or general expenses (e.g. telephone, rent, internet, etc.); there’s definitely financial benefit here
  • Multiple sources of income – as a theoretical contractor, you could potentially have more than one source of income as a contractor.

It sounds like a win-win situation for everybody doesn’t it? Except…

Business Liability

The problem is, there’s a definite liability if your ‘independent contractor’ is found to be an employee.  You are liable for:

  • unpaid taxes, penalties, interest, CPP and EI premiums
  • injuries on the job since the contractor wasn’t covered by WCB
  • the onus is on the business, not the contractor to prove a contractor relationship if any complaints go to HRDC or the like

Contractor Liability

  •  obviously, the contractor is also liable for unpaid taxes, penalties, interest, CPP and EI premiums
  • in addition, you aren’t automatically covered by HRDC and other employee laws.  You can always complain, but it becomes a longer process to get restitution

What CRA looks for:

  •  Control – how much control does the employer have in this relationship? Does he dictate when, where and how you work? A great example is our bookkeeper.  She does all our work remotely, I just send her the files.  The only real control I have is when I expect the work to be completed.
  • Ownership of tools – whose tools are being used? how significant are those tools? Rob who shoots all our videos brings and uses all his own equipment
  • Chance of profit / loss –  who runs the biggest risk here of profit or loss? Is the contractor taking on any potential risk? Kaja for example isn’t a contractor since she’s guaranteed her pay and she hasn’t taken on any operating expenses for the business or herself
  • Integration – This is a kind of a weird one and discusses who is absorbing who into their business practices.  It’s often an indicator of how much work is being done by the contractor for the employer / number of clients the contractor has.

Now, I’m obviously not a lawyer so this isn’t legal advice.  However, from all that I know of, the risk of not ‘hiring’ an employee properly is often quite high.  Sometimes, the line can be quite grey.  Other times, the hassle might seem too much – example, hiring a really short-term worker (a few days).   In both cases, as a business owner and as a potential independent contractor; it’s worth knowing your rights and liabilities.

 

Post Con Report : Gottacon

We just came back from Gottacon and while we are still recovering from the 15 hour days.  Gottacon this year was as big, if not bigger than last year and it was an interesting year all around.

Day 1

Load up and go.  We generally pack the day before and just load the van in the morning to catch the 11am ferry and this year was no different.  Load out was easier this year in general too – we tried our best to restrict what we were bringing across to games we knew were going to sell and dropped a bunch of other games.  It didn’t help that sales throughout the week were good enough that we actually had less of some bestsellers in-stock than we had expected.

This year we skipped staying at the Howard Johnson in an effort to save our backs (horrible beds) and booked another motel (the Super 8).  We had about 2 minutes in the room, long enough to drop off clothing before we had to rush to Gottacon and begin unpacking.  As usual, a single booth never seems enough space when you start out and we certainly ended up with boxes unpacked and hidden beneath the tables.  A quick walk-around showed that we had a lot more competition this year too – there were a total of 5 game stores and another independent seller at Gottacon this year.  That was obviously slightly worrying for us, but it seemed many game stores had decided to ‘specialise’ in one area; whether it was miniatures, CCGs, accessories or board games (us).

Kaja in the booth - a brief moment of rest
Kaja in the booth – a brief moment of rest

Once the doors opened at 5pm, the next 6 hours passed by in a blur.  Con-goers were streaming in much more quickly this year, which meant people were playing and shopping immediately.  This was a major change from the year before and we have to give kudos for Evan & Carson for fixing the lineup problem that arose last year.

Game tables were packed almost immediately between the various demos, tournaments and open play.  If anything, we definitely needed at least another 3 tables for open play it seemed.   At 11.30pm we decided to call it a day, though we might have to look at staying open later next year.  Certainly con-goers were still running around shopping it seemed, though at a significantly slower pace by that time.

Day 2

Day 2 started at 9am for us (okay, 9.05am when we got to the Con) and almost immediately we started doing sales.  Sales moved in fits and starts throughout the day, with customers coming in waves as various games and panels finished.  This helped us pace the day, giving both Kaja and I time to take quick breaks to look around the Con.

2013-02-02_14-47-25_787_Victoria2013-02-02_14-48-48_875_VictoriaThere was definitely a lot to see – the board games tables were constantly packed with players with over 16 tables in-play at any one time. Day 2 was also the day of the costume contest with some amazing costumes on display.  On the left is our favorite of the con.

