Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Media

Besides business books and issues of the Economist (still a week behind because I haven't changed the address), most of my media attention goes towards DVD's. I've found that with a two-year old, I would rather watch TV episodes than movies. I don't like to be interrupted during movies and changing a diaper can be a real mood killer. TV on the other hand can be taken in 30-minute chunks, although I tend to binge watch 3-4 episodes at a time.

I'm attracted to doomed series', such as The Dresden Files which I finished watching tonight. I really like this series. Fred Hicks, one of the authors of the RPG Spirit of the Century, came for a visit on Friday and dropped off flyers for his Dresden Files RPG. I'm trying to talk our Spirit GM into transitioning into Dresden when it comes out.

I also recently finished Rome and Deadwood, both of which I love. Deadwood especially draws you in and speaks to you almost in another language (with many four-letter words). It's like being part of a secret club with special code words. Some great Deadwood quotes:
  • Tom Nuttall: My bicycle masters boardwalk and quagmire with aplomb. Those that doubt me... suck cock by choice.
  • Cy Tolliver: Sayin' questions in that tone and pointin' your finger at me will get you told to fuck yourself.
  • Al Swearengen: Pain or damage don't end the world. Or despair or fucking beatings. The world ends when you're dead. Until then, you got more punishment in store. Stand it like a man... and give some back.

NBC has a pretty good series called 30 Rock. Alec Baldwin, who I don't normally like, is fantastic as an executive who screws up the creative process.

I've got the first disc of Supernatural queued up, but don't know much about it.

On my wish list I've got: The Wire, season 4 (due out in December); Battlestar Gallactica, season 3, and Heroes, season 2.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Monsterpocalypse

Privateer Press is bringing out (big sigh) a collectible miniature game. It's called Monsterpocalypse and works in the standard plastic, made-in-china, starter and booster configuration. It's a giant robot fighting game, which is cool, but the market for anything collectible is tepid, to say the least.

This seems especially true in California. I don't say this elsewhere, but I think in this business model respect, California leads the nation. Other parts of the country seem to still do well in the collectibles business, but California and the SF Bay Area in particular (which leads California in gaming), has a much harder time.

But the fans love it, right? At one point you could package just about anything in a collectible format and it would sell. Now you can't even package a good game without collectible fatigue killing it. Here are what the fans are saying:

  • Collectible is a non starter though, not going to bother."
  • "I was bitten by random distribution with CCG’s, I’ll never do it again."
  • "ah, another one jumps on the band wagon!"
  • "Collectible kills it for me as well."
  • "I would get the starter sets and that’s it."
  • "...it can probably gain some following, not me though."
  • "I had thought that Privateer Press was… well sorry to say but I thought they were better than this."
  • "I’ve already got one too many CMG."

Monday, October 29, 2007

Bidness

The book that's got me all in process mode is called The E-Myth Revisited (very helpful) and E-Myth Mastery on CD (not so great). Documenting business processes is the heart of the approach, although there's definitely a drill instructor mentality of breaking you down and building you up again that I don't agree with. He tells you how most businesses fail, how you're a slave to your business, but yes, there is a solution. It's as sexy as documentation. Luckily the knowledge here is 20+ years old and commonly accepted nowadays. If you ever want to have time away from your business, you need processes in place that employees can follow. Duh.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Follow-Up

Looking back on previous blog posts, here are some updates:
  • Flames of War. I've decided to stop treating FoW as a "special" game. I have a policy of stocking all of my Top 10 games very deeply, if not completely. FoW is now getting a closer examination, with about 50 items (in various quantities) immediately put on sale for 30% off or more. Many others will be special-order only after they sell. It annoys some Flames of War customers, but where I once see green, I see blue: Flames of War inventory dollars are being shifted to buy space marines.

  • New TV Commercial. There have been some slight revisions, such as fixing the incorrect phone number and having the URL on at the end. I'm not terribly happy with the commercial overall. It's not as bad as I think some of you think it is, but it's not nearly as good as the old one. I'm adjusting my advertising budget, based mostly on how much better than expected we're doing now, but also so we don't rely too much on this one medium.

  • Banners. The various banners will be ready for pick-up tomorrow (Monday) and Jess, our guru designer, will be mounting them for hanging so they're ready for the grand opening next Sunday. The game center has seen a face-lift, with most of the slatwall mounted and pictures on the walls. I'll have to get a photo.

  • Digital CCG's. These are turning out to be as problematic as regular CCG's. Chaotic has arrived with a poor margin, reported mediocre game play, and no interest from customers other than those who pre-ordered 5 months ago. Eye of Judgement came out early in the video game stores, but most had a tiny supply of the special controllers, limiting its appeal. Worse, this article talks about how you can color photo copy the cards, getting around the collectible element of the game. The author of the article writes:

What looked like a lucrative endeavor might end up with more money in the pockets of printer cartridge manufacturers than anyone else.

  • Dumbledore is Gay. The issue got a mixed reaction in the SF Gate poll below. It also brought out articles on what other characters in fiction are obviously gay. Dumbledore is Gay - Who's Next? was one. Samwise Gamgee, Lando Calrissian, Willy Wonka. Oh the humanity!
  • Economy. I mention it here and there. Looks like interest rates are going down again (good for me, questionable for the nation at large). There's a great Economist story this week online that does a post-mortem on the credit crunch/housing fiasco. As a role-playing gamer I enjoy abstract systems with no verifiable outcome, so economics can be fun for me to read.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Process

Today's my birthday so I've taken the day off. In fact, I plan to take more time off in 2008, finally getting weekends off. Besides spending time with family and friends, I of course think a lot about the business. Getting away from the business is the main reason to take two days off in a row. I plan on taking off Saturdays and Sundays. Saturdays are a prime sales day, but the stuff I really need to be there for are business related, such as ordering. Those activities take place during the week. Many business owners feel that they lose touch if their days off are sequential. That's the point! The business is there to serve me, not the other way around.

At the store I've been working on a procedure manual. I've come to realize that being the "key man" is a liability and that procedures are essential in providing a consistent experience for customers. I've always rebelled against the idea of "Gary's Game Store." I've always believed in the "Black Diamond Games" experience, for good or ill. I'm the owner, not the counter monkey (although that will always be part of my in-store job).

The store experience should be the same, regardless of whether I'm sick or on vacation, or who is at the register. Having a solid "franchise-like" process allows me to work on other things, such as entrepreneurial store activities or even side businesses. I've got a manufacturing business idea that's starting to germinate, but I lack the time necessary to devote to it. Having set procedures would free up time. Just add employees and watch it go.

Writing a procedure manual is somewhat tedious. It includes such enthralling reading as opening procedures, complete with flow-charts, scripts on how to greet customers, and step-by-step inventory receiving procedures. If you read my blog regularly, you know I'm capable of writing copious amounts of tedious material, so I should be fine!

