The Changing Face of the Industry

The gaming industry that we entered over 5 years ago as seen some major changes.  I’ve posted about it once before, but with the announcement that Z-Man Games is going exclusive with Alliance; I thought I should repost.

State of Exclusiveness

Currently; quite a few publishers have gone exclusive with specific distributors.  The one’s that come to mind are:

  • Z-Man Games
  • Playroom Entertainment
  • Wiz-Kids
  • Game-Salute Games
  • Looney Labs
  • Days of Wonder
  • daVinci Games

That’s quite a few, and some of them are quite big too.

So What?  Why do I, a consumer, care?

How does it affect customers? A few ways, at a guess:

  • Higher cost
  • Less stock

But isn’t it supposed to be good? Sure – for the distributor and the publisher; but it’s unlikely the cost and time-savings gained by the publisher is going to be passed onto you; the customer. The other benefit quoted is the ability for the publisher to keep items in-stock at a better rate; though there’s a lot of different factors that affect whether a product line is kept in-stock What is passed on is the more immediate effects on us retailers.

Higher Cost

Why higher cost? Well, discounts are generally based off the total sales made with a particular distributor.  With each new publisher ‘shifting’ to an exclusive distributor, unless the new exclusive distributor is already our existing primary; it requires shifting additional purchasing dollars away from your primary to a secondary distributor.

Shouldn’t the discounts equal out?  Not necessarily.  Going from 45% to 46% is easy, going from 49% to 50% is much harder – the amount you have to spend significantly increases.   So it’s quite possible to ‘drop’ in your discounts in both distributor categories due to a shift like this.  Is it guaranteed to happen? No… but it probably will.  And as for the Z-Man shift, it forces us to use Canadian distributors so that’s guaranteed to up our cost.

Less Stock

Now, this is more of a problem for us due to how we do business, though most Canadian companies will feel it to.  Due to where the warehouses are located for these Exclusive distributors, most are a 2 day ship away from us in the North-West.  It doesn’t sound like much; but being able to do last minute additions probably keeps a good 20 / 30 games in-stock when they would otherwise not be during any given day.

Secondly; we thrive on the ‘inefficiencies’ of the distribution system.  If distributor A doesn’t have game X in-stock; we check with distributors B, C, D, E and on till we can find it.  It’s why we often have stock of things that our competitors don’t.  However, an exclusive distributor means that everyone has access to the same stock, which means we’re not likely able to ‘find’ slower moving stock.  As such, the only way to be ‘certain’ of keeping games in-stock longer is to stock even larger quantities in-house than ever before.

Kickstarter Sales

On the other end of the scale, smaller publishers are now using Kickstarter more and more to finance their new games.  That’s great; they’re able to finance and put out more games; but that also means that these small publishers are fast becoming tiny independent distributors & retailers themselves, packaging multiple items to ship out to individual customers.

A simple calculation on our side showed that it’s just not worth it as a retailer to purchase these games; even with the ‘bonuses’ that are available to Kickstarter backers exclusively.  The opportunity cost of the funds committed to games that could be a year away from release is significant if you’re an on-going retail concern.

Squeezed on Both Ends

So it seems we are being squeezed on both-ends.  Smaller publishers are contacting & selling to customers direct, removing retailers from the equation to some extent.  Larger publishers are moving to exclusive distributors, pushing overall costs & capital requirements up for us.

The only silver lining is that the barriers to entry & success have gone-up, potentially decreasing the number of current / future competition.