Wednesday, December 15, 2010

5 Game Store Tech Trends for 2010

Looking back just one year, here are some tech trends (or maybe fads) we've seen greatly impact our business:

  • Duel Terminals. It may not be your thing, but our two Yu-Gi-Oh Duel Terminals provide a unique physical product (Duel Terminal cards) with a video game experience. The "return on investment" is not nearly as quick as Konami promised (no surprise there), but they've still managed to be a nice addition to the store and a new revenue stream. The crowds of kids, rampant shoplifting, broken machines and cannibalized sales have largely failed to materialize. I hope we see more electronic investments in the game trade, such as various implementations of the Microsoft Surface when the cost drops. This is an example of an investment that only relatively successful stores will be able to make.
  • Fantasy Flight Media Center. It's an iPad in a box streaming promotional videos about Fantasy Flight board and card games. We've had it for about a month and its best attribute is how it appropriately matches customer with game. Just as important as selling someone a game, the media center has dissuaded customers from buying the wrong game. That's really important, as it means it's providing valuable information and not just blindly selling with a lot of flash. It doesn't seem to attract people not interested in FFG games, but it's a valuable tool for those who are. It serves the existing base. Now, if the Euro game market in the US was more than a bunch of hollow shell companies, we might expect something similar. Maybe someone in Europe will take the lead. Hah!
  • Facebook. We've had our Facebook fan page for less than one year, yet it has revolutionized our marketing with over 1,300 fans. There are some clear lessons we've learned about it. Although all the money we spend on Facebook advertising is to attract new people, it fails to deliver bringing them to the store without far more effort (which we haven't figured out yet). However, as a way to instantly inform our base, it's unparalleled. The lesson: Don't put all your eggs in one basket and don't completely discount old media just yet.
  • Geo-Location Services. These have promise but have largely failed to deliver the goods this year. We give our Mayor on Foursquare a free drink when he visits (it bounces between a couple people) and Facebook Places still isn't ready for prime time. In fact, those who have merged their business Facebook place and page have found nothing but misery. Facebook will likely fix this in 2011 and make it useful. Their trend, it seems, is to ruin things before making them good. Facebook might also become an e-commerce portal for us in 2011, but it's another feature in its infancy (see our page to test it out). Smartphone sales, capable of using these geo-location services, are predicted to beat PC sales in 2011. Now it's up to the services to answer the big question: What's the point?
  • Role-Playing PDF Programs. These are still getting hashed out, but the smaller publishers have jumped on various methods for us to deliver PDF products to those who buy print books from the store. Bits and Mortar is the current incarnation. Brick and mortar stores hope to play some role in the move from print to digital, and although it feels like grasping at straws, we'll work with what we have. My preferred future? Imagine a machine that could print an RPG book right in the store while you wait. An affordable print-on-demand machine is some years away, but we would be in line for that. That may be like wishing for an automated horse shoe installer at the dawn of the automotive age, but I think print will be around for some time to come. Again, it will only be available to stores with resources on hand who could jump on such a device. It reinforces my feeling that big changes are afoot.

What else? Our main distributor finally got their online ordering system up and running. We can now check real-time (more or less) inventory in nearly a dozen warehouses nationwide using various online ordering systems from multiple suppliers. The question of whether something is available is no longer based on guesswork. The promise of electronic order submission is still in the works (it works for Diamond, the comics distributor).

iPads have taken over as the device of choice on the more affluent RPG game tables and iPad games based on popular hobby board games have been very successful in the market (do they drive sales back to the store? Sometimes). I personally use an iPhone app called PFR when playing Pathfinder, which is quicker to reference than the core rulebook (it's the iPad app of choice in my game group). As a DM, I still prefer books.

Let me know if there's a tech trend that you've taken advantage of this year.

 Yu-Gi-Oh Duel Terminal. It looks like a video game, but it's more. It dispenses a special Yu-Gi-Oh card capable of being scanned on the integrated flatbad scanner (and used in the tabletop game, if the card is in official circulation). After a card is scanned , it can be used in the electronic portion of the game. We've got two machines, networked for head-to-head play. New card releases have been put out quarterly, more or less. These are big in Japan (one of the few times that has worked out for us).

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