Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Fourty Kay

I don't like science fiction. There, I said it. It doesn't capture my imagination like fantasy. I've been wanting to start a Warhammer 40,000 (40K) army for a while, but I was waiting for the Daemons, since they were less sci-fi and could be used for Warhammer Fantasy. I've been putting off the decision, but I decided I don't like the models. Going back to square one, I found a single army that captured my imagination.

The Tallaran faction of Imperial Guard are desert raiders. There's very little sci fi here. They're human (check), they don't fly about or use futuristic vehicles (check), in fact they use horses (check with a big smiley face). Other than laser rifles and similar sci-fi accessories, which I'm sorely tempted to replace with AK-47's from Necromunda, there's very little sci-fi here. I wonder if this army exists for this very reason, to attract people to the game who don't like sci fi. My army list looks similar to my army ranger list for Flames of War: A small group of elite troops, lightly armored quick assault cavalry, backed by artillery.

The down side to the Tallaran is that they're hard to come by. The artillery, basilisks, are readily available. All the troops are special order from GW specialist games and the horses aren't even made any more and will have to be procured form the "secondary market," aka Ebay. If I can find some donor models, I'll have them ride camels instead.

Getting Started
I haven't put together a model kit since I was a kid, and it wasn't a hobby I really enjoyed. Several things struck me about the Basilisk as I put it together. First, the date on the sprue was 1994. How many games are still around after 14 years? It's actually pretty amazing.

Second, after spending a lot of time getting the wheels for the treads just right, and then covering them up so you don't even see them, I realized there's a level of detail and obsessiveness about this game that I had missed. 40K players are often portrayed as a bunch of knuckle dragging dice rollers, rather than obsessive craftspeople, carefully assembling models, some of which only they will ever know about. There's a strange pride in knowing the internals of your model is done right and only you will every know it.

Third, the time involved was staggering. After three hours, I had finished step three of nine. Despite this, it added to the satisfaction of completing it (or at least three steps). The bottom line: This is my kind of obsessiveness.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Check's In The Mail

I just can't help feeling that this week marks being over the hump for the new store. The first quarter was hard, mostly because it was the first quarter, but also because we had normal growing pains with a new store, hampered by a slow industry releases schedule. The industry seems to be wanting to get out of the way of Dungeons & Dragons this year; they want to avoid throwing their spiffy product into the marketplace if it's going to get ignored in the sweep of D&D mania.

The big hump I'm referring to is economic. May is usually a pretty average month, but it marks the end of that first quarter (and April) doldrums. This May is especially good because it marks the release of a new Magic set and the first D&D 4 product on the 20th. Magic months are always good, although I think the Keep on the Shadowfell will be a muted success, due to most customers not knowing of its existence. May, today really, marks the beginning of those idiotic stimulus checks being sent out or direct deposited. It's bad policy, but I'm told we should expect about 60% of that money to go to retail purchases.

Those who got refunds electronically last year had their checks deposited into their accounts today (8 million people). Those of us Luddites who do things the old fashioned way will be spread across May, June and half of July, with checks mailed out based on the last two digits of you social security number (the bigger the number, the later the check). I'm in the last batch (grrrr).

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sunday Morning Stuff

The children
Is anyone else deeply disturbed by the state of Texas taking over 400 children from their parents, solely because of their religious beliefs? Abused kids is one thing, but this has been described as parental rights termination in a class action fashion. In other words, we know there's some abuse, but we'll just take away all the children from their parents until we can confirm if there's any more, including nursing infants and toddlers. Guilty until proven innocent. I've found conservative courts are especially likely to terminate parental rights based on their philosophical position. It's the conservative side of activist judges.

I drive a Mazda 6 sport wagon now, but I used to be a big BMW fan when I had disposable income. My favorite and most unreliable car ever was a 540i. It was a fantastic car that practically bankrupted me in repair bills, but you could queue up the James Bond theme whenever you drove it. It's the only car I've had recurring dreams about; a literal dream car. My next car, a 330i, was precisely what I wanted at the time, including custom bits I bought in Germany when I picked it up. My honeymoon soured after I got tired of the whiplash shifting and race car suspension. I was getting too old, perhaps. I've been to Munich twice for Euro delivery and took the factory tour, as well as a run through the BMW museum. I wrote articles on how to save money on Euro delivery and participated heavily in the forums. So when BMW goes off the deep end stylistically, it's like a friend who joins a new religion and starts acting peculiar (or maybe that was me with my BMW obsession).

