Saturday, January 31, 2009

All Cylinders

Lately I've felt like the store is firing on all cylinders, like we have what I initially envisioned as a successful game store. This took four years and required a near complete collapse of my local competition -- and it could change at any moment. Still, is it a successful business? Are any game stores successful in business terms? Are game stores "lifestyle" businesses? Is there any hope that they could make money in a reasonable fashion?

First, let's look at what's reasonable in the realm of the real world. A reasonable business plan, in which regular people would want to invest money, would show a return on investment in no less than five years, maybe seven if it was more ambitious. For example, if you spent $100,000 building your game store, which I think is a minimum to be taken seriously, you would need to first break even, meaning you stopped hemorrhaging cash, and then payed out $100,000 back to your investors within five to seven years. Most businesses fail in the first year, but survivors generally break even somewhere in the second year, and hopefully get that return on investment by their plan date. By the way, the dirty secret of small business is that the failure rate doesn't improve over time. Year four is just as hard and failure prone as year fourteen.

For a game store, the model would work something like this: Your $100,000 investment would include $60,000 in inventory. The rest went to start up costs and losses. That $60,000 in inventory is likely to turn at best, four times for annual sales of $240,000, which seems to be a realistic average for the industry. You do really, really well and get that turn rate in year three and accrue no debt over this time. Of your gross sales, the rule of thumb is about 8% of that is likely to be profit; lets call it $20,000. So after breaking even, it takes five years to pay back investors, for a total of 7 years. Voila! Then it's just profit and blue skies for years 8 and on. Good plan, right? Business plans are always about blue skies.

If it was that easy, everyone would be doing it and investment in retail stores would be the next bubble. I think most stores struggle to survive and that 8% net profit number is bogus. I think it's more like 1-2%, meaning your return on investment is ridiculously far down the road unless you create revenue streams beyond the brick and mortar store: conventions, online sales, community tie ins, or a side business for your hobby business. A 2% return is a 20 year pay back and any business owner with a functional brain will accept their new lifestyle, close their business or seek out additional revenue streams.

Perhaps the best solution is acceptance. Promote game stores as lifestyle businesses, with current owners being the caretaker of the business until his lifestyle choice changes. Nobody really talks about this when new owners contemplate the numbers. I think they should be told all the likely possibilities, with failure being most likely, and a very slow return as the second most likely outcome. I think a game store is a great retirement business, or business for a couple looking for a second income. It's no way to raise a family as a single income source.

If you had a caretaker model, the game store would be something that was expected to be handed down to the next owner over time, while most stores nowadays simply get liquidated when the owner has had enough. The problem is this would require a kind of franchise plan to standardize such a business, and who wants to buy or create a franchise with a 20 year return on investment? However, the plan is where the value lies, while a store without a plan facing closure is worth maybe 10% of their stock at best. That $100,000 investment is now worth $6,000.

The bottom line is there is no one type of game store or one way of building one. Small business is about the individual and returns on investment are based on many factors and opportunities. A clever owner or one in a unique set of circumstances might make profits far above these projections. At the same time, all the ingenuity in the world can be cut short by an eminent domain plan by the city or a national crisis that kills consumer spending. Brilliant people have failed businesses and complete morons can get lucky. That's part of the excitement!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Forty Two

Yesterday we got in our biggest of our ding & dent auction shipments. It contained 42 boxes. My UPS driver asks that I give him advance notice of these kinds of large deliveries so he can plan his route accordingly. He planned alright; he took the day off, leaving me with a surly driver who was fully aware of his hosing. His annoyance eventually wore off, and after a free Coke and a little banter, he was smiling. We've had a lot of UPS problems on this route, including a driver who refused to pick up packages. After getting him in trouble with his boss (one of my customers), he now drops my packages as he brings them into the store. He doesn't exactly throw them down, but he man handles them in this gray area between inattention and deliberate abuse. Now that I think of it, many of my game industry relationships are like that.

We weren't exactly prepared for the shipment. We were still cleaning the office and building shelves. The hardest part was throwing away perfectly good office stuff. Everything thrown away is an admission of a mistake, a waste of money, a reminder of my lack of past frugality. Some stuff was a sign of progress, like dumping the giant DLT tape drive. Our backups are all copied to Internet servers now. You have to put a positive spin on this, claiming progress and re-distribution of resources, much like all the companies closing down unprofitable divisions and letting go of valuable employees who just aren't part of the new vision. It's a time when it's acceptable to throw some babies out with the bathwater, if it's for the common good and for long term survival. So yeah, I threw away a ton of perfectly good stuff, including office supplies and store fixtures still in the original packaging. It was claim the space and move forward or get buried and distracted in a dozen eBay auctions, Craigslistings, and emails to other stores.

As for the shipment itself, we'll post a list later. It's clearly more than we can sell at the auction, but that's alright. We've got Dundracon in February, Conquest Sac in March and the rest can eventually go online. These additional venues, along with the permanent storage takes the pressure off us to dump this stuff for the sake of space, which is what often happens after an auction. It's also a mental "open for business" sign when it comes to acquiring more stuff.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

End of the Office

This week we've been transforming the office. The office was once envisioned as a game empire command center, the ultimate place to sit back and plan retail conquests and do the back office stuff associated with the store. Mostly it was where I paid the bills. As I've mentioned before, the epiphany struck me one day that offices were big, evil, time sucks that placed a barrier between me and the customers. They divided my time and location. I could either run the store or conduct store business, when both of those things are more efficient intertwined. When you have an office, paying bills, talking to vendors, filing papers are things you do on your time, rather than while on the clock, running the store. Going paperless and moving that part of the operation to the cash wrap area saves me many hours a month.

So what happens when you abandon an office? It becomes a garage. Nobody spends time there, so nobody is invested in making it look nice. Stuff piles up and you start pointing fingers until you realize that nobody is responsible for it. We even noticed rat droppings when we started cleaning, at which time I made the no food in the office pronouncement. We took on the office this week because we wanted to transform it into a more efficient storage center for taking in more liquidation product. This included buying a lot of new shelving, but it was mostly getting rid of stuff, especially the giant desk that had long been in the way.

The desk concept is obsolete for me. It includes things like drawers for collecting clutter and a flat surface to attract piles of junk. When we went to move it out, it wouldn't fit through the door. In our rush to get the store built, we had moved the desk in before we had fully built the walls and doorways. Now there was no way to remove it. A helpful customers went out to his truck and came bag with a grin on his face. He took out his aggressions on the hapless desk with a sledgehammer, reducing it to kindling in a just a few minutes. It was a final, symbolic end to the office concept.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Roller Coaster

January is always a quiet, end of the party kind of month. Sales for me are generally around half of busy December, and below break even. Worse, I've noticed that the better my December, the more returns that show up and erode my January. It's probably just a percentage of sales, but it seemed higher this year. What I've been learning to do is see this period as a unit: December-January.

