Monday, November 30, 2015

The Expansion Paradox (Tradecraft)

Hobby board games have penetrated deep into the mass market. The general public has discovered board games and the hobby is growing quickly. Our own board games sales are up 35% this year. Publishers tell independent stores multiple sales channels are for the greater good. As mass market shoppers discover new games, they'll naturally gravitate towards independent stores to pick up expansions and follow up games, items the mass market stores don't carry. It's a gateway sales channel.

The expansion paradox is this: As board game sales increase for independent retailers and the number of great board games proliferate, why does an independent store want to carry slower turning expansions and secondary games? Inventory being a zero sum game, an independent store owner can cherry pick the good stuff, you know, like the mass market stores.

But doesn't the independent game store have a duty to its customers to carry these games? Absolutely not. Our duty is to our employees and our shareholders (in that order). Customers vote with their wallets and they've shown us they're overwhelmed with good board game options.

It might be a competitive advantage to carry the slower turning expansions and secondary games, but if the market is hot, that advantage is much, much smaller. It's like the advantage of having a wide role-playing selection when role-playing games are 5% of your sales. It sounds good, and you might do it anyway, but that's not how you pay the rent.

The end result should be that the board game market changes. The market matures. Fringe publishers are marginalized further and find a home as perpetual Kickstarters. Or maybe they keep their day jobs, like role playing publishers. Larger publishers work on new games, rather than making half a dozen expansions that can now only be sold through their own sales channels. Dominant publishers emerge in the marketplace, the last frontier of hobby gaming. We're already seeing that begin to happen.

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