It started with the "Bangle Butt" of the 7-series and ended up running through the entire line. The cars are now busy, with lots of extraneous lines and curves and big booties. They all look like cartoon cars, as if they've traded in a classic tuxedo for a striped track suit. It's sad really. What can you say when your friend goes off the deep end? The latest car was unveiled recently in Abu Dhabi, the X6. It's a hot rod SUV crossover that begs the question, who are they designing these things for? The blog post I quote below concedes that the auto business is now a fashion business.

From a MotorTrend blog:
But driving the BMW X6 hard is a bit like watching an elephant tap dance -- you're left faintly bemused by the whole act, but not entirely sure it belongs anywhere outside a circus. I couldn't help wonder how much time and effort it took the BMW engineers to make this 4894-pound truck perform like, well, a BMW. More to the point, I wondered whether deep down the BMW engineers, car guys all, thought the X6 a waste of their talent. You see, good as it is, the X6 is still a truck. A perfectly pointless truck.

BitTorrent. Another big surprise for me this week was the discovery of BitTorrent. Yes, I know, it's hardly cutting edge. I've messed around with peer-to-peer download tools before, but I hadn't tried this. I'm a believer in intellectual property rights, but I also don't have a problem downloading an electronic copy of something I already own in physical form.

That usually means D&D books. I tried buying PDF's of my print products for a while, but it got ridiculous. I would buy a D&D 3.0 book, then the PDF of that book, then the 3.5 revision of that book, and the 3.5 PDF upgrade of that book and it went round and round until I spent $75 to get a books worth of information for my game. I think pirated gaming books online is a serious problem that has extremely negative effects on the small game industry, but I don't think it's wrong to reach in and grab that electronic copy of a book on my shelf, especially when the company isn't offering an electronic version.

BitTorrent amazed me in its ruthless efficiency of sucking down massive quantities of information, utilizing every bit of bandwidth. It's far more efficient than previous tools and it finally occurred to me why Comcast tried to throttle it, and why as a Comcast subscriber you would probably thank them for it. I was using UTorrent, which allowed me to set a schedule of precisely how much bandwidth to use at different times of the day. Give it free reign and your broadband connection will feel like a 1200 baud modem (that's really slow for you young'ins out there).

To be fully honest, I was spending most of my time downloading episodes of Battlestar Gallactica. I've been getting them via Net Flix, but I wasn't sure where I was in my viewing of the series before I canceled my satellite service early last year. I was getting frustrated when I received disks with episodes I had already seen, so this was a way to get me back up to speed. I know I'm late to the party, but this is totally the future of TV. Make it legal, easy and make me a set top box (there's one in the works), and I'll gladly pay a subscription fee, ditching my Net Flix account.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Top Sellers

I usually strip out a lot of extraneous stuff when I make these lists. That "stuff" is often more revealing than a list of items. Lets look at one where I don't strip it out:

