Friday, October 17, 2008

Life Cycle

All game products have a life cycle. They're created, they're sold and played and they finally hit a twilight period in which stores stop selling them and they recede to the background. As a hobbyist, this can be sad, as many games that cycle through fail because of poor marketing, mismanagement, or just timing. You're an official gaming grognard if you still play these games, especially if they're all you play.

As a retailer, there are new games coming out every day. Where does the money come from to buy these new games? It comes from the dessicated carcasses of the old games, the last few bucks squeezed out of a clearance sale or a slow selling item that will never get ordered again. It can make you a little jaded, especially when you finally clear out a game that you personally love. Ptolus was like that for me, the giant D&D tome that could never be replicated as a gaming project. I was sad to learn I couldn't order any more after selling the last copy. Sad and relieved, as the sales of Ptolus were dwindling down to nothing. Still, whenever something special is left on the curb, a little bit of yourself is left behind with it.

As a retailer, one of my jobs is sales forecasting, including the decision to let a game go. Some go quietly, omitted from my re-stocks. Others will go with a flashy sale, or a bold declaration that I'm done with a game - "I'm kicking it to the curb!" This declaration usually comes from frustration as most games that die wallow about in misery like a stuck pig. AT-43 was one of those games. It started out poorly, with few sales. I visited Parisian game stores while on vacation a few months after the initial release, and despite what industry people were telling me, this French game was a loser there too. Each game store had a basic set or two sitting in a corner, while their basements were packed to the rafters with 40K.

AT-43 finally picked up steam, but lacked in-store play for us. It semed to be the perfect game: pre-painted, sophisticated rules, interesting back-story and models, but nobody would play it in the store. Worse, Rackham screwed it up at every opportunity, with key items out of stock for months, lots of items arriving damaged, shizophrenic distribution schemes, a substandard margin for retailers and inconsistent street dates. Going bankrupt in the middle of this didn't help, even if it's country club French bankrupty. When Fantasy Flight Games finally took over US distribution and increased our margin, the damage had been done. Regular AT-43 customers had moved on to other games, partially because of the barrage of monkey men that few found compelling.

The game isn't entirely dead for us, but a product line is a lot like the stock market. You want to buy on the upswing and get out as it begins to decline. The last thing you want is a portfolio (store) of bargain basement junk because you didn't have the guts or foresight to get out. AT-43: 40% off at Black Diamond Games.

A handsome curve


  1. Apparently another factor in the erratic popularity of AT-43 is that they've gone too far in issuing FAQs. Where companies like Battlefront suck because they never issue any FAQs, Rackham has apparently gone to the other extreme and have been issuing updates to their FAQs constantly, to the point that it's hard for anyone but the most dedicated to keep up with what the latest rulings are.

    Since I stopped following the game after my move, this information is second hand, but if true it could explain some of the problems they've had.

  2. I heard that Fantasy Flight will no longer be distributing that French foo foo.

  3. Nice timing. Perhaps we both came to the same conclusions about AT-43. I can tell you that distributors despise working with Rackham, so this could be the end of them in the US. I'm asking around to see what's next....

  4. Hmmm, I'm interested as to what the reasons behind that are. I wonder if it was falling sales or if FFG found Rackham as difficult to deal with as everyone else has, or if there was some other reason.

    It's a shame as I still think it's a wonderful game. I guess I should check the catalog and see if there are any pieces I want for use with other games.

  5. After the weekend I'm planning to break out and sell the Confrontation singles in the D&D miniatures case....

  6. There's now a game industry thread started about 30 minutes ago about what's coming next. I'll let you know.

  7. I checked the FFG and Rackham boards and no real news - just speculation. The Pres of Rackham had a short post that things would improve and that there would be monthly releases.

    I think selling the confrontation as singles is a great idea. The mini's are cool looking.