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.