Thursday, July 31, 2008

D20 Dump

Wizards of the Coast declared that all D20 products must be sold through to retailers by the end of 2008 and the rest destroyed. You may remember this familiar tactic from White Wolf, and hopefully WOTC will note what happened to them afterwards.

The result? Goodman Games put all their D20 products at 50% off on their website (we followed suit in the store). This actually means we're selling their product at a loss, since our costs are 50%, but there's another 4% or so associated with incidental costs (credit card fees, bags, office supplies, etc.). Other D2o companies, most of them long done with their product lines, are actually thinking their best solution is the recycling dumpster.

Honestly though, at this stage of D20, I might take new product if it was given to me, but this stuff is a big risk even at 90% off. A year ago I would be making phone calls to snap it up. Now I'm just glad it's not on my shelves. Well, not a lot of it anyways. We've got about half our Ding & Dent bookshelves crammed with D20. At it's height you could value that shelf at around $25,000. We bought it for about ten cents on the dollar (so $2,500). Now it's worth maybe a penny on the dollar ($250). The effort to wheel it to the dumpster seems not worth it.

So what has value in D20? The Wizards of the Coast D&D books, technically D20, are immune from this purge, I'm guessing. However, they've declared they'll be out of product around this time, and D&D 3.5 books are already hard to find. Distributors are wiping them from their systems the moments they sell through. Nevertheless, we're still re-ordering popular D&D 3.5 books from WOTC, seeking them out where we can find them. Also considered still of value are Paizo adventures, both stand-alone adventures and the Pathfinder series. As much as I've railed about the company in the past, Paizo makes the best adventures, although some people still like the slog of a Dungeon Crawl Classic (yawn) or the official mediocrity of a WOTC 3.5 adventure (the 4.0 ones are much better).

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

This Week

Best Sales Week of the Year. That was last week. The week before was in the top 3. In retrospect, the new Magic: Eventide release sales are way slower than I expected. I'm told Summer Magic releases are like that, but man. I know it will pick up later. Also not helping sales this week was the re-paving of the parking lot; half on Monday and half on Tuesday. I'm guessing sales are down about 20% from that. Luckily they finished before our evening rush.

Spamalamadingdong. The more tight it gets for game manufacturers, the higher the frequency of their emails. Some of these companies send me so much stuff that I've stopped opening the mail. I want to tell them "I'm sorry, but my level of interest in your company, based on my sales, doesn't allow me to spend the time to read these." If they called on the phone that often, nobody would think it was acceptable. If you want a guess at who they are, check out the companies that are down from a year ago on my Sunday post.

40K. I'm painting up my additional Apocalypse infantry squad while I await my Forge World order. I allow myself to order stuff if it will take a while, but I require that I paint what I have before something else arrives. After the squad and the Forge World Hellhound, I get to pick up the Hellhammers. I don't have the money anyway, so it's a good rule.

Traveller Character. I'm making a character for Fulminata's RPOL game. It's not quite as confusing as Mutants & Masterminds, but I couldn't have done it without the narrative in the book. My first attempt was flat out wrong. My second attempt was mostly right. My third attempt for someone else was WAY broken, but fixable. My fourth character was juuuuust right. One problem is that if you follow the flow-chart for generation, you only age when you bail out of a career. If it were software, many Traveller characters would be 18 year old supermen.

In case my computer blows up and Carbonite fails:

Petty Officer 3rd Class Rendell Farseer
Age: 42, 6 terms, 37,000 credits starting money
Str 5 (-1), Dex 7 (+0), End 6 (+0), Int 13 (+2), Edu 4 (-1), Soc 6 (+0)
Retirement Pay (Navy): 10,000 cr. Year.
Ships Shares: 3
Credits: 1,480
Skills: Computer 0, Deception 1, Drive: Wheeled 0, Engineer: Manoeuvre Drive 1, Engineer: Jump Drive 1, Engineer: Electronics 1, Engineer: Life Support 1, Engineer Power: 2, Flyer: Wing 1, Gun Combat: Energy Rifle 0, Gunner: Turrets 0, Mechanic 4, Pilot 1, Sensors 2, Survival 0, Tactics (Naval) 1, Vacc Suit 1, Zero-G 0.
Plasma Rifle
Auto pistol (210 cr.)
Dagger (10 cr.)
Flak Jacket (TL8) (300 cr)
Wafer Jack (TL12), Expert 2: Life Support software on wafer, Expert 2: Electronics software on wafer. (total 30,000 cr.)
Engineer Toolkit (1,000 cr)
Mechanical Toolkit (1,000 cr)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Brown Follow-Up

I was in the store this week when a guy in a UPS uniform was shopping at the same time my FedEx delivery arrived. As the two delivery drivers saw each other, I was expecting some sort of molecular reaction, ions repelling each other or something. What did happen was interesting. With one look my FedEx guy identified the UPS guy as ... a manager.

UPS managers are rumors, mythical creatures that I didn't know actually existed. This particular manager was even more unique, because he listened to me as I told him my store of the troublesome driver. He was like a UPS commissar. My FedEx driver quickly excused himself, having heard this story before, and the commissar and I began some forensics to figure out the identity of the driver.

One reason I could never do law enforcement, despite wanting such a career when I was younger, is that I have a horrible memory for faces. So after vaguely describing this problem driver, who looked like about half the population of Concord, we came up with a much easier solution. Remember that package that he wouldn't pick up without a scheduled delivery? By picking it up he left his UPS DNA evidence all over it. The manager told me he would follow-up by Tuesday.

Top Games

Comparing the top 25 games of the first half of 2007 to the first half of 2008. Here are the games and differences (by sales dollars):

Game Percent Change
Warhammer 40K 908.66%
Melissa & Doug 438.08%
Shadowrun 418.06%
Warhammer Fantasy 219.65%
Magic 172.86%
Yu-Gi-Oh 145.12%
Fantasy Flight Games 91.89%
Dungeons & Dragons 34.64%
Rio Grande 28.07%
Mayfair Games 15.02%
Days of Wonder 9.99%
Paizo Publishing -2.58%
World of Warcraft CCG -2.70%
Flames of War -2.94%
AT-43 -3.40%
Steve Jackson Games -17.38%
Reaper -23.47%
Pirates of the Spanish Main -24.98%
Star Wars Miniatures

Not on the list because they didn't make the list in 2007 (too few, if you ask me):
  • Dark Heresy
  • Bleach
  • Kingdom Hearts

Saturday, July 26, 2008


After about a half hour trying to figure out why goes to a shopping site, I realized from the whois database that my domain name expired today. Whoops! Sorry for the inconvenience. My email reminders were pointing to a dead address that I entered two years ago. The sites should be back up in a matter of hours. This effects the website, forum, and my email. What a bonehead mistake; the kind of stuff IT guys blame on the finance guys who can't pay bills on time.

Also expired was my Tallarn army today, which lost to some vicious space marines. Rule number one for guard armies: If you're asked if you want to go first, you say YES! I'm told I would have won if I hadn't chosen to go second. I'm still learning how to use my troops and I don't have much of an idea what my opponents stuff does. Playing against different armies each time is fun, but it's always a surprise.