Top Sellers for April (the last 30 days)
  1. Friday Night Magic Fees. We're getting 15-20 people now for FNM, and events fees top the chart, at least before we give away a ton of cards as prize support (it's probably around #5 when you factor that in). Thus you hear me rant about the collectible model, rather than doing something about it.
  2. D&D Discount Books. Here's what happened: A small distributor who almost nobody in the industry has heard of, recently signed me up. A few weeks later they decided they were going to dump ALL their D&D 3.5 stock for next to nothing. Nobody else is doing this, by the way, as the game has life left in it. I bought up 4-6 copies of every book and we sold them at the Conquest convention and later in the store for $15/each or 3 for $30. Of the 100 or so books, there are about six left. And that is how I know exactly the residual demand for D&D 3.5.
  3. Used Games. This is more a category that tracks as an item, but there has been a resurgence in used games. I blame the economy. Customers trade down and sometimes it has unusual results. You know that gourmet food in grocery stores? Going nuts. People are trading down from restaurants to gourmet prepared foods. Used games are my gourmet prepared foods.
  4. Collectible Figures. The new D&D miniature set, Dungeons of Dread, doesn't make the list, but collectible figures from that set does. When we crack open boxes and sell singles, it pushes down the numbers for that item and pushes up this one. We've sold the majority of this release as singles. Same profit margin, different sales method. Everybody's happy.
  5. Event Fees (non-Magic). These represent the various mini events where you pay into a pool for prize support. We then give out free product as prizes, which tends to deflate the ranking of a game on lists like these. The new Bleach CCG release is in that category.
  6. Yu-Gi-Oh Gold Edition. This was like printing money. The interesting thing about this item is it was a hobby store exclusive. Remember those $300,000,000 market size numbers I posted from ICV2? Crap perhaps. However, you start to realize how big the market is when you strip out the mass market. Now if they could have stripped out the Internet, I could retire to the Bahamas. The truth about game stores is that they'll never be as profitable as they once were because of the ability of the mass market and the Internet to swoop in and steal the thunder, once small stores have done the leg work. Successful stores seem to do other things to make up for this.
  7. D&D 4th Edition Gift Sets. Pre-orders for the 4E gift set have topped 20 now and we've had to adjust our order. I like to think for every one of these, we'll sell 4 Player's Handbooks on the release week. The gift set is something only game masters will buy, although in many groups, different people wear that hat. The one overlooked product is Keep on the Shadowfell, due out 5/20. It should have had some better promotion as a quickstart product, being it's the first D&D 4 product. It's a missed opportunity.
  8. World of Warcraft CCG: Servants of the Betrayers. This is all about speculation. I bought a stupidly large amount of this on the advice of my distributor because Upper Deck under-printed, creating artificial demand. I ordered far more than our small player base could consume, and although the many unsold boxes scared me at first, I wasn't disappointed. Mystery customers have been arriving with large buckets of cash and buying up multiple boxes of this paper crack. I feel dirty. But the rent is paid.
  9. Magic the Gathering: 10th Edition Boosters. I'm going to attribute the sales of this vanilla set to the number of new and re-emerging Magic players. It's like comfort food to homesick card players. It's also rarely used as prize support, so it doesn't get pushed down the charts (due to messing with the margins).
  10. Individual Dice. We moved the dice. We switched them with the collectible cards, mostly because we needed to keep a closer eye on the card packs. The next step after putting the cards on the counter next to my chained up laptop is a special utility belt. Want a pack of 1oth edition? No problem, left hip. Actually it will be putting them in the black hole of the display case, a real sales killer (but much less theft). The retail lesson here is that moving things is often better than buying new things. Out of money? Can't buy new games? Try re-arranging the ones you have. I wonder if that works at home?

Don't Make Me Be the Boss

When I was managing IT professionals, this was one of the things I would say. Don't make me be the boss. In other words, for the love of god, please do what you're paid big money to do and don't make me have to manage you. In IT, most managers are working managers, meaning their management responsibilities are in addition to their regular technical jobs, and are usually an ass pain that nets them a small pay bump over those they're managing. In my case it also exempted me from overtime pay. I'm a much better manager than I was then, and I still suck at it!

This week in the store was about being the boss. It wasn't with the employees, since I'm very lucky in that department right now, it was with the customers. Not just any customers, the black clad, teenage, angst ridden, bad smelling, foul mouthed, thieving customers. They made me be the boss, as they're simply not experienced at being human beings yet and needed reminding of basic human expectations. They'll still need some managing, but man I hate it when they make me be that guy.

As the only game store left in the area, we cater to all types of gamers. However, if I were beset by competition, where competition forced every store to have their specialty, I would gladly give up everything collectible to a competitor and fire my collectible customers. It's mostly a drag because it's a commodity product that serious players buy online. There are no collectible customers that are my customers, only people who visit on occasion, sometimes to pick over singles for cases of product they bought online. I can sell a box of cards for 40% off and they still think they're doing me a favor by buying it. These are the people who will gladly drive an hour to save a buck and then bring their product back to our store to play. Selling collectibles feels like drug dealing, and I wouldn't do it if it didn't pay the rent so very well.

