I posted this to rpg.net today:
The WOTC CEO called buying the familiar a "Flight to Quality," which probably sounds great if you're WOTC but kind of snarky if you're not a top tier publisher. Games supposedly do pretty well in a recession. This will be my first one owning a store, so I'm taking that on faith. As a store owner, I can echo this flight to quality sentiment and tell you hobbyist customers are still buying, but their buying patterns changed virtually overnight.
Customers are taking fewer chances and are buying and playing sure bets. A sure bet in my store for RPGs is D&D or Shadowrun. My small and smaller press RPG sales have slowed, some disappearing entirely within several months. Large miniature battles games are being replaced by cheaper skirmish games. Card players are carefully buying boosters of the latest sets, leaving back list product to gather dust. Board gamers are carefully comparing gaming value for their dollars, with games over $50 slowing to a crawl. As a side note, if you sell a lot of your stuff direct AND through distribution, don't be surprised if game stores start losing critical mass locally and stop carrying your product due to your competing with them directly. We've seen this happen on several lines and have heard it reported from several stores.
As for viability in a down market, ask yourself, is this game product going to be played or just read? There's the perception that a large percentage of RPG products are purchased for casual reading instead of in-game play. If your game product isn't going to hit the table anytime soon, it's going to have a hard time getting bought during these hard times. Customers are cutting back on these products.
Also remember that you are marketing to the game store owners as well. In the description of your game, what tells me that existing customers will want to jump on this product? It needs to be a) interesting, b) instantly useful at the table and c) at a great price point. Fail at any of these criteria and it won't get into my store. As a store owner, I must envision in my head the faces of the people who will be buying your product. If I can't envision a sure thing, I won't buy it. This has changed from just a few months ago when a certain percentage of my budget was used to take chances on interesting products, a kind of community service.
These customer trends are effecting retailer purchases which will eventually trend to distributors. Distributors are the gate keepers of the gaming world. You'll need to sell them on these same values just to get picked up. Distributors work off pre-orders and I'll tell you that they're probably just now seeing this change in buying habits. As a retailer, this week was my first pre-order experience in a down economy. Product lines that have done especially well since the downturn included inexpensive supplements, like those from Goodman Games and Mongoose Publishing.
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