This way I don't feel as down that I'm losing money. As a unit, it means I'm saving from earlier in the two month unit to pay for the latter. It's mostly psychological though, if you're an "even keel" kind of person, roller coaster retail can mess with your head. It's like a crazy girlfriend with bi-polar disorder. In one month you're on top of the world, while in others, you talk in a near whisper and remember back on better days. They key is to sense these "moods" coming on and plan accordingly.

February is ironically our second best month of the year, and we were joking yesterday about not making any decisions in a foul January mood, just wait a couple weeks until February. February is when post holiday releases finally show up, like the new Magic set and the beginning of convention season for us, with Dundracon. Add our Ding & Dent auction and February becomes a feast month, albeit one that has to get us through the dark times of March through May. These cold months are the "real" game store months, if you ask me. They're not part of Summer or the holidays, there aren't any crutches, like hot conventions to keep us going, just bread and butter times.

We usually break even or lose a little money during this period, making it up with Summer sales. Summer is a quirky time. It's a little like the dark side of Christmas. Kids are out of school, people are looking for things to do, but the sales are only a slight bump above normal, while the labor seems twice as intensive to keep everyone satisfied. Summer is where gamer cred comes into play, as customers want what's new, what's hot, what was or is going to be released at GenCon. It's where game demos are important, where you set the seeds for what will get played for the next year. Summer is an awful lot of work for us, yet without the high holiday rewards. On the positive side, it's your people coming in, not a lot of grumpy strangers who don't know you. It's a little like a family reunion at times and the mood is happy. You're doing the thing and there's a participatory mood.

Fall is like the air slowly coming out of the party balloon. Sales begin to falter, and it's almost like you don't want to tell customers that the party is over. "No, have one more drink. Don't worry about those people heading for the exits. Let me tell you about my character." Customers are back to their usual responsibilities, and with the holidays on the distant horizon, they may have been told to stop spending on themselves. Last Fall was a mini retail Armageddon that I hope not to ever see again. You just never know in retail.

Of course the post-Thanksgiving holiday season is a time of relative plenty, even measured against dismal January. For us this is where any real profit for the store is eeked out, something left over from January losses and hopefully not squandered on some capital expense that seemed relevant when I was selling three thousand dollars a day in in December, compared to the five hundred from yesterday. There is no money in retail, and that should be the December mantra when the money is flowing in as if your friends, family and accountant were all wrong about what a big mistake it is to run a game store.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Check Fraud

I'm playing catch up from my week of vacation. My current project is tracking down my bad check scammer. Talking with the local police, we were able to determine that she used her real name and address, which is good for catching her and why she got away with it in the first place. Everything checked out at the time of purchase, but she just seemed a little too loopy. Sure enough, the check was drawn on a closed account and she and an accomplice came back to return items for cash. I think these hard times make people a little desperate, as does drug addiction.

I've got her captured on video and I've been able to get that video off our recorder, but I'm at a loss on how to play it on anything other than the CCTV system. The video has an ADAT file extensions, in case anyone knows of something that can read that. It turns out I probably won't need the video, since I was able to identify her over the phone to the officer and it matched her drivers license photo. So now some paperwork, a certified threat letter, and maybe results sometime down the line. One thing is for sure, we no longer accept checks.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Gaming Community

I talk a lot about "building community," the "third space," and other sterile retail fuzzy wuzzy terms, but being on vacation and getting some perspective has made me realize what gaming means to me and how the store plays a role in that.

Gaming is something I do with my friends. When I started the store, that meant the nearly exclusive play of Dungeons & Dragons, and in extreme circumstances, gasp, a board game. Most of my original D&D group were not gamers in the broader sense of the term. Most played D&D only, some only with us. One is a part-time RPG writer in the industry, with a broader repertoire, but he's the exception that brought new ideas to the game (the king of improvised fantasy weaponry, for example). We tried one-off games on occasion, like Mutants and Masterminds and Spirit of the Century, but often if it wasn't a D&D game, people wouldn't show up.

As a kid, I played lots of D&D, but also Traveller, Top Secret, Boot Hill, Star Frontiers, and Gamma World. It always came back to D&D, and as I've mentioned before my childhood gaming pre-dated miniature games. All of these games were played with the same group of friends, or various subsets of those friends as factions developed. As for the game, it always came back to D&D.

I had been to a couple of conventions as a kid (yeah OrcCon 83 and 84!), but running the store was my first real experience playing with broad spectrum gamers. That's where the community element came into play. Sure, I continued to play at home with the original group, but my horizons were opened at the store. The friendship and camaraderie were what made games enjoyable for me at the store, and when that was lacking, it just felt like work. Making new friends and connections is when a game is most enjoyable.

For me the "third place" and "community" are about building those friendships where I play, even if they're the shallower gamer friendships that we temporally maintain for the sake of mutual enjoyment. Of course it can often be a little like a soap opera around the store as well, as various cliques, factions and individuals express themselves, often to the annoyance of others. There aren't enough women to make it dorm-like interesting, thank the gods, but I'm often pressed into the bartender-like role of listening while customers tell me about how this guy fudges his dice rolls, or that guy likes to kill off characters when you've upset his plans. Still, there's a sense of community and the complaining is mostly because the game will go on, regardless. People complain because they feel compelled to continue the relationship.

What I have yet to fully grasp is the game convention model, the temporary connections created to allow a game to happen. I can see it as a venue to play games you wouldn't normally get to play elsewhere or see different perspectives, but I wouldn't pre-empt a regularly scheduled game to go to one, and I certainly wouldn't plan a vacation around one when a perfectly good real adventure could be had instead. Running the store has made me yearn for richer gaming experiences than what I get at home. I meet interesting people, great gamers that I want to play with, which grows my disenchantment for the at-home model of static gaming. Perhaps that's what people look for at the conventions, the glimmer of brilliance, breath taking role-playing, the unpredictability that comes from playing with someone new.

The next convention (and best in my opinion) is Dundracon from February 13th-15th.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


On Thursday we had record turnout for our weekly RPGA event: 25 people at 4 tables.

The new Dungeons & Dragons Forgotten Realms RPGA program has been very successful, as I've mentioned before. They're less restrictive on their format as a way of encouraging people to play D&D on a regular basis.