On the positive side, we're seeing a lot of new Warhammer Fantasy players. The high profile GW releases this year have gotten a lot of people interested, and although our fantasy game nights are not quite there yet (we desperately need a volunteer), customers are arranging times to come in and play on their own. Games Workshop, for all their quirks, represents the opposite of the collectibles market. You've got a well run company, with controlled distribution (no online selling, for example), excellent product supply, and good customer service. Customers who play at the store generally buy at the store, unlike our collectible gamers. You pay a premium for this experience, but I think you get a good value for your money.

There's also something that's just more honest about miniature gaming. You come into the store. You buy a model and know what you're getting. You put it together and paint it and now you have something. You've been creative. You've gotten your hands dirty. It's the geek equivalent to growing your own food. Compare that to buying blind booster packs for a card game that you may never play again after next Tuesday. It's just more satisfying selling miniatures. It's a more honest experience for everyone.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Final Ritual (D&D)

Alright, found the camera. It almost went the way of the dice bag. In the BBC series Red Dwarf, an entire population of cat people evolve over thousands of years in the cargo bay of a ship after a crew members cat gives birth. That's how it is at my house, only it would have been a race of creatures that resemble a brown furry dice bag, and they would all be expert photographers, or maybe worship cameras as their patron deity.

SPOILER ALERT: This is a warning to my D&D group. Don't read this (this means Jess, since she's the only reader).

Below are photos for the "Final Ritual" adventure, the last part of Monte Cook's Night of Dissolution. This will be the culmination of a 7-year campaign. We've actually ran four campaigns in my astral city of Iron Crown, but it was always partially based on Ptolus, long before Ptolus became a book.

Technical Stuff. What you see is Dwarven Forge product. These are modular building pieces that allow you to make any conceivable dungeon, provided you have enough pieces (money). At one point in my life I decided I wanted to have enough DF to make ANYTHING, and I mostly do, although I still lust after the new sets and regret selling my narrow passage set in the store early on.

In this particular setup, I've gone 3D. I've been dabbling with having different dungeon levels on different physical levels, but this is the first time I've laid out a multi level dungeon on multiple levels. This is hard because there is a lot of tweaking of the tiles after you've laid it down. It's not uncommon to have to re-built an entire room, and when it's balanced on a stack of books, it can get tedious.

This setup here is a what I would call a dress rehearsal. It's when I get all my monsters and terrain and put them together at once. It's the only time it will ever be like this, with all the monsters shown and the entire dungeon revealed. I can imagine this actually happening in the adventure. The evil cultists practice their chants and check their machinery. The big bad guy checks his throne, the hand of a dead demon, to make sure it's emitting the right frequency of evil.

I'm still missing some pieces. I'm waiting on some prison doors for the ratmen. They're Fenryll miniatures on order from France. I also bartered to have someone paint up some new Reaper children for the sacrifice. Hey, what's a good evil ritual without child sacrifice?


Entry Chamber. This Vrock demon stands guard in this room. It has a device that lets the other cultists know that visitors have arrived, either good or bad. If there's a problem, everyone is alerted through this method and they all move to their battle stations (very bad for the characters).

Levels. This photo shows the various levels of the dungeon. I believe there are three levels, connected by regular staircases, spiral staircases, ramps and ladders. Once I get the hang of it I'll be better at hiding the "risers," such as the travel and Dresden Files books.

Water Cooler. This isn't part of the written adventure, but I've added it based on how we understand the chaositech technology to work. The silver chaos cubes contain pure chaos energy and (in my game) give off tremendous amounts of heat. In the photo above, a water elemental is used to pump sewer water through a series of pipes that cool the chaos cubes.

Dining. It's not glamorous, but these kinds of set pieces answer the question of where people eat and do their business. I've modified the scale of the rooms in this layout. First priority was getting it to fit on one table. Second, I wanted the sanctuary at the end to be much larger, since it's such an epic combat. It's double scale. Third, I often redirected rooms or changed their size or shape to make space for the players at the table. A cool layout is great, but if they have to hold their books in their lap, it's distracting.

