Friday, October 10, 2014

Tradecraft: Problems You (Want/Don't Want) To Have

The new issue of ICV2 put the current game trade problems into context (the article isn't online yet). The game trade is booming. It has been booming for years now, but this year is one of the best in recent memory. Product availability, however, is poor. What am I talking about? The hottest games of the year, Marvel Dice Masters and X-Wing are gone. The D&D 5 Player's Handbook and the Pathfinder Advanced Class Guide are missing from our shelves. Board game mainstays like Betrayal at the House on the Hill and Carcassonne are gone, and worse, the new games, the ones we would like to build on, have disappeared without a trace in fire and forget fashion.

So who is at fault for this? Nobody. Everybody.  Retailers are told to order deeper. Publishers are either frustrated or elated by this increased demand. Some will call a sell out a victory, while others are seriously concerned with satisfying the market. If you're at a bake sale and you sell all your cookies, that's a clear win. You have the money and no need to take perishable cookies home.  If you're the guy in charge of selling the cookies, you're frustrated that you won't be taking in any more cookie money.

That's where retailers are right now. No more cookie money. The hottest games of the year are worth nothing to us if we can't put them on the shelves. We can't even call them hot, really, because we don't know the depth of the demand. Being the last man standing when it comes to inventory is great, but it doesn't build your confidence in a product line. There is a sense of a "ceiling of success" when there's a supply ceiling that can't satisfy demand. It's not greed, but a perceived limit to what's possible with hard work.

Will the next Dice Masters or X-Wing release be hot? Who knows? Some say Dice Masters is done. Some have massive pre-orders in. Not only do we not know our own depths of demand, but the lack of product overall perverts the local market, driving people to our store to suck up the last dice pack or space ship. When supply is plentiful, those people are not our customers. So without a way to plumb the depths, we're reluctant to take chances, to dive deep, on the next release, which means pre-orders are low, and the process repeats itself. Madness.

The next problem is organized play. If we were online retailers, no big deal. Sell whatcha got, blow it out or speculate, wash rinse repeat. In the case of game stores, publishers are expecting us to provide the value adds that we do so well, what differentiates us from everyone else. They want us to run organized play for their games, but think about that. Why would I run organized play for Dice Masters or X-Wing when I can't sell the product? Out of a sense of charity? Our customers certainly want that. So now we're in a jammed up position of wanting to satisfy customers, but not having financial incentive to do so.

There are bright spots of course. Besides miniature games, which generally have it together this year, there's Magic. Oh Magic, you savior of stores. We would run Magic events every day of the week, if we could. Wizards of the Coast almost always has supply. They provide wonderful organized play. The judges have it together. In fact, it's so easy right now, there's talk of game store blight, too many craptastic Magic only store stinking up the market and offering very little to their local communities. We're always lecturing them on diversification, but it's hard when the rest of the trade can't get their supply and demand formulas right.

So times are good, very good. Success is limited by the supply of products. I find it hard to blame anyone really. We're ordering what we think we need. They're making what seems a reasonable amount. Demand is outstripping supply. Future demand is hard to divine. If we could all just crack the code, there could be success at a much higher level. That potential is what's frustrating to retailers. Just don't call it a win.


  1. Interetsing thoughts, as usual. As a publisher (Flatlined Games) deciding how many copies to print is always a tough call. Print too much and you're sitting on money (unsold stock). Print too few and you're missing out on sales opportunities and pissing of retailers that can't get a hand on your product.
    I believe in printing in small amounts and reprinting often. this smooths out the risk of unsold inventory, and manufacturers are very responsive and quick on reprinting. Transport is in fact more complex to manage than production.
    For a new title, I usually do 3.000 copies. If these sell out fast a short out of stock follows before the reprint arrives, and if the new title flops, I don't sit on a warehouse of product. Reporints are also usually 3.000, with a few eceptions like the 10.000 Rumble in the House/Dungeon that will soon leave the factory and head to US. But that big reprint follows a first smaller batch that sold out quick enough to warrant a bigger reprint.

  2. This underscores the **Best possible Gencon Dealer Room Story**: "I Came with a truckload; I left with one copy of each".

    That means you sold nearly everything you had, but as you didn't run out -- you brought **just enough** of everything to satisfy demand, without bringing so much you have to pay extra to ship it back.

    Running out of product to sell is a blunt instrument through which to gauge remaining demand.

  3. It's a beautiful thing.

  4. I don't envy you guys. I also don't know how I would do it differently.

  5. Wizards is the only publisher that truly has their act together. This comes from years of excellence in execution. From product development to organized play to create an enriching experience for the players. They view the retailer as their partner and compensate them accordingly with some of the best wholesale discounts in the industry and product that doesn't stink.

    If publishers want retailers to stock deeper and put preorders in sooner, then put the information out in a timely manner and don't publish garbage. Making retailers order blind is exponentially increasing their risk without the big payoff at the end. I'd rather buy another case of Magic than the latest, greatest game that nobody knows anything about with a crappy wholesale discount.

