Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Mass Marketization of the Game Trade (Tradecreaft)

The trending topic in my brain is whether the game trade is going mainstream, if it has grown enough in the past several years, to exceed the capacities and opportunities of the traditional morass. If so, what will it mean for specialty retail?

Why would I think this? We've got Magic: The Gathering and geek centric board games making appearances on South Park. We've got mergers and acquisitions galore, including NECA/Wiz Kids buying the regional retail chain, Hastings. But what really got my attention was the acquisition of Fantasy Flight Games by Asmodee. Asmodee is owned by the 5.5 billion dollar a year French investment group, Eurazeo. Eurazeo is not not some geeky game company, it's a long term investment group that buys things like hotel chains and parking lots. Some thought went into this.

Through Asmodee, they also bought Days of Wonder last year. The Asmodee, Days of Wonder, Fantasy Flight Games trifecta now accounts for 25% of my board game sales. This company IS board games in my store. There's now no company or segment bigger than Asmodee in my store, other than Wizards of the Coast with Magic: The Gathering. WOTC Is owned by a similarly large giant, Hasbro, with their 4 billion dollars a year annual revenue.

So is there cause for alarm? I'm going to say no, for one simple fact that recently dawned on me. Geeks are a massive pain in the ass. To put it in more technical term, they (we) are focused on, and dedicated to, minutiae, fiddly details. Dude, I have a masters degree in fiddly details, on the quantity of angels that can dance on the head of a pin, the 108 thises and the 16,000 thats. I totally relate to this, but there is no way the mass market wants to wade in. Sure, they'll own it from afar, as long as it's profitable, but at the tail end? No way.

And you can't franchise specialty retail. Oh, you can try, and several have, but the fiddly nature of specialty retail with persnickety customers makes this an impossibility to scale. I talk daily with many retailers. We have solutions for everything, but it's a bit like the rabbi joke. If you get two in a room, you'll get three opinions. Nobody is wrong. Everybody is right. And there may be a better third way, because we're never quite sure. Doubt keeps us going.

There are games and game system I sell to customers I can count on one hand. Half of what I order is a single copy that never returns after its sold. In store debates rage about the smallest details of army builds and book art. We not only debate it, we identify with the choices. As one excellent article puts it:
...The defensiveness oozes over onto everything: Tau aren’t simply a valid army she doesn’t play, they must be written off as Imperial Guard with a duller paint job. GURPS isn’t a system with flaws, it’s the fools choice. Nothing is a matter of taste: if it was a legitimate choice then they’d be making it. 
My point is, mega corps are willing to sit up top and reap the rewards, but the actual work? The farm like labor of hand selling one item at a time to an incredibly finicky and fickly class of customer? No way. They're happy to let us hoe that row all day long.


  1. "Gamers - keeping small business alive since the mid 20th century"?

  2. Not whiny, so much as a customer base that defines themselves by the very precise takes on the games they love. Alright, whiny.

  3. What he's saying is that it's not the same business. Just like books or dvd's : you get some at the local mall, and others, more specialized, in a 'proper' bookstore. BDG is and will remain a 'proper' Game Store :)

  4. My take on this is slightly different. Every game store has a different customer base and because of that does things a little differently and carries a different product mix than other stores. Different combinations of process & procedures, product mix and customer base result in different business models. There is no one size fits all in our business.

  5. Agreed. We were just talking about policies and procedures manuals, and how yours wouldn't be a drop in for my operation and vice versa.

    There really is a hand selling element to game store customers. There are just a handful of people who keep quite a few local games alive. We have two customers who buy RIFTS from us, for example, so we have to keep up on that kind of stuff. Two people.

  6. Captain Rufus LandaleNovember 24, 2014 at 8:54 PM

    Consumer Products as Religion isn't just hobby games sir. Its just in hobby games you kind of need other people to drink the same Kool Aid as you. Well to a degree as any kid who got an Atari 7800 or Sega Master System in the US circa Christmases 1986-1990 could probably tell you anyhow. Just look at the Apple Cult or the CITY NAME SPORTS TEAM NATION in your region. Hobby Gamers are still people and still do what people do sadly.