On the plus side, not knowing what I'm doing I sometimes get idiots luck, like when I was successfully shooting space marines with artillery barrages. Who knew? Also, after three games of never hitting anyone with a meltagun, due to its short range, I've decided to switch squads to plasma guns. I think the overheating on plasma is a stupid rule, but honestly, my meltagunners might as well be on fire for all the good they do.

Apocalypse (40K)

Selling my IT training books along with some extra Tallarn models sold in the store allowed me to buy my Forge World stuff. A single alternate model Hellhound and a Tallarn tank commander was probably $100. We'll see when the bill arrives. I won't be selling my Buddhist books for Warhammer, although I might sell them to pay off other debt, such as my giant student loan from my graduate studies. Selling games for other games is an equal "ethical" exchange when you can't justify spending money. I've been eying my Warhammer Fantasy ogre army, which is painted and complete, but I need to make 40K more of a hobby first, rather than just the latest army.

My theme for apocalypse (yes I have a theme) is flame related. The command teams get more flame throwers, an expensive proposition for Tallarns because I need rocket launcher models and flamer bits to make them. It's probably $10/model, at cost. Ouch! In addition, I'll have two flame tanks, Hellhounds, as my fast attack. I'll also have two Hellhammers, which are the alternate modeled Baneblades. I also added an additional squad of men. That's a total of 3000 points. I may add a couple more squads, since I have the models coming for the flame thrower guys.

Part of the drive to go Apocalypse is first, I'm in that groove where I've been modeling and painting for months and I don't want to lose that momentum. It's been more fun than I anticipated. Second, I've only played a couple games with this army, but I'm seeing it's rather sedentary. It's a gun line army. That's what it does best really, but Apocalypse promises a more dynamic battle, I think. Most of my Apoc additions are assault units.

2 Hellhammers

1 standard model Hellhound

1 Artemia Pattern Hellhound model (Forge World with same stats as standard Hellhound)

Total of 8 flamers, 4 covering each officer as a counter-assault team.

3000 Pts - Imperial Guard Apocalypse

HQ: Command Platoon (8#, 277 Pts)
0 Command Platoon @ 277 Pts
0 Command Squad @ [109] Pts
1 Heroic Senior Officer @ [75] Pts
Cameleoline; Iron Discipline; Close Combat Weapon; Laspistol
4 Guardsmen @ [24] Pts
Cameleoline; Flamer (x4)
0 Sentinel Squadron @ [168] Pts
3 Sentinel @ [168] Pts
Searchlight (x3); Lascannon (x3)

Troops: Infantry Platoon (56#, 770 Pts)
0 Infantry Platoon @ 770 Pts
0 Command Squad @ [195] Pts
1 Junior Officer @ [70] Pts
Cameleoline; Iron Discipline; Honorifica Imperialis; Close Combat Weapon; Laspistol
1 Honorifica Imperialis @ [25] Pts
4 Guardsmen @ [115] Pts
Cameleoline; Flamer (x4); Chimera
1 Chimera @ [91] Pts
Extra Armour; Searchlight; Multilaser; Hull Heavy Bolter
9 Infantry Squad @ [115] Pts
Cameleoline; Close Order Drill; Light Infantry; Lasgun (x7); Meltagun; Lascannon
1 Sergeant @ [6] Pts
Cameleoline; Light Infantry; Laspistol & CCW
9 Infantry Squad @ [115] Pts
Cameleoline; Close Order Drill; Light Infantry; Lasgun (x7); Meltagun; Lascannon
1 Sergeant @ [6] Pts
Cameleoline; Light Infantry; Laspistol & CCW
9 Infantry Squad @ [115] Pts
Cameleoline; Close Order Drill; Light Infantry; Lasgun (x7); Meltagun; Lascannon
1 Sergeant @ [6] Pts
Cameleoline; Light Infantry; Laspistol & CCW
9 Infantry Squad @ [115] Pts
Cameleoline; Close Order Drill; Light Infantry; Lasgun (x7); Meltagun; Lascannon
1 Sergeant @ [6] Pts
Cameleoline; Light Infantry; Laspistol & CCW
9 Infantry Squad @ [115] Pts
Cameleoline; Close Order Drill; Light Infantry; Lasgun (x7); Meltagun; Lascannon
1 Sergeant @ [6] Pts
Cameleoline; Light Infantry; Laspistol & CCW

Troops: Armoured Fist (11#, 207 Pts)
9 Armoured Fist @ 207 Pts
Cameleoline; Lasgun (x7); Meltagun; Lascannon
1 Veteran Sergeant @ [12] Pts
Cameleoline; Close Combat Weapon; Laspistol
1 Chimera @ [96] Pts
Extra Armour; Rough Terrain Modification; Searchlight; Multilaser; Hull Heavy Bolter

Fast Attack: Rough Rider Squad (8#, 129 Pts)
7 Rough Rider Squad @ 129 Pts
Laspistol (x7); Hunting Lance (- CCW) (x7); Melta Bombs
1 Veteran Sergeant @ [24] Pts
Close Combat Weapon; Hunting Lance; Frag Grenades; Krak Grenades; Melta Bombs (Squad)

Fast Attack: Hellhound (2#, 242 Pts)
1 Hellhound @ 121 Pts
Extra Armour; Searchlight; Inferno Cannon; Hull Mounted Heavy Bolter
1 Hellhound @ 121 Pts
Extra Armour; Searchlight; Inferno Cannon; Hull Mounted Heavy Bolter

Heavy Support: Basilisk (1#, 125 Pts)
1 Basilisk @ 125 Pts
Earthshaker Cannon; Hull Heavy Bolter; Indirect Fire Capability

Heavy Support: Basilisk (1#, 125 Pts)
1 Basilisk @ 125 Pts
Earthshaker Cannon; Hull Heavy Bolter; Indirect Fire Capability

Heavy Support: Basilisk (1#, 125 Pts)
1 Basilisk @ 125 Pts
Earthshaker Cannon; Hull Heavy Bolter; Indirect Fire Capability

Super Heavy Support: Hellhammer (1#, 500 Pts, est.)

Super Heavy Support: Hellhammer (1#, 500 Pts, est.)

Friday, July 25, 2008

AT-43 Organized Play

If you would like to be involved in organized play for AT-43, take a look at the new organized play program here and let's discuss the best time to play. Again, it only takes 2-3 people to get something like this going and AT-43 has nearly had it several times.


My Windows 2003 Server training kit went for about a quarter of its original value on eBay, which accentuates one reason why I got out of IT. The question of who will even care about this stuff in five years is clear when you try to re-sell your computer books. Microsoft especially has a training treadmill in which your free time is driven by their release cycle. It becomes tedious, which is why many IT professionals stop caring about things like certifications, although the knowledge of these new systems is not something you can ignore. Those who know their stuff make the big bucks. Management is a good refuge from the treadmill too.

