Tuesday, November 5, 2019

The End of Familiarity (Tradecraft)

When you walk into my store and look to the right, the designated direction Americans gaze when entering a store, you'll find a plethora of familiar game titles. Monopoly, Yahtzee, Scrabble, all the usual suspects. This is what is known as a "merchandising expense," games I stock that I would rather not, that indicate to the uninitiated that I am a safe place with things they are familiar with. This is a game store with games, you know, game games, as one customer recently described it. This practice is now coming to an end.

Here's how that works. First, hobby games have penetrated the mass market and they've been there now for a good, long time. Unless you're living under a rock, if you've been to Target and WalMart in the last decade and care even an inkling about games, enough to roll your red or blue cart past them, you've seen Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne and other former hobby game store exclusive titles.

These titles have declined for us significantly since their introduction in mass market, with the promise they are gateways to good times for us later. Perhaps this is true, perhaps not, but board games are booming. These titles are now familiar to consumers. They've become evergreens on the shelf of mass market stores. This means hobby game stores don't need to work as hard with our garbage merchandising expenses to show familiarity. Chess sets and Hasborg products can be dropped, if you feel your community have these touchstones in their lives. And what community doesn't?

Second, even if I don't have this market penetration that breeds familiarity, there are now enough regular folks who play hobby games to where I need the space taken up by oversized merchandising inventory. I may lose the completely out of touch customer, but my overall base is so much larger than a decade ago, I can afford it. What I can't afford to do is stock quaint product for muggles when I've got educated consumers flocking to my business and demanding games now. They will just as easily, and without a moment of regret, buy it online, so it better be there now.

In general, if you don't know or are frightened by products like Dungeons & Dragons, Ticket to Ride, Pokemon and Magic: The Gathering, you are simply not worth any of my time whatsoever. Through mass market stores and the Internet, the public has been converted from suspects to prospects. In fact, it has turned many from prospects to customers, bypassing hobby game stores completely. I am at the tail end of this equation, taking in what I can of a cultural shift, in which a hurricane of customers have been created and I'm trying to fill up a thimble, arm outstretched into the clouds, while dying of thirst. As with all revolutions, you never know exactly your place in it until shots are fired.

Games in my parents guest room. One of these things is not like the other.

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