Eschaton Sanctuary: This is where the chaos cultists use pure chaos and magical energy from trapped sorcerers (in the containment chambers), along with the sacrifice of rune children, to awaken a galchutt (think Cthulhu). If this creature awakens, the world is in a heap of big trouble.

The sanctuary is three levels. On the first level, ratmen with powerful rifles shoot intruders. On the second level, the evil cultists are engaged in their ritual and aren't likely to put up much of a fight. The third level holds the big boss demon, a recurring villain who has gained as much power as the characters since they last saw him. The characters need to stop the ritual by various means, or kill all the bad guys, while saving the children and the trapped sorcerers. A good time was had by all.

Evil Cultists. Here we have the evil cultists preparing for their ritual. The kids haven't been brought out yet.

Demon: Our big bad guy sits in his special throne, a bleeding severed hand from a gigantic demon. He will be harassing the party from his throne as they try to disrupt his ritual. This will be the last D&D 3.5 encounter of our campaign, and possibly ever.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Dice Bag

Dice Bag
I was cleaning up my gaming areas at home tonight when I found one of my dice bags lying on the floor. The bag looks like brown animal fur and was custom made by a friend of mine for use with my orc druid character in our Eberron game. So get this: the bag was decomposing on the floor! It was literally stuck to the tile and moths were eating it, like you see in those time lapse nature videos. In another week I could have had some nice peat for whatever I dropped there next. It was definitely a "you've gotta be freakin' kiddin' me" moment.

In The Store
The store is quiet this week, mostly due to few new releases. It's the week of the Gama Trade Show and vendors are generally MIA. Starting next week we'll see a backlog of new releases start to arrive. The show is often representative of what's new in the industry and what we should expect for the rest of the year. Reports I've received back say it's been somber and quiet, with lighter than usual attendance. It's not that there won't be good releases this year, it's just that we've got some 500 pound gorillas that will dominate 2008.

For example, a new Dungeons & Dragons release is the closest a game store gets to actually printing money. Do we need to talk about it or hype it at this late date? Not really, so Wizards of the Coast isn't. The new Warhammer 40K 5th edition is supposed to be out in July, and GW is at the show, yet I haven't heard anything about it. The final 500 pounder is Upper Deck with the World of Warcraft collectible miniature game.

The WoW miniature game is one of those painful releases that you kinda wish would just go away, despite guaranteed sales. The problem is Upper Deck. They will under produce. The demand is unknown. The scale of the miniatures is unique, much like Dreamblade. The game is collectible, much like Dreamblade. This means a couple things: First, it means you can't do anything with WoW miniatures except play WoW or use them for your geekosphere. Second, Upper Deck won't make enough of them, so with the information above, imagine planning to buy, say, a 3-month supply. It could be a case. It could be 10 cases. If it's like the WoW CCG release, no number would be too high. Who really knows? The risk is high and the cash tied up in product will be enormous.

Meanwhile, I know I can get the 4th Edition players handbook whenever I need it. I have this short supply problem with the latest WoW card release too. I've been sitting on enormous quantities knowing that they're under-printed and the demand will pick up later, rather than sooner. I've been correct, but it's a heck of a way to run a business.

Monsterpocalypse, the collectible miniature game from Privateer Press, gets a solid meh from me, and I don't meh lightly. My issue is that CMG's, as they're called, have tanked in our area over the last year and a half. Customers are tired of the collectible model. This one will appeal to a subset of Warmachine players, and you can hold that meh against me if I'm wrong, but I don't think it will get farther than that. Yeah, yeah, giant Godzilla monsters breaking stuff. I don't get it. Also, speaking of Dreamblade once more, the Monsterpocalypse game has $30, 1-player starter sets, an ominous sign. I'm telling you: meh.

Fantasy Flight Games will put out great things, with confusing rules, and no street dates, but that's what they do. Expect great things, but don't expect to know when, or to quite understand how to play them.

Endocrinology and You
The Economist had an interesting article this week about financial traders and their physical reactions to up and down markets. The premise was that their testosterone would increase when they did well and their cortisol levels, produced from stress, would increase when they did poorly. The end result was that yes, testosterone goes up, but with anticipated profit, while cortisol levels went up when risk was involved. Whether you performed poorly or not was not important, it was the perception of how well you were doing that gave you a rise or caused you stress.