In contrast to my IT books, I took some of my Buddhist studies books off the shelf and considered selling those too. Let's ignore the fact for a moment that I'm considering selling Buddhist texts to support my Warhammer habit, Forge World specifically; that's too messed up for this early in the morning. What I found was that some of those books, that I desperately scrounged to acquire as a grad student, are now worth a small fortune.

Twenty-five year old Zen translations from Japan are the hottest, with several worth over $250. Some are simply unavailable anywhere. These books were hard to get back then, and it was only because everyone knew it was my area of study that they became available to me. They're the equivalent of first edition, first printing, unpunched classic war games, for the gamers out there. It's true that a career in Buddhist Studies would have been a long, expensive, and not very lucrative process, but you can't deny that five years later, or even twenty-five, people care about these things. The disconnect between what's truly of value or what truly brings happiness and a lucrative career is nothing new of course. Ask an English major.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Good News!

Not everything is going to hell in a handbasket:

  1. New Tenant. We'll have a new neighbor soon. A dentist is moving his practice to the vacant space next to us. They're working on getting their construction plan approved by the city (gods help them), and then we should see more traffic in the shopping center. No, it's not a comic book store or a sandwich shop (the top requested tenants by customers, as if I have control over such things), but anything there is better than nothing.
  2. Game Center Improvements. We've re-organized things and it looks like our volunteers are gearing up to build us another 4x8 table for miniature gaming. One of the current improvements is a painting station set off from the other tables. We're also planning to get the carpet cleaned, in case you wondering what color it used to be.
  3. Rakham. AT-43 and other Rackham products have been given the standard Fantasy Flight Games discount (not great but much better), which means they're cheaper for me, and eventually cheaper for you. A day late and a dollar short perhaps, but it's good news.

Health Insurance

I hear lots of insurance horror stories from customers, and I admit watching Sicko made me pretty irate. My last job was at Kaiser, working on a project that had failed several times before. The budget was massive and I was hired like a raw material, without a purpose other than having another brain on staff. After four months of them not figuring out how to use me and me using them to build a store, I started Black Diamond Games. My boss and I both apologized profusely to each other for not being able to make it work. It was mutual neglect and not one of my finest moments, although I built a business in my slack time, without anyone noticing, which I guess counts for something. The day after my last day at work, I was in Wisconsin at a trade show and signing papers to refinance my house.

This week I have new health insurance; an annual ritual. This time it was because my rates increased 50% because I turned 40. I have good health with no pre-existing conditions, but health insurance is a for-profit industry, even the non-profits. Insurance is a joke in this country. For example, I don't dare go to the doctor in case I have some minor condition that locks me into my insurance company, rates ever escalating. They don't pay for such visits anyway, so there is no incentive to stay healthy, only punitive medical costs. Customers are hot potatoes, and they would rather I die of complications under someone elses plan a year from now than get sick on theirs. Oh yeah, and my life insurance is also set to double this year, in typical Logan's Run style.

From a business perspective, health insurance is what will eventually force my employees to move on to other jobs. I can't possibly afford to offer it, and even larger corporations are cutting back and grumbling. I think a nationalized health plan would take a lot of pressure off small businesses especially. Instead, employees for small business are generally pulled from the college age crowd, who have their parents subsidizing their insurance costs. My dream is being able to employ a stable workforce at a living wage, with the benefits they need to work long term for me. We have a country where the wife with a second job (WW2J) or the family of college students pays these costs.

My wish is to have a simple return on investment for basic services we already pay for. There are three areas that sometimes make me want to move my family to another country: health insurance, schools, and retirement. All are things we already pay for dearly but with a horrendous return on investment. All favor the wealthy, punish the poor and need fixing desperately. Both my business and my personal life would have much greater stability if....

  • Health Insurance. I knew I would have stable rates and service from my health insurance. If I could focus on prolonging my life with my health insurance instead of saving it.
  • Schools. I knew I could send my son to a good school, despite my zip code. One of the biggest incentives to re-arrange my life and work for someone else is the desire to move to a better zip code, soley for the purposes of finding better schools. This is a big California problem, and you could argue that the federal government screwed this up worse, but something comprehensive and national should be done. It's not like it hasn't been done before.
  • Retirement. Being 40, I'm still assuming I'm going to be left holding the bag when I retire, having paid for my parents retirment and being dumped on the sidewalk when it's my turn to collect social security. Right now social security is the bulk of my retirement plan, and it wouldn't be so bad, if it was there when I needed it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

MFG: Most Favored Game

Most favored nation (MFN) status means that at the very least, your country won't be treated any worse than any other country. One of my strategies has been a most favored game (MFG) status. This combines standard retail practice with old school "full line" strategies, in which you carry the entire product line of various games. "Full line" doesn't generally work anymore; there are just too many games out there with too many SKU's.

My MFG status involves picking certain core product lines, the most popular, and carrying the full line, going to great lengths to keep them in stock, and at the very least, not treating them any worse than any other product line. It means not only a full breadth of product, but adequate depth to account for the additional sales MFG status implies. For example, when Flames of War had MFG status, I didn't carry one of everything, I carried enough product to field enough units of every item. Sometimes this was up to 5 of one item.

To lose MFG status is a sad day and a decision that is not taken lightly. MFG game lines are exempt from turn rate analysis, get premium shelf space, and are actively sold to customers. Removing this special status requires thinking about the game differently, and inevitably upsetting some customers. Reaper miniatures had MFG status, and it took me about 18 months wrestling with its poor performance before I finally revoked MFG and treated it like everything else. This resulted in a couple of purges, one sale included everything that hadn't sold in over two years. That wasn't enough, and we had a follow up sale of everything that hadn't sold between a year and two years. So what you see left is viable product. What was there before was junk nobody bought for some time, sometimes ever. The danger of such a purge is that people have the illusion of an available selection, even if they only ever buy the same 25% of that product line. Other games that have had MFG status revoked include Flames of War, Chessex dice, Crocodile Games, Fantasy Flight Games, and Confrontation. You may not have noticed, or perhaps it hit your hobby hard.

Companies that currently get MFG status include: Warhammer 40K, Warmachine and Hordes, and the RPG lines: D&D 4.0 (taking over from 3.5), Shadowrun, Traveller, and Paizo's Pathfinder adventures. In board game land, Settlers and Carcassonne have MFG status for their core games and all expansions.

Is it healthy to give a game line MFG status? It can be if the reasoning is sound. Some game lines are flagship products. A game store without Settlers of Catan, Space Marines, D&D Player's Handbooks, and the like is not much of a game store. Likewise, if the local Barnes & Noble has more D&D books than I do, something is wrong. At the same time, the MFG decision is to forgo logic and analysis for intuition. It can be a lazy decision. The key is to continually analyze these product lines, like everything else. Know you're giving them a free pass, and watch these lines carefully for weakness.

Of course, like MFN status, MFG status is a two way street, even if the other company doesn't know about it. There are company decisions made by past MFN members that have resulted in my revoking their favored status. Wizards of the Coast discontinued D&D 3.5 this Summer, so that was their decision, while Battlefront made some bad company decisions and worse customer service decisions that rubbed me the wrong way. The Reaper inventory exchange program was frustrating enough to knock it off it's pedestal, making me painfully aware that there was no free lunch there.