  6. OP is why my local store went woth Star Trek Attack Wing over XWing.

  7. This article is particularly relevant now, it seems. I find myself churning through a long list of currently hot games every time I reorder, only to assure myself that no, they're all still out of stock, like they have been for months. Thank goodness Magic is reliable.

  8. I am teetering on the brink of dumping my Dice Masters set. I'd love to get in some OP, but my local FLGS - a very well run one that is a large Whiz Kids dealer, has gotten a fraction of their orders in so far. So they've yet to hold an OP event. That also means I can't get some of the OP cards that are in the kits, which puts players whose FLGS run OP vs those who don't at a disadvantage. The next set is supposed to release in a couple weeks, yet inventory for the large one is almost impossible to get.

    You'd think Whiz Kids would prioritize brick and mortar stores over online ones. I've also seen reports of Hastings - a large mid west chain - seemingly have better stock ( its where I finally tracked down a starter ) and they are supposedly owned by the same company who owns Whiz Kids. Shady if true.

    I thought the X Wing supply chain had been smoothed out - at least I can find that stuff on the shelf.

    Attack Wing seems a bit better as far as supply; but the sheer amount of SKUs they have put out in a relatively short amount of time must make it challenging for a retailer to stock.

  9. Yeah, how about that Hastings connection.

  10. I'm a manager of a FLGS. I laughed out loud to this statement. You obviously do not know what you think you know. WotC is one of the worst--particularly where it involves Magic. The expected retail price of a box is ~$100 (the internet market demands this), while a pack is $3.95(cost ~$2). The cost for that box is $72 - $80 for 36 packs. That's one of the worst margins in the industry. Not even Gamesworkshop is that bad. Not to mention their contact/support for retailers is just awful. They stopped having sales reps years ago(Mistake) They now have you go through a website for support or there is a 1-800 number to call but you get sent to some random person to take care of your needs. I hate it. I hate being just a number in their eyes while it's the FLGS that keeps things going for WotC. I could go on. Suffice to say, WotC is not close to good.

  11. Are you comparing the margin at gw msrp vs magic at the online market price? i.e. Most GW products sell at 20-25% off online, which from what I understand cuts the margin significantly.

  12. Dice masters and X-wing are dead on arrival to me. Organized play doesnt work if there are not enough items to sell to create a community. The early days of MTG had this very issue and it almost killed the game. Stores couldnt keep it in stock. You think xwing and dice master shortages are bad??? Ask a store owner (if any are still around) That first sold magic, how hard it was. How did Magic survive? They doubled down on production. This again almost killed them (fallen empires anyone?) They learned you have to meet demand and make a good product (shocking, I know). And they have perfected this over 20 years.

    Wotc also handles most of it's own distribution and production. They control every pack that is made, packaged and shipped out. Many game companies just dump this onto distributors once the container from China arrives. IT is a constant issue throughout the game industry. Constant shipping delays from China are really hurting the indusry as a whole. But what can we do?

  13. I know lots. 10 years in the business teaches me lots. What people choose to sell something for is not within WotC's control. If they gave us boxes for $45 because internet jerks are selling them for $90, how long do you think it would take for the boxes for be $50 online? They state an MSRP and it's upto each retailer to decide how close they want to stick to that. Guy down the street sells boxes for $10 less than I do yet I will go through hundreds upon hundreds of each set, outselling them by several multitides. The people who bitch the loudest about discounters are the ones who have the least value-add to their products. Every sector has discounters and if you can't figure out how to work around them, then you shouldn't be in retail.

    PS. While I do get random people helping me when I have a problem, rarely are they unable to solve it. I find their customer support to be just fine. You get a weekly blast of what's available. I order stuff, they send it. I have a question and they answer it. Seems pretty efficient to me. I'll be a number in their eyes all day long while raking in the cash. I'm far too busy to worry about a lovefest with my sales rep.

  14. Ted, After reading my post, I now see how snarky it came off as. My apologies. My main contention still stands. My example of the minimal customer service WotC uses just goes to show how they have very little interest in actually helping a store in its business; even one that's been in business for 35 years, like mine. It would do us all well if Magic took a dive for a while, where WotC would wake up and not take it all for granted.

  15. I'm still amazed at how you feel WotC isn't working hard for you. Many stores out there are using Magic money to renovate, expand into other lines or start taking a real salary home etc etc. You were also confusing wholesale discount with margin. They discount 50% off MSRP which is very good. If someone chooses not to make any money off of that, then that's their problem, not WotC's. Like every company, they're trying to find efficiencies and ways to improve their bottom line. I don't find this reduced level of customer service to have any negative impact on my business at all. They provide the best OP program on the planet and not just by a little bit. All the others can only dream of being 1/10th as good. Are you offended by all the free promos that WotC gives you? Everyone else charges you for it and then follows it up by giving you no product to sell to monetize OP. That all being said, it's not like they can't improve but they are still a million miles ahead of everyone else.