This is very much how it feels working sales at the store. A bad sales day is not stressful, it's the stress that comes from not knowing, the hourly drag of a bad sales day that causes stress. Likewise, an end of day report doesn't release hormones into my body, but I certainly get a rush with a big sale, or even better, when I know someone is starting out in their hobby. Last week we had a half dozen kids start playing Warhammer Fantasy. That was a rush bigger than any sale. It's not just the money, it's knowing the joy they'll find in their new hobby. I especially get that warm fuzzy when it's a game I play.

The Final Battle
My final set piece for the end of my D&D campaign is almost complete. It uses Dwarven Forge and spans multiple real levels, with various rooms raised or lowered on the table. I've been working on some of the props for months. If I could only find the camera....

Monday, April 21, 2008

Indie Minis II

The indie minis sold extremely well over the weekend, including selling out Infinity starter sets to a couple different people. We're re-stocking what we can and adding some new ones this week:

Cowboy Wars Rule Book
Man-to-man skirmish level gunfight game. Rules for Showdown and Heroic Actions. A large listing of Western Personalities to populate the gamer's Western town, including Texas Rangers, Indian Renegades, Bank Robbers, the Local Ladies, Rustlers, The Cattle Baron and his men, the Town Sherrif and his Posse, Buffalo Hunters, Guns for Hire,and European Hunting Parties.

Flashpoint - Vietnam Miniatures System Rulebook
Flashpoint Vietnam is Flashpoint Miniatures debut rule system placing players in the shoes of the small unit commander in the steaming jungles and corrupt city streets of Vietnam during the 1960s and 70s. Whether fighting in the name of western democracy or as a stalwart defender of Communism players are able to reenact some of the most bitter engagements of the war in this fast paced, action packed miniatures game.



Crunch Waffle

Black Scorpion

Sunday, April 20, 2008


I'm really enjoying my new discovery. Michael's has a bewildering array of props for my game, and my imagination is pretty much the limit. I'm no crafts person, so when I went to the store looking for "modeling clay," I was expecting to find a large gray chunk at best. Michael's instead had three full lines of clay, each in a variety of colors, like we sell paint in the store. I was going to buy some old fashioned clay for my project and paint it black, but instead I found three brands of black clay. I went with black Sculpey III.

Below is a photo of the current prop I'm working on. It's still baking in the oven. It's a black throne for the Cult of the Ebon Hand boss monster in the D&D adventure, Night of Dissolution. This is for the final set piece battle with props I've been working on for about 8 months now. I'll take plenty of photos when it's done. It should be the end battle of my D&D 3.5 campaign.

My Way or the Highway (D20 Apocalypse)

The D20/OGL license for D&D 3 is permanent and non-revocable. Wizards of the Coast can't invalidate the license and thus kill off the 3.x market, paving the way for D&D 4. What they are doing, however, is creating a cleverly worded 4th Edition license that will limit how you implement the new license while supporting the old one. This has been debated for the last couple of days on this Enworld thread. You could spend many hours reading this, so let me summarize.

There is mutual exclusivity. You cannot publish new 4th edition content under the new license and also continue to publish, print or distribute or make available for download (we're guessing) D20/OGL content for D&D 3. You also cannot fence sit. For example, you cannot publish a book with both 3rd edition and 4th edition content, nor can you publish two books with two different versions. Once you go 4th, you can't go back. Publishers can finish up their products in the pipeline and put out 3rd edition D20/OGL content for as long as they like, but once they publish a 4th edition product, they can't return to 3rd and the fate of their 3.x books are in doubt.

The end result? Publishers like Green Ronin and Mongoose are not likely to give up their profitable 3.x OGL products for the opportunity to try 4. Green Ronin's big game is Mutants and Masterminds, a brilliant extension of the OGL license. Mongoose's most popular RPG is Conan, also using the OGL license (and now not printed by monkeys).

The Paizo/Necromancer team up is pretty ideal, with Necromancer committed to 4th edition and Paizo committed to Pathfinder (3.5 OGL) and supporting Necromancer's D&D 4 efforts. Paizo would not be allowed to publish a 4th edition product and still go back to Pathfinder. The head of Necromancer Games, Clark Peterson, has been providing a lot of clarification and some details of his discussions with Wizards, since they have such a unique situation.