The US has discontinued the use of MFN status, now referring to those countries as having Normal Trade Relations. It's a neutral status, rather than a positive status. If you don't have Normal Trade Relations, it means you're being penalized. Perhaps I'll drop my MFG status one day as well. That's what most stores do.

Ebb and Flow

As I've mentioned before, inventory is a zero sum game. If I buy something new, it means something isn't getting re-ordered. One of the reviews on Yelp mentioned the Reaper selection going down-hill. That's because it was drastically downsized because of poor sales. It had been this way for over a year now, and we were hoping for a turnaround. No such luck.

Here are the highlights of what's expanding, what's contracting, and my watch list. Most stores won't actively tell you this stuff, but hey you should know, you participate actively:

Expanding: Areas that are seeing more inventory dollars flow their way.
  • Warhammer 40K. As of this week, we'll have every 40K item, so expansion is over.
  • Role-Playing Department. We've got a very successful RPG department where we can take risks and stock new items. I'm more liberal with my purchasing dollars here.
  • CCG Accessories. Card sleeves, boxes, etc., are great sellers and we'll likely increase our selection.
  • Jigsaw Puzzles. With one of our competitors closing, we've found ourselves with an expanding puzzle clientèle. Expect them to expand further into the toy department.
  • Indy Miniatures. Sales of artisan miniature lines like, well, Artizan, Freebooter, etc, are strong and they add lots of flavor. A lot of our Reaper dollars went here.
  • Classic Games. We've found some new classic lines that sell better for us, so we'll keep working on this.
Contracting: Areas that are getting pillaged to pay for expanding lines.
  • Toys. I want to maintain the better selling toys, but I envision cutting the toy department by a third over time. Some of this is inventory dollars shifted to games, while a lot of it goes to pay off expansion costs.
  • Reaper Miniatures. Reaper has had a free pass in the past, but that's over. Miniatures that don't perform are not re-ordered, like how most stores handle them. It's more common sense than a slash and burn approach. We're now as good as the other stores who sell Reaper, but not any better. In exchange, we can afford the Indy Mini section.
  • Board games. We're overstocked and could lose about a third of them without being missed. If you're a board gamer, you probably won't miss the ones that go.
  • D&D 3.5. The books are going out of print rapidly, which is great for cash flow, but not so great if you're still planning on picking them up at a later date.
On the Fence. These are lines that are being considered, tweaked and have an uncertain future.
  • Flames of War. The down-sizing is complete and we'll be building back up the depth of more popular items. (was once our number one game)
  • Warmachine/Hordes. We carry every SKU, but lately I've been wondering if we should be more selective. Sales have slowed, but the Summer has seen many new players. Still, it's beginning to sputter (like FoW). (was once our number one game)
  • AT-43. Sales have fallen lately, organized play never materialized, and active customers have moved on to other games. We still stock every item, but we're watching this very closely.


We're getting a lot more kids in lately buying models for Warhammer 40K. Unfortunately, the trend (and this is new for me), is their general lack of knowledge or even interest in the army they play. The rules are in their codex, but few seem to own one nor are they (or their parents) interested in spending money on something as lowly as a book. They come up to me and ask questions about their army, stuff available in the codex on the shelf not two steps from their beloved blue super men. How they make their armies is beyond me. It seems to be piecemeal, based on what their friends have told them or what some GW employee suggested, with probably no hope of ever having a legal army.

I'm thinking this has to do with the GW sales method at the company stores. They bring them in, show them the game, build much excitement and get them to buy models. Wash, rinse, repeat. When those kids visit a store that's not entirely devoted to selling GW products, they're lost and I feel like a goon for not knowing every detail of every army. Yet, it's not like customers come in and expect me to know the difference in damage between a Dungeons & Dragons fireball and flame strike. It's in the book. Is 40K a game that attracts the illiterate? Perhaps it's just that their kids.

My goal, which is probably in vain, is to attempt to get the kids and parents to buy their codex before they buy yet another model (YAM). I just wish the GW stores would focus more on empowering their customers rather than selling them more plastic. Teach the kid to fish so he can come in knowing what he needs. Maybe if they actually built an army list and did the math on how much it would cost, the process would end before it began. Nevertheless, the kids need the books.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Demand Curves

Success in retail, from what I can tell, revolves around the black art of purchasing. The ultimate goal is X+1, or having the exact amount of product you need for customers plus that one for the shelf, just in case. Determining X is something store owners labor over, yet when it comes down to it, it's often a guess based on a factors such as past success of similar products, stated customer interest (horribly unreliable), the season, who else is selling it and at what discount, and the almighty pre-order, in which cash on the barrel head provides the true demand indicator. Guess wrong and you've royally hosed up your cash flow.

Most new releases are pretty boring affairs. With limited marketing by game companies, most games take customers by surprise. A new expansion for Munchkin or Zombies, for example, might sell half a dozen copies, but it's not like people are calling the store looking for them. The curve is pretty gentle and we can order one or two at a time, since nobody will miss its absence. When a re-stocked copy appears, it's like it's new all over again for the next customer. The more marketing, however, the more steep the demand curve.

Three products that seem to have the most interesting curves are Games Workshop's Warhammer 40K products, Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering. All three of these have substantial marketing associated with them and lots of plugged in customers, eagerly awaiting the next release. My thoughts on this are that in the game industry, the more sophisticated and thorough the marketing effort, the more steep the curve. When I say steep, it means the demand spikes on the release of the product, followed by a downward curve. A perfectly marketed product would sell nearly 100% of all product on the release day, with little demand beyond that. It's a lot like releases of new movies, in which opening day receipts are enormous followed by a rapid decline.

The 40K demand curve is pretty close to movie blockbuster steepness. I've noticed that the vast majority of Games Workshop product sells the release weekend, with a small percentage comprising follow-up sales. It's something GW is aware of and they're trying to put their heads around how to flatten the curve a bit. The problem for a store owner is that if you under-order, there's no time to replenish product, since the demand has ceased in the 4-5 days it takes to re-fill the shelves. If you over-order, there's no excess demand to "sop up" your sloppy mistake. It's a very profitable product line, but its ordering precision is razor sharp.

Magic: The Gathering is similar in demand, but more predictable. It's agreed among many store owners that 50% of a Magic set's sales will occur in the first 30 days, with the remaining 50% taking place during the lifetime of the set, often a couple years. When one of my distributors was punished for not following WOTC policies, the punishment was loss of the first 30 days of releases. We knew exactly what that meant. Unlike 40K, the demand for Magic is generally established and predictable.

Dungeons & Dragons, in contrast, has a strong, yet flatter demand curve. It sells strongly on release, but the product continues to sell strongly for many weeks and months to follow. I attribute part of this to the "supplemental" nature of many D&D products, in which you may need a product, but not at the moment. That tends to flatten the curve. In contrast, 40K products tend to have pretty sharp distinctions about whether you'll ever need it. The majority of customers don't buy army books or models for armies they don't play.