I should say that writing a policy manual in no way means the current employees are not doing their jobs, or that we have problems that need addressing. Everything is working well, but there is so much to do in the new store that we have no common tasks. Every task is an exception. Cleaning the bathroom is an exception, for example. There is no schedule and no procedure. If I tell someone to clean the bathroom, it will get done, but what I mean by clean the bathroom varies by employee. It also means I tend not to ask unless it's too late and it catches my attention as dirty. That's bad, very bad. Procedure manuals attempt to solve this problem and make everyone's life easier by adding consistency. As Yoda said, "don't think, do or do not." Clean the bathroom is on page 68, if you need a refresher on procedure.

Does this suck the life out of an employee's job? Hopefully it adds consistency. It also means I'm not so dependent on hiring super-stars, like I do now. The goal is to have stellar procedures for average people that results in amazing service. That's instead of having stellar people who sometimes give stellar service because they're having a good day, or average service because they don't feel like giving 110%.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Spider, Da udder white meat

The defeat of my Moongazer clan ogres against the orcs can be found here. This battle will likely be re-fought soon. The orcs force marched to my capitol and now occupy it. That just won't do.


Warhammer Fantasy is supposedly a lot like chess. I'm still learning, so it's easy to make mistakes based on misconceptions. For example, my strategy in this battle was flawed. I played it as a longer game, owning the center of the field and setting up covering fire at a substantial loss to my grunts. The orc general was allowed to slaughter a couple units while I did my thing - big mistake on my part. Then it was over before any of that set up could be implemented. As a four turn game, based on our campaign rules, it was the wins and losses in the early turns that mattered.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Fire

Up here in Northern California, we're mostly unaffected by the fires in the South. Even the vast amount of ash is blowing west, out to sea (we got a lot of Mount Saint Helen ash back in the day). There were shipping delays to Northern California from at least one distributor. Their Central California UPS hub was in an area affected by the fires. There were large blocks of zip codes that UPS simply wouldn't deliver to. The latest Yu-Gi-Oh release was apparently delayed as well.

Most of my family and many of my friends live in the South. Besides the billion dollars of damages in San Diego County alone, fires rage in Orange County and surrounding areas. Wind damage was also substantial, besides driving the fires. My parents, for example, lost a fence and a storage shed, due to the 90 mile per hour winds. Below is a photo my brother took from my sister's house in south Orange County. My sister had her car packed in the driveway waiting for an evacuation order. She got lucky and it never came.






There's a fantasy novel by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle called Burning City. The novel takes place in Southern California. The god of fire, kind of a Loki figure, attempts to possess our main character and force him to burn down the place. It's not one of their better novels, I admit, but while reading it I felt it captured Southern California well and the fear of fire. This was before reviews on Amazon so it felt kind of eerie, not knowing the novel's intention. Footfall is a vastly better novel from these guys, if you just want something great to read.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Flames of War

Battlefront made the decision this week to cease providing free shipping on new releases that don't hit their freight limit ($200 cost). This is reasonable considering how small some of these releases have been. For example, this week's release is comprised of two $9 blister packs. Shipping costs are likely to exceed any profit made on these models.

However, what's not reasonable is keeping to this ridiculous new release program, a weak premise for requiring active stores to place an order every other week. Games Workshop once did something similar and they had to suffer great financial pain before they corrected their service problems. Those days still haunt them as they attempt to become profitable once again.

Out of principle, we're not participating in this new ordering program. We will be ordering new releases to hit the street date when they either a) are enough to qualify for free freight on their own or b) are pre-ordered by customers. In other words, if a customer really wants it, they'll need to pre-pay and order ahead of time. Otherwise, we'll get it when our order goes in, possibly in a week, possibly in a month.

What I would like Battlefront to do is to stop this regular bi-monthly release cycle of small items. It would be different if they had other games and other releases, but when our current pre-order is $20, like this week, they shouldn't expect a store to come up with a $180 order because of an arbitrary release date.

New TV Commercial

video

Problems at The North Pole

The latest news from my toy rep is that the Chinese government has placed a massive hold on export licenses issued to most of the toy manufacturers. So far I haven't heard anything about game manufacturers being held up, but the toy guys are unable to get their product out of China, even if it's sitting on a dock in a container waiting to go. We're well stocked for the holidays, but I'm guessing we'll see some stocking problems at many stores.

And for your Chinese lesson today, The China Daily brings you:

cut corners:(常不按规则或省略地)用最简捷经济的方式做事

finger pointing:指责

Digital CCG's

We've seen Magic online and the Bella Sara game as an online component, but over the next few weeks we'll see the launch of several highly sophisticated card games that are designed primarily to work online, or in the case of Maplestory, as a console game.

The first is Chaotic, which was delayed five months while they worked on getting their servers to appropriately handle the expected load. Chaotic is based on the Chaotic TV series and comes from the same guys who license the Yu-Gi-Oh and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles TV series in the US. Every chaotic card has a unique code on it, even if the face of the card is identical. The game is played face-to-face or online for free. The game was designed from scratch to play online, rather than being tacked on after the fact. The hobby trade gets the game for 90 days before mass market. Will Chaotic overcome a 5-month delay?

Maplestory is called an "iCCG" by Wizards of the Coast. It's also designed to be played online but in a massive multi-player online game format. You can play a Warrior, Magician, Bowman or Thief. The codes in each pack will work a lot like the WoW CCG, unlocking special items, like pets, quests and artifacts. Their company objective is to turn MMORPG's into a mainstream pastime. All I can say is it should improve the Bay Area's traffic problem if they're successful. Maplestory is released in two weeks on 11/6.

Eye of Judgement can be played with a PS3 and their "Eyetoy" accessory, or as a stand alone CCG. Like the others, cards can be used to represent electronic elements in the game. Exactly what is hard to know, as there's little information about the game. This one will likely be competing strongly with EBgames and the mass market. Wizards' announcement that they missed the street date and won't ship until next week makes me concerned that mass is likely to get it first.


Chaotic Card


Eye of Judgement CCG

Maplestory iTCG

D&D 4E and a Must Read

Can you believe they're done with the 4th Edition Player's Handbook already? Anyway, if you've been in a "wait and see" regarding Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, a fan has created an excellent summary document containing what we know about 4E with various quotes from the designers. We actually know quite a bit if you scour the blogs and designer notes, which luckily other people have done for us. This document is like reading a summarized Enworld with nice formatting and artwork. Note that some of his release dates are now off. All three core books will now be released in June 2008.

If you fancy yourself a gamer or have always wanted to learn about iconic gamer games, pick up Hobby Games: The 100 Best, published by Green Ronin. This softcover book contains short reviews from top game designers who pick their favorite games, none of which they're associated with. Some of the picks are quite surprising, but what I found most interesting were the bios for the various authors, many of whom designed amazing games or founded well known companies, yet I've never heard of them.