The other sections of the con were always busy though we didn’t see much of it at all.  Certainly the miniature section was very busy whenever we glanced over.

The silent auction as always had some amazingly good deals, with a wide range of items ranging from board games to miniatures to fantasy books available.  The silent auction is probably one of the better parts of the con with such a wide range of products available at sometimes a steal of a price.

Starlit Citadel was running 2 tournaments ourselves, the first a Race for the Galaxy tournament in the morning that had 12 participants and later, in the evening a Dominion tournaments with 23 participants.  The Race tournament went off without a hitch with a lot of happy players and I’m quite happy with the new format (single game elimination with the winner going to the final round where 3 games were played for a $15 gift certificate prize).

The Dominion tournament on the other hand was a bit of a mess, with too many games played (i.e. too much time) and too much confusion.   I’ve definitely got to edit the tournament format; though thankfully everyone involved was generally happy with the overall experience.  Certainly, the finals was nail-biting – everyone ended up winning a game (tie in game 1 between 2 players) so the winner’s were decided by overall points.  The overall winner came from behind and won by amassing 40 points in a last round filled with Witches & Curses.

Sales were busy but started tapering off towards the evening, which meant that Kaja managed to make it to the RPG Improv for the Standard Action Panel.  In Kaja’s words – “I got to play a Goblin“.  That might have been followed by a squee.  I understand there were props, plot cards, singing and a video.

With most gamers having wandered off by 12.30am; we decided to call it an evening  and headed to bed.

Day 3

Day 3 – the final day – started at 9am too but really, most people wandered around like zombies till at least noon.  With sales and traffic slow, I took the chance to do some gaming and broke out Glory to Rome Black Box and Clash of Cultures.  Both were great games to play, with the new edition of Glory to Rome doing some things better (easier sorting and design) and others worst (diagonal stripes that hurt the eyes – really?).  Clash of Cultures was a lot of fun, it’s a streamlined Civilization game that is to civilization games what Eclipse is to Twilight Imperium.  I’m definitely looking forward to trying that one again.

In the afternoon things picked up, with more customers coming by to purchase last minute products.  At this point it seemed some of our over-zealous streamlining of products brought hurt our sales with quite a few games out of stock.  There were also some customers who came by looking for last minute con deals who left disappointed as we don’t do con deals.  Overall, sales were much slower than last year’s con – a factor it seems due to the last minute deals the rest of the vendor’s room was conducting.

Packing up was murderous – long days made both of us move a lot slower than normal and the lack of a proper load-out option meant that load out took forever.  Gottacon definitely needs to work out a better plan for that since by the time we drove to the ferries, we had missed our reservation window.

Last Thoughts

GottaCon was a lot of fun and certainly (in terms of sales for us) worth going.   While the increased competition did hamper us a bit, the increased number of con-goers seemed to make up for it.  I certainly think most attendees had a good time as well, with the amazing amount of gaming that was going on.  The larger number of demos and tournaments were great and the panels seemed to do very well with attracting interest from players who wanted a break from pure gaming.

As a gaming event, Gottacon is probably the biggest there is in BC by a large margin.  It’d be nice to see a similar event in Vancouver, with the current closest options being VCon and Bottoscon in October & November respectively.

Some things that could have gone better include:

  • more ventilation (especially by Saturday evening, it was just ridiculous how stuffy it was)
  • more variety in dealers booths (and a larger dealer area).  While I personally wouldn’t want more game stores, I do believe the con could do with a wider variety of dealers
  • a better load out plan – having the main loading area blocked off during load out because the video gamers were busy was a pain
  • more water – having volunteers drop by with water was great.  Having them drop by only twice during the 3 days was not
  • healthier food choices – while I understand we’re all gamers, it’d be nice if the cafeteria had some healthier food options rather than just pizza / donuts / chocolate bars on offer.

Used Board Games: February 1st, 2013

February 1st, 2013

Used Games:

Hornet Leader: Carrier Air Operations – Used (Damage Grade A)
Risk: Legacy – Used (Opened)
Power Grid – Used (Damage Grade A)
Savage Worlds: Low Life – Used (Damage Grade A)
Kings and Things – Used (Damage Grade B)
D-Day Dice – Used (Damage Grade A)
Belfort – Used (Damage Grade A)
Arkham Horror: The Lurker at the Threshold – Used (Damage Grade A)
A Game of Thrones Board Game – 1st Edition – Used (Damage Grade A)
Beer Money – Used (Damage Grade A)