So why is all this important? It's all about cash flow. The cost of bringing in any of these releases runs in the thousands of dollars for a store like ours. If a buyer misjudges the demand curve, and a release sells in 8 weeks instead of 4 weeks, the store is in trouble. The cash flow tied up in that one mistake may be the profit for that month, or if it's a big screw up, next months rent. I had trouble in June because a big part of the D&D 4 release had 14 day terms from my book distributor; and it was shipped a week early! This means I had a week of sales to come up with the cash. Much Chicken Little behavior on my part ensued.

One positive element of this process is that mass market has a hard time competing against us at our own game. Every product line in the store has its own unique demand curve, mostly determined by the local customer base, the core of which is a unique group of individuals in a small, ten minute drive time radius. Sometimes a game can survive in a store with just one gaming group or a couple of customers. Dropping a product line might occur after learning a game group has switched gears or that the key customer has lost his job. Try that at Wal-Mart. You can't even track this locally. A store across town will have different "demand curve signatures" for each game.

This also means that the purchaser is the "key man" in specialty retail. Lose the store's institutional knowledge and there will be much pain in re-learning it. Someone retail savvy who works the same store, such as a manager, could learn it, but an uninitiated new person is just as likely to screw it up while simultaneously driving the business into the ground. I think I have a manager who could pull it off, so I've rescinded my instructions to liquidate the entire lot in the eventuality of my stepping in front of a bus.

P.S. I really wanted to write a post entitled "general time horizon" but all that came to mind was something depressing about game store profitability.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


If you've got a minute and would like to help support the store, please write a short review on Yelp.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Stupid is As Stupid does

The longer I own my own business, the more I realize that nonsense corporate business decisions are usually temporary aberrations brought on by too much available cash. We'll often stand around scratching our heads wondering why corporations do the things they do. Take the Starbucks ridiculously broad and fast expansion for example. They've got stores in the middle of nowhere, stores across the street from other Starbucks locations, stores in insanely expensive shopping malls. How do you profitably do that? You don't. 600 stores now closing....

Opportunity Cost

Usually when I spout off about opportunity costs it's regarding purchasing. If I buy $1,000 in comic books it means I can't spend $1,000 on Warhammer 40K. What's the opportunity cost? Over a year, if comics "turn," or sell through once and 40K turns 4 times, I've lost $3,000 (a current problem). That's the opportunity cost. However, as a small business owner there are personal opportunity costs as well.

Anyone who can run a successful small business, meaning one that didn't fail yesterday, is capable of doing a lot more. It doesn't mean your skills are transferable (I wish!), but it means you've got a brain that could be applied towards making much more money for someone else. I recently set up an account on Linked In and quickly found a lot of my friends and IT buddies. If you're around 40, which I am, you're starting to hit the peak of your "earning potential," so most of my friends now have "director" or "VP" in their titles, and big salaries to go along with it. Part of the personal opportunity cost of starting a small business is forgoing the money in your previous career in exchange for personal satisfaction. Even if you weren't making big money in your field before, staying in that field probably would have resulted in more money down the road. This was something my father warned me about when I started the store, but it seemed so abstract back then, and I was miserable in IT, so I didn't pay much attention. The best reason to start your own business is you couldn't possibly work another day for someone else. Your work needs to provide some personal satisfaction.

That personal satisfaction is not something that has come easy for the majority of those directors and VP's. If their bosses knew about their plans to leave (the company, industry or even the country), go back to school to train in something else, or their obsessive gaming habits, they might be shocked. Then again these bosses probably have similar issues. My friends stay in their jobs for the same reason I have career envy: 401k plans, college funds, adequate insurance, travel and nice toys. Some of these things are distractions, while others are essentials. Luckily for me I burned out on nice toys and travel when I was a bit younger, but the call of the college fund can be heard from afar.

When I began the business I didn't have a child, we had two incomes and my home was my college fund and retirement rolled into one. Up until a year ago, it made financial sense to work minimum wage if you could make payments on your house, which earned more equity in a month than I cleared with a six figure salary. Now that the equity is gone, you'll probably see more sensible economic behavior from people. As for me, I'm still in my go big or go home phase of the business. Time will tell if it works out; I don't want to go home and sit around dreaming about what I do now. It's one of those strategies involving possessing the baked goods while simultaneously consuming them. Wish me luck!

Resin II

Yeah, it will be a long time before I buy something else from Forge World ... at least 6 more days until my eBay auctions close and I can buy a cool Artemia pattern hellhound. Sigh.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Fun with Resin

I was warned. I've been working with Tallarn Forge World models. I bought a sniper team and a lascannon team that will be part of my 1750 point upgrade. It's the first time I've worked with resin and I'll have to be pretty desperate to do it again. The stuff is brittle and prone to breaking and splintering. Pieces are often warped, and despite promises about hot water fixing it, it doesn't always solve the problem. A lot of the accessory pieces look elongated, as if they were stretched. Some problems are meant to be patched over by placing equipment and shoulder patches over body parts that only remotely line up. If you've been jealous of Forge World stuff, know that it's not all fun and games.

Today was unusually slow after a 5-day streak of record sales, so I popped open a Hellhound box and started building a flame tank. I don't really need it yet, as it's part of the upgrade to 2000 points, but I've always liked them. I was considering a Forge World Hellhound upgrade to make the second one look different, but the cost and trouble doesn't seem worth it anymore. Instead, I'm thinking of using a tank from the Pegasus Hobbies chemical plant box set. The box set is way cheaper than the Forge World kit and comes with 299 extra parts I can use for something.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What Can Brown Do To You?

I fired UPS today. I get a lot of packages each week, often daily, with probably two-thirds of them from my main distributor via UPS. Another 20% are delivered by FedEx, and those are rarely a problem. The issue with UPS is they just don't care anymore. They're unionized and they'll go only so far in their customer service efforts, and then they stop, even when they're contractually obligated to keep going. For example, several times they've misplaced packages, only to find them at my local UPS hub, ten minutes away. Someone from the hub will call to tell me to come pick up the package, as if it's beyond their ability to jump in their car and bring me a box. It's supposed to be simple: You get paid to deliver packages; I receive them. Your personal problems in doing your job are not my concern and it's unlikely I can call you to come over and take a turn at my job when I don't feel like performing.

The drivers are often great, but there are bad ones too. With union benefits, it means my main driver can be gone for months for various reasons leaving me with a series of bonehead fill-in drivers. They're also finding their benefits cut as UPS attempts to absorb fuel costs by reducing overhead. It sucks when you're the overhead at a corporation, something I can tell you about from my IT days. Morale is not great at UPS. But you know what? Suck it up.

The current bonehead driver has been trying my patience. Not only does he deliver irregularly, but he has a habit of coming early and dropping off those little sticky notices, letting me know he'll be delivering my order the next day, or perhaps the day after, depending on his mood I guess. UPS is not supposed to do this with businesses with posted hours, but they do it anyway. You can call and yell at them, but the odds are fifty fifty that he'll just deliver that package the next day, or the day after.