You can tell by reading the short reviews that these games are truly loved, and since there's no profit motive, indeed, at least half or more are long out of print, there's no need to doubt the author's sincerity. Even when a game is in print, the authors are encouraged to pick particular versions that appealed to them. You can read why Gary Gygax likes Metamorphosis Alpha, why Martin Wallace considers Power Grid a classic, or why Alan Moon is a fan of dungeon crawls and likes Descent. Each mini review is a few pages long and is somewhat dense. This is a good thing if you like reading about game design or spend lots of time on boardgamegeek.com. I can read a couple of these a night and feel satisfied.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Dumbledore is Gay

"The British author stunned her fans at Carnegie Hall on Friday night when she answered one young reader's question about Dumbledore by saying that he was gay and had been in love with Grindelwald, whom he had defeated years ago in a bitter fight."

So if you thought witchcraft upsets the religious right, just wait! Let the games begin! Actually, lets hope for another "Meh" response. Various bloggers wait to see if Potter foes go nuts. See this CNN article for more information or search for "Dumbledore is Gay" and "blog" for what appears to be universal approval. I think she's just messing with people, and I find it quite entertaining.

"You cannot imagine how his ideas caught me, Harry, inflamed me"
--Dumbledore
While on the topic, it's interesting to note that one of the few things in role-playing games that's generally frowned upon is open displays of sexuality. Not bathing is totally cool, but talk of sex is a no-no. Gay characters, openly sexual characters, and even men playing female characters are generally issues that make people unfomfortable. It's a little unfortunate because as most players are men (or boys), how they play those characters reveals a lot about them.

For example, I've noticed that most men usually play female characters "Madonna-Whore" style. They're either saintly paragons of virtue and kickass (they always kick ass), or they're slutty rogues in spandex (I admit unconsciously tending towards the latter). I'm not sure if it's because RPG's only pick up traits when they're exaggerated or this is the best our feeble male brains can come up with. The third model is playing a character with the "M" changed to "F" on the gender line of the character sheet with no difference at all. Boring!

Despite all this, there have been a couple RPG books about sexuality, including The Book of Erotic Fantasy and most recently, Naughty and Dice. Naughty and Dice sells quite well, and about half the time to women (unheard of). The Book of Erotic Fantasy was controversial enough for Wizards of the Coast to modify their D20 gaming license:

Due to the recent addition of the "quality standards" provisions in the D20 System License, Valar Project, Inc.'s D20 license has been revoked for use with Book of Erotic Fantasy, effective immediately. The company announces today that Book of Erotic Fantasy will no longer be published as a D20 product, instead Valar Project, Inc. will be applying the Open Gaming License (OGL) to the game.
In general, sexuality, especially homosexuality, seems to bring reality into a game that's mostly known for escape. Even in evil campaigns, most players draw the line at rape. Murdering and rending souls can pass muster, but some issues are best left in the real world. I prefer "low fantasy" myself, scrounging for a copper piece to buy a piece of bread for the day, but as one gaming friend told me: "I do low fantasy all day long. That's not how I want to spend my free time." My guess is that some people may feel the same about issues of reality entering their fantasy novels. Then again, as one blogger pointed out, by the age of 12-13, most kids know if they're gay, and Rowling now provides them a touchstone in her novels.

Battle of Sandy Ford


If you enlarge this photo you can see my 7 ogres sitting in the upper left corner. They fought their first battle to a draw against a force twice their point value. They basically stayed behind a hill and hid from the artillery, waiting everyone out. Whenever they emerged, giant rocks came raining down, so they thought best to remain hidden. Opponents would run up, the ogres would jump out, the opponents would run away, and the rocks would start falling again.

Griffin has a great in-character description of the battle in his blog here.

The New Top Ten

It's been nearly a month since the move and our new store is not like the old store. This is most obvious in our sales reports. We once had a smooth, diversified level of sales where nothing seemed to catch fire and everything was in balance. Ahhh, yin and yang, harmony amongst the three elements of gaming: tin, plastic and paper.

The new store sales are dominated by metal miniatures. It's not just Warhammer 40K, which is now our top game with sales skyrocketing, it's the other games as well. Metal miniature games have doubled in sales from the last store. The inventory was not performing for us previously. In other words, we had an awful lot of it, but because we lacked appropriate game space, we couldn't unleash their potential. Consider them unleashed!

Without further ado, here's our list:
  1. Warhammer 40K. As you've probably read here, our local GW store closed and we inherited a small but significant portion of their customer base. Not only do they buy their usual models, but the Apocalypse release has been a great success for us. This is especially significant because we've never had good sales for new GW releases. We weren't the store to find such things.

  2. Warmachine. Warmachine sales are up 50% as our regular group expands in size. We've got more players and twice the event time scheduled. Unlike Warhammer Fantasy, the GW "second game" Hordes is doing extremely well. We'll lump it in this category, but if it were by itself, Hordes would be #5.

  3. Magic: The Gathering. Our Lorwyn release tournament was our biggest event yet, with 24 people. With a fledgling Friday Night Magic program and tournaments scheduled for November and December, we hope to keep our Magic players gaming well into 2008.

  4. Dungeons & Dragons. D&D has slipped a bit in the ranks, but it's because others games are doing so well and 4th Edition has put a damper on sales. I figure sales of new books are down about 50%, while regular stocked books have only seen a small decline. I associate this with "alpha" gamers being the folks who buy every new book and they know what's going on. The "regular" gamers buy the back stock.

  5. Drinks. Mexican Coke is especially popular, but drink sales overall are phenomenally high. That commercial grade drink "merchandiser" turned out to be one of the better decisions. The game space obviously drives these sales. It's funny because it's as individualized a category as any other. We've got the guy who only drinks Dr. Pepper, the Diet Root Beer guy, the Mountain Dew fanatic, and the D&D player who drinks orange soda exclusively.

  6. Flames of War. Here we learn that FoW has not gained traction with the addition of game space. The people who play are reluctant to come to our events. Honestly, with our huge investment in Flames of War, I consider this games on the ropes.

  7. Melissa & Doug. Ah ha! You say, toys are doing well! Actually no, the M&D stuff that sells tend to be games, usually children's puzzles. I can wholeheartedly recommend their puzzles to any game store owner. The toys sell much slower and will need to be either a) slowly developed almost as a separate business or b) blown out during the holidays and replaced with games!

  8. Fantasy Flight Games. With great sales comes great ass pain. Tannhauser continues to sell well. Arkham Horror is back in print. The Wings of War planes come in and out so fast that most customer probably don't think we stock them.

  9. Sabol Designs. With the rise of miniature games comes the rise of accessories, including these high quality miniature cases. We've moved to stocking four of each design due to their fast sales and limited availability.

  10. AT-43. Events for this game have been slow to catch on, but sales remain strong. We're seeing a couple people picking up back stock, which is highly encouraging. I was beginning to think AT-43 should be treated like the "periodical model" in which I stock the new releases for a short time and then stop re-ordering. Back stock is where you see if a game is really doing as well as you think.

