Saturday, August 25, 2012

Q&A: Games We Wish Had Done Better

Nick Lucas asks:
Are there some games that you, or the staff, wished had taken off better? I mean, you want all your sections to do well, but has there ever been a certain line that you hoped for more than others? And did you find yourself going out on a limb to try and help it succeed?
Yes, there are games and categories of games that we wanted to succeed but they failed. What a lot of game publishers don't realize is the store owner has a limited amount of sway in what their customers buy. There's this pre-Internet notion of "taste makers," that we decide what customers will purchase through our stock selection and how we push products. That couldn't be further from the truth.

Our job is to understand our demographic, our customer base, down to the individual. We then stock our stores based on those needs. Sometimes we bring in one product we have in mind for one individual. When we're successful, we sell stuff. When we fail, we are punished severely with dead inventory. The better we are at at predicting demand, the more efficient we become, the more money we make.

I had this conversation recently about why another local store was so successful with one product category that we could barely nudge. What was it they were doing so well that we couldn't?  How come with money, knowledge, passion and influence we couldn't achieve similar results? It came down to pure demographics. Some stores will do very well in some game categories and others will do poorly based on their communities.

If a store is doing very well, it's much like what happens with a successful individual. You have some natural gifts (your demographics), but you also put in a lot of intelligent decision making and hard work over time. Not everyone has the natural ability to be an Olympic athlete, but all Olympic athletes had unique opportunities, expert coaching and put in a ridiculous number of hours of training. It's like that for a successful game store.

My realization was that a perfect game store was a perfect representation of their community. What they sold was precisely what their customers bought. A perfect game store would let go of what people should be buying, what the owner thinks a game store should stock, lets go of games they personally like but can't sell and legacy categories from dwindling demographics.A perfect game store also uses numbers and metrics but isn't a slave to them.

In the case of our store, we have a young population base with a very broad swath of gaming interests but without much depth. We lack strong local game clubs, a war game community, or much interest in small press role-playing. However, we cannot be matched in the intensity and interest of our collectible card game crowd who play and support four different CCGs at the moment. Our interest in conventional role playing games like Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder is the strongest in the Bay Area, period. We can barely satisfy our highly knowledgeable board game crowd, some of whom go to the Essen show in Germany annually to see what's new. So although I often have demographic envy, our community has their own strengths that aren't reflected in other local stores.

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