Today this same bonehead driver refused to pick up an outgoing package because I didn't schedule it with UPS. In four years, it has been common practice for drivers to pick up packages during a drop off, but this guy decided he would stick to the letter of the law, the official policy. After spending $5 online scheduling the delivery, this bonehead returned an hour later to pick up the box. After some heated words, I expressed to him that if it's not the policy, then it must be a courtesy. He agreed, and I told him that explained an awful lot. From now on, hundreds of thousands of dollars of goods that they used to deliver will go to this little company that works harder and isn't unionized called Fedex.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Future Plans (40K)

I'm looking for more to paint. For 1750 points, I already own the models that need painting. For 2000 points, I would buy a couple of hellhounds. Then what?

1750 Points

All infantry squads get light infantry
Add one infantry squad
Add 2 rough riders
Add veteran sgts for rough riders and armored fists
Add extra armor to chimeras
Add standard bearer

2000 Points
Add 2 hellhounds
Move 2 sentinels from fast attack to command platoon to make room

America for Sale

Dear rich, European multinational corporation,

You may be in the process of buying up American companies because of the de-valued dollar. If only our American congress had played some Euro resource management board games, we wouldn't be in such a mess. Nevertheless, I'm here to point out that the American game industry is an excellent bargain under such, congressionally depressed, conditions.

The front line of this industry is the game store. It is here that we provide a secure sales channel for your games. Euro board games are clearly very popular right now, but we also sell many other European products, such as games from Games Workshop (UK), Mongoose Publishing (UK), Rackham's AT-43 (France), and Days of Wonder, which recently has accentuated it's Frenchness rather than its American success story. Oh yes, and in our drink cooler, Red Bull is a big seller (Austria). Moreover, with the dollar so low, we're seeing an increase in European tourism, meaning our local markets are opening up internationally!

For a relatively small investment (payment in Euros only), we'll be happy to transition ownership to new European masters, even Belgium. In addition, you'll be permitted to take over the mortgage on my Bay Area home. Consider this a future potential investment that you can use as a corporate headquarters. I'm sure the real-estate market will bounce back any day now, making this a win-win for both of us.

Thanks again,

Your humble servant,

Gary Ray
Owner, Black Diamond Games, LLC

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Game Day (40K)

I finished the Tallarns last night at midnight and woke up early to finish varnishing the last four rough riders. They still need some minor work, like highlighting and a few details, but they're done! When I have time, I'll add the forge world models for variety, but I don't think I'll be adding an additional squad, at least not at 1500 points.

I played two games at our league day today, the first 5th edition game. It went very well for me, and I won both games, fighting Eldar and Tau. Each element of the army worked pretty well. The cameloline turned out to be incredibly useful, with 3+ cover saves for units in cover. It reinforced the "gun line" aspect of IG, forcing men to stay in cover or risk instant death.

The only change I'll likely make is finding a way to give the rough riders melta bombs. In exchange, I'll drop the light infantry doctrine from several units to gain some points. The rough rider hunting lances do well against tougher infantry, but they're not that effective against vehicles. Other than that, the three basilisk strategy was right on, the sentinels did well, but need to be played more mobile, and the troop numbers were perfect with the cameloline, but probably understrength without it.

Now I'm eying the baneblade....

My Final List

1500 Pts - Imperial Guard Roster - Imperial Guard Tallarns

HQ: Command Platoon (6#, 135 Pts)
0 Command Platoon @ 135 Pts
0 Command Squad @ [80] Pts
1 Junior Officer @ [70] Pts
Cameleoline; Iron Discipline; Honorifica Imperialis; Close Combat Weapon; Laspistol
1 Honorifica Imperialis @ [25] Pts
4 Guardsmen @ [0] Pts
Cameleoline; Lasgun (x4)
0 Sentinel Squadron @ [55] Pts
1 Sentinel @ [55] Pts
Lascannon (x1)

Troops: Armoured Fist (11#, 166 Pts)
9 Armoured Fist @ 166 Pts
Cameleoline; Lasgun (x8); Meltagun
1 Sergeant @ [6] Pts
Cameleoline; Laspistol & CCW
1 Chimera @ [86] Pts
Searchlight; Multilaser; Hull Heavy Bolter

Troops: Infantry Platoon (46#, 625 Pts)
0 Infantry Platoon @ 625 Pts
0 Command Squad @ [165] Pts
1 Junior Officer @ [45] Pts
Cameleoline; Iron Discipline; Close Combat Weapon; Laspistol
4 Guardsmen @ [110] Pts
Cameleoline; Flamer (x4); Chimera
1 Chimera @ [86] Pts
Searchlight; Multilaser; Hull Heavy Bolter
9 Infantry Squad @ [115] Pts
Cameleoline; Close Order Drill; Light Infantry; Lasgun (x7); Meltagun; Lascannon
1 Sergeant @ [6] Pts
Cameleoline; Light Infantry; Laspistol & CCW
9 Infantry Squad @ [115] Pts
Cameleoline; Close Order Drill; Light Infantry; Lasgun (x7); Meltagun; Lascannon
1 Sergeant @ [6] Pts
Cameleoline; Light Infantry; Laspistol & CCW
9 Infantry Squad @ [115] Pts
Cameleoline; Close Order Drill; Light Infantry; Lasgun (x7); Meltagun; Lascannon
1 Sergeant @ [6] Pts
Cameleoline; Light Infantry; Laspistol & CCW
9 Infantry Squad @ [115] Pts
Cameleoline; Close Order Drill; Light Infantry; Lasgun (x7); Meltagun; Lascannon
1 Sergeant @ [6] Pts
Cameleoline; Light Infantry; Laspistol & CCW

Fast Attack: Sentinel Squadron (1#, 56 Pts)
0 Sentinel Squadron @ 56 Pts
1 Sentinel @ [56] Pts
Searchlight (x1); Lascannon (x1)

Fast Attack: Sentinel Squadron (1#, 55 Pts)
0 Sentinel Squadron @ 55 Pts
1 Sentinel @ [55] Pts
Lascannon (x1)

Fast Attack: Rough Rider Squad (8#, 88 Pts)
7 Rough Rider Squad @ 88 Pts
Close Combat Weapon (x7); Hunting Lance (- LP) (x7)
1 Sergeant @ [11] Pts
Cameleoline; Laspistol; Hunting Lance

Heavy Support: Basilisk (1#, 125 Pts)
1 Basilisk @ 125 Pts
Earthshaker Cannon; Hull Heavy Bolter; Indirect Fire Capability

Heavy Support: Basilisk (1#, 125 Pts)
1 Basilisk @ 125 Pts
Earthshaker Cannon; Hull Heavy Bolter; Indirect Fire Capability

Heavy Support: Basilisk (1#, 125 Pts)
1 Basilisk @ 125 Pts
Earthshaker Cannon; Hull Heavy Bolter; Indirect Fire Capability

Total Roster Cost: 1500

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Tallarn Army Background (40K)

Here's my background for my Tallarn's, justifying what I want them to be.