May the gods of tin, paper and plastic live in harmony.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Competition and Community Building

On the Game Industry Network we're discussing relationships with competitors. You would think that retail competition is fierce, dirty and mean, but it's rarely so. It's only when you've got too many competitors trying to eat each others lunch that you've got problems. For example, the Oakland-Berkeley area has some fierce competition. Games of Berkeley and Eudomonia have been feuding for years over Magic the Gathering. This has resulted in a price war that has soured other stores in the area on what should be a regular seller. We've even felt it effect our sales, 20 minutes away. Moreover, additional stores pop up in that area all the time, adding additional pressure.

The general rule of thumb is that specialty stores like ours are neighborhood stores. They compete in a roughly 10-12 minute drive-time area. Some things like tunnels and bridges form psychological barriers that will keep people from traveling, even if it's a few minutes away! There's special software that plots out this strange concept and it rarely looks like a circle.

Customers tend to be loyal to a store for personal reasons. Maybe they like the owner, or they've got a warm feeling about a game they bought their in their youth. Price, service and the usual criteria for a good store won't move a customer unless these factors are very much out of whack. For example, my local competitor prices games over MSRP and has some service issues, but there's little I can do to "woo" their customers away. You can do a LOT to lose your customers, but little to steal customers.

Likewise, when a store closes, competitors generally receive a small percentage of the old stores customer base. For example, the local Games Workshop store just closed. We received a BIG bump in GW sales with our new customers from that store, but it couldn't have been more than 10% of their base. Worse, many of those orphaned customers quit the hobby when their store closed, which is bad for everyone.

Overall, we have a very good relationship with our competitors. However, within the first few months of our initial opening, we were visited by two competitors. One said he was an ex-employee and made a Kruschev-like remark about this long-time store burying us. After all, they had been there for 20 years and the business was tough. Who were we? Another store owner would make quarterly visits for what I called the anti pep talk. He would talk about all the pitfalls of the industry, how poorly things were going, and would occasionally spread incorrect rumors about other stores. I learned to meet his negativity with glowing reports of growth and sales. It worked. He stopped.

The key to a good relationship is rarely the owner of other stores; they have far too little time to worry about other stores. It has been the employees of the other stores that have been key in forming a good relationship. The local comic book store is staffed by several avid gamers. They sell core D&D books, for example, and if people want more D&D, or other games, they sent customers our way.

The local Games Workshop store employees were big Warmachine players and they would send everyone not looking for GW to our store, even after we started carrying GW. Now those former employees are some of my biggest customers and often advise me on my GW stocking. If the management there hadn't turned them into such bad employees (they brag about it), I would probably hire them for their knowledge.

Our local game store competitor (we're down to one), the one with the Kruschev-like predictions, is staffed by minimum wage high school kids who know nothing about games and could care less about them. They have transformed their store primarily into a toy store. We still send people to them for things we don't carry, and once (only once) someone came in referred by them. A goal with the new store was to carry all those referral items. If you're going to expand, you might as well carry the items people have been bugging you about for years.

The key here is that you want to help customers. It's not just the right thing to do, but they remember that. They might go to your competitor because they sell those strange collectible quarter binders, but they'll remember that you sold other stuff and, most importantly, that you were helpful. It's stupid and delusional to think you can sell someone something they don't want, just because you don't carry what they do want.

Anyone beyond our geographic area, marked by the psychological barriers of the Benicia-Martinez Bridge and the Caldecott Tunnel (into Berkeley and Oakland), are not considered competitors. Cross-over is minimal, unless someone happens to work or live in that region. I regularly send people to Oakland or Berkeley for games we don't carry, a 15-20 minute drive. Most scoff at the concept. Suburbanites don't like cities and many find Oakland scary.

There is a subset of gamer that will travel from region to region to sample game stores. These tend to be the alpha gamers, the guy that will drive 30 miles because their primary store is out of a product. I was one of these guys. They have little store loyalty and want their stuff now. They're important customers, but you can't model your business around them or worry too much about their current predilections.

Less friendly competition can be found from big box stores and the Internet. We're somewhat powerless against these faceless competitors and I'm always wondering what percentage of games in general and my customers dollars in specific are going to these outlets. It can keep you up at night, if you let it. The theory you hear about online retailers and big box stores is that they don't grow the hobby and they harm local specialty stores. Players learn games from their friends, at conventions, and mostly from recommendations at stores. Most importantly, they need to actually play these games, so game space is now considered essential. Some old-timers in the industry disagree, but it has become painfully obvious to the rest of us.

This is a good theory, if your local store is growing the hobby by teaching games and providing game space. What I hear over and over from customers online is that their local store was nothing more than a warehouse for games, rather than a community center. These kinds of stores, the kind we've tried to transition from since we first opened, having gotten bad advice from old timers, are the ones that have tended to close recently and are the ones in trouble now. Game manufacturers now embrace this theory, and reward the type of store that fits the model.

For example, Games Workshop has a partner store program which requires game space and regular events with sales goals. They want you to stock their stuff, hold events, and understand how those events drive your sales. It's the closest thing I've seen to a franchise agreement in this industry. It's smart. Wizards of the Coast requires stores that want direct accounts to have game space, and rewards them based on their commitment to organized play (a bad program in practice, but a good theory). Other manufacturers do the same, attempting to mold game stores into the image they envision best sells their products. Many now use their marketing dollars on demo games and other incentives to get people to play their game in the store. I resented this when my business model didn't match their ideal, but I now see that the theory holds water and I embrace it.

I personally believe that "game store as community center" is the primary model for running a store now. If you're in a mall and you've got high foot traffic, you may try something else, but these are exceptions to the rule.

We could also discuss endlessly how manufacturers can be somewhat two-faced, forcing game stores into the community model while not doing anything to prevent Internet retailers and mass market from eroding specialty store market share. It's a bit like supplying arms to two sides of a conflict.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Ass Pain Award

--Bully Pulpit Mode On--

Each year the game industry gives out awards to the companies that are the biggest pains in the ass, disproportional to their sales levels. For example, Wizards of the Coast would seem like a major ass pain, with product released to mass market allowed to break street dates while they hold back product from the game trade. However, their sales levels are high enough to not make the list. In other words, their ass pain is in balance, even if they make the same mistakes repeatedly and take up a lot of our time. This award goes to the small companies that cause more ass pain than warranted.

Actually I'm making this up, but let's run with it.

