Thursday, September 27, 2012

My Gaming: Sandbox Update

Warning: My players should skip this post.

I'm no game designer, but I've felt like one lately as I try to wrap my head around the dynamics of my sandbox Pathfinder game. I wrote about it in March and we've been playing over six months. Here's an update on how some of the sandbox game conceits have been working.

Preparation. I put in three months of design time into my world, including writing over 500 pages of setting material and mini adventures. So of course, I'm fully prepared and don't need to write anything else, correct? It's true I wouldn't have needed to do that, but I've found myself adding even more detail, more side quests, more adventures as the party progresses. Their wonder in exploring my world entices me to add more wonder.

The adding wonder as you move forward is how it's supposed to work; the heavy prep is what most sandbox designers discourage. This week I compiled my fourth book, mostly of adventures in a region the size of my palm on a map that takes up my dining room table. I did this mostly because I got tired of the various manila folders of material floating around the house. So my best answer is: If you're disciplined, don't over prepare. If you gain enjoyment from the process of creating new content, you are in for a treat.

Character Levels. I'm playing with an old school rule that nothing is free, especially levels and travel. When they travel, there are always the possibilities for random encounters unless they've thoroughly explored and cleared a region. As for levels, everyone starts at first. This worked well initially, until the spread got too large. In that case, I ran a couple side sessions to raise up the newbs. After that, it was possible to have game between a party of disparate levels.

That said, the play style is different, as in the low level guys occasionally hide behind the skirts of the more powerful characters as they progress (faster) to the higher levels. If as a player, you're not on board with this conceit, possibly being younger and having never played in that old-school style, or you're a power gamer, you might describe this as "not fun." I can report to you that it's possible, but the "not fun" element had me give in on this issue recently and accelerate the new player experience progression. "Not fun" is not an acceptable state for a game.

 Area explored after six months, 8 hours/month (not pretty, but effective)

No Encounter Levels. This has not proven to be a problem, as the group regularly discusses whether a threat is within their ability to defeat or not. There are several places they've avoided going because they don't feel capable yet, including the sea. They acquired a ship on their first day out, something I wasn't expecting, and quickly learned if they had a capable crew, that crew would be just as capable of taking the ship from them and tossing them over the side.

Also, random encounters and other encounters not of their choosing feel much deadlier. There are often cries of "we're not worthy" when they're getting pummeled by a powerful monster they've accidentally come across. So far, no casualties. Another conceit is I roll all dice in front of them, so give them the credit for that.

Finally, they've been able to over prepare for bigger threats. They acquired that previously mentioned ship by convincing the town guard that a few men would go a long way to taking out the smugglers plaguing the town. They took out a tribe of satyrs with the help of a squad of elven archers, acquired by convincing the elf king of their shared enemy. They also brought along a clockwork golem they liberated from a shipwreck. There are ways to bring it to the bad guys beyond the typical 4-5 character party of identical level. In some ways, if they know in advance, the party is determining the threat level (but this is rare).

Encounter Structure. Regardless of the power level, one thing I learned is encounters need to have a traditional structure. There needs to be leaders, spell casters, some mid-level mooks, and then the low level fodder. Otherwise, the encounter epically sucks. Every encounter should be broken out like this. We did a satyr encounter where their spellcaster leader was away on business with the big bad guy, a fine plot point, but a couple dozen mid-level mooks, that all do the same thing, didn't stand a chance once the encounter was dialed in by the party. Without support from a leader, they could run or die, but being Pathfinder, this happened in slow motion over a couple hours. This was a really boring encounter derived from weeks of build up. Don't do that.

Regional Power. One thing that has worked well, something I'm told that's used in video game design, is the conceit that the more powerful stuff is farther away. There's a rational reason for this. Civilization wouldn't have survived or tolerated nasty monsters close by. That said, as the party gains levels, there are other lower level regions they've skipped that will need to be buffed to make them interesting (breaking my design rules), left alone to make it a cake walk (boring), or saved for later with another party. In other words, because I over-prepared, I have too much content. There is plenty of higher powered stuff for them to do, but not being a campaign, there is far more low to mid level stuff waiting out there. There may be entire regions they just "acquire" without a fight, if they eventually take the place over. That's not a bad story element, but it sucks if you spent weeks designing that acquired space. As other sandbox GMs have suggested, feel free to recycle.

