Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Controlled Chaos

Today our main Dungeons & Dragons 4 shipment is scheduled to arrive. It's kind of a crap shoot. It's arriving via freight (meaning on an 18-wheeler), which is the exact opposite of efficiency, especially compared to FedEx, the usual Wizards of the Coast shipping method. It's not uncommon for truck drivers to get lost and attempt to call us. There's also a chance they'll arrive without a lift gate. This is the thing on the back of the truck that allows them to unload freight without a loading dock or forklift. Arriving without one happens about a quarter of the time. It's also up to the truck driver whether or not he'll be helpful unloading. Some roll up the back door and tell you to get to work. Some will unload it and bring it inside (rarer). Still considered helpful is handing down stuff off the pallet. This is all supposed to happen while I'm running the store by myself.

We're getting a wooden pallet of D&D 4, the largest order we've had that didn't involve a major store expansion. Without a lift gate, it means we have to unpack the pallet in the truck and hand it down to someone on the ground. It's something we need extra people for, so we've got staff and volunteers standing by. In exchange for this potential hassle, we get the books on Wednesday instead of Thursday, which means if all else fails, I can get them from a second source if the freight delivery goes all wonky. Remember, they forgot to ship us Keep on the Shadowfell. As smart a plan as that may sound, it turns out I'll have problems if I need that second source (really third), as I'll explain.

If you were thinking people are still on the fence about D&D 4, you would be wrong. They're sold out already at WOTC, and they've gone back to press. The print run was 50% higher than D&D 3,5, but we all know what a fiasco that was. The gift set is #4 at Amazon, while the Player's Handbook is curiously at #130. With that kind of ratio, I'm thinking the intense gift set pre-order is only the calm before the storm. What happens when those DM's or alpha gamers start their games? Unfortunately, the intense demand also means the distributors are down to a very small supply.

My main distributor has fewer gift sets available than I have pre-ordered. So much for plan C. Plan B was our book distributor order and they shorted us, despite having ordered months in advance. Talk about not giving us any love. Just an FYI, that the gift sets are in limited supply. The three core books are plentiful. The difference is the fancy cardboard sleeve.

The dual concerns of early release and piracy have been overblown, in my opinion. Other than the early release of what I now believe to be more than 8 copies, there has been little widespread breaking of the street date. There is the occasional mistake, but nothing serious. Today will be somewhat telling on street date breaking. The big stores got their Tuesday orders in yesterday, and it would be a common error to release the books early by mistake. We'll be listening closely for that and sending people around if we hear rumors. However, it will take a store receipt and a discussion with WOTC for us to break the date.

There's a lot of retailer concern about piracy, with the books easily downloadable via torrent, but I think in this specific case, it has actually knocked people off their fence. Early reviews from these pirate copies are everywhere and additional pre-orders have rolled in based on review impressions and electronic acquisition. These are books that really should be made into electronic format, but they're also books that are important to have as paper copies.


  1. Bingo!

    You're the first person I've seen who "gets it" when it comes to the leaked pdfs. It must come from you being a slashdot reader ;)

    The only way that those pdfs could have hurt sales would have been if people saw them and went "wow, this really sucks!"

    Anyone who doesn't buy the books because they have the pdfs weren't going to buy the books anyways. They would have just had to wait a little longer to get their pirated version until someone scanned in the books, which would have happened within 24 hours of the release.

    If I didn't think it would be so completely against the grain for the suits at Hasbro, I'd say that WotC leaked the pdfs deliberately.

  2. Saying that the electronic release couldn't have been planned better hasn't ingratiated me with the game store crowd.

  3. I've always said that Napster got me to buy many more CDs than radio did. When done properly, the free download is a promotional opportunity, rather than a replacement for the physical product.

  4. I totally agree with Joe. Before the original Napster I bought about one RIAA affiliated CD a month. After I discovered Napster I was buying at least one a week. After they shut it down I have bought about one every six months because I try to do as little business as possible with control freak asshats. It would be less than that, but sometimes I buy one thinking it isn't RIAA affiliated only to find out later that it was.

    All that said, having readily available pdfs of RPG products is not always a good thing for those involved in making or distributing product. For example, a player will be less likely to buy a splatbook that only has a couple of pages of information that he really wants if that splatbook is readily available as a free pdf.

    The solution is to make product that has more than just a couple pages of useful material surrounded by reams of padding.

    Bad product is hurt by this, good product is not only unharmed but often helped (the same is true of most IP).