Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Rackham & FFG

ICV2 reports the new Rackham Confrontation minis will get the AT-43 treatment.

This is good and bad. The packaging is pretty good. The rules are pretty good. The existing metal models are supported, so that's smart. I really like their ingenious terrain idea, packaging various sets with terrain for the game. I wouldn't be surprised if there's some cross-over just to get some of those fantasy pieces.

The bad is the profit margin and the their new partner. We used to sell a lot of Confrontation when it was hotter (never really hot), and it was at a healthy 50% margin. AT-43 and the new Confrontation are at 40%, which is not an acceptable margin nowadays. Games Workshop bumped their discount up to 45% a couple years ago and Battlefront just jumped to a flat 45% last month. 40% doesn't rank shelf space.

That low margin means I have no incentive to push this game. Why should I sell you Confrontation when I make more money on every other game in the store? Maybe if I cover my ears and close my eyes, Confrontation will just go away (I'm trying that with Battlefield Evolution). At least BE has a healthy margin. If Rackham just wasn't so pretty, I'm sure they would be out of business by now.

Along the lines of you gotta be freakin kidding me:
Rackham and Fantasy Flight Games also announced that FFG will distribute Rackham products throughout the English-speaking world. In addition to distribution, FFG will oversee organized play.

If I had to list companies with key out-of-stock product, the two poster boys would be Rackham and FFG. As pointed out elsewhere, FFG is selling games direct on their website that are listed as out-of-stock at the manufacturer for the game trade. For example, Arkham Horror is out of print again and everyone wonders if they'll miss another Halloween.

I wonder if Rackham intends to do a distribution bypass by having FFG sell their items direct? This would solve their inability to deal with American distribution properly, although my guess is FFG will discover their excuses and lies soon enough.

The one small pinprick of hope is the organized play. FFG provides us the tiniest of organized play support for the Game of Thrones CCG, but it seems to be enough to make the player base happy. It's more than Rackham offers now, so it might invigorate the new game.


  1. We're blown away by the FFG news, mostly, as with you, because of fear of out-of-stock products FOR THE REST OF OUR LIVES. Having said this, Fantasy Flight continues to impress me with the sheer scope of their vision. They're snapping up lines and distribution, and they certainly have one of the most ambitious product schedules in the industry – whether or not they get things out on time. And the new FFG Toy line? I can't help but cheer them on, and marvel at their sheer enthusiasm. (And hope to gawd we actually see what they promise.)

  2. Re: GW discount
    They've never been less than 45% - and never increased their discount.

    In fact they were 50% in years gone by. Dropped to 47.5% about 8(?) years ago, dropped a further 2.5% about 5 years ago (to support the 'territory rep' program, which has since been canned...)

  3. My mistake. I thought they were at a base 40% with a higher discount if you bought more (like Battlefront). I started with them at their new rates.

  4. FFG can’t get their own stuff out with ay realistic timetable, and when they do they short ship to ridiculous levels. So ya…nice choice to handle distro/full-fillment. This is going to be spectacular. Then again, when you are Rackham, and have burned Brookhurst, Alliance and ACD…what else you got left?

    I am SO looking forward to the next podcast. Oh yes I am. This is like the Bifecta of idiocy, put into one convenient bundle.

  5. I was sitting here thinking about it after my last comment, and Darren, I do agree with some of the things you find compelling about FFG. Heck, I even personally buy some of their games, and struggle with this total love hate relationship I have with them. You are very right. They seem to have a very far reaching vision on their approach, which is very refreshing. We are in an industry of "much the same" more often than not. Where it goes south is in their delivery...

    I don't just mean their physical short-shipping of products, but the process as a whole. Let's look back at just the most recent example of Tide of Iron. I have magazines as far as a year back advertising this game. Their marketing ininitave was darn good (as with most of their products.) But, (as with most of their products) they hyped, and hyped, and hyped...and hyped some more...as the game was later, and later, and later. We finally see it hit the US shores with an unconfirmed 2,500 units.

    We have over a years worth of marketing dollars and consumer hype for a game that only manages to get a 1/3 or 1/4 of it's print run across the water on the initial shipment. If memory serves, we had to get out eight copies from 3 to 4 different distributors. We sold 7 of those 8 within a couple of weeks..with the 8th staying unsold on the self. Now, yes, we have one left...but how many other stores can say that across North America? To further expand the discussion...how many stores are stuck with excess inventory in the WoW planes? I would safely say, not many.