Small publishers would be forced to choose and thus focus on the new or the old. That could be a good thing. Creating a clever spin-off company to support one version or the other is specifically dealt with in the license. Publishers that are moving to 4, won't be able to continue producing re-prints of existing D20/OGL material either. Those that publish 3.x material are being required to remove the D20 logo by the end of the year, if they want to produce GSL materials. There's also no reason to believe this won't apply to PDF versions of products.

From a store owner perspective, I see a few things:

  • Who cares? About 20% of my D20 sales are third party, roughly the percentage of people who care about third party publishing on Enworld. 80% of D&D players won't miss them.
  • 3.5 Support. Those who were hoping to ride the long tail of 3.5 will find that tail a little shorter now. We'll still see used books and PDF products from a myriad of publishers, but any publisher who moves forward will be yanking their 3.x PDF products.
  • Diversity. I've mentioned before, the vast array of products is difficult to manage, but it's what keeps my store different from Barnes & Noble. This solution will provide some diversity, without the wholesale printing of new D&D 4 products by everyone with Microsoft Word and access to Kinkos.
  • Dumping. There will likely be an industry wide move to dump all the D20 back stock by the end of the year. Anyone with plans to produce a 4th Edition product will need to liquidate their old 3.x inventory. In the past, I would jump on this stuff, and I've done very well with buying liquidated 3.0 inventory. However, I'm not so keen to do this again. We've seen the twilight of 3.x for close to 18 months now and the market is pretty well saturated.
  • Quality. There is an argument that focusing companies on either moving forward to 4th edition or staying with their successful OGL products will make the marketplace better. Requiring them to do it is certainly controversial. One argument against this is that veteran publishers, dependent on their 3.x income, won't be moving forward as quickly. This means the marketplace is open to new, inexperienced publishers, potentially creating the same problems we saw when 3.0 was released.
This is all based on maybe 4 posts by WOTC and Clark Peterson out of around 20 pages of content.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Why I'm Not Going to GTS

I don't want this to sound bitter or angry. I've been thinking about a way to show the effects of shrinking margins in a more concrete way. Running some reports, I looked at my top ten companies with reduced margins. The goal was to show that reduced margins result in less money available for discretionary spending, like trade shows. I wasn't disappointed. However, as a net amount (a tenth or so of actual sales), it wasn't much higher than a trade show junket. My real reason for not going to GTS is that I'm just burned out on trade shows, although not having any money is a pretty good reason too!

There are a few big caveats here. First, some of these companies have had their discount structure for quite a while. I can't go about blaming Games Workshop for a reduced margin when they've had it for longer than I've been in business. Second, some companies aren't included because they're not what I consider "core" and I generally accept their crap margin. Indie Press Revolution, Warpath (the new indie minis), and various small boutique publishers get a free pass. Most don't rank anyway. Third, necessity is the premise this is built upon. It is true that I could cut off any one of these publishers/manufacturers and be fine, perhaps several if you're picking the small guys, but a game store would have a hard time surviving with a game store identity beyond that.

Game store identity is what we see changing. Store owners question if they can survive as a "pure" game store with shrinking margins and the encroaching Internet. We see some turning to mainstream "entertainment," selling used video games and CD's. Some, like ours, try various forms of diversification, like toys or comics. Others hide behind online presences that prop up their brick and mortar stores. Several have broken into the distribution tier, while others become manufacturers or publishers. We've considered or tried all of these at our store.

The numbers underlying the chart may seem a little odd, and I didn't make it too easy to figure out my sales numbers (I don't want to share exact data). Some companies have very high sales, but only discount a little, like Fantasy Flight Games. Some companies have medium levels of sales, but discount a lot, like Upper Deck (they still claim no MSRP, so they could argue they don't discount). WOTC only discounts collectible miniatures and only a little bit. Oh yeah, and the missing #10 company that didn't show up on the charts is Educational Insights (makers of Blokus).