Here are this year's ass pain winners:
  1. Rackham. Rackham gets first place this year. Their product was delayed for most of 2007 and they lied by blaming their distribution partners. Then they turned around and went with another ass-pain winner for distribution, Fantasy Flight Games, reducing the margins for retailers without raising prices. This retailer squeeze is a major ass pain for sure. Worse, a good number of their AT-43 models, probably 10% or so, arrive broken or damaged. Add to this a bankruptcy in France and the need to explain this to their customers and you've got the 2007 Ass Pain Award winner.
  2. Whiz-Kids. Here we have a company that tries very hard, has its heart in the right place, but falls down a lot. We began the year with Whiz Kids announcing an exclusive distribution deal with Alliance. This means that if you don't use Alliance primarily, ordering their product is a major ass pain, as it doesn't come in on your regular order. For us, it's almost like going direct. The real pain has been in the early release of product to mass market, like Target and video game stores, despite written assurances that this would not happen. And of course, it happened repeatedly. This makes stores look stupid when they find out from customers that a game is in EBgames, for example, before the game store gets it. I'm just glad they figured out how to do "hang tabs" so product doesn't continually fall off the shelf, a problem we had for two years with Heroclix. Whiz-Kids is excellent at damage control, I must say, but it comes from lots of practice.
  3. Fantasy Flight Games. Reducing the retailer discount without increasing prices was last year's move, although this year we have the Starcraft board game at a miserable 38% discount. This year has been about availability and under printing product, either intentionally or without much thought. At the same time, they've got plenty of stock to sell direct at conventions or on their web site. Combine this with distributing for Rackham and we've got a major ass pain. Kudos though for getting Arkham Horror out in time for Halloween, the first time in three years.
  4. Upper Deck. This is a company that only gives support to direct Upper Deck accounts (although they didn't seem to be taking new accounts last year). It's a company that signs agreements with mass market to give them two week headstarts on their new releases. In other words, they're happy to use the game trade as a test market for the mass market. They have no street dates and rarely give distributors enough time to pre-order. As games become successful, the slowly squeeze the margin. They claim they don't do this because Upper Deck doesn't believe in "retail pricing" although they sell their own product on their website (a de-facto retail price).
  5. Mongoose Publishing. It's not telling customers they're shorting the US market on Battlefield Evolution and that they should get their product direct from Mongoose that gets them on the list. The ass pain with Mongoose is in their switchover to self-published books for their various role-playing games. These warped, overpriced monstrosities turn what should be a pleasant purchasing experience into a distressing situation. It's barely a step up from a Kinko's job and worse, the page count doesn't justify the price. To add insult to injury, new books are coming out that combine past books -- that should have been combined all along! Mongoose is just a minor ass pain for us, since we know not to expect too much.

Those are the top five winners for 2007! Thanks everyone for voting. There will be cocktails in the lounge.

--Bully Pulpit Mode Off--

Mainstream

I often get questions about the public's attitude towards the games we sell. I grew up in a time when Dungeons & Dragons was demonized and the occult was the fear of choice. Now we have video games and terrorism to focus our fears and prejudices.

It's often the gamers themselves that think their game has a negative stereotype. It makes me wonder if they're just a bit paranoid or if they've had experiences to justify it. Maybe thinking their game is a little dangerous or deviant is more fun.

In three years I've had one upset mother. Her son was playing Magic in the store and she was upset because it had elements of magic. In other words, the premise of casting a spell was some sort of prelude to the occult. Fair enough. I expressed my surprise. No big deal. She casually left the store with her son; no Hollywood hysterics. I also had the local church youth group surreptitiously drop off flyers in the store, but that was more guerrilla marketing than desperate attempts at soul saving.

Someone once asked me if I was afraid of people picketing the store because I sold Dungeons & Dragons. I laughed. I laughed because the attitude towards these games have changed so much over the years. I told them that I wanted people to picket my store. This is California, after all, and such an event would be fantastic publicity. Please picket my store. Bring friends and a news crew. Hold on, let me draft a press release.

This topic got me started after reading about John Nephew, president of Atlas Games, and his run for city council in Minnesota. One of his rivals took the topics of a couple of his hundreds of games out of context in an attempt to demonize him. Let's Kill and Corruption where the tongue-in-cheek games of choice. We don't even carry these games, but mostly because they're not his best sellers. So what happened?

What happened was nobody cared. Times have changed. People are more savvy about games. What? This guy makes card games? How quaint. You mean like Apples to Apples, sold at Target and Wal-Mart? John Nephew responded:
Twenty years ago it could have been different," Nephew told ICv2, "but now if somebody tells a reporter to look into this, I will sit down with them and I find that the fact is that newsrooms are filled with people who are gamers or know gamers -- some of them even own games that we publish. The way this has played out, has really demonstrated to me how mainstream games are now -- how different it is from 1981."
Do you want to know what moms and grandmas are concerned about now? If a game is made in China (some people have personal boycotts). If a game is collectible (aka, resembles gambling). If a game has dark themes, not because it can possess your soul but because little Johnny is already a goth dufus who is socially delayed.

I've also had a number of discussions about game topics, especially concerning violence. I tell people about half the games I sell are about killing. Traditionally, back to the beginning of games, board games were about fighting or racing. That was it. Traditional racing games almost universally suck. However, we've elevated the fighting games to an art. We've got Warhammer, Warmachine, Flames of War, Wings of War, you name it, war is a hot topic.

On the other hand, I've got over 500 board games, mostly European style games associated with building, settling, and peacefully co-existing. Nobody ever dies in these games. They aren't even directly competitive most of the time. If you've got Wood for Sheep, you better hope the other player will trade you those sheep or the game is done for you. These games sell very well, but they don't have giant banners of wood and sheep to counter the superior marketing of the war games.

So when people ask why I don't sell games about puppy dogs and butterflies, I give the same reason for why I don't sell health food and fruit juice: Because nobody buys them! I've tried. Nobody wants that crap. And the person asking the question never buys the puppy dog and butterfly games when I introduce them. I think they're just being politically correct (aka pretentious and boring).

This may sound conservative or Republican, but retailers and manufacturers are chasing the demands of consumers. Only mega-corporations can actually shape demand. We're chasing consumers tastes and interests. It doesn't mean you can't take a stand. I don't sell Swear Bears or racy adult party games, even though I know I could sell a boatload of them. I've thought a lot about it. In any case, I've always thought healthy fantasy was an outlet to channel off violent tendencies, rather than focusing them. Ever see an angry pacifist? Definitely not enough war gaming in their past.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Section Banners II

These are final drafts of this group. The Game Center banner isn't included yet. That one has been trickier.