We used to run Eberron RPGA using 3.5, which was a mess. The adventures were poorly written, character rules were obtuse and the format was rigid. Now adventures are high enough quality to where we're going through lots of toner to print extra copies for the volunteer DMs. Before, we couldn't give away the pre-printed dreck. Also, 4th Edition is better suited for organized play, as there's less ambiguity in how a character is created. I recall downloading a half dozen 3.5 pre-gen characters from the Wizards website and spending an hour correcting them. Looking back, 3.5 almost seems subjective when it comes to character builds, or at least complicated enough to forgive the inevitable errors that would creep onto character sheets.

But do you like 4th Edition?
After six months of playing and running 4th edition, I've become a bit more critical of the system. The best criticism I've heard, which I'm kind of agreeing with, is that it's a fine system, but it's not my D&D. That's just saying it's different really, but there's something to be said for the lost continuity between 4th and previous editions. It still has that 3.x problem of feeling like a role-playing game until combat begins, when it becomes a tactical miniature game. Luckily I like tactical miniature games, but the jarring transition often leaves me cold.

My real problem is it feels a bit sterile for the players, which drains some of their enthusiasm. I'm hoping that aditional accessory books, like Player's Handbook II, will add some variety to their options. But aren't I really just saying I wish it was more like 3.5, with a bigger toolbox?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Car Attack

There are videos here of two accidents in a 10 minute period in front of the Brooklyn game store Kings Games. Both included property damage that neither driver reported. I'm glad we don't get icy roads. It makes me wonder if I should place a camera looking into the parking lot, although I'm not sure I want the responsibility that would come with it.

A few years ago, the owner of Knightly Games in El Centro had a car plow through his front window, taking his store out of business for a while until the place could be repaired. He ended up doing seminars at the annual trade show on game store insurance coverage. I won't bore you with the details of commercial insurance, but I can tell you that plate glass costs thousands of dollars and isn't normally covered. Eventually someone plowed through his window a second time. He's no longer in business.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Used Game Dilemma

Lets say I have $200 to buy games for the store. First, how did I come about this $200? Inventory is a zero sum game, meaning I can't buy a new game until I sell an old game. That "old game" sale means I won't be buying it again, as the sales for the item have slowed or I brought in a bunch of them when they were hot and now sales are back to normal. It's a recovered cost from "dead" inventory.

So do I want to spend $200 on the new, hot thing that just came out? Or do I want to buy used games? What are used games? For the most part, they are those games that I just mentioned that I'm not re-ordering. They may be "dead," but they are generally older games with a long tail, meaning their sales potential are extremely limited but have a solid, long term, low level of demand. We get around this by selling them for less money, and thus buying them for less. But do I want to spend my $200 on hot new games or long tail used games? Do I want a quick return on my investment or a slow one?

I don't have a choice. By declaring that I'll be buying used games, I'm obligated to take them when they arrive, whether I can afford it or not. At times I'll say no, such as if we've hit our used game capacity (maybe once a year) or if I'm truly without the funds to buy them, but I almost always take them. That's what it means to be a successful seller of used games. You're always willing to take them in. It's all or nothing or people learn not to bring them. Repeat sellers is the key to used games for me. I don't even know most of the buyers.

So what happens to those used games? Let's say we bought 66 role-playing books for that $200. That's based on our average buy price of about $3. Of those 66 books, perhaps three are somewhat rare or collectible and will go for $15-20 each. These will sit on the shelves for six to eighteen months waiting for their next buyer. About forty of those books will be moderately priced for around $10 and will also sit on the shelf for six to eighteen months waiting for a buyer. The last twenty or so books will never be purchased, ever, no matter what, at any price. They'll find their way into a $1 bucket eventually, possibly given away, or as a last resort carted out to the recycling. If I identify the dud when buying from the customer, I'll try to buy them for less, but it's hard since it requires data on every role playing book ever printed. Oh yeah, and then train staff in that knowledge.

What makes it worth the hassle to do this? With multiple venues to sell used books, such as conventions, auctions and online sales, I can reach a larger audience and drastically increase my likelihood of selling them. When this happens, the economics of the situation are greatly improved. I'm then making far more than keystone (50%) on a sale, and I can often find a buyer for some of those last "20 books." That said, the convention market has tanked over the last two years and there are fewer and fewer buyers. Online venues like eBay rarely sell for more than my original buy price, unless the book is rare.

This means used books often end up in the category where all stores like to hide their disappointments, a merchandising expense. This includes things like mass market games sold at low margins, decorations in the store that happen to be for sale, and other incidentally sellable stuff, like tape measures with your name on them. In the case of role-playing books, the merchandising expense brings in customers from across the region that wouldn't normally visit your store. Some will buy new things too, but most tend to stick exclusively with used games. Despite all this, I still I think it's financially worth the trouble.

The Rare and the Exotic

Spotted in Frontierland at Disneyland. I thought it was funny. It sums up my love-hate relationship with used merchandise. I really want to have it. I hate having to buy it. Used games often defy the formulas and retail models that I love to rely on. It's "big picture" merchandise that helps out in ways that aren't always easily calculated. It's subjective merchandise, if there can be such a thing.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Year for Fantasy

For the first time, the store is in the position of having the inventory we want and a reasonable purchasing budget available for product expansion if something comes along. Last year you saw us expand our 40K selection to where it is now, complete. It's not complete because I'm a completist (I've kicked that bad habit), our 40K sales actually justify it. We also hit our "turn rate" numbers in 2008, surprising since as late as October I wasn't predicting this until late 2009. Turns are about inventory efficiency, kind of a retail store MPG rating.

Although holiday toy sales were down 50% from last year, and while on sale at that, their departure from the store provided us some breathing room, both in physical space and inventory dollars. The miniature section just expanded, eating up 20% of the toy department, and much of the toy dollars are now waiting for re-allocation towards shiny new games. The toy demand over the holiday solidified what works for us in that area of the store. Learning toys and craft toys will stay, and jigsaw puzzles will expand, especially Ravensburger. "Inert" toys that don't have a purpose will go.

What's becoming clear to me now is Warhammer Fantasy will have its year in 2009. With a new league starting up in the store, and many new players starting up the game this month, it will likely see an increase in inventory. Right now we've got an incremental expansion method, where I'll add new fantasy releases to the regular inventory, allowing for that "inventory creep" that store owners warn everyone about. I've also been paying attention to what people are buying and gradually adding a blister or box here and there, often when someone special orders models that we're not carrying. A more robust expansion of Fantasy is possible, but the demand needs to be solidified in-store. It's not there now. In other words, I want to see a lot of games going on and sales increasing. Eric and Andrey deserve a lot of credit for getting Fantasy off the ground.

