Payment Methods: Bitcoins & Visa Debit

Two new payment methods have been added to the site recently:

Bitcoins

Bitcoins are now being accepted directly on the site. Due to the way Bitcoins work, we are not able to take pre-orders for games without taking payment (same as with Debit / Interac / PayPal).  As such; all orders placed with Bitcoin will have payment taken immediately.

Secondly, since we do not actually ‘keep’ Bitcoins and due to the volatile nature of the exchange rate, if you do require a refund you will receive a refund via store credit only.

As an FYI – Fortress Geek does so too and was our test case for it 🙂

Visa Debit

Visa Debit is now available on the site.  Like Interac, if you pay with Visa Debit you will be debited immediately for any order placed on our site.  You may pay using Visa Debit using our Visa / Mastercard payment option on the site.

Bugs, Bugs, Bugs

I thought I’d quickly write a little explanation of what happens when a customer (or we) find a bug in the website.   Most of the time, the process goes through the following stages:

  1. Awareness
  2. Logging
  3. Replication
  4. Triage
  5. Coding Fixes
  6. Testing
  7. Deployment

Let’s discuss them in more detail:

Awareness

Pretty self-explanatory, a customer or one of us comes across a bug.  We get told about it.

Logging

Once a bug comes to our attention, we log the bug information (or what is mentioned to us as a bug).  In some cases, the ‘bug’ is not a bug but a feature or a core funcitonality – e.g. we don’t store credit cards or allow customers to edit orders themselves once an order is placed.

Replication

Time to see if we can replicate the bug.  A good 20 – 30% of all bugs reported to us are not replicable.  Whether it’s due to different browsers or operating systems, specific extensions on browsers creating conflicts or even the server / network the customer is on; we are not able to replicate the exact environment that caused the bug.

If we are not able to replicate a bug, we can’t fix it.   Thus the log – we keep a log on this issue, see if it (or something close to it) happens again.  If enough people manage to replicate this, quite often we are able to acquire sufficient information from the various individuals to finally replicate the bug. Then it’s on to the next step…

Triage

How big an issue is this bug? Bugs are assessed on a variety of factors:

  • number of individuals affected
  • where in the checkout process this is happening (a checkout bug is much more important than one in the article pages)
  • number of functions it affects
  • other bugs that have not been fixed
  • complexity of problem (if it’s something I could fix compared to a professional developer)

Once the assessment is done, we slot it into our ticketing system with our developers

Coding Fixes

Next up is the fixes and coding.  Dependingo n the complexity of the problem, either I or our developers will work on the problem.  If it’s an issue which our developers are able to solve, we normally have to wait due to their workload.  This can often cause long delays.  Unfortunately, finding competent developers whom we can trust is difficult.

Testing

Once a fix has been made, we have to test it.  Obviously the developers have tested it, but to ensure the site does not break we generally do testing ourselves as well.  This often can bring up new problems, so off we go back to coding fixes till the fix passes.

Deployment

Finally, we deploy the fixes.  At this point, we do one last test to make sure the bug is fixed and nothing else breaks.  Once that happens, we are good to go.  We keep an eye on the problem, just in case it crops up again, but generally it should be fixed and we’re good to go fix another bug.

Video Review: Innovation

This week’s review is for the awesome Iello 2nd edition of Innovation. It’s a fairly light but very engaging strategy game that scales well from 2 players up, and the new version really makes it shine.

Please note that the current edition is not compatible with the older Asmadi editions of the 2 expansions. New expansion editions will be hitting North America by next year at the latest, and there’s plenty to enjoy in the base game.

Random Amusement of the Day – Spam

Following is our spam statistics (number of spam comments stopped by the automated system):
3021 Spam stopped in 2013 – October
449 Spam stopped in 2013 – September
41 Spam stopped in 2013 – August
52 Spam stopped in 2013 – July
45 Spam stopped in 2013 – June
68 Spam stopped in 2013 – May
106 Spam stopped in 2013 – April
143 Spam stopped in 2013 – March
191 Spam stopped in 2013 – February
228 Spam stopped in 2013 – January
181 Spam stopped in 2012 – December

New Features: Gift Registries & the Wishlist

At the request of a customer and because it’s been bugging me for some time, we’ve added a major new feature to the site.  Actually, 2 features.

Permanent Wishlist Link

The first is the inclusion of a permanent Wishlist Link available for sharing on various social websites.  It can be founder under your Wishlist page and will be individual for each customer.

Note that due to a limitation in the way the Wishlist works, if an order is placed from the Wishlist link, it will not remove the product from your wishlist.  As such, it is a possibility to get more than 1 copy of the same game.