Overarching Story: Rather than a completely traditional sandbox, I have a slow moving plot and a narrative for the good guys that's happening in the background. There are half a dozen NPC groups in play, including the town the PCs live in, a kind of NPC patron they're trying to improve and develop. This tends to give them a larger motivation to uncover what's happening, but being a sandbox, the players have their own motivations.

One is trying to build an extra-dimensional, plane traveling pyramid while another has a griffon he wants to train. These various back stories never see the light of day in traditional campaigns, but being a sandbox, this is encouraged. The key for me is to work lightly with my overarching stories so they don't impede these character indulgences.  I've got a "consider yes" philosophy on  character story elements, provided they don't greatly effect in-play activity. Want to create a Tardis like time-travel machine? Why not, as long as the Tardis is an NPC that's taking you to new adventures and and not a weapon to fight monsters.

Gear and Wealth: With no encounter levels, I've been able to ignore a lot of the rules on wealth. After a quick character audit, I found some of the characters had as much as four times the wealth in magic items than what they should have had at their level. I've been able to introduce artifacts, albeit ones that don't help in combat, and I've been able to allow them to quest for powerful items that wouldn't normally be available to them. They've also taken on and beaten some very powerful NPCs, in near suicide fashion. That tends to bump their wealth as well. Again, because there is no power level, this should be fine.

Finally. We're having a great time. I'm especially enjoying myself as ideas flow readily in a world I created, with interconnections firmly established. I am writing traditional, quicky adventures for them, my goal being things they can accomplish in 1-2 sessions. In power, they seem to be a level or so higher than normal, although some players are a couple levels lower, which skews things a bit.

The giant satyr battle

Liberating and restoring light houses for a brighter tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Our Many Devices

A new addition to the store this week is a second iPad kiosk, this one playing Tabletop videos with Wil Wheaton. It promotes some of the best that hobby board games have to offer. This is not our first device, that being the Fantasy Flight Media Center, which does a great job of promoting their games on the other side of the store. The FFG Media Center was criticized by many retailers who didn't believe it would increase their sales. That might have been true for them, but the Media Center works wonders for us.

Fantasy Flight does "American Style" games, meaning rather complicated and long, which in my mind is not an easy sell if I haven't played them.Their Media Center does part of the sales job for me. Likewise, Tabletop has been shown to drive customers, non-gamers mind you, to the store, at least when Target isn't carrying a game.

The recipe for our Tabletop iPad kiosk was simple by the way: Buy an iPad, a compatible iPad enclosure of whatever flavor suits you (check Ebay), and an inexpensive app. We used Video Loop for $2.99. The videos are downloaded from YouTube and imported into iTunes and we're mostly done.

In addition to these devices, we also have two Yugioh Duel Terminals. These are quiet during the day, but can get a little noisy on the weekends. Again, these devices were criticized as a questionable return-on-investment by many retailers, It was thought to be far too risky. For the most part, they've worked wonders for us. They've made back their initial investment and have been making us reliable profits for most of 2012. Duel Terminal 7A with software and new cards releases Friday. Rather than show you a photo of the Duel Terminals, I'm posting a picture of the car I bought last Summer, as I justified the car payment with the new Duel Terminal revenue. It was a good decision (I'm looking at you cranky retailers, remove stick from mud, get new car).

Finally, our newest addition, arriving this week, is a bit more quirky. As a kid, video games and arcades were a big part of my life and my father is a big pinball machine fan. We had two commercial pinball machines in the house growing up. However, the pinball machine that had the biggest effect on me was Black Knight, one of the first digital models. It would taunt you as you played, or even walked past. Black Knight also had a fantasy theme, where most pinball machines had themes that didn't interest me. It wasn't surprising, since it came out in 1980, when fantasy gaming was taking off.

After watching an excellent pinball documentary, Special When Lit, I was inspired to hunt down that Black Knight. It seemed like the perfect themed addition to the store. Adding more atmosphere is always on my mind and I'm constantly looking for new ways to spruce up the store, like with our suit of armor. So without much work actually, I found a Black Knight available for purchase in California. This one is a Black Knight 2000, about 9 years newer than that original Black Knight, but complete with angel chorus and taunting knight.

