The Spiel Essen 2014 – Pre-orders

So, here is the deal. We (or technically, me – Tao) will be visiting the Spiel at Essen this year. It will be our first year there, but as we understand it; all games are generally purchased in cash and discounts (retailer level discounts) might not be available from all publishers. It really varies and of course, games are limited. On that note, we are not going to ask for funds from people beforehand but expressions of interest. Let us know if you are interested in any particular game releasing in theSpiel and if possible; at what price. If you haven’t seen the list of games releasing, there’s one on BGG.

Note that for all the major publishers like Fantasy Flight, Rio Grande, Z-Man, Asmodee, etc. we will likely not be picking it up in Essen as availability via ‘normal’ channels is within a few weeks. As such, it will be cheaper and better to purchase those games ‘normally’. What we will be looking to pick-up are small print run games and games not announced / not releasing in North America.

So, let us know below in comments what you would like. This post will be left open to let everyone comment until the day of the Spiel.

Survey Results (Part 3 – On Videos)

So, one of our questions on our survey is how we can develop our videos.  It’s likely to be the last year we are going to ask that question as the answers we receive are generally not that useful.  It’s not that respondents aren’t trying – many of the suggestions are useful, just impractical.  Let’s tackle most of the comments in order:

Do more videos

As Kaja posted when we crowdfunded some of 2013’s videos, our paid-cost of generating a video is around $300 a video.  That’s not including pre-play time or the time cost of actually writing and memorising the scripts.  All in, I’d guess at around $500 – 600 in cost (salary, etc.) to develop a video.  So if we shot double the number (i.e. one video a week); we’d be looking at another $13,000 minimum.  That’s a lot of funds for something that has had limited revenue generation.

While the videos are part marketing for us, in the 2 years we’d done the videos it’s pretty clear that we have not generated additional revenue to cover the additional cost of doing the videos.  We still plan on shooting them next year, but 26 videos a year is our maximum.

Shoot a Tabletop / Play-Through Video

We shot one this September.  It’s still not released because, between all his other projects and the sheer amount of work a shoot like this requires, Rob has not yet finished editing it.  Along with working on this, he’s also got to release all the other videos we’ve produced since then. It was a fun project, and we’re looking forward to releasing it before the end of the year, but the work involved (and subsequent cost) is just too high.  We aren’t being funded by Google, after all.

Do More Up-to-Date Videos

Okay, this one is more in our control and we’ll actually be focusing on more up-to-date / recent releases.  As a marketing tool, we needed to cover all the classics and bestsellers to make this work for us.  As such, in 2013 we’ve had to do dig into some older items and with only half the videos as the previous year, we just couldn’t cover as many new releases as we’d like.  However, the good news is that we’ve caught up with the vast majority of older games, and going forward will be focusing on more recent releases.

As for doing videos of games before they are released, well — that’s really up to the publishers.  As this isn’t our real business, we don’t have time to chase publishers for new releases and can just hope they send them to us without promoting, allowing us to get the videos shot in a timely fashion.

Less Script / More Fun!

While it’d be nice to have more fun, it’s worth noting that both Joanna and Kaja are working from a very tight script, which is necessary to fit a full rules summary into the 5-minute target we set ourselves for that portion of the video.  We don’t want to go much longer — especially since there are so many other good video review series that do — which means we need to convey a ton of information in a very short time frame.  In addition, with only 2 or 3 takes per video, they just don’t have a lot of time to rehearse and get really comfortable with the script to make it more ‘natural’.

At the end of the day, with more practise they’ll get better (and have improved a lot over the 2 years these videos have been produced) but there’s only so much that can be done within the time-frame and structure.

No Rules Explanation / More Rules Explanation / More / Less Pro’s and Cons

The structure we have is actually focused specifically on our intended target audience.  We are looking to provide information to new visitors, as a quick overall summary of the game.  It’s not focused on those looking for an in-depth review of the game nor those who want a more in-depth discussion about the rules (or a ‘how to play’ review).  As such, the structure we use is one that we are very happy with, and that fits best with how we use videos on our website.  We’ve tweaked it a bit here and there; but can’t really see it changing much over the long-term.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, the videos do what we need them to – provide good, relevant information to customers and branding for the site overall.  Our current structure is what we feel is the best method.  With over 10,000 subscribers; I’d guess it works. It’d be preferable if it could draw more revenue, but that I believe will come in time – a long term investment.

Survey Comments: Rambling On (Part 2)

Continuing to part 2 of our on-going answer to some comments / suggestions in our latest survey.  Part 1 is here.

