Sunday, March 24, 2013

What Lit the Match?

One of the questions I had going into this year's Gama Trade Show was: Why, exactly, have collectible card games been so successful of late? Answering this question is very important in understanding why our sales, along with the sales of many successful retailers, are currently up in the 20-30% range from previous years.

The answer allows us to plan for the future, including expensive capital projects, like new stores or our own expansion plans. We're in the middle of an expensive Magic singles project that has already cost us thousands of dollars. Knowing the answer allows us to avoid over-extending, since what goes up, generally comes back down. Knowing why it went up can help predict how it will deflate, and knowing that can allow us to have a controlled, graceful landing, rather than a crash. I've seen a CCG crash, and it's not pretty.

Wizards of the Coast claims their beautiful upward slope on their spreadsheets is due to organized play. That was the gospel they were spreading, and I heard it repeated by others. I don't buy that. Organized play has certainly helped it along, fanned the flames, but I don't believe it lit the match. Organized play is critical to what's happening now, but it's a bit like crediting the quality of your gasoline for the performance of your car. Organized play is very good marketing, it's not the product. It also doesn't explain why games like Pokemon, Yugioh and Cardfight Vanguard are doing so very well.

Another retailer I spoke with credited the decline of the MMO. Games like World of Warcraft are in decline. Before you discount such speculation, remember what happened on the upward ascent of MMO's, and how it decimated much of the RPG community. I recall when I first started in 2004 the lamentations of store owners whose customers suddenly abandoned them as they shunned their stores to play WOW at home. Several million people have abandoned WOW in the last couple of years, so it's plausible they're looking for some alternative entertainment. If so, why not return to RPGs rather than CCGs?

The economy is also a common answer, with improvement on the rise for those who are participating. Consumer confidence is up, the mood is improved, and the dark days of just a few years ago appear behind us. Although sales in other areas are uneven, I have noticed a loosening of the purse strings, as they say. Customers remain cautious, but not irrationally frugal, driven more by the media than their own circumstances.

So my question remains unanswered, but I would love to hear your thoughts on the question.

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