I'll note that The City of Concord has laws about our various "arcade" devices and we're good as long as we post legal notice about using them during school hours and as long as we have four or fewer devices (otherwise, we're an arcade with special rules and restrictions). Most cities hate the idea of an arcade, especially in their downtown areas (we're just on the interior border). Darn kids with their skateboards and Rock 'N Roll.

Finally, the main concern: noise. One reason why people like our store is it's comfortable. I built it, spending a lot more money than usual, partially as a refuge for myself. The last thing I want is an inhospitable place to work. Noise is a big issue then, and noise experts can measure such things. It turns out a constant din above 60 decibels is bad for your health. It causes stress and stress will kill you in the long run. So 60db was my target. I came up with the idea of noise management over a cup of coffee at Starbucks (75db).

Armed with one of the many free decibel monitoring apps on iTunes, I set to work on the store. Our Tabletop iPad was clearly too loud, Wheaton was getting on my nerves more than usual, while our Duel Terminals were very quiet in demo mode. The pinball machine will likely need to be tweaked as well. Overall though, right now, with music in the background and talking from the iPad kiosks, we're hitting our 60db target. So there you have it, useful and interesting digital devices in our analog environment, hopefully tuned to maintain our positive atmosphere.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Battle of the UVPs

In my last post I talked about the difference between the more entrepreneurial, Unique Value Proposition and the more common, small business, Useful Value Proposition. In many respects, this is the tension within the game trade. The dreamers, those who strive for the unique, bumping heads with the conventional, those searching for marketable products that are useful.

It's not just the game trade, I once worked for a technology company that sunk itself because the CEO was an engineer, obsessed with what was possible, rather than what he could deliver to market. His cadre of scientists, guys with PhDs in glue, kept re-designing their product rather than bringing one of those designs to market. The "useful" guys, the guys with the millions of dollars who wanted a finished product, eventually tired of this. They sacked the CEO, tried to get the glue guys back on track, and eventually closed down the whole company when they couldn't deliver. Fists were waved at the usefuls, but what choice did they have?

So you can imagine in the game trade there is some tension between the creatives, the uniques, and the guys who have to eventually sell their product to consumers, the usefuls. In the game trade, the uniques blame the distribution system, a system that once catered readily to them, but have now found their markets shrunken, competition stiffened, and a subsequent strong desire to sell only useful stuff; Magic, D&D, Warhammer, etc. These useful products have ready markets, albeit markets perhaps a tenth the size they once possessed at their height.

The uniques, most with day jobs, untethered by the daily demands encountered by the usefuls, fume and re-route their products around distribution, going direct, selling PDFs or products even THEY know aren't profitable in print. More recently they've embraced Kickstarter, a seemingly magical realm connecting consumers who want unique product with the uniques themselves. How many of those uniques will fail to delivery because they lack the skills of the useful? Time will tell.

Retailers, meanwhile are stuck in the middle. They want some unique, but generally crave more useful product. It should be noted that retailers love the unqiues, and lament they can't serve them better. Retailers are so useful, they could easily do something else at probably double the pay. However, their love of the uniques, their love of the games these people create from nothing, drives them to sacrifice their time, their life energy, just to be near them, just for the opportunity talk about them every day. That kind of devotion would come with a huge reward if it were directed at technology or science, heck, even teaching.

Retailers do their best to represent their love of the uniques in their Useful Value Proposition. As I've mentioned before, 50% of what we sell is a single copy of a game. We are that focused on individual customers, that focused on single copies of specific games. That's pretty unique I think. However, even embracing this model is criticized by the uniques, as they feel this "periodical model," selling a product in the style of a magazine instead of a longer term, evergreen product, makes it impossible for them to sell in any depth in stores.

But what are retailers to do if they want to remain useful? Retailers respond that the stuff isn't useful enough, that there aren't enough warm bodies interested in a years supply of books on Kobolds or obscure board games imported from Slovakia. Retailers decry the lack of useful product in the pipeline, while the uniques, the designers, are now more focused on selling all those unique products to consumers directly. And even if the retailers, the usefuls, wanted to carry that obscure unique stuff in depth, the distributors, the gatekeepers of usefulness, put on the brakes.