Your selection isn’t large enough / Carry more stock

I grouped these comments together because they are actually two sides of the same coin.  The problem is the wider our selection grows (the more different SKUs we carry); the harder it is to go ‘deep’ on individual games.  It’s all a matter of capital – if we stock 1000 games at an average cost of $20, it’d cost us $20,000.  If we stocked 2,000 games at the same average cost, it’d cost us $40,000.

The other problem we’ve slowly realised is that as we grow larger, the need to stock higher quantities for a larger number of ‘good’ games increase.  Basically, as we get more customers the ‘type’ of customers we get and their tastes broaden, requiring us to broaden the amount of stock we have of the more ‘popular’ games.  As such, where we might stock say 3 copies of 20 games a year ago, now we might have to stock 3 copies of 30 games.  Again, this requires more working capital.

All this is to say, our selection has broadened somewhat but we’ve also grown deeper.   Unfortunately, it’s rather obvious that we haven’t grown deep enough – the rate of stock-outs has been something we’ve been concerned about; and most of it is due to the lack of capital (or the need to have a higher level of capital).

We’ll need to work on this, and hopefully increase our total levels soon.

More stock of newly released games

For the most part, we stock new releases using a simple formula – number of pre-orders * 2 = number of quantities we request.  However, one issue that happens with games with good ‘buzz’ is that in the last week before a game releases (often long after the game has started shipping to us and/or the pre-order window has closed with the distributor); we see a massive surge in orders.  So, for example – we have 6 pre-orders 2 weeks from release.  We have 12 games on pre-order.  In the final 2 weeks; we see another 5 games sold of this pre-order.

Suddenly we go from having a decent 6 copies ‘free’ to 1 copy free.

Of course, you’re saying ‘well, you should order 3 times pre-orders then’.  Except this doesn’t happen for every game – it happens maybe 1 in 5 times.  So some games might have 6 games on pre-order with us, we order in 12 copies, 0 sell additional in the next 2 weeks and we end up with 6 games ‘free’.  Which is fine – but those 6 games might take another month to rotate out of stock.

Basically, if you want a game; pre-order it at least a month from when it’s expected to release.  We don’t charge your card and we even provide double Citadel Points just so we can gauge demand.  If you don’t pre-order, well that’s a decision you’ve made. Sorry!

Bring in Imported Games

We tried this once.  It was a dismal failure – we lost quite a bit of cash trying to get rid of stock.  What we found was that it just wasn’t worth the cost and time to bring in imported games when many of these games would be brought in later on by publishers in much larger quantities and thus lower cost.

Truthfully, unless there was a lot of demand for a specific game (like Bunny, Bunny Moose, Moose) there just doesn’t seem to be sufficient demand to make bringing in imported games worthwhile.  Of course, that doesn’t mean we can’t special order such games in – and if sufficient number of customers started asking for a game(s); it might be worthwhile for us to look into once more.

Pre-painted miniatures for normally unpainted mini’s

Again, something that we’ve tried to set-up before.  The issue really wasn’t on the customer’s part – it was on ours and our inability to locate a reliable miniature painter.  Finding someone who’d be willing to do this kind of work on a regular / reliable basis.  It’s also a low-demand service (at least we thought so); so one thing that we haven’t devoted a lot of time to.  We’ll put our thinking caps on and see if we can find someone(s) who might be willing to do this and the cost / price.

Wider selection of meeples and tokens

I guess we have a wider variety of game designers out there than we thought.  We’ve got an order in for a wider variety of tokens, hopefully it should be enough when it arrives (look out for arrival in 2 weeks or so).  If not, we can certainly go looking for more…

Help me connect with gamers!

Ooof – that’s an interesting series of comments.  They range from suggestions that we run events to forums to conventions.  I’m going to have to think about this one a bit more, I have a germ of an idea (and long-time customers know we tried forums once to dismal failure); so we’ll get on this project after Christmas.

Working with Kickstarter project creators / being a distribution hub for Canada

This is actually a really interesting idea.  I played with it for a short period but after talking to a few developers, realised that the number of actual Canadian Kickstarter backers was somewhat smaller than I thought (in the low 30’s I believe was the number).  While we have both the space and expertise to ship orders out for developers (and help them lower their overall cost I’d guess); the potential revenue at those numbers seemed way too low to be worth the ‘chase’.  If we say charged a handling fee of $5 for each order we processed, at 30 backers that’s only $150.  In between there’s a lot of leg-work working with the developers to pitch the idea to them, working out a contract, doing the import paperwork, receiving the delivery and finally the shipping (and handling of shipping issues).  Of course, the numbers change if we can work with a more successful project; but guessing which one’s those are are somewhat more difficult.