The Small Stuff

Some observations about the new space:
  • Stock on the Floor. Almost all of the inventory (like 99%) is on the sales floor. This not only makes for nice displays, but it cuts out the re-stocking problem of running back and forth when something sells. Running back and forth is now a big deal. You can almost miss a phone call if you're in the wrong place when it rings. The problem I used to have with stock in the back is that employees rarely remember that a second or third copy of a game is in the office. I would have to carefully examine everything that sold the previous day, making sure there's a replacement copy on the shelf (I still do this). Having all the stock on the floor also allows me to have a smaller storage space. What actually happened is everything stored in my garage is now stored in my office. I have no more space, despite triple the office size. The last stock item in the store room is cases of collectible miniatures. I'm trying to think of a way to display these brown cardboard cases in an attractive manner. I've even considered making a giant plastic dispenser (Tap Plastics is just down the street).
  • Clean and Cool. Two things really, but I think both are functions of our new air conditioning system. I keep the fan on all the time. It costs more in electricity, but it keeps the store much cleaner. In a store as big as ours, that's even more important and there's a monetary cost of having someone do extra cleaning. We're still trying to come up with a cleaning schedule, so every fixture gets attention at least once a month. I recently re-did the layout in Visio, so hopefully we can just check off each fixture on the map with our initials and date. As for cooling, the rear AC system still hasn't been modified to remove duct-work from the space next store. I turn the fan on back there when the game center begins getting full. I noticed last night, when I had a chance to play Warhammer, that the game center begins heating up at around 15 people. It's noticeably warmer than the retail space.
  • Temperature. It's much cooler with the high ceilings and no halogen track lights. I can keep it at 73, where the old place felt like an oven at around that temperature. There's about 18 inches of insulation above each ceiling tile. That helps regulate temperature. There was ZERO insulation above the tiles in the last store.
  • Tape. We find ourselves going through an alarming amount of register tape. Sales are certainly higher, but the transaction count has doubled with the addition of drinks and snacks. Each drink prints out a receipt and there's no way to change that. Drinks are currently our top 4 category in the store, in between Magic and Dungeons & Dragons.
  • Change. We also find ourselves tearing through many rolls of coins and running out of small bills. A weekly bank run is standard now, where before I would get change once a quarter! Part of that is we used to supplement our change drawer with vending machine change. We ditched the vending machine (literally), so we don't have that backup.
  • Deposit Slips. Also on the list of high rate of consumption are deposit slips. After the break-in I decided to change cash handling procedures. Well, I had good procedures, I just didn't follow them. We now do daily cash drops, which has increased deposits by two to three times.
  • Hours. I have to say it feels very odd having the store in operation without me a third of the day. It's five minutes to ten tonight, and the store is still open. It feels weird. Luckily we continue to ring up sales well after 9pm. I'm feeling the need for a store log book. I'm hoping to take two days off a week if I can get the store in a good position once the holidays have passed.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

New Bag Design

We've got plenty of the old shopping bags, probably enough to last through the holidays. The minimum print run is $1000, so I'm in no hurry to change out my bags just because the address is old. That was a conscious decision on how to spend marketing dollars; let the bags run out before re-ordering with the new design.

Night Photo II


The batteries are dead in my camera so I'll have to shoot more exterior shots later. Here's the other photo I took last night. This one was without flash.

Miniatures Banners

Here's another banner. This one is finished.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Store Front at Night

Dalai Lama

I'm always amused when the Chinese government tries to slam the Dalai Lama. It's like publicly beating your dog. Someone in the government needs to go rent Gandhi or something.

The latest absurdity came recently when the Chinese government regulated reincarnation:
"Chinese authorities issued a new regulation in July 2007 that requires all reincarnations - including the Dalai Lama - to be approved by the government."
Regulating reincarnation is something Buddhists everywhere have been trying to do for 2,500 years. Good luck with that.

Section Banners



On the wall over each department will be a custom banner. The banners are just about finished. Here are a couple drafts in various design stages.

We're going with the white top piece (not the gray shown on the RPG banner). We're also going with a more distinctive font so it can be seen clearly from across the room.

The banners will be five feet tall and printed on a light canvas like material. They'll be mounted on wooden poles with dowels, like the medieval banners we sell at the store.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Sustainability

You may begin to wonder where all the game stores have gone. It's estimated that 40% have closed over the last couple of years. The bloodshed has ended, and I'll be the first to say that many of those stores should never have existed, but there are fewer new stores entering the market.

The problem is not that game stores are impossible to run, it's that running one, or any small specialty store, is so financially un-rewarding that few people smart enough to do it are willing. If you do the math and figure out the investment, it gets all wonky. Like many wonky professions, it's only when you can't imagine yourself doing anything else that you should really move forward.

This post is about macro game store economics, the big money needed to make it work. It's a post I posted on the GIN recently. At the time I was exasperated with the numbers game, but the post doesn't seem to reflect my frustration. I've edited it for clarity. It started with a quote from a game store owner who was throwing in the towel:

"The retail model is inherently unsustainable."

Getting beyond this has been my focus lately. I've been working for the past three years in an attempt to obtain a salary that allows for a sustainable life in the SF Bay Area. Let's call that $65,000 [the average salary of people living in Oakland]. That's coincidentally the amount I was making in the year 2000 when I qualified to buy the house I currently live in. The buy in would probably be higher now. If say, I have a $30k game store manager salary, that means I need to make $35k in profit to continue to own my modest home.

If successful stores supposedly make around 8% profit, that means my store must have annual sales of $440,000. This assumes I don't have investors that take a cut (I do). How many stores do you know like that? What percentile would that store be in? Probably the top 5%. Who has the $110,000 plus furniture, fixtures and equipment expenses to build such a monster?

Because of this, I see three types of game store owners in my area:
  • Gamer monastics: They work long hours, make below minimum wage, do it out of devotion, and if they're lucky they've got a wife with the real income and benefits.
  • Hobbyists: Their daily break-even is $300. Their store is three miles north of nowhere. They do it because they need a place to play. They would be insulted if they could afford an Internet connection and read this. Windex is a capital expense.
  • Enterprises: Those who have been doing this long enough or those who can come up with the cash are running large, long-term stores, almost always diversified into toys or related items. These people are long-term because back in the day it made sense. Now the proposition is not nearly as rosy. Many are leaving. Many will close when they retire. Those in my area are dropping like flies.

My best hope is to turn myself from a gamer monastic to the owner of an enterprise.

Dogs

I was lamenting in my last entry that the area lacks a signature restaurant that might be suitable for catering our grand opening. Ivan, one of my long time customers, stopped by this evening to discuss it. He has offered us free hot dogs from Topz, the local "healthier" burger place he now manages. It should be a great addition to the grand re-opening!

If you want to get some grub at Topz and thank Ivan, you can find them at:

Carmelo Plaza
1600A Contra Costa Blvd
Pleasant Hill, CA 94523

Party Planner

I could write a post about how my job has changed from retailer to events coordinator, but this is about planning our Grande Re-Opening party. It's on Sunday, November 4th and it's our fourth one of these (a grand opening and 3 anniversary parties).

The SCA will be attending in force. They'll be featuring fighting competitions with knights in armor and women doing traditional medieval dance in traditional garb. We struck out with getting access to the parking lot, due to an easement issue (which I understand), but we've got the sidewalk and the parking spaces surrounding it. Most stores in the strip are closed on Sunday, so we should have lots of room for ourselves.

We'll be doing our usual free popcorn and drinks think. I've always wanted to do some sort of catering from a signature restaurant in the area. Endgame does a brilliant thing with a local hot dog seller. Being out here in the burbs, I think we lack that kind of restaurant with character. We would end up with Subway, rather than a Casper's. Casper's is really good, by the way. If anyone has any suggestions for a place in the area, please let me know.