So what's the solution? Well, thousands of years of commerce aren't going to be changed tomorrow over the likes of Kickstarter, a service comprising less than 5% of the known game trade. More than likely, Kickstarter is eating into former hunting grounds of the uniques, the PDF market, Indie Press Revolution, and the direct to consumer publisher websites. They've also grown the pie, I think, creating a bigger market, a win-win for everyone. It's only when a big company like Reaper or Steve Jackson games gets involved, that we have a canary in the coal mine effect.

Let me also state that the usefuls will always find a way. By nature, they are useful. Anyone can become one, unlike the uniques, which require a special creativity and talent that not everyone possesses. However, anyone can make a living being a useful, anyone can run a game store with a minimal amount of intelligence and cleverness. Game stores will live on Magic, tournaments, board games, coffee or as I once told my business partner, women's shoes, if we must. We will remain useful. It's nearly the whole of what we do. When the Venn diagram of the usefuls and the uniques intersect, then we can do business. There's really nothing that's going to change that, although a little more understanding of this would remove some of the acrimony and hostility.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Unique Value Proposition (UVP)

In a discussion about starting a game store in an online forum, someone brought up the UVP, the Unique Value Proposition. What do you have to offer that's unique to drive customers to your business? You want your store to be differentiated from competitors, to offer something special, be it product, service, or convenience. If you can't differentiate, you won't get noticed and nobody will shop with you.

I would argue that a UVP is vital in an online environment, where customers generally focus on price, an area that you have only a reasonable amount of flexibility in which to assist them. Most small business sellers in the game trade will tell you the magic number to stay in business online is no more than a 20% discount. So if everyone is giving a 20% discount online, you better have a finely honed UVP, be it unique product you somehow acquire (likely import), remainders, or helpful reviews or an online community to provide crowd sourced service. It's a wickedly complex proposition that most do poorly, scraping along the bottom with tiny monthly sales numbers.

A brick and mortar store still has to have a Unique Value Proposition, but not nearly as unique as the entire Internet. A better term for brick and mortar might be Useful Value Proposition. You can't discount and survive, so that leaves service, convenience and an area the Internet can't compete with, community. The Unique VP is vital if you want venture capital money, and desperately important for online sales, but plain old brick and mortar? A clean, well lit, community focused store that's well run, that slavishly brings in new releases and listens to its customers, is enough. It's certainly wickedly hard, but it's not especially unique; definitely Useful.

Friday, September 21, 2012


We're coming off our best sales quarter ever, so in the middle of the day, when it's slow, I return to my numbers and analysis. There are exciting projects in the works, but for now I go back to my nuts and bolts. With the Summer ending, It's like a big party is almost over and I'm looking around the room at the excesses that went with my attempt to entertain the crowd.

In the case of the store, we're in a buy-buy-buy mode with Summer new releases and high sales. With the focus on satisfying demand, metrics are put aside for a while. During that short respite before the holiday season, I can step back and see if all those game categories earned their privilege or if some are just bloated, the party goers having changed their tastes from beer to wine mid-stream.

I do this with turn rate analysis, which measures two things: sales and inventory value with a number in mind. Some turns are blindingly good and I just leave those alone. One brand of card sleeves has turns that approached 80. My eyes! That inventory on the wall sold 80 times in the last year. Moving on. Magic currently has more inventory value in pre-orders for the next set than inventory on the shelf.  Umm, maybe we'll do that one later, although it's such a moving target, it's almost not worth bothering. There's probably a week during the mid-point of a release where you might get usable numbers.

There are games where interest has dropped off, or that the interest was perceived (wrongly) as a green light to expand. We're looking at numbers in the 1-3 range, often the old regulars like classic games and jigsaw puzzles, but also high item count games like anything with miniatures. I also look at trends, such as Games Workshop moving away from strong retailer support to more of a focus on direct orders. No free passes for that. Then there are things that are just a matter of time. Nobody will buy a CCG on clearance; it's just a matter of time or else it's toast. Nobody will start a new role-playing game because of the price factor. I once saw shoppers at Target pick a board game based on their coupon values. That's the purest definition of a commodity product. Oh the humanity.

