Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Year of Communication (Tradecraft)

What's trending right now in the game trade is good communication. It's gentle conversations between publishers and retailers, something uncharacteristic from the past, where it was about shouting past each other. Past retailer forums were echo chambers of the same people with the same complaints, amplified out of frustration. Nowadays, we've got behind the scenes communications and groups of professionals on both sides in more civil forums, both online and offline.

As a retailer, I often have to watch what and where I say what I say, since past tendencies were about fruitless gripes rather than crafting meaningful solutions. Sometimes you need to vent, but better is to find a solution with the right people. Professional brick and mortar game store retailers have a lot to offer publishers, if the two groups can sit down and discuss, and surprisingly, that has been happening.

For the last couple of years, demo programs have led the way to understanding the value brick and mortar provides. Demo games used to be something a retailer absorbed, a game that got opened and showed off at retailers expense, in hopes of better sales. Now that it's understood demo programs are sales force multipliers, there are hundreds of publisher sponsored demo games available at lower prices for this purpose. 332 demo games can be found on the Alliance website.

This year we're seeing the problem of product devaluation hit hard. Publishers understand that professional retailers won't provide their services, their sales force multipliers, if they can't compete in the marketplace due to sharp devaluation. It started with Asmodee North America (ANA) restricting access to product to shore up the sharp devaluation of their games (mostly because of bad brick and mortar retailers). ANA is a huge part of our sales, since they own not only Asmodee, but Fantasy Flight Games, Days of Wonder, and the Catan line.

Next came Privateer Press. We sold and ran events for Privateer Press since we opened in 2004, but we dropped it cold in January after it became so devalued online, it held the title of worst performing line in the store. To give you an idea of demand for this game, we blew out $40,000 worth of product at 40% off in 6 weeks. Super strong demand, plus super low sales at MSRP, equals a devaluation problem.

Privateer Press has announced a plan to support brick and mortar by removing "free riders" from the mix. The effect was immediate and with the announcement of a Mark III Warmachine/Hordes, we're back in. We'll be bringing in the biggest launch kit, complete with demo table. This does nothing to eliminate the second biggest problem with Privateer Press, the incessant SKU creep, but it does give us a chance to compete, which is enough for now.

This week Iello announced a plan to allow brick and mortar stores to receive games two weeks earlier than everyone else. Iello is one of those companies that deeply supports demo games (41 listings on Alliance) and they're listening. What we've found from early release games is they tend to spike hard for us during the early period, as their value is retained and access is limited. We've seen this with Asmodee early release experiments, as well as with Dungeons & Dragons books, which we also receive about two weeks early. This also works against blatant street date violations from companies like Target, who are ambivalent about the rules.

If you're a publisher and desire the kind of dialogue that leads to meaningful change within the game trade, or if you just want to be the main contact for such discussions, email me and I'll get you in touch with the right people.

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