Privateer Press released their "core" list yesterday, what they consider to be a "list of models they believe "represent popular model choices for both new and existing players and showcase the core essence of each faction." That might not mean much to the players of Warmachine and Hordes, but it's a valuable tool for retailers.
Without a "core" list, retailers are left with a guessing game. If retailers know a game really well, an assumption that a lot of manufacturers/publishers seem to make, despite having dozens of game systems on the shelf, retailers can attempt to keep stock in line with what's necessary and what sells. However, when a line grows beyond a hundred or so items, that task becomes onerous and in the case of miniatures, often impossible. Providing a "core" list basically allows the retailer to leverage manufacturer knowledge to stock appropriately.
This assumes that the manufacturer is being truthful and that the list is truly core, not just a bunch of stuff they would like retailers to carry. I'm already getting some negative feedback from a couple Warmachine players, but we'll wait and see. Core, unfortunately, can't account for local tastes.
A smaller core list is probably better than a large one, something more than 3 items (traditional D&D) but less than half the line. This also assumes the list will change periodically, and not be a static list that gets stale. So with this list of "core" in hand, retailers have a couple of strategies they can employ.
At a minimum, retailers can stock core and special order any new releases. What we usually do, with Warhammer Fantasy for example, is stock core and then stock all new releases. Core always remains stocked but new releases are allowed to fall off if they don't sell with our usual performance metrics. So some non-core stuff stays on the shelf while others disappear over time. If a game starts to take off, we can bring more of that in. If a game becomes truly golden for us, like 40K or D&D and Pathfinder, we stock the full line regardless of metrics.
The true value of core, I think, is it lets you treat a game systematically, beyond just inventory. You stock core, you bring in new releases, you promote events and give appropriate support. You then know your inventory is appropriately managed, taking the guesswork and subjectivity out of that variable and that you've done what you can to market the game. They you can then decide if the game is worth keeping or not.
For example, if I stock core and support Warmachine to the greatest extent possible (we now play on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings, hint, hint) and the inventory languishes with low performance metrics, I can make an educated decision that the game doesn't work for me and I can drop it. That's what happened to Flames of War. Low performance metrics supporting core, low sales of new releases and nobody stepping up to run events. This saves years of trial and error and lost revenue.
The positive side of core is that I'll theoretically have everything a new player needs to get started, core product for existing players, and more confidence in new releases and the necessity of allowing non-core stock to cycle off the shelf. I'll be more confident in providing event time slots for the core game and there will be overall more confidence in steering prospective new players into that system. The manufacturer can likewise prioritize production of core products, so we're always working together.
We'll be bringing in 50 models we've dropped in the past to support Warmachine core. We'll take a look at Hordes next.