Oh yeah, and can you imagine a possible resurgence of Lord of the Rings? The miniature game will soon get a revised rule set, re-focused as an army based game rather than skirmish. Will be giving that a shot.

Finally, we quickly liquidated a lot of Flames of War, and we're now re-focused on late war releases.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

On Vacation

I'll be on vacation for the next week, visiting family and friends in Southern California and spending four days at Disneyland.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Upcoming Events

I canceled our recent mailing after the postage got out of control. Here's what's happening:

Magic: Conflux Pre-Release

January 31st, 11:30 Sign Up
Cost $30
This includes 3 packs of Conflux and 3 packs of Alara (WOTC discontinued tournament packs)
You should show up for Friday Night Magic the night before too. Really, you want to.

Magic: Conflux Launch Party
February 7th, 11:30 Sign Up
Cost $30
This includes 3 packs of Conflux and 3 packs of Alara

Ding & Dent Sale and Customer Auction
February 8th, 11:30 Sign Up
Cost: Free!
Bring in items you want to sell starting February 1st. Include a minimum bid or a "buy it now" price.

This event features hundreds of slightly damaged board games, miniatures and role-playing books at stupidly low prices. I'm also going to make this February event our Warhammer overstock sale, with stuff selling for 20-40% off.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Those WTF Moments

It has been an odd week:

  • Finding a case of old White Dwarf magazines in the office marked "labels." Complete with Games Workshop invoice sitting on top. Luckily this was the issue with the space marine and ork model, so it still has value.
  • Throwing away three dozen peanut butter cracker packs after the salmonella outbreak. Then having to instruct staff to do their best to prevent customers from eating them out of the trash, because you know they will.
  • Discovering after 15 months that I'm supposed to pay for garbage service. $850 saved by free loading off my neighbors, but whoops!
  • Realizing that the RPGA printing is going through a toner cartridge, and half a ream of paper a month. Luckily we charge a small fee that's supposed to cover this.
  • Figuring out that someone was trying to get away with a check scam in the store, but only after getting in a bit too deep, including expressing my concerns (getting angry) before they scurried off. Where did I put my beat stick?
  • Having a day in which the returns equaled the sales; mostly first timers intimidated by their holiday board game purchases.

On Sale

Here is my take on having sales in the store:

  1. Universal sales are bad things unless you're going out of business or have some grander scheme in mind. We'll occasionally have a universal sale for a special event, perhaps 20% off a product line or even the entire store, but I never advertise this, as I want to reward those who came to the event and prevent customers from planning to shop the sale. That might seem counter-intuitive, but it's true that with enough sales, you can train customers to only shop sales. Brick and mortar game stores must have close to full margin to survive.
  2. Liquidate. When I put something on sale, it's for one purpose only: to get rid of it. I don't believe in sales to "move" merchandise or create some sort of incentive. I may bundle product, but again, only to get rid of it as opposed to some scheme to get people into a game. My sole goal is liquidation. I call this my "big hammer," because it's the only tool in my sales toolbox.
  3. Strike hard and fast. I discount the liquidated item deeply, but never below cost. Yes, I might be able to sell an item for a lesser discount over time, perhaps in multiple venues (in-store, auction, convention, online), but the goal is to move out that product now. At a deep discount, you also prevent people for waiting for an item to go on sale deeper. If you're quick, you can also avoid items languishing on-sale, which encourages customers to wait for regular items to go on sale. Getting back your cost is a second chance. Selling below cost is like ketosis when dieting, when you're body starts eating itself.
  4. The vulture. There will always be people who shop only the sale. They are not bad people and they are not to be avoided. Like the vulture or other scavenger in nature, they play an important role in your retail ecosystem. Encourage them. Learn more about them. Maybe even get their contact information so you can tell them when a sale is happening. Some will drive long distances for a sale or to see a used section. Reward them with regular offerings. Their money is your fertilizer to grow more sales.
  5. The Wheel Keeps Turning. Absolutely everything will eventually be discontinued and may end up in the clearance section. Nothing is sacred. If you're lucky, you'll sell the last one at full price and not re-order it. If a customer wants to wait for an item to make it to clearance, great, but they better be quick because it won't be there long.
  6. Online and eBay. For me these are last resorts because they are immensely time consuming and almost always pay me below cost. However, I'm much more willing to sell things below cost online than in the store. Go figure. Perhaps I want to keep my mistakes private.
The bottom line for me: Keep the inventory fresh. Always have money to buy new things. Always at least get your money back on product you buy. Money is made in the buying, not the selling. A monkey can sell, but it takes experience and insight to buy. It's far, far better to be understocked than overstocked.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Chicken and Egg

This week and the next are our slowest weeks of the year. It's traditionally a time of slow sales and there are few new releases. New releases drive sales, so it made me wonder, do manufacturers and publishers avoid this period because sales are bad, or are sales bad because of the lack of new releases? How much of this reinforces itself? How much is industry tradition? The tendency for me is to want to hunt down something new, rather than wait for the inevitable barrage of new product over the coming months. Or bring back some of those holiday items, just in case we attracted new customers who might be interested (like jigsaw puzzles).

Next week I'll be on vacation, because this is the best time to go, as opposed to the middle of the retail shopping season in December (knuckleheads). I'll be in Southern California visiting relatives and spending four days at Disneyland and California Adventures. I just want to thank the global warming gods for the weather. This is also the period where the dirty work gets done, the cleaning, inventory, website updates, mass mailing creations, and new merchandising. I actually enjoy that kind of work, but I'm mostly alone in that.

Financially, this is a period where you start burning off the fat of the holidays. Most stores have a surplus of cash from holiday sales to help get them through the slow first quarter. We're all somewhat reluctant to part with that cash, especially with the economy looking like it's in rough shape. I may claim we'll be alright, but I don't really know that. A strong store would have a surplus of cash sitting around, just as you would personally have a buffer of three to six months in case you were laid off. However, I don't know of many strong stores nowadays. Many have just barely survived 2008 and probably don't have reserves to weather further problems. As I've said before, I can survive a predictable recession, it's the unpredictable behavior like the October crash that throws things out of whack.

Monday, January 12, 2009

My Problem with Yelp

My problem with Yelp is that it's a one way form of communication. Customers write amateur reviews of businesses under the premise that the web justly empowers the consumer at the expense of the business owner. It fosters a confrontational relationship, one in which reviewer comments are sacrosanct, regardless of accuracy or intent. Business owners are not permitted to respond. In fact, the only way to get erroneous content off Yelp appears to be by court order. Otherwise you must wait for various arcane mechanisms within Yelp to remove derisive content. So how does Yelp survive?