Gift Registry

To deal with this issue, we’ve added a new feature entitled ‘Gift Registry’.  You can create Gift Registries for:

  • General (if you don’t want to specify)
  • Birthday
  • Christmas
  • Weddings

You will be able to dictate which (or how many) gift registries you wish to create when you access the page in your ‘My Account’ folder on the site.  Other major features on the gift registry include:

  • Add gifts to registries and move them between registries;
  • Indicate gifts priority;
  • Leave comments for each gift;
  • Share gift registries with potential gift-buyers;
  • Indicate the date of event and address for shipping the gifts;
  • View the list of gift buyers associated with the purchased gifts and wishes left;
  • Search for gift registries;
  • Add gifts from other customer’s gift registries to theirs;
  • Track item’s status and view which items are Pending;

Limitations on the new gift registry system:

  • The database for your Wishlist and your Gift Registry are separate.  There is currently no way to port gift information between the two databases (sorry!)
  • Customers can only purchase items on the gift registry when placing an order.  There is currently no way for a giftee to purchase an item that isn’t on the gift registry on the same order.  It’s why we recommend everyone add ‘Gift Wrapping‘ to their registry just-in-case.
    • we are looking into fixes on this, but am uncertain when / how this could be fixed

I actually really like the Gift Registry system and would recommend you keep the Wishlist as a personal reminder, while using the Gift Registry as a ‘public’ place for products you’d actually like to buy.

Let me know if there are more registries you’d like for us to make.  We have the option of creating as many registries as we wish.

 

Video Reviews: 2014 Plans

With 2013 coming to a close very quickly (Christmas means we hunker down and just focus on shipping and customer service), we needed to make a decision on how we’re managing Starlit Citadel Reviews in 2014.  Last year, we self-funded 26 videos and ran a fundraiser for additional episodes. We raised around $3000, which covered 7 bonus episodes for 2013. We had about 1,500 subscribers then. This year, we have over 9000 subscribers and, were seriously considering fundraising again for additional videos.

However, after much thought, we’ve decided against it for a number of reasons.

a) Lack of time

Both Rob and Joanna (our videographer and co-host) are very busy with their own projects.  We were concerned at their ability to commit to more than 26 videos, especially if the workload for one of their projects increases significantly.

In addition, there’s a time-cost on our end.  Kaja has to play each game herself before writing the review, which works out to 1 game a week if we hit our maximum of 52 videos.  That’s a lot of time just gaming — and doesn’t even include things like writing the script (1-3 hours/episode), filming the videos (1-1.5 hours/episode) and reviewing them for edits (1 hour/episode).

b) Specialisation

When we looked at it, we realised that, if we did mange to raise enough money to do 52 videos a year, we wouldn’t just be a game company anymore – we’d also be a video production company.  Since we don’t directly generate revenue from the videos, the additional benefit of moving from 26 to 52 videos is low for Starlit itself.  In fact, if you looked at revenue generated directly from the videos (i.e. purchases made by customers who come to the site directly from Youtube) we’d be running a huge loss.  Sure, we’d be generating more videos, but since we don’t make any profit on the fundraising, we’d just be producing videos on behalf of our viewers.  It’s just not something I think we should be doing, at least not if it doesn’t make us money in a direct way.

c) Lack of games to review

One thing Kaja brought up was whether there were even 52 games released a year that would fit our format (not too complex, visually friendly, and good enough that we can recommend them to customers).  What would happen if we played a game and decided it wasn’t really good enough? Would we shoot it anyway and put out a lukewarm — or bad — review, or try to cram in a 2nd game to be played / scripted / video-taped at the last minute?

26 interesting, high quality games we can be certain of.  52? I’m not so sure myself.

d) PR Issues

When we launched our fundraiser last year, some people complained that we were asking for funds.  After all, weren’t they paying for our marketing? Shouldn’t we, as a game store, be providing this entirely free-of-charge? We have a lot more subscribers and viewers now – and I’d expect a lot more questions, complaints, and PR work if we ran a fundraiser again this time.

Considering all we ask for are voluntary donations that would fund extra episodes beyond the 26 that we self-fund (every dollar of which has been directed towards the videos), I personally don’t see the problem.  Sure, they have a point – we do get some added benefit from releasing more videos per year, but it’s not as much as most people think for each review.  The overall fact of doing the video reviews (and having now built a library of over 80 vidoes) seems to generate more revenue / customers than any individual video review.  So any additional video shot is gravy.  It’s still nice gravy, but it’s gravy.

A larger campaign, reaching a larger audience, would mean a lot more explaining our motivations, expenses, and marketing practices, and would increase our stress and work-load enough for the PR question to be worth taking into account.

The Plan for 2014

As you’ve probably gathered, we are continuing the video reviews.  In 2014, we will release 26 new videos, produced in-house at our cost.  We may play around with format slightly by introducing more Top-10 or other “special” episodes year-round. In the case of any changes, you’ll be the first to know.