So the herd is culled, and because inventory is a zero sum game, that money can be used for other shiny new things, or if you already bought the new shiny, used to get that inventory budget back in line. We very rarely have sales to drive people to the store, as it's a bad habit, but culling inventory, the take it now and we'll never carry this again sale, is something we still do, with as much efficiently and speed as possible. I don't like to be reminded of my mistakes. Some stores make a point of never having this stuff in store, shifting it to another of their stores, selling it online, or bringing it out for special events. I admire that, but perhaps I'm just lazy.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Kickstarter Opportunity Costs

Kickstarter requires money up front so the publisher can go out and make the thing. That might not be a big deal to the average consumer, but from a business perspective, cash flow is opportunity, and a lack of that cash is a lost opportunity. This is not bistro math stuff where you figure you make $20 an hour so you should pay someone the $10 for the hour it takes to wash your car, this is real money, working day in and day out.

For example, I've spent a great deal of time working to improve my terms with my supplier. It allows me more time to pay the bills, which allows me to take bigger risks with their products. My 45 day terms with Games Workshop means I can now bring in a 45 day supply of their game, rather than the usual 30 days, or the 25-45 day random range of a credit card purchase. It gives me a competitive edge, allows me to plan for their "spikey" release strategy, in which products sell like mad in increasingly smaller amounts of time, and it also allows room to carry that debt so I can buy products from other companies.

In the Kickstarter scenario, I essentially have negative six month terms. I pay up front, then wait six months or more for the product to be produced, and then sell that product over the next 6-12 months due to the large quantities required to be purchased. With an average turn rate of 4, buying 4 copies of a game is a year supply unless it's really hot.

So let's look at a real example. Numenera is a far future RPG by Monte Cook. I'm a big Monte Cook fanboy, so I know for sure I'll be able to sell these, including one for myself. The base Numenera retail level is 3 copies for $125. Three is an acceptable number for retailers, so no problems there. The book has a planned release date of Summer 2013. Let's call that Gencon, AKA August 2013, roughly a year away.

I will most definitely sell those three Numenera copies, despite the fact that all the "alpha" gamers I know are supporting it. It's the highest funded RPG to date. However, that $125 is not working for me during that year while Numenera is being produced. So how much am I really paying for Numenera in opportunity costs, with my money tied up? It goes back to my average turn rate.

If I sell an average of 4 copies of an item a year, that $125 could have been working for me, turning over four times. I could have purchased $500 in product in that year with my Numenera money, creating roughly $1,000 in sales, with a roughly $500 "gross" profit. So that $125 purchase just cost me $500 and that's before I even have the product.

Once I get my three copies, on average it will take me 9 months to sell them using my 4 turns a year example. That's an additional opportunity cost as copies of the book sit on the shelf, not producing income. That third book cost $94 in lost opportunity, the second $62 and the first, assuming it took three months to sell, $31. So stocking up had an opportunity cost of around $187 on top of my $500. Remember, in the game trade, I can get away with ordering one copy at a time. However, there's also no returnability, like the book trade, meaning if I order those 3 copies and they don't sell, I'm out of luck. Most of my print RPG products via Kickstarter are in the "out of luck" category because of large quantities.

So a $687 opportunity cost when I order just three books a year in advance. Is it worth it? Is there a scenario where I could better use $687?  If I had waited for distribution to get the book, which could take as little as a few days after Kickstarter supporters, would I be better off? Of course. Is there any scenario where this would make sense for a retail store?