We're decorating this time with black and purple helium balloons. We're taking a chance and ordering a disposable helium tank and the balloons online. The cost isn't the issue as much as finding a florist or other shop that will deliver on a Sunday morning. I'm told I've got 8-hours tops on latex balloons, with probably twice that on Mylar (but they're 5 times as expensive). This means we can't have them delivered the night before. If you want to volunteer to come in Sunday morning to fill them up, we could use the help.

We'll be doing open gaming unless we can think of some sort of themed event. We've got a calendar packed full of events for November: World D&D is the day before, our Game Auction/Ding & Dent sale is the following weekend, and our board game mini convention is the weekend after on the 17th.

Our wild card event right now is something for the kids. I'm working on finding someone for face painting, but I'm tempted by the various magicians available. I'm using an online "talent" broker called gigmaster.com. You tell them the type of entertainment you want and for how long and various lunatics, err, I mean party entertainers, email you their information and rates. I've got my eye on a magician, but the rates are pretty high. I really just want a nice face painting lady.

KKDV, the local radio station, will be broadcasting live from the event. We'll be driving traffic to the store with a radio ad blitz for two full weeks before the grand re-opening. I'm expecting a lot of muggles to show up, so popcorn and face painting should be helpful. This kind of advertising is more a nod to our toy department than anything else. The holidays are fast approaching and nobody knows we have all these toys! Our cable TV ads are targeted more to our gamer demographic.

We're doing so well right now, I almost regret signing the ad contracts. Our direct mail, convention efforts and word-of-mouth have done the trick. Now we're about to do some overkill with the expensive stuff. Despite predictions of the worst Christmas season in five years, I have very high hopes.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Lit

Our lighted sign is finally lit at night. There was an electrical short somewhere. We also had two additional ballasts replaced on the fluorescent lights inside the store, so today was all about lights.

The deal with the track lights is this: We don't need them ... provided we're firing on all cylinders when it comes to the fluorescents. All four bulbs need to be working on every light or it doesn't work. This should save me $65 a month in electricity.





This channel letter sign uses LED technology. It's 12-volts, so it sips electricity compared to fluorescent tube or "neon" signs. As a side note, it's not on a timer or turned on with a light sensor. The sign is on all the time. The cost of a timer is now prohibitively expensive when compared to the low electricity usage of the sign

In other news, I had to buy another new two-line phone today. The new one we bought is defective, and Indian tech support insists we send it back for repair, rather than sending us a new one. Exactly how many days do they expect us to be without a phone, I wonder? If you ever want to end a conversation with tech support quickly, just tell them their solution is entirely unsatisfactory. Worked for me.

Finally, I don't usually talk about sales figures, but if you were wondering how we're doing at the new space, we've hit our projected numbers. I was thinking it would take several months to get there, but we're there now. This is good because the move budget was completely blown. As I tell my investors, if I was my boss as project manager, I would be so fired.

Oh yeah, and Internet Explorer is the most cumbersome browser to blog with. Just an FYI.

40K Apocalypse Event Photos




Lorwyn Magic Tournament Photos










Saturday, October 13, 2007

Media (update)

I just finished the last episode of Deadwood. It's one of those Firefly like series that seems to have gone away in its prime, although three seasons is a decent run. I really love this show. I would post this entire blog entry in Deadwood speak if I had any skill at writing. The final episode was a bit like what I heard reported about The Sopranos, which I'm still a season behind watching. At the very end, Hearst, the bad guy, is about to be mobbed, stabbed, shot, arrested, and turned on by every main character and group in town. Instead, he's allowed to ride off, the town having been raped by him, these tough people giving in to his every demand with occasional resistance to show they have limits, or at least lack the discipline to take punishment without someone doing something out of frustration. It was probably a realistic portrayal, but not very satisfying.

I also finished season one of Heroes. People in the dealer's room at Conquest San Francisco were raving about it, so I gave it a shot. It's excellent stuff, with some weaknesses in its structure. There are many parallel story lines, some more compelling than others. Several characters are fun to watch, especially the time travelling Japanese nerd, Hiro. He's endearing and truly heroic. The problem is you then have to watch several interspersed stories of less than heroic people, or reluctant heroes, or even anti-heroes. It slows things down, but the writing is well done and avoids falling into stereotypes. I personally despise "capes," as the comic book superheroes are called. Heroes avoids any cape like behavior, yet you do feel for those who rise to the occasion.

I watched Gamers, an independent mockumentary about a group of guys trying to break the record for the longest consecutive time playing "DND." If you're a gamer and you enjoy comedies like Office Space, you'll probably find it pretty funny. A friend gave me a copy. Otherwise I wouldn't have heard of it (check out the link).

Not very exciting is what I watch when I'm sick: Lord of the Rings extended editions. Usually one movie a night. Watching it with a two-year old isn't recommended. They understand neither the battle sequences nor the dialogue. It also teaches them to walk around the house pretending to be a troll. Cute the first time. I skip over all the Frodo and Sam scenes when watching Return of the King. That particular story gets old after a while.

I was watching the other night and thought, as I lie there all sickly from flu/plague, if there is a God, and I'm a Buddhist for gods sake so I don't think this way very often, I hope he's Gandalf as played by Ian McKellan. My mother is probably hoping for Charlton Heston. Maybe we all get what works best in our own minds.

Pippin: I didn't think it would end this way.
Gandalf: End? No, the journey doesn't end here. Death is just another path... One that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass... And then you see it.
Pippin: What? Gandalf?... See what?
Gandalf: White shores... and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.
Pippin: [smiling] Well, that isn't so bad.
Gandalf: [softly] No... No it isn't.

Friday, October 12, 2007

FU

Despite having this acronym, the new Star Wars Force Unleashed minis look pretty cool!

People Aren't Wearing Enough Hats

Two questions bubbled up to the top of my brain while sick these past few days. I've had both questions for years but I thought I would share them. The first is kind of innocuous, while the second is a bit more loaded. It's like the Monty Python skit in The Meaning of Life, where the boardroom members get a bit distracted:

[Large corporate boardroom filled with suited executives]
Exec #1: Which brings us once again to the urgent realization of how much there is still left to Own. Item six on the agenda: "The Meaning of Life" Now uh, Harry, you've had some thoughts on this.
Exec #2: Yeah, I've had a team working on this over the past few weeks, and what we've come up with can be reduced to two fundamental concepts. One: People aren't wearing enough hats. Two: Matter is energy. In the universe there are many energy fields which we cannot normally perceive. Some energies have a spiritual source which act upon a person's soul. However, this "soul" does not exist ab initio as orthodox Christianity teaches; it has to be brought into existence by a process of guided self-observation. However, this is rarely achieved owing to man's unique ability to be distracted from spiritual matters by everyday trivia.
Exec #3: What was that about hats again?
Exec #2: Oh, Uh... people aren't wearing enough.
Exec #1: Is this true?
Exec #4: Certainly. Hat sales have increased but not pari passu, as our research...
Exec #3: [Interrupting] "Not wearing enough"? Enough for what purpose?