"Then the prophet spake: saying "Frak this, for my faith is a shield proof against your blandishments."

- Alem Mahat, The Book of Cain, Chapter IV, Verse XXI
(From The Traitor's Hand, by Sandy Mitchell)

Tallarn 925th: The White Fists of Bosh

The 925th are light infantry guerrilla fighters and special operations companies. Their force structure was originally designed to augment PDF forces or additional guard battalions, however lately they've found themselves fighting alone or alongside civilian militia. The 925th have established a guard foothold on Bosh, a Bloodmoon of Thex Prime in the region of space known as The Ghoul Stars. The group is under the leadership of decorated junior officer, Sheik Abdul Horowitz (Capt). Bosh represents an imperial foothold into this new system, and although the Thexian Elite have not directly attacked them, the xenos seem responsible for an endless wave of enemy attacks from new alien races.

When fighting independently, the 925th rely on heavy weapons and artillery to repel invaders from civilian centers while infantry infiltrate enemy positions by traversing the cliff-like red dunes of Bosh. Like other Tallarns, the 925th prefer to ambush and harass enemies with sentinel squadrons. The 925th forgoes the ubiquitous Leman Russ and instead relies on batteries of basilisk artillery to pummel enemies from afar, forcing them to make mistakes as they rush forward to silence the big cannons. Meanwhile, rough riders lie in wait to counter charge enemies who rush in.

The 925th venerate the emperor through his prophet, Commissar Ciaphas Cain. Cain is considered a physical conduit of the emperor's divine will. This nearly heretical belief has been suppressed by forces within the imperium and has nearly resulted in their destruction on Tallarn. Sending the 925th to the farthest reaches of the imperium was the empire's solution to this problem. Because of their beliefs, the 925th value initiative, individual courage, and independent thought. The 925th tends to be run by junior officers, as most of the senior officers have met their end at the hands of their commissars, who were unwilling to accommodate the eccentricities of the 925th, despite their discipline and unwavering courage. Therefore, the 925th also tends to operate without commissarial oversight or the benefit of priests, both of which are considered essential by traditional Tallarn battalions. Perhaps being sent to The Ghoul Stars was a kind of banishment that represents their sentence, rather than their post.

The 925th retain their first names, usually of Tallarn "Arab" origin, but take on a new family name based on the precepts of their new religion. These new family names are based on ancient Terran European "Jewish" names. Popular names among the 925th include:


Guardsmen wear cameleoline uniforms with a base red color, allowing them to blend into the red sands of Bosh. Vehicles are camouflaged using red and gray in the shade of the sand and rocks of Bosh. All vehicles have the white fist of the 925th prominently displayed, the direction of the hand emblem subtly determining command units. Vehicles display unit number, but go without battalion numbering or other markings unless desired by individual officers or crew.


Skills - Iron Discipline
Skills - Light Infantry
Skills - Close Order Drill
Troops - Rough Riders
Equipment - Cameleoline

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


I'm 8 rough riders away from completing my Tallarn army. Here's an excellent article on painting horses.

Of course, when I say "complete" I refer to having enough to play, not the almost instant changes that will happen when the army hits the table. Plus I still have those Forge World models coming, which means I'm painting at least one more squad.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Resistance is Futile

Battlefront Miniatures and Alliance Game Distributors are proud to announce that they are partnering to bring the award winning Flames of War®: The World War II Miniatures Game to independent hobby stores in North America and US Territories.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Painting a Tallarn

Since I'll be finishing painting individual guardsmen in the next couple of days, I wanted to document how I'm doing it for my own records. It might be interesting for others to read. Heck, you might find a step I could skip. Anyway, here's how I'm doing it for future reference:

  1. White primer. I've tried black and white is much easier. In the end they look the same, but with 50% more effort with black.
  2. Brushes: Sable 10-0 for detail and #2 for base coating. Two of each so one can dry while the other is in use. Clean brushes with Tamiya acrylic paint thinner X-20A.
  3. Basecoat 1: Mechrite Red.
  4. Basecoat 2: Khemri Brown. Note that I stopped using a second coat of Graveyard Earth since the wash made it the same color as Khemri Brown.
  5. Details: Codex gray for canteens and base coat of knives.
  6. Chainmail for all metallics. Boltgun metal was too dark. A base of Boltgun metal with chainmail over it made no difference once the wash was applied.
  7. After details are applied, go over reds with Terracotta. The blochy effect is fine, plus the Terracotta coat fixes a lot of mistakes.
  8. Skull white for head scarves. Bleached bone makes a nice drybrush afterwards but is hardly worth the effort.
  9. Add special detail spot colors for goggles, meltaguns, scopes, etc.
  10. Wash: Devlan Mud. Avoid those special detail areas.
  11. Basing: Base coat of Mechrite Red with two coats of Terracotta.
  12. Apply PVA glue to base with grunge brush. I've noticed the PVA glue has a better viscosity than Elmers white glue. Base with mix of Woodland Scenics iron ore ballast, half fine, half regular.
  13. Varnish.
I'm missing some finishing steps, such as highlights. I'm open to suggestions.


Tallarn Weekend

I've spent most of the 4th of July weekend painting my 40K Tallarns. I've got about half a dozen left before I'm done. Then I've got 8 rough riders and the army is complete. I'm breaking up the painting by watching movies on the laptop and reading Commissar Cain novels by Sandy Mitchell. So far these are the only 40K novels I've enjoyed.

I just finished watching Lawrence of Arabia. It's especially interesting because it's basically about European powers attempting to drive out the Turks and extend their colonial empires in the Middle East. One of the minor characters is an American reporter who talks about how Americans are against empire and for the struggle for all peoples to be free. It's kind of ironic to hear that now. Then again, the movie came out in 1962, ten years after the US engineering of the coup against the Shah of Iran, a government elected democratically. Those who track such things consider that event to be the beginning of American empire building. Anyway, great movie with an excellent soundtrack.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Game Industry Logistics

"About fifty percent of the human race is middle men and they don't take kindly to being eliminated." Malcolm Reynolds

I finally got a working copy of Visio on the laptop so I wanted to give it a test drive. While thinking about the Days of Wonder change, it reminded me that I had no idea how the game industry worked before I started learning about it to open a store. Most of the rancor nowadays is about how the system works, or should work. As a customer, you want you stuff, which is understandable. How you get it is debated endlessly. If you were curious how it got to you, here's how it works:

The most direct route to your hands is from the publisher (pink lines). The publisher cuts out all the middlemen, you order directly from them to your door, and happiness is maximized. Most retailers have no problem with this, provided the publisher maintains their own MSRP on the item. When they discount to the customer at the expense of the retailer, there is trouble.

Without going direct to the customer, some publishers cut out the distribution tier and sell directly to the retailer (green lines). Retailers are usually happy with this, provided the game is popular enough to warrant special orders and the margins are good. Ironically, most companies who ship direct to retailers, reduce the discount to retailers, a kind of double dipping, since they charge more to the retailer compared to distribution while cutting out the distribution costs. Games Workshop is a prime example of this (they use every method).