I wouldn’t say no a developer approached us, but it’s a project that for now is on the low-end of the priority scale for us.

Online supplier for independent game producers (small scale orders or consignment).

It’s an interesting idea but most publishers that I know of would not want to place the items with us on consignment.  Don’t forget – we have a limited amount of space, so we’d have to put a limit to how long ‘non-moving’ stock could stay with us.  Which would mean we’d either junk them / destroy the games eventually or they’d have to pay return shipping too.

Shipping games direct to us in small quantities is a great example of why distributors exist – if we purchase 2 copies of a game, on average it’d cost a publisher $7.50 per game just to ship those games.   That’s a huge chunk of profit loss.

Again, it’s an interesting idea and we’d be willing to talk to publishers to work on a consignment basis, but it’s just a low-priority / low-profit project.

Okay, next set of ramblings is going to focus on the video review comments.

 

 

Survey Comments: A Rambling Answer (Part 1)

Question 28 of our survey was an open-ended question.  It was:

Is there an unaddressed need in the gaming market that we should focus on?

There were quite a few different answers in the question, but I thought I’d group some of the most common comments and our own thoughts.

On-site 3D-printed miniature service, from a basic modeling system.

Ummm… hmmm. Considering we’re an online store; it’d be interesting in that we’d have to then ship the orders out.  I just don’t see us getting into POD miniatures just yet.  For us, we need to increase our ‘regular’ miniature lines first.

Build a Board Game / Gaming Cafe / Game Store

There are a few reasons why we’ve not launched a gaming cafe.  Among them:

  • Lack of funds
  • Lack of expertise (never worked a cafe before)
  • Lack of time

I don’t see any of that changing in the near future.  The only way we’d be launching a game cafe or even a B&M store in the next 3 to 4 years would be if we did it as a partnership.

Lower Shipping Costs

Sadly, there’s very little we can do to alter shipping cost or ship times.  Shipping methods and cost, are a complicated matter but at the end of the day you’ll ‘pay’ for the shipping whether by higher prices or a lower margin on the retailer’s side.  Of course, there’s always the lowest level in margin that one can take; and so we come back to the customer ‘paying’ for shipping one way or the other.

Running regular gaming days

Again, not as viable as we’d like.  To start, we’d have to book a location.  Then we’d have to staff it (and pay for staffing).  Since it’d be a 3rd party location, we’d have to look at either bringing stock in regularly or foregoing any sales (most likely the latter for simplicity’s sake).  All of that is an additional cost, over and above what we have already.  It’s one thing when it’s part of your regular location (and can thus be easily monetized); another when it’s in a separate location I believe.

Warhammer 40k

As an online store, that’s not viable due to Game Workshop restrictions.

Storage Solutions for Large Games and Games and Expansions

Now this was interesting.  I’m not sure it’s something we can do ourselves; but it’s certainly something we will look into.  It’s one of those things that steps outside of our normal skillsets, but it is one of those suggestions that we were looking for.

Game Salute Games

Another interesting suggestion.  We did have the possibility of receiving Game Salute Games, but on a consignment basis at a much lower than normal margin.  Considering the cost of actually handling and managing a consignment of these games, we decided to forgo the option.  One particular case (Free Shipping) is a great example of why we’d need a higher (or our normal) margin at the least before we integrated Game Salute Games.  Till that percentage changes, we just can’t afford to do it.

Okay, that’s enough for now  – more comments in the next post.

 

 

Running out of Ideas

I’m running out of ideas in terms of business blog posts.  At least for the next little while – I’m sure I’ll come back to it with new comments / etc but without rehashing things I’ve already discussed, I’m at a loss of words.

So; what would people like me to talk about? Or again or in more detail? I’m open to discussing most things ; and if I’m not I’ll discuss why I’m not 🙂

We’ve got a few game reviews scheduled for certain, and I’ll be posting some data about game sales soon (once year-end fiddling with numbers is over).  However, I’d definitely like feedback on what else to write about.

Survey Results (2) : the One’s that Didn’t Make the Cut

When we conducted our survey for Starlit Citadel, there were a few comments that we found rather interesting, which we thought would make interesting discussions.  I’d like to post them here for your comments, especially if you see a comment or point that you’d definitely like to see us look into.

Community Involvement

We currently host gaming tables at VCon, Cos & Effect (the new Cosplay convention that’s replaced Anime Evolution) and GottaCon.  We are probably going to host a table at BottosCon as well and regularly donate games to both Can’t Stop the Serenity and the Diabetes for Gaming events.   We have also provided games to 1 Elementary School and 1 Camp at reduced prices to help promote gaming.

That being said, I’m not sure what else we could do to help promote gaming.  We don’t have a physical storefront to host regular gaming nights, nor do we have the human resources to regularly host one even if we did rent a place.  I am looking into developing a forums for the site to allow customers to interact and find one another, but outside of that, I’m tapped for suggestions.

German Imports

This is a tough one.  There’s 2 problems here – firstly, the last time we tried this, we found the cost of importing these games to be prohibitively high and the actual demand low.  Secondly, because I don’t speak German; it’s really hard to set-up and read the regular e-mail newsletters here.  However, I’m willing to give this another go if there is a high enough demand for this option.  Is there?

Product Comparison

A request was made to do side-by-side product comparisons (like what you’d see on most computer store sites).  We actually have the functionality on the site, currently turned off.  Turning it on would (a) clutter the website further and (b) slow-down page load time.  Is there interest for this functionality to be turned on?

 

Survey Results : Answering the Comments

As many of you know, we recently ran a survey and on the last page of the survey, we had a section that was an open comments section.  Many of the requests actually fell into the same subsets, so I thought I’d answer those as best as I could in this blog-post with the changes we’ve already undertaken / will undertake at Starlit Citadel or why not.  Don’t worry if your comments aren’t listed here or were positive, we saw them and will try to meet them if it’s feasible this blog post is to answer the majority comments as best we can :

Site Navigation & Design

Generally, comments on the site fell into the following categories:

  • Improve Search
  • More Product Information (release dates, recommended number of players & BGG ratings)
  • More varied Reward Points
  • More and better customer reviews

Changes:

  • A pair of new search modules that allows searches on information pages and autofills product information
  • Adding a new reward point option for creating tags

Forthcoming:

  • Adding a new ‘Expected release date’ page to the site
  • BGG ratings & rankings (might take a while, this requires coding!)
  • More product pictures.  This project is the next one slated after we finish building out shelves (about 2 weeks or so at current rate of progress)
  • Adding new promotional items for reward points and varied discounts. I’ll be field-testing some with regard to shipping to see if the code holds up.

Limitations

  • Well, sadly we can’t make customers review games, we can only incentivize them to do so.  It certainly seems we have been getting more reviews lately as we grow our customer base, so here’s hoping it continues to do so.
  • We also have an extremely large database of games currently, so updating any single information source (e.g. recommended number of players) takes a lot of time.  About 2-3 weeks of constant work.
  • Any work that requires coding is limited by the expense of working with our developers to create the custom code, so changes like that often occur in batches.

Local Pickups & A Storefront

There were a few areas that were requested with regard to local pickups:

  • easier scheduling
  • extended pickup hours
  • purchasing at the warehouse
  • a physical storefront / better location

Changes:

  • We set up the Google Appointment calendar so customers can schedule their own pick-ups.

Forthcoming:

  • We will undertake a trial run of some extended pick-up hours later this year during the Christmas season. Depending on the response, this might be extended to an on-going basis.

Limitations:

  • Cost.  The location we have is the best trade-off we could find between a convenient location (near the Cambie line & Skytrain) while keeping our costs low.  Sadly, we do have to give up a few things (like a proper entrance) for this trade-off.
  • Our current software is just too slow for order placement at the warehouse itself.  In addition, issues like cash handling and stock management come into play if we allowed this to happen on a regular basis; never-mind the fact that often we have orders that have to be packed before Canada Post / FedEx arrives.

Pricing & Shipping

Not surprisingly, the comments in this area boiled down to:

  • Lower Prices
  • Lower Shipping (or Free Shipping Thresholds)

Forthcoming:

  • In a few weeks, I’ll begin testing out the possibility of using Reward Points to discount shipping (or to reduce the Free Shipping Threshold).
  • We’ll be adding a regular sales special to the site as soon as we figure out how to automate some of the work of running the sales.

Limitations:

  • Capital investment.  Balancing how much of our profits go back into reinvesting and increasing our stock and how much to pay our on-going bills is a constant battle.  We currently have one of the largest selections of games in Canada, and are constantly increasing this selection.  We could lower our investment, and thus lower our prices but our selection would suffer.

Last Thoughts

We had a lot of fun reading all the comments, and while the survey could have been designed better (sorry about that !), we did glean a lot of valuable information.  We will probably be sharing extracts of that later on as well.

In addition, look out for a second post about individual comments that didn’t make the cut here, but that we found interesting.  We’d love to get your feedback on both the comments in this post and there as well.