My first question then is why do miniature carrying cases get such a horrible discount from distributors and manufacturers? It's 35%, compared to most things in the industry which are at 50%. My guess is it's to absorb shipping costs. However, as new manufacturers come into the market, the discount remains the same. Are distributors shaving a much higher margin off these bags because of past pricing, or is it related to how manufacturers are negotiating pricing with distributors? If I were to make a bag with the express purpose of selling it at a very competitive 50% discount, would the distributors knock it down to 35% to cover their extra costs? Are there really extra costs? They're lightweight and don't need extra packaging.

My second question is why aren't there more African-Americans in the tabletop gaming hobby? Contra Costa County, where my store is located is 10% African-American (although Walnut Creek was only 1.5%). I've got two regular customers who are African-American our of a cast of many hundreds. I also go to most of the regional conventions and see very few African-Americans there as well. Trade shows are also barren of African-Americans. African-Americans find my store, but honestly when I have an African-American walk into the store, it's usually a mistake. They were looking for video games or game-boy accessories. This happens with people of other races as well, but the fact that they're African-American is an obvious tell that this new person will likely be disappointed with what I offer. During the short time I sold used video games, this changed dramtically, however.

This is certainly not an income or class thing. Tabletop gamers come from the full range of the socio-economic spectrum, but actually tend to be a bit farther down on the totem poll. I used to believe that putting a store in a wealthier community meant wealthier gamers. I learned it meant that my customer base just had to drive farther.

The African-American question has been asked about baseball recently, with just as much uncomfortable squirming. Baseball has been dominated by white and Hispanic players of late, where once it was a battleground for breaking the color barrier. Gerald Early, a professor at Washington University, who helped Ken Burns on his baseball series is quoted in this article as saying:
Baseball has little hold on the black American imagination," writes Early in his column, titled "Unpopular Answer to a Popular Question." "Relatively few blacks
watch the game. The game is not passed on from father to son or father to daughter; lacking that, the game simply will not have much resonance with African-Americans."

I think this is probably the key to tabletop gaming. Is there something in tabletop gaming that doesn't capture the African-American imagination? Perhaps fantasy and science-fiction as predominant themes don't relate. If these games came out of the Mid-West or Europe, I could certainly see that they would lack an element of tradition about them. Then again, my parents never played any of these games and it's only recently that we've seen multiple generations of gamers. Why would they capture the imagination of other non-white groups, but not African-Americans?

And why are all miniature cases black?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Collectible Model

We're discussing the state of the collectible miniature game with the announcement of Dreamblade's coming doom. The thought is that there are pockets of the country, such as the Bay Area, that have seen the model begin to crumble substantially. For us, it's been on the downturn for about a year and a half.

Many store owners would like to see the collectible market disappear and those customers move to games that don't feel like feeding an addiction. Without that happening, we keep bringing in ever shrinking quantities of similar collectible stuff, at least in our area. Some customers keep chugging along, but many seem to burn out and stop gaming entirely or better, move to other gaming pursuits.

In other news, Land of the Lost is being made into a movie. I have very fond memories of the creepy sleestacks of my youth. Unfortunately it will be a Will Farrel comedy.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

WebMD


Ok, the original pull down said sunburn, but it made me kind of angry as a father.... Maybe I'm too sensitive.

Sick

According to the WebMD symptom checker database, I either have a cold or the plague. Here's hoping for a cold.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Deficit Days

Game stores are in a time of the year where sales are down and new, post-Summer, pre-holiday products are arriving. This is a somewhat uncomfortable period when we're expected to buy more stuff than we're selling.

Let me explain how we buy things. Each store has a set budget for inventory.Lets call it $50,000. This is the cost the store paid for games, not the retail prices (cost is generally 45-50% of retail, except for AT-43). Lets say a new game comes out. For example, there's a new $50 board game. Where does that money come from? It's supposed to come from the inventory budget. We're supposed to look at the list of re-order items that we sold this week and cull $50 worth of slow selling stuff. These items have had their day in the sun and they're through. For a more positive example, perhaps we had ten copies of a new book and we're down to a reasonable number, thus adding money to our inventory budget.

The problem with this season is that sales are good for new items, but older items slow down tremendously. Customers are back in school or back to work, re-focusing, and the holidays are still a couple months away. With slower sales, there are fewer options for culling the inventory herd. Worse, coming soon is a holiday ramp-up of thousands of dollars in extra stock. Many stores fail when they guess wrong or the economy tanks or a variety of other problems that leave them with holiday overstock.

During my first holidays, I sold a lot of mass market games, like Life and Risk. The subsequent year, I learned how to play and sell Euro board games. When my second holiday came around, I spent deeply on mass market games, because that's what I could sell the year before. Big mistake. I ended up selling Euro board games. I had learned to sell them and it turns out customers were receptive to the idea. This left me with a lot of mass market overstock, although I still did well because I was selling more expensive, higher margin items. I also still have those mass market games for this season. My impression that people bought mass market games was wrong. They generally bought good games I was able to sell them.

So what does deficit spending problem mean for game stores? Those with the financial resources can ride out this period. Eventually the deficit and overstock problem goes away, but it might not be until late December. Those without the resources often can't keep up. They run out of popular items because they simply can't afford to stock them deep enough. They may go out of business if they can't hold out. I recall my second year realizing I couldn't keep up and thinking it entirely unfair. Then a light bulb went off in my head and I began to understand the business a bit better.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Dreamblade is Done

That wish that I made over dinner at the 2006 GAMA trade show finally came true. Dreamblade is going away. WOTC announced today:

"We have just announced that Night Fusion will be the last Dreamblade set"








Sunday, October 7, 2007

Partha

The co-founder of Ral Partha, Charles Crain, died on August 23rd. It's not breaking news, but I wanted to say what an impact this guy (aka Ral Partha) had on my imagination as a child. I played AD&D in junior high school and we had the "core" books back then, but only one guy I knew had those beautiful AD&D Ral Partha miniatures. They came in a stunning cardboard box with beautiful artwork. Within each box was a tray of cut blue foam with a dozen or so miniatures lovingly placed in their spots.

Back then, miniatures were nice, but not necessary to play the game, so it was kind of gamer luxury item, reserved for adults and only-child's everywhere. We rarely opened the boxes, but I recall the lead envy I had as a child. I remember years later that my friends box sets were just as pristine as when he first got them. I knew that my siblings would have destroyed and lost them if I had owned such beautiful treasures; that was the cost of being the oldest among four children.

On the few occasions when miniatures were painted, we had no idea what we were doing. I didn't actually paint one until years later, and it was a fiasco. We knew nothing of primer, so many paint jobs were temporary until the paint flaked off. The only paints available were horrible Testors acrylics. They smelled like hell and they left a shiny finish. They looked even worse without primer to keep the paint adhered to the mini. The Ral Partha figures themselves are pale shadows of what can be produced today, but the nostalgia is a lot like what you might feel for Pong or Donkey Kong. It was what we had, it was state of the art for its time, and it fueled our imaginations to new heights.