It's certainly not the amateur reviewers who pay nothing for the service, it's the reviewed businesses in a form of blackmail. As a business owner, your competitors are featured on your Yelp search page. Want to remove your competitors ad? Advertise with Yelp. In fact, if you advertise, they'll put your ad on you competitors search results, unless they're paid up with Yelp, of course. Yelp not only pits customers against business owners, they pit businesses against each other.

As you can imagine, I find the whole process wretched. One of my business partners is an avid Yelp reviewer, and he thinks I'm too hard on the service. His service business tends to focus on a small number of focused clients, unlike my business that focuses on many customers with varied interests. I find the idiosyncrasies of small business to be a little too complex for most people to understand. My favorite example are used book stores. Yelpers who buy from used book stores give that store a stellar review. What a great bargain! I found great books at great prices! Those who sell books to used book stores give poor reviews. What a rip off! They paid me nearly nothing for my book collection! Their business model might be to sell low and buy high, but reviewers are more concerned with their emotional experience at the store.

I feel especially bad for restaurants, which may be fine establishments that don't cater to local tastes. As for my own business, I tend to be hyper sensitive and wish nothing more than to hear about problems from my customers. Unfortunately, Yelp is more akin to a bathroom wall for learning about these things, even when they're well intentioned. A criticism on Yelp is cool and highly encouraged, while actually asking the business owner to look into a problem is rare. I say all this this with a five star Yelp rating and also having been warned not to cross the Yelp community. As a prospective advertiser, I see the service as a ticking time bomb. Why would I want to point people to my reviews at enormous cost, if at any time, someone can write something negative about it?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Retail that Works

Listening and reading retail news reports, what seems to work in retail during a recession is:

  • Kids stuff. Parents cut back on things for themselves before they deprive their kids, so kids stuff is cut out last. The caveat on this: within this category, unnecessary kids stuff like toys and luxury brands are dropped in favor of practical things, like well priced clothing and educational items.
  • Home stuff. People spend more time at home, so home furnishing stores and decorators apparently do well. If you're not going out as much, and I'm certainly not, it makes sense to make your home a little more livable. If you're unemployed, you're spending more time at home too.
  • Hobby stuff. Similar to home stuff, hobbyists, if their hobby isn't too costly, tend to continue spending. The "lipstick effect" basically says people will continue to treat themselves, but with less expensive items.
I mention this because if you read the news, as usual, it's doom and gloom with more problems on the way. Meanwhile, those positioned properly are doing fine, or have seen jumps in sales. Aeropostale, a seller of cool but inexpensive teen clothes saw their sales climb 12%, while their higher priced competitors did poorly. Hot Topic, the ultimate "lipstick effect" store saw a 4% jump. GameStop had a 10% jump in sales, citing the high entertainment value of video games and predicting revenue increases of 15-20% for the next three years. Hobby game stores in the Bay Area talk of record sales days in December as well. Since we sell hobby stuff that you play at home with your kids, I think we're positioned just fine for the coming year.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

My Gaming

Now that the holidays are officially over, it's time to divert myself once again. My D&D game starts up again on Sunday. We usually take about six weeks off for the holidays, and like an idiot, I started the Thunderspire Labyrinth campaign the week before we stopped.

I love urban campaigns. There's just so much to do and anything can happen at any time. The "send in the ninjas" tactic to get the action going actually makes sense in a town or city. The options, plot points and intrigues are endless. Thunderspire is like this. There is a linear adventure, in case the party is especially on task or simply lacks imagination, and there are a variety of side adventures. The web support for this product is unparalleled too, covering several important locations that the authors tell you, in the main text, are your responsibility.

The problem I have with this adventure is the problem I have with 4E, the mechanics for quests; they always seem so video gamish. I need to figure out how to role-play these better. "You just talked to the orc merchant about his missing sandwich. He offers you a gold piece for it's return and an extra silver if you happen to find mustard in the ancient crypts of the sandwich gods below the city." Do this four times in the first hour of exploration and it becomes silly. I'll work it out.

I've got painting fatigue and have no interest in painting my last five imperial guardsmen for a game format I'm not likely to play anytime soon. Instead, the Aurlok Nation calls to me from Alkemy. I like the Alkemy miniatures and the skirmish level game play intriques me. My favorite GW game is Mordheim, although I think the rules are pretty broken. ACD Distribution, my primary distributor, just picked up Alkemy, and at a standard discount. As a store owner, it's counter productive to try to push a game that has a low margin and is difficult to stock. This move by ACD solves those problems, which means my professional psychological impediment to getting into this game was just removed. I'll likely paint up my box next week.

Every once in a while, as a store owner I'll buy something for the store with the intention of buying one myself if nobody else does. Sundered Skies is a campaign setting for Savage Worlds. I over-ordered and six months later, sure enough, one went home with me. The premise is that the world has been destroyed, literally blown up into a million pieces. There are island outposts of civilization and a powerful trade organization that rules the skies. Pirates ply the trade routes and low level wars and intrigues continue in the shadows. The players are thrust into this setting as explorers or traders. I've only read the first couple of chapters, but it feels like fantasy Traveller. It reminds me a lot of Firefly.

I especially like the idea of this setting because I ran a eight year D&D campaign on the astral plane. The astral plane is a place of thought: timeless, ageless, and entirely impossible to play long term without coming up with some good explanations. Can you have children? Can you brew beer? What about the yeast????!!! Sundered Skies does a fine job of tying up the loose ends of how you live in a place that essentially can't support life. They cover food production, why the Reaver-type folks on the edge go nuts, and various mechanics that show this setting was fully play tested. I will likely never play in this setting, but I'm enjoying the read. There's one copy left in the store on-sale and there are a ton of PDF products for it, many for free.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Digital Dilemma

We've decided to do an online store, for fun and profit. Here's the debate, which has been going on since April. Do we brand an online store with our Black Diamond Games identity or do we use a separate identity? Sounds simple, right?

The problem with having an online store is that people expect discounts on products. We had a branded online store for the first two years of our brick and mortar store, at full price, and it resulted in almost no sales. The catalog of available products was from a distributor, so it actually had far more selection than our brick and mortar store. It didn't matter. So great, create an online store with a discount. It's thought an online store can discount as much as 20% and still be in good shape. Fixed costs are low. This ignores the fact that online discounters are crushing brick and mortar, but for the first time it acknowledges the full reality of retail sales. Also, let me be perfectly clear that a brick and mortar store, especially in California, cannot survive on anything less than full retail pricing.