Friday, April 18, 2008


The open gaming license decision was finally announced yesterday by Wizards of the Coast. There weren't many details but, "The effective start date for sales of D&D 4E GSL publications will be October 1, 2008." This gives WOTC four months of lead time to impress customers with their products, and they'll have quite a line up with 12 books published by 10/1. The GSL is the equivalent of the 3.x D20 license. Wizards is also working on an OGL-like license that will be called D20-GSL, for games that use the D20 mechanics but aren't D&D. Confused yet?

None of these licenses are revocable, so they'll be with us forever. We'll have:

Product 3.x 4.x Example
D&D Accessories D20 GSL Adventures, Accessory
Spinoff Games OGL D20-GSL Conan, Pathfinder


Broken Antenna III

I got the Sirius receiver installed today. The option to replace the FM antenna didn't work. The installer tried. The stereo wouldn't work with the third party antenna. The installer recommended paying the $450 to the dealer, if that's what I really wanted. I won't bore you with the horrendous experience I had at Circuit City (again), but I don't mind telling you the installer at Best Buy was fantastic. The installation was clean and well done. I was worried because I've seen some really bad hack jobs, but this guy was a pro. I got to talking with him and he used to own his own stereo installation business before working for Best Buy. The stress of owning his own business was too much and now he's much happier.

I got to walk around the area for two hours during the installation. It was a tour of the mass market. I went to a Michael's and was overwhelmed by the selection. I had never been to one. What an amazing store! I'll be building my D&D dioramas with junk from this store and I'll be sending customers to Michael's for related stuff. Target in my areas sells a full selection of mass market games, along with a growing number of specialty games that started in our stores. Both the Target and local Barnes & Noble have an unusually large game selection. I'm guessing it's because the area lacks a game store. This was Pinole, and the closest store is Games of Berkeley, about 10 miles and 30 minutes away. If I thought multiple stores was a smart thing, I would put one in Pinole.

As for Sirius, I bought the Sportster 5.
My (boring) Presets:
  1. NPR Now
  2. NPR Talk
  3. BBC World Service News
  4. CNN Headline News
  5. Bloomberg Radio
  6. CBC Radio One
  7. World Radio Network
  8. Alt Nation
  9. Lithium
  10. Kids Stuff

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Indie Minis

Indie Minis: We already have an Indie role playing section with all the best small press titles. The new indie miniatures section will include a sampling of smaller manufacturers that I've been eying for a while, including Fenryll, Artizan Designs, Freebooter, Wyrd and Infinity. The section should be up and running by Friday.

Many stores are afraid to take chances on these types of products. The products themselves take a lot of attention. They're like little seedlings that need constant care and watering. Customers need to be made aware of them and that they represent the cutting edge of their genre. Getting customers to understand this is especially important because they're not cheap. There is no "economy of scale" that you might get from a Wizards of the Coast or Reaper miniature. Indie RPG books are often $20-30 for a black and white tabloid sized book, compared to a hardcover full size color version from a larger publisher. Miniatures that would be $4 from the Texas based Reaper are instead $12 from small companies in France or Germany. These aren't for everyone, but they're certainly unique and interesting.

From a store perspective, they're probably in the camp of the 80/20 rule. They're in that 80% of the inventory that only comprises 20% of sales. This doesn't make a lot of sense business-wise and most stores would be smart to make sure they have a mature enough inventory to warrant this. It might have been smarter to just add more Games Workshop inventory, but it wouldn't be as interesting and nobody would have noticed.

Noticing is important, as these types of small press products play more of a marketing role in bringing people into the store than anything else. It's not like a loss leader or window dressing, like a lot of mass market crap that game stores feel obliged to carry. Our Indie RPG section, for example, has become a profitable part of our store through careful care and feeding. As for the indie miniatures, I personally love them and very much wish there was a market for them beyond me. This is often where I spend a lot of my own money, unfortunately not in the store. I think there's a yearning for something different in gamers, including me.

Here's what we have coming in this week:

Artizan Wild West Miniatures

Artizan Thrilling Tales Pulp Miniatures

Infinity Starter Packs

Freebooter Miniatures

Fenryll: 3 Stages Character Miniatures

Wyrd: Steampunk Miniatures