Monday, October 20, 2014

How To Sell Me Your Game

Looking through Game Trade Magazine, I count about 37 pages of upcoming games. Meeple Monthly has a similar number of new products vying for my attention and limited cash flow. Let’s not get started on Diamond Previews, which offers new release products by the pound. Daily I get emails from distributors and game and comic publishers, all trying to convince me to buy their game. In most cases they fail. Here is how to sell me a game, a comic, a book, an action figure, a puppy or anything else. People have used this process so many times over the years that it has acquired its own acronym:  AIDA. Now, AIDA is a simple process but, just like anything else, it provides results only as good as the amount of work you will put into it. AIDA stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, Action.

Attention—Everything starts with getting attention for your product. You have to get people to notice you. Sending out an email with an attention getting line, taking the time to call up a store on the phone, send them a piece of (gasp) paper mail or highlight your offering in GTM or Meeple Monthly or Previews with a color background. Do something to call my attention to your product. Taping a $50 bill to it certainly will but so will an eye-catching picture. I have become quite bemused with the number of companies looking at Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, not as fund raising platforms but as promotional platforms. I am not a big fan of Kickstarter as a retailer but am finding many publishers using it to promote their games.

Interest—Great! You caught my attention. Now, hopefully, you have done some research to figure out if your product will catch my interest. If my online presence says I sell tabletop games and comics, I am probably not a good candidate for jewelry but I might be interested in disc golf supplies or boffer swords. I am likely very interested in new items that fit well in my market category, will turn well and have at least an average margin. Pitch me something that doesn’t meet those criteria and my interest drops rapidly.

Desire—OK, your really cool game now has my interest. Maybe it is the way you described game play, maybe it is the number of customers I have suddenly had asking for it, maybe it fits a niche in my product mix, maybe it is the discount you are offering. Now you want me to want your game. You want to make it as easy as possible for me to carry your game or comic, either by getting it listed with several distributors (sorry, but going exclusive with one distributor is a really BAD idea until you have developed demand for your product. Very few companies start off as WizKids or Mayfair) or by making it easy for me to order from you with a low minimum order or reasonable (or free) freight charges and a promise of a quick shipping turnaround. Expecting me to spend $500 on an order or to buy six cases of your untried game will quickly kill my desire to order it. Yes, I realize you have to make money but so do I. To keep me desirous of buying your product, give me as few opportunities to say “No” as you possibly can.

Action—This is the result for which you have worked. I have pulled the trigger, put the order in with you or with a distributor. Now, follow through. If the product is as hot as you have said, do you have any on hand to handle the re-orders or will I have to wait months for a second shipment to arrive (Cough, WizKids, Fantasy Flight Games, Cough)? Popular games with a following can survive months of out-of stocks (Both Pandemic and Betrayal at House on the Hill have) but your new product does not have that base of support on which to rely. Keep me informed about restocks, new releases, promotional opportunities and I will buy from you again.
That’s it. AIDA has worked for centuries. Companies use it at the GAMA Trade Show, GenCon, San Diego Comic Con, as well as the local restaurant or haberdasher down the block. AIDA is easy to describe. Like almost everything, the implementation is the hard part.

Friday, October 17, 2014


Coming Soon:

Candyland: 65th Anniversary Edition
$15.95 SRP

Celebrating over 65 years of great family fun, this classic edition of Candy Land features the charming graphics and components from the game’s early days. Candy Land was created in the 1940’s and has been a favorite “first” game of children ever since. Millions of young children have learned how to recognize colors, practice counting and acquire the skills of taking turns and following directions, all with the help of this delightful game. This simple, race-to-the-finish game, is a rite of passage for all children.

In 2005, the game was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame at The Strong Museum in Rochester, New York. This edition of Candy Land will bring back fond memories of Gumdrop Mountains, Candy Hearts, the Peppermint Stick Forest, Lollypop Woods, Ice Cream Floats, the Gingerbread Plum Tree, the Crooked Old Peanut Brittle House and Molasses Swamp.

Your favorite Gingerbread Men movers are included, along with the traditional deck of colorful cards, which guide each move. The first player to wind their way to the pink-frosted Home Sweet Home wins the game! Playing Time

Ages 4+
2-4 players
15-20 minute play time

1 Bi-fold, heavy duty game board
4 plastic gingerbread men movers
A deck of 64 cards
Instructions that includes “The Story of Candy Land”

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Fantasy Flight Games Update

For you FFG fans out there, here is the latest on new releases and reprints:

New Releases:

ADN20 Android Netrunner LCG: All That Remains
MEC30 Lord of the Rings LCG: Celebrimbor’s Secret
DH22 Dark Heresy 2nd Edition: Forgotten Gods


RT01 Rogue Trader RPG
SWA03 Star Wars Age of Rebellion RPG: GM’s Kit
WHD01 Warhammer Diskwars
ADN08 Android Netrunner LCG: Creation and Control
MAD01 Mansions of Madness
GW01 Chaos in the Old World
MEC01 Lord of the Rings LCG
SWE01 Star Wars Edge of the Empire Beginner