Friday, September 7, 2012

More Numbers

  • If the average game store does $300,000 a year in sales, that's $822 every day. We'll assume every day, although most are closed a handful of days. We're only closed Thanksgiving and Christmas. Think about the size of that daily sales number for a moment, as most people seem to greatly underestimate it, especially when we look at the average transaction number.
  • A mall store might do a significant amount of these sales in the fourth quarter. A destination store, like ours, sees about a 25%-50% jump during the holidays and maybe a 10%-25% jump during the Summer months when school is out (our Summer period is July-September). A college town store might see that trend completely reversed.
  • Of that $822 a day in gross sales, 5-8% is net profit, or $41-66/day, assuming there is any profit at all. 
  • Assuming the average sales, and a 55% cost of goods (including shrinkage, etc), and the three expense bucket approach, the average game store would pay $3,750 in rent each month. I want to say the average game store is 1,500 square feet, with some more speculation. This would mean they would be paying $2.50/square foot/month (how we calculate it on the West Coast), which is dead on in my neck of the woods.
  • If the average "ticket," also known as transaction is $25, a number that varies wildly but one I've seen and calculated for my own business at times, that works out to 33 customers every day.
  • How many customers does the average store have?  Based on the numbers, average sales and average transaction amount, I want to say around 1,000. Something to remember when you call on the phone and say, "Hey, it's me! We talked about the thing."
  • My highly diversified store has a baseline of around 15% sales per department (+/- 3-5% or so), so figure daily sales numbers of $123 in miniature sales, $123  in role playing sales, $123 in board game sales, another $123 in other CCG sales, probably $123 in dice and paint, $123 in puzzles and games, etc. This is really back of the napkin kind of stuff, but it shows both the enormity of the numbers and their insignificance at the same time.
  • Net profit from the average game store, using these numbers, is $15,000-$24,000/year. Most store owners, therefore, must work in their store (what a business broker would describe as a "buy a job"). One key to many successful game store owners is a WWGJ: Wife With A Good Job.
  • Game store salaries for full time managers are usually around $25,000-$35,000/year in addition to that profit. Some don't pay themselves at all besides their profit (I'm slightly overpaid, myself).  So you've got a guy making $25,000/year managing $25,000/month in income and expenses with a tiny, 5-8% margin of error. Madness, really.
  • If you managed a store in another business, the median US salary for such work would be $55,000/year, not including benefits (which few game stores can afford). You would think the skills would be naturally transferable. A game store owner, with so many other tasks on their plate, should be in high demand.  Hold on a moment, while I stop laughing. The game store owner salary maps pretty well to the assistant store manager instead.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Some Numbers

  • The game trade, by most accounts, does a bit less than a billion dollars in annual sales. 
  • $200,000,000 of that, 20% is Magic: The Gathering. [Edited: I originally stated $400 million]
  • Game stores, if we can agree on what that means for a moment, number between 1,500 and 2,500. 
  • Game store sales average around $300,000/year in sales.
  • Alpha game stores, around 10% of the stores out there, do far more than that, probably in the $750,000-1,500,000 range. The SF Bay Area probably has 4-5 of those. Most states have none.
  • In bistro math terms, around 60% of sales go through brick and mortar stores. Some of this, like RPGs might be far less, while other categories might be higher. We don't know. In some regions, the numbers might be much higher than others. We don't know.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Top Board and Card Games 2012

Here are our top board and card games for 2012. It's a list of top selling games, by dollar amount (not quantity) not including expansions (unless they can stand alone), over the last 12 months. The top selling game is Settlers of Catan, on the left, with the 51st top selling game being TI: Rex, on the right.

Board game sales during this period were flat compared to the year before, up about half a percent. Card games, however, were up 9%, with the continued interest in deck building games. This is while sales in the store, overall for that period, were up 20%. That's mostly about collectible card games.

The story last year was about consolidation, which was related to poor economic conditions and a "flight to quality." The story this year is about expansion, the effect of programs like Kickstarter to bring new products to market, and the mixed success of Tabletop to supercharge sales of particular games, usually ones not available at Target. The recent agreement between Tabletop and Target is likely to put a stop to our success with that program.

Mostly an issue on the back end for us, are exclusivity agreements on the distribution side. One of the countries largest distributors, Alliance, now has exclusives on a good number of the top sellers. Settlers of Catan, Risk Legacy, Ticket to Ride, Small World and Bang, five of the top six games, are only available through Alliance now. Others on the list, including everything Z-man is also an Alliance exclusive, including Carcassonne when it transitions over from Rio Grande.