The argument against a branded store with a discount is that it will erode brand identity. It will be offering one deal in one location and another deal in another. People will ask for the online discount. The solution, so far, is to offer something middle of the road. For example, if you have an online store that offers a 15% discount and requires you pay shipping, so you can't pick it up in the store, there is less incentive to divert your dollars from the brick and mortar store. Then you focus on things you can't get elsewhere, like a well cataloged used section or liquidation merchandise.

This whole stealing your customer argument has problems, I think. It assumes that a) customers are buying from you out of loyalty, since they can clearly buy things online cheaper elsewhere, kind of counter-intuitive. and b) that there are strict lines in the sand of where people buy things, and that nobody who ever shops brick and mortar buys online too. In other words, couldn't you recover some of your lost sales that go online from existing customers?

The best argument about a branded store is probably the notion of retail purity. Many, many brick and mortar stores have an online store, usually not branded with their identity. It's secret as it erodes their ability to argue about brick & mortar. By not having an online store, you can wave the flag of the old school FLGS, tout the value of community, whether believed or supported, and generally put yourself on the left side of the tally sheet marked "solution", rather than problem. The genie is usually mentioned at this point, and that it's been out of the bottle for some time.

So why do a branded store at all? We have a brand identity and spend thousands of dollars a year on marketing. A stupid amount of my energy goes to that brand, including this blog. Starting over with a separate identity is monumentally hard, and ironically, would hurt the brick and mortar store as I divert energies towards marketing this new project. That's the biggest risk. Of course, if we decide against a branded store, it means you'll never hear about it from me. The big fear is erosion of brick and mortar sales.

You may now throw rotted vegetables in my direction.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

No Costs Are Fixed

My first year in business was bewildering. The various services necessary to run a business took some effort to figure out and pull off at the right time. Insurance, credit card processors, telephone and Internet, payroll and accounting, and even the almighty lease all had to be properly budgeted and planned. The following year, when I went to a seminar at the GAMA Trade Show given by Dave Wallace, I learned that these expenses should be reviewed annually and carefully scrutinized. I had a sinking feeling that maybe running a store wasn't right for me, or maybe this guy was insane. He had all these crazy numbers he kept throwing at us, as if he had the magic formula for running a game store. In fact, he kinda did.

He was not insane, it turns out, and my vision of what it meant to run a business back then was still in fairy tale land. There's really only two things you need to do: sell more stuff, and spend less money. Everything else flows from those two things. In the beginning of a business, with double digit sales increases, the first part seems like a no brainer. The second part, saving money, seems irrelevant when the cash is pouring in. In fact, I realize now that it took me about two years to come to the important realization that the money I was spending on all these various expenses, was mine.

As an IT employee, especially one running a "cost center" like an IT department, money was this dirty stuff that the finance guys handled. A smart company has IT report to finance because techies are like kids in a candy store. It didn't help that I did IT during the dot-com days, when we would be judged on our burn rate, our level of spending regardless of results. The finance guys would make us do a budget every year, but then they would ignore it. They wouldn't require budget discipline on my part, and there was never an upside to creating a budget, such as a surplus that I could use to buy some fancy router.

Money was always abstracted. If they had no money, they would just deny a purchase order, like momma saying no to a candy bar, without much explanation. It took me two years running my own business to unlearn this bad behavior, and then, suddenly, overnight, saving money became fun. This was my money, money that I used to feed my child and fill my car with gas. Everyone suddenly had their hand in my pocket and I didn't like it. I nearly became a Republican on the spot! Really what happened is it became a big game. THE game.

So now I kind of enjoy the annual task of going over expenses and seeing what I can squeeze, just a little more. Last year I cut payroll expenses in half and stopped buying custom printed bags. The year before I met a customer in the store who became my insurance agent, saving me a bundle on insurace and thousands of dollars a week later when the store was broken into (the agency still wonders if I did it). Today I cut my phone bill in half by dropping voice mail, a phone line that wasn't getting used, and changing my DSL service. AT&T even gave me the equivalent of three months worth of free service, since I showed I wasn't fully using my plan. That's the equivalent of five days net profit from store sales. It pretty much takes ten dollars in sales to cover one dollar in expenses, so any savings you can make are enormous!

I'm not entirely ruthless. I will often try to give business to customers or people I know. I'm switching credit card processors to a friend from high school. My aunt does my personal insurance, while a friend from the store does the business insurance. My accountant is a networking associate of one of my business partners. The guy who represented me to the landlord plays Magic with his son. I even bought janitorial supplies from a guy who frequented the shop, even though it took two years to go through the minimum order of hand soap. It's not just a tit for tat trading of services. When you have a relationship with people, they usually provide you better service.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Cash or Credit

People are starting to pay closer attention to their credit card bills, especially now that banks are tightening up their standards and closing or modifying accounts. Most have no inkling about what merchants pay for processing these credit cards. Unless they read the business section closely, they also don't hear the merchants of America pushing Congress to limit the banks ability to pressure them into higher rates and fees. Timing is perfect for such a revolt, with hate for the banks and consumer friendly Democrats about to take over. It's being lead by the biggest retailers, so something may happen.

American businesses pay some of the highest merchant processing fees in the world, and there's really no reason for it. Merchant processing is mostly automated, meaning they do virtually nothing for a business. They feel otherwise. Visa and MasterCard will actually tell us they're raising our fees as a value add. Look, they'll say, we've just added special consumer incentives to use their cards more, therefore your fees will be higher. In other words, we're passing our marketing budget onto you, so you should be pleased. It's a perverse logic, but it's not like any merchant, no matter the size, can call them on it. Who would be willing to drop Visa or MasterCard? About 75% of our transactions are on credit cards, and as a merchant, we want to make it easy for customers to buy things, not harder. Therefore, we take every credit card. I just wish customers knew what that was costing us, and how it will effect our business and how it will come back to them.

For a $100 transaction, seeing cash is a lovely thing. Hand me a Visa card and I'll be paying a percentage of that $100 in fees, about $2 (2%), plus a transaction charge of around 30 cents. So when I see cash on that $100 purchase, it's like you've just handed me a free cup of coffee. If that Visa is a business card or a miles card, the fees are higher, probably in Latte territory. Hand me a Discover or Amex card and the fees are just about doubled; coffee begins to approach lunch.