    In a very long winded fashion, what I am trying to get at, is that I think more than anything, FFG is really doing not only themselves, but the entire hobby game industry, a disservice. They are constantly disappointing people with lack of availability and over-marketing. When someone walks in any of our stores and they don't see Arkham, Tide of Iron, Wings of War, Wings of War Planes, Citadels, etc, etc, etc...their uber effective marketing goes right into being a huge detriment.

    The average customer who just walks in off the street after hearing about one of these games...they don't know the drama that is FFG. They don't know, and really don't care. They just want to buy this cool game they heard about. We occasionally get the opportunity to explain our side of the story, and offer to let the person know when the game comes back. But we have no control when the person walks out being disappointed. Disappointed in a game store that doesn't carry such a cool game. Lovely.

    Then there is the customer who is a little more keyed into the drama..who comes to expect the disappointment. How lame is that? FFG has some spectacular marketing, and is very, very good at getting the word out there about upcoming releases. It's this same customer who is pleasantly surprised when _they can get the game_ after hearing about it for-seeming-like-ever. Does that kind of marketing and fulfillment really provide any kinda of real legitimacy to the industry? IMHO, not really.

    Ultimately, I wish FFG could be honest with us, itself, it's customers, and it's distribution partners and decide what it's trying to be...and them implement a real plan of how to do that. I think they could use a little less on their plate, including innovation, until they figure out how to tidy up their affairs a little more.And then, let's get Arkham in print once...just once...when the new expansion for the game comes out ;)

    Gary, thank you for so often indulging me in these diatribes I remove from my head and put here...you have a really reasonable crowd who reads this.

  6. "Gary, thank you for so often indulging me in these diatribes I remove from my head and put here...you have a really reasonable crowd who reads this."

    I think this would be worthwhile if it were just you, me and Darren. The additional comments are surprising and very much welcome.

    A couple comments:
    How often do customers buy direct from FFG when their local game store doesn't have that out-of-stock item?

    As for their release schedule, I have a problem with manufacturers without street dates. Telling a customer "sometime in June" seems a little incompetent on everyone's part.

    Because there are no dates, I tend not to hype those games. Should I prepare a display "sometime in June?" Should I make sure we decorate the store "sometime in June?"

    Folks on the GIN were vehemently against street dates for board games, due to online competition. My problem is that I can't promote "sometime in June," especially when an FFG "sometime in June" could be this June or next June.

    Glad to hear Tide of Iron did well for you guys. We had one pre-order and no sales the first month. We sold one more since it's release and have two sitting on the shelf, hopefully to be sold during the holidays. What a thud.

    It's the out-of-print good sellers I miss: Citadels (now back), Arkham Horror and Runebound. Oh yeah, and the WoW planes.

    Chris, you'll have to let me know where you get your industry numbers. I'm just now wanting to understand the why's of this industry instead of the how's.

  7. Gary,

    "How often do customers buy direct from FFG when their local game store doesn't have that out-of-stock item?"

    - I have no idea. I would suppose that depends on desire, impatience, and knowledge of the on-line store. I do know that they have been making their on-line store one of the primary marketing points in their collateral in the past few months. Look to any of it to see what I mean.

    - I love street dates. I think the people on the GiN (which I am starting to find less and less useful as I see the brain trust that has formed really spiral into the-less-than-awesome) have a lot of fear. If you don't know how to provide a competitive advantage, and run your business with your heart on your sleeve...everything becomes something targeted directly against you. How many sectors of retail _aren't_ affected by someone discounting the same goods. Bummer that board games are sold online. Bummer that they potentially take sales away. Get over it, and find a way to get people in yer store (in the general "you" sense.)

    - As for data. It takes some work to piece it all together. Ask distributors what they get in, etc. If I am on a crusade, I don't wanna spout something off I am uncertain of. I don't remember where the Tide of Iron numbers came from. May have been a post on BGG that was pointed out.

    Anywho...there ya go. I need a new hobby.

  8. Tide of Iron is a weird case for me. I was looking forward to the game until I actually saw it. In the end a number of factors kept me from getting it:

    1) It came out late, after I had already picked up a couple of other WWII tactical games. If it had come out on time I would have gotten it first.

    2) After seeing it opened up I feel it's too "fiddly". Games with these kinds of components should be less fiddly than cardboard counter wargames. The little plastic figures coming on and off the bases in Tide of Iron seems just as fiddly, if not more so, than stacks of cardboard chits.

    3) It's too damn big.