Settlers of Catan  TI: Rex
Risk Legacy  Tsuro: The Game Of The Path 
Ticket to Ride Miskatonic School For Girls 
Small World  Forbidden Island
7 Wonders Carcassonne: 10 Year SE
Bang! The Bullet The Lord Of The Rings Lcg Core
Dominion Hey! That's My Fish!
The Resistance Flip Out
Munchkin Talisman
Arkham Horror Sentinels Of The Multiverse
Ticket to Ride Europe Munchkin Booty
Descent Journeys in the Dark 2 Pirate Fluxx
COC Elder Sign We Didn’t Playtest This +Chaos
Munchkin Deluxe Race for the Galaxy
Game Of Thrones: Board Game Star Fluxx 
Game of Thrones: Card Game Battlestar Galactica
Super Dungeon Explore Munchkin: Axe Cop
Eclipse: New Dawn Betrayal at House on the Hill
Pandemic Castle Ravenloft
The Walking Dead (CTZ) Chaos Space Marines
Quarriors! Cthulhu Gloom
A Few Acres Of Snow Automobile
Dominion: Intrigue Ascension
Gloom Axis & Allies Pacific 
Carcassonne Tanto Cuore: Expanding
Discworld: Ankh Morpork Resident Evil 
Munchkin Zombies Star Munchkin
Power Grid  Gears of War
Merchants and Marauders Harry Potter Hogwarts House 
Settlers of Catan: 15th Anniv Zombie Dice
LotR: War of the Ring 2E Puerto Rico
Legend of Drizzt Bananagrams
Haggis Flash Point: Fire Rescue
Zombies!!! 2nd Ed Munchkin Cthulhu
Last Night on Earth Bang
Wiz-War Panic Station
Agricola Carcassonne: Big Box 3
Tanto Cuore Formula D
D&D - Lords of Waterdeep Blokus Classic
Battleship Galaxies Summoner Wars
Castle Panic Fortress America
Dixit Star Trek Expeditions
Dungeon Petz Dungeon Command: Cormyr
Mage Knight Dungeon Command: Sting
Wits & Wagers Guards! Guards! Discworld
Puerto Rico Anniversary Ed Pantheon
Kingdom Builder Five Crowns
Memoir 44 Cargo Noir
Small World Underground  Angry Birds Knock on Wood
Mansions of Madness Star Trek Deck Building Game

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Q&A: Online Sales

Anonymous question:

From a business students view. How come you haven't started up your own online store to try and enhance your demographic? Is it worth it or is it too much of a hassle? I'm not quite sure what it takes to make up an online store and that's why I ask. 

We primarily don't have an online store because it's not necessary. There's this implication when talking with a lot of business oriented folks that brick and mortar is essentially not viable. I think this is because most business education intends to teach entrepreneurs and not small business owners.

There's nothing sexy, flashy or lucrative about small business. So when I talk with an MBA or a Silicon Valley entrepreneur (it happens, mostly earlier when I still had IT roots), discussion about the store eventually leads to some confusion about its non-extraordinary qualities and finally quiet acceptance of my Luddite madness. Nothing to see here; move along.

Online stores are certainly viable, but as a component of a brick and mortar store, it's precarious. I spoke with a store owner recently who got himself in a lot of trouble when his small online presence pressured him to put his entire store online, complete with online prices. That's the big problem. You can only sell online at a discount, and if you discount in-store you'll fail, and if you have two tiered pricing, your customers will abandon you because they feel ripped off.

So although it would seem a natural fit to offer your brick and mortar store offerings online, and there are fancy packages to sync the two, in reality it's far more difficult. At best, you have an online store with a completely different name and web presence, which essentially means you're starting a new business and can't leverage the marketing power of your existing business. Online sales are fierce and the market is not new, so most half hearted efforts get half hearted results.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Theater vs. Netflix (Kickstarter)

As we explore what Kickstarter means for brick and mortar game stores, various analogies come up. The one that stuck with me this week was new Kickstarter games compared to new movies. In this model, Kickstarter projects go out to the core audience willing to support it early, we figured roughly the sales we would see in the first 30 days of a release or around 20% (some products types are much higher, but we'll ignore those for now).

This would be akin to movie theaters getting the latest hit films. Part two would be the retail trade getting their copies, as in Netflix with their DVD/On Demand offerings. This second tier would account for the other 80%, the remainder of the products lifetime sales.

Again, this is a great deal if there's new blood, if the pie is growing. For example, I'm quite grateful for games like Flash Point: Fire Rescue and Miskatonic School for Girls that started as Kickstater projects. They might not have happened otherwise. However, for established publishers, the Netflix model would be devastating to brick and mortar stores, which is why the success of Reaper is a wake up call.

I don't think the increase in new blood is likely to offset losses from established publishers. If you took away opening day and the first month of sales from most movie theaters, you would be left with a much smaller subset of theaters that have this as their business model (by at least half in the movie theater trade).