Most publishers sell through distribution (red lines). Distributors estimate orders based on retailer pre-orders, place orders with publishers, and publishers send product. Wash, rinse, repeat. It can be an infuriating process, due mostly to lack of retailer pre-orders, the occasionally retarded distribution purchaser, and the tendency of distributors to be slow in paying their bills. It's the driving force that makes many publishers look for alternate avenues to get their product to market.

If distributors don't want your small quantity of product, you can go with a consolidator (blue lines). Say a distributor wants only 5 of your product, which is probably not worth the effort, but you think it's still worthy of selling through the distribution chain. A consolidator will charge you a percentage to "rep" your product and efficiently ship it to the distributors. Distributors now get a big shipment of 20 different things instead of 20 shipments of a small number of items. Everyone is happy. Folks like Goodman Games use consolidators to get their product to market.

Most companies use two or more methods. Some swear off one method or another. For example, Wizards of the Coast sells direct to retailers and through distribution, but they don't sell direct to customers. Games Workshop sells direct to customers, direct to stores, and through distribution. A company like Days of Wonder sells direct to customers and through distribution, but hopes to maximize the value of the distribution tier by focusing on one distributor. Rather than shipping their product to ten distributors and waiting and wondering, the advantage of one distributor is lots of feedback and information and the ability to identify and market to retailers who have their product. In exchange, they pass some savings onto the retailer, to assuage their concerns and hopefully have a more predictable revenue stream.

There are other options, like "flooring" or making one distributor the "master" distributor. For example, say I'm sitting at home and come up with an idea for a cool widget. I have some guy in China make me a prototype and then find a factory there to get it made, also paying a quality control company to ensure it's properly manufactured. Now I've got 10,000 widgets. Where do I put them, my garage? Heck no. I "floor" the product with a distributor using a flooring agreement. Product is shipped directly from the factory in China to the distributor. They take an additional percentage for warehousing my goods and shipping them around to other distributors. I could even have them fulfill my Internet online orders, shipping directly from the distributor. Everyone is a middle-man and you can do amazing things if you're willing to share the wealth.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Ticket to the Death Star

Days of Wonder signed an exclusive deal with the biggest game distributor this week, Alliance. All of their products will be distributed by Alliance in the future. These are the good folks who brought us Ticket to Ride, Memoir 44, Battlelore, and many others. To put the deal in perspective, Alliance is a small division of Diamond, the comic book distributor. They're the de-factor comic distributor because they've got an exclusive deal to distribute Marvel, which is close to half of the comics market. It would be as if Alliance signed a deal to solely distribute all Games Workshop and Wizards of the Coast products. All other distributors would become niche suppliers and all game stores would become their 1 hit point minions.

The DOW deal is a sizable blow to smaller game distributors. We use Alliance as a secondary distributor, but mostly because we get amazingly good service from a smaller distributor, ACD. Alliance, ironically, is a more technically up-to-date, cutting edge distributor, but this is an industry where ordering on the phone and personal relationships are more important. My point of sale machine can do electronic purchase orders, something that Diamond is rolling out by the way, but most game stores create their orders on the back of napkins or off a log of what they sold the previous week.

The decision to go exclusively with Alliance shouldn't have an effect on how we stock Days of Wonder products in the store, but there could be more out-of-stocks as we wait for a big enough Alliance order. DOW games are heavy, and we need to hit a high order level to get that industry free freight.

The game trade claimed the sky was falling when WizKids signed an exclusive deal, but look at them now. WizKids laid off half their staff, put games on hiatus and haven't had a successful product launch since. It's not exactly a recipe for success. Exclusive distribution appears to me to be a last ditch effort to consolidate and improve efficiency. That's just my impression, if things are as bad as these companies are claiming.

The last thing I want to see is a Diamond monopoly in games. Alliance is fairly easy to work with and has a lot of bright people, but in a monopoly environment, I'm sure you'll see service slip. Competition is a great motivator for innovation and improvement, and you can see it clearly in the small game industry, as each distributor tries to outdo the other. Diamond on the other hand is an automated behemoth that could care less whether I live or die, provided I pay my bills on time. I stopped carrying comics not because I couldn't sell comics, but because Diamond wasn't worth the trouble for such a small part of my business. I would wish for the game distribution tier to implode in a Death Star like twinkling of lights before I see an industry monopoly. The toy industry does just fine with direct sales and toy reps who represent multiple companies.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Five Editions

The latest White Dwarf has a history of 40K. It's an interesting article worth reading. For me it explains why the game doesn't have a hold on my imagination, having been published the year after I left high school. It's not a game of my childhood, like it is for so many people I know. It's a game that emerged the moment I began exploring my adult life, the editions marking my beginning of college (1987), grad school (1993), career in IT (1998) and starting the game store (2004). Dungeons & Dragons stuck with me, and mostly 1st edition, which I started playing as a 12 year old. I stuck with that edition, playing sporadically in my adult life, until the twilight of 2nd edition, when I got back into it seriously with Planescape.

D&D is on a path of revisions every 8-9 years, with 3.5 being a blunder which gets pasted over in WOTC marketing materials and will likely be admitted to one day with more time and perspective. Omitting 3.5 would put D&D back on the 8-9 year release cycle, and would have inspired a lot more good will towards 4th.

40K revisions are a bit quicker at 5-6 years. In the White Dwarf article, I found it interesting that customers were disappointed with previous edition codexes because of their small page count. Future editions, we're promised, will be beefier. It sounds like a D&D supplement strategy to me. Bigger books, preferably hardcover, with an obviously higher sticker price.

Both games have accelerated their pace in the last decade. Both are among the handful of game companies that are publicly traded corporations, WOTC being owned by Hasbro. Both companies are under the gun to increase profits in the short term. When you run a corporation, the primary goal, which you can be fired for for not completing or even criminally prosecuted for not executing properly, is maximizing shareholder value. Everything you do is aimed at that bottom line, more so than other businesses.

Is that bad if you're a customer? It might feel like a betrayal if you're under the misguided impression that these companies exist to enhance your fantasy life, rather than maximizing shareholder value. The main thing to remember about hobby games, is that they can only exist if customers are actively engaged in the hobby; buying, building, playing. I can tell you that D&D sales flagged over the last two years, as the writers mined the depth so what was possible with the game. 40K sales are dependent almost entirely on new releases, which are always just a tad better than previous releases (or else they tend to do poorly). Like any product you consume, decide your level of engagement and proceed.

Date D&D 40K
1978 1st Edition -
1979 - -
1980 - -
1981 - -
1982 - -
1983 - -
1984 - -
1985 - -
1986 - -
1987 - 1st Edition
1988 - -
1989 2nd Edition -
1990 - -
1991 - -
1992 - -
1993 - 2nd Edition
1994 - -
1995 - -
1996 - -
1997 - -
1998 - 3rd Edition
1999 - -
2000 3rd Edition -
2001 - -
2002 - -
2003 3.5 Edition -
2004 - 4th Edition
2005 - -
2006 - -
2007 - -
2008 4th Edition 5th Edition