We are also looking at setting up a dedicated section of the website to showcase our videos better (once we work out the design). This may include a place where individuals who want to donate can do so throughout the year, with funds collected going to additional episodes if they hit a threshold high enough to cover a shoot.  We might even make it possible to ‘buy’ a review for indie-game developers; though I have a feeling the cost in this case will be significantly more than most developers would care to pay.

Overall, we’re very interested in continuing with the reviews, and will be focusing on a smaller set of high-quality videos and showcasing the series as best we can. Hopefully, by putting some of the resources that would be spent on creating new episodes and running fundraisers into presenting the series, we’ll create a better experience for viewers and customers even with a smaller season.

Attrition Rate: The Decline of Business

Just came from VCon, which as always was fun.  This year, while I don’t have the numbers of attendees it sounded like they had more or equal number of attendees this year than previous years.  However, our sales as Starlit were down significantly – along the lines of 40% from the year before.

Why? A number of reasons I think:

1) Inadequate staffing

2) Less Space

3) Fewer new returning customers

4) More competition

I’m going to tackle number 3 in this article, because it’s something that preys on my mind regularly.  VCon has over the years that we’ve been going to it stayed the same – same attendance, often the very same individuals and quite often the same vendors.  Few things have changed over the course of the 7 years we’ve been there with attendanc elevels seeming to hover around the 500 – 700 level each year.

What that means is that we’ve been selling to the same customers (for the most part) for 7 years.  And at a certain point customers just have enough games – they start slowing down, they become more selective in their purchases or just stop buying (or coming).  All customers do this, it’s a given.

So the trick in any business is to acquire more new customers – which VCon this year did.  However, if you don’t do it in a regular process, you face another major problem – sometimes, early customers don’t purchase as much.  For example, a lot of younger attendees this year, which was great to see and says a lot of good things for VCon’s on-going growth in the future; but these younger attendees are for the most part either do not have the interest or do not have the disposable income to purchase as much as former attendees.

So our average dollar value of purchases drops, and even if we do the same amount of sales we’re still below our previous year sales.  Now, if each year new customers were drawn in; they too would progress along their buying / life cycle and the total average value would be higher.

And so you can see how a business would decline if it doesn’t get new customers – the old customers leave or move on, no new customers are found or are found too late.  Total sales decline as customers don’t progress fast enough through their buying cycle.

It’s why marketing is a constant need in a business – you have to keep pushing customers in so that you have a constant series of replacements.  If you can push in more customers than you lose, you end up growing.  That simple really.

 

Emotional Appeals

I’ve recently been thinking about adjusting our advertising banners.  We currently use a very basic, almost factual banner.  There is no ‘kick’ to the banner – no tag-line, no appeal to it beyond the rational / affiliation appeal of ‘get more stuff’.  It’s slick, but I think we need to adjust the tag-line a bit more, to create a more compelling appeal.

Truthfully, when I was creating the advertisement I was thinking more in terms of design and buying cycle; not specific appeals within that advertisement.  It’s time for me to go back and work on that a bit more I think.

Of course, the question then is what kind of appeal I should go for.  Emotional appeals are inherently dangerous – by pulling on one lever in an individual, it abandons all others and can actually alienate.  On the other hand, lacking an appeal an advertisement does nothing but create awareness.

The Emotions

So what kind of appeals / emotions could I focus the advertisement on?

  • Need for affiliation – claims of largest / most sought-after / etc. play into this.  Not sure we can call ourselves largest for obvious reasons, though we could claim a specific number of customers served like McDonalds…
  • Need for guidance we do have the videos, so we could market ourselves as a place to go for the videos.  However, we’ve got a limited number of videos so this might be tough.  Also, advertising in BGG, guidance is taken care off there…
  • Need to achieve– this might be more viable since we do have quite a few used games including some out of prints.  However, the target market of people who are interested in this might be quite low in Canada
  • Need for prominence – pitching our Free Shipping threshold to people who want the biggest collection might work…
  • Need for attention –  again, collection sizes, the ‘hottest new game’ focus.  We do a bit with our advertising pictures; though we don’t edit the files often enough
  • Need to escape –  perhaps one of the most common reasons people play games.  However, this appeal would not work in BGG I think – after all, we’re all there as gamers; so we don’t have to convince you to escape.  We just need you to buy from us…
  • Psychological needs – safety, hunger, fear; none seem to really fit here.  Perhaps safety; by appealing to the size and satisfied customers…

On top of having to work out the best appeal, I also need to work out the best appeal that will fit in a banner advertisement.  What are your thoughts? What kind of pitch would bring you to us?