Yes, you say, but you're a piddly small business, what about the big guys? I've got a friend who does processing that I'm about to switch to who deals with the big guys. The big retailers pay less, for sure, but not a lot less. That $2.30 cup of coffee is only $1.85; a regular cup of Joe instead of something slightly fancier. Doing some bistro math, the average game store does around $250,000 in sales each year, 75% of purchases with credit cards, so pays about $4,875 in credit card processing fees. That's a huge hit.

So what do I do when I buy things? As much as possible I reach for my Amex card, because of the cash back. Second choice is a miles reward card. On vacation this month I'll be staying for free at the Disneyland Hotel. My room at the GAMA Trade Show and Conquest Sac are paid for with miles. I'm not reluctant to use those cards, so I understand that my customers probably aren't either. However, I also understand that this hurts businesses.

My distributors are starting to cut back on this. One stopped accepting cards last year and I don't do business with them much anymore due to the terms. The biggest gives a smaller product discount if you use a card. My primary distributor started adding a surcharge. All of these practices, along with having a minimum charge, like we have, are against the cardholder agreement, but what choice do we have? All businesses are forced to find a way to cope with the costs and pass on these fees, which are always on the rise. Raising prices is not much of an option, but the money has to come from someplace, perhaps reduced labor expenses (fewer employees or employee hours) or fewer phone lines for customer service. The end result is that the business will find a way for the customer to pay more.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


We spend most of today re-arranging the store. Yesterday we focused on opening up the layout of the board game area. There are times when you want a grotto, a closed off area that designates it as special and focuses foot traffic (hopefully not a ghetto). The down side to the grotto is it can be a literal dead-end. Customers won't walk down a dead end passage, even if there's something interesting down there. It's a psychological block. So it was either open up the dead ends or relegate dead product to that space, which seems kinda dumb. It's a balance between limiting access and theft or opening up traffic and increasing sales. Traffic wins eventually.

Today we took on the big issues. The toy department is shrinking, while the miniatures department continues to expand. We expanded the miniatures by moving the Schleich toys over to the "Mom's Lounge" area, replacing comics in that location. With the comics next to it, my mom's lounge had become a slacker, pilfer, loser lounge. It was a magnet for trouble. We've already moved the "muggle" games to the toy department, and I believe it hit a psychological tipping point. It's no longer a solid toy section, it just seems toyish.

Expanding the minis department let us put all the paint in the same place and opened up more wall space for racks. 40K blisters got expansion space as did Flames of War boxes. It also feels more open.

The mom's lounge, now with friendly animals rather than challenging comics. I also noticed the chairs are grubby. Gotta fix that.

So with the minis section expanded into the toy department, and the comics moved out of the mom's lounge into the role-playing area, we then tackled the most hated of store fixtures, the D&D racks.

I've had a love-hate relationship with the metal D&D racks, now in a dumpster. They were ideal for our crowded little store and I acquired them from other local game stores that had outgrown them. However, they became increasingly fiddly and annoying in our larger space. Now they're replaced by this single, three-tiered magazine rack, with everything faced and visible. To the right of this is the board game clearance section and to the right of that are the used RPG shelves. The area feels more cohesive now.

So in case you were keeping score:
  • Toy section reduced further
  • Miniatures section expanded
  • Mom's lounge returned to mom
  • Comics moved to RPG's (until they're gone)
  • Used games put in one place

Monday, January 5, 2009

Social Networking

I had an unusual four days off last weekend, something that normally only happens during a planned vacation. Staying at home with the family was at the top of my priority list, but I also started messing around with social networking tools, such as Twitter, along with seeing what was possible with Facebook.

Twitter. You can follow me on Twitter. For the most part, I have few friends on Twitter, compared to the critical mass I see on Facebook. One cool feature I do like and will continue using is the Twitterific software, which allows me to post my updates along with my location via my iPhone. It's just as easy as Facebook mobile and I've set Twitter to automatically update Facebook, so - bonus. Twitter originally struck me as a rather pointless technology, which is how all social networking tech works until your peeps are using it.

Facebook. There seems to be a critical mass among people I know regarding Facebook. Over the last couple of months, a large number of friends have found Facebook and now login regularly. Even those who prefer Twitter have their account set to update Facebook.

Although I'm not keen on adding a bunch of people on Facebook, I do suggest you add yourself to the Black Diamond Games group. I'm finding it very useful for planning events and giving out information. This usually means I'm duplicating information available on the open Internet, however the Facebook group does seem to have the most dedicated store community folks.

Introductory Document. Finally, I've created a document that I have been threatening to make for a while now. It's a four page introduction to the store and the services we provide. It's what I wish all our customers knew and it includes answers to a lot of questions I fielded from new people over the holidays. Please take a look, you'll probably learn something new.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

How We Sell Board Games

I posted this to the game industry forum and figured it would make a good blog post.

Our board game sales doubled in December, partly because of an article listing us in the SF Chronicle and partly because our local competitor that "owned" the board game market closed after 20 years. Another big part of board game sales is we promote them as strongly as any other game. This comes from spending 3 years without game space; everything had to pull its weight or we were sunk. Board games couldn't afford to just sit on the shelf. We had and still have weekly board game nights, and keep up on new releases as they come out. We have about 600 different board games.

I stock them very carefully. Most board games on release will appeal to at most one or two of my customers. Identifying those games early and not re-ordering is key. It's the board game "periodical model" unfortunately, but the market is just too full of them. The periodical model is buying up copies of a product for a short period and letting it go once the initial demand has warn off. It was standard for third party role-playing supplements and it's a bit alarming when applied to board games.

A small percentage of our board games are "iconic" game store games. These icons, kind of like slow selling D&D products, identify us as a source for these types of games, even if they sell below my preferred turn rate. These are games like Sequence and basic Scrabble and we try to keep them in stock. They are sacred cows for us, and like in India consumption of them isn't expected. There might be 50 of these and life is just easier if we have them the one or two times a year they're asked for.

Beyond that, I'm pretty aggressive with turn rate analysis. A year ago, with our competitor still in business and a month or two at the new store, we had a dismal turn rate of 2 on board games. This means, on average, every board game sold two times in one year. Four is excellent, two is under-performing. As of last week, board game turns shot up to 3.5, about where I want them. Part of following turns is actively dumping games and recovering your cost. I'm very aggressive on dumping non performers and I'll do it at any time of year. We have a discontinued bargain shelf and I have several customers who only shop that shelf, similar to our clearance and used role-playing shelf.

Another key is we don't just have board games for sale, the staff knows how to actively sell board games. We sell them year round, but in December we add an additional staff person to just sell board games (sometimes that's me). If we've played a game, it helps tremendously in sales, although it's certainly not necessary. I usually give a free pass to a game I've played and I like, but I've recently retired a few that just couldn't be hand sold any longer. There are some great exceptions. I played Wasabi! and disliked it, as did the SF Chronicle article, but it's so simple to play and so easy to describe, and so popular with our board game night crowd, that we sold 35 copies in December, our second best selling board game. I'm thinking I must have been mistaken and can't wait to try it again.

600 board games? Who has time to play all those? Being able to describe a game just by looking at the back of the box can be very helpful. When I first started, I would make a spreadsheet of every board game that included a one line summary of it's key concept. The spreadsheet was never printed out, but making that one line summary was like studying for a test. It doesn't need to be complete, and it doesn't need to be 100% right. It just needs to sell the sizzle of that board game, the experience that the customer will get from it. Now I mentally try to sum up that game in my head when it comes in for sale, but a lot of times I just read the back of the box when the customer expresses interest.

Our top sellers from December:

  1. Dominion *
  2. Wasabi * ** (reviewed poorly in SF Chronicle article)
  3. Settlers of Catan **
  4. Qwirkle *
  5. Ticket to Ride Europe **
  6. Ticket to Ride
  7. Agricola *
  8. Witch's Brew *
  9. Wits & Wagers **
  10. Battlestar Galactica **

* Listed in the SF Chronicle article
** Games we actively push

Friday, January 2, 2009

Customers First (it turns out)

I was talking with one of my business partners last night over coffee about store inventory management. Other stores have what I think is a strange way of managing inventory in which they pay all of their bills, and whatever money is left over they use to purchase inventory. I gave a seminar that included open-to-buy spreadsheets for inventory management, and when I asked around, this was how most store owners did it. This topic was of interest to me because cash flow is always a problem with a store like ours. There isn't a lot of cash to start with, and there are few "standard" months in which we can predict our sales. This means it's not unusual to be short cash, requiring some short term borrowing, usually from owners. In the past, the cost of money was cheap, but now, short term borrowing is very expensive.

I use a spreadsheet for purchasing that shows my available inventory budget. This sheet is a closed system, independent of any of the other store finances, with the theory that the inventory budget may go up and down, but shouldn't be dependent on store finances, only sales. Sometimes this gets me into a small amount of financial trouble. My business partner pointed out an upside to my problem. By using my strict method of inventory management, I may be shorting the operations budget, but the shelves are always full. New releases are never missed, inventory isn't reduced for the purpose of paying operational expenses, and customers are generally very happy with the outcome. Inventory management is always a balance between pleasing the customers and working within your budget. Putting inventory first, therefore, is a method of putting customers first. There you have it: a quirk of how I manage the story has a positive twist for the customer.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Esoteric Gaming (way off the reservation)

Many people will look at how I'm surrounded by games all day and think I have the most wonderful job in the world. Resumes flow in regularly for a chance at the golden ring. Never mind that the job is mostly about security, cleaning and sales, people want to be in an environment with their hobby. Some insightful people will ask if making my hobby into my business has ruined gaming for me. It must get old after a while, right? Right? I think they're truly curious and want to know. How do you unwind if your work is your hobby? The truth of how it all fits together is a little complicated.

Unlike a lot of people who go into the game trade, I was not a well rounded gamer. My gaming experience was pretty much Magic and D&D, along with your typical Hasborg style board games as a kid. This is a typical range of experience with my customer base, but fairly atypical for a store owner, who tends to be a broad, alpha gamer first. Granted, when I got into Magic or D&D, I got way into it. As I kid I always wished I could have the cool miniatures or books that my friends had, so as an adult, there was no limit to my budget for gaming. I would have been happier with an old-time fantasy store of the 80's. It was only after starting the store that I expanded my gaming interests. Now I enjoy miniature gaming, a variety of role-playing games, board and card games. Because these sub-genres were not on my radar before, they are new and interesting to me. But what about my love for previous games?

When D&D went to 4th Edition, I admit it caused some personal angst. As a store owner, I'm caught between the love for my discontinued game and the desire to move forward towards something new. Remember, I have to sell this stuff, but my motivation for doing so involves my love of it. Is the new D&D 4 better than 3? What will I play? How will that effect my love for the game and my sales in the store? As much as I hate to admit it, there's a personal interest in these games that drives me forward. It's not true, as my business partner once said, that I would be just as happy selling shoes. It's not all process, it's also interest and love for the product. What if a new edition dampens my love for the game? Will it dampen my enthusiasm for running the store? I used to worry about this all the time. I think the solution, like everything in life, is how you approach it.

Gaming is not a religion, it's an industry. This means that no matter how good a game is, even if it's the best game ever, it has a product life cycle. Eventually you'll saturate your market with everyone who wants your game and the company needs something new to generate revenue. Unlike religion, which spreads itself to new people, the game industry needs those same people to buy more, and it's new versions that bring that in, not another supplement. Sticking to the same old game seems somewhat dogmatic. They want you to love their game, but not be so attached to it that you'll never consider a better one.

We certainly have our share of dogmatic customers, those who bought all their 40K models a decade ago and called their collection complete, or those who hunt the used shelves for 80's era AD&D supplements. I roll my eyes as they don't fit my business model or my gaming experience, but sometimes I secretly wonder if they're happier than the rest of us. They seem to seek out gaming enjoyment as much as everyone else, only in a much narrower spectrum. However, I'm finding the key to game enjoyment, and thus job satisfaction, is a more esoteric approach to gaming. This approach seems to be the norm in the game industry. Yes, we're all wistful about games of the past, but for the most part, we're looking for a kernel of truth, of gaming enjoyment, right now, wherever we might find it. We lose attachment to games of the past, while enjoying new ones without forming strong attachments. Many play computer games as well, because being on the esoteric path means you'll find truth across the spectrum of experience. Nothing is forbidden.

There is another group of gamers that I once found equally perplexing, the cross genre gamers that tended to evaluate all new games for their experience value. These are the esoteric gamers, the mythic alpha gamers that are not deterred by things like genre, style, or even production value, provided a game looks like it offers the experience they're after for a good value. They're like wine drinkers, who can find something interesting in every bottle, perhaps a unique taste or a smell.

The esoteric approach breaks down personal attachment to dogma. Yes, the previous edition was great and fantastic, but now we have the new edition, and it has something to add too. They don't necessarily buy everything that comes along, but they carefully sample and go deeper into what brings satisfaction. Am I becoming an esoteric "alpha"gamer? Or maybe like in esoteric traditions, we're already alpha gamers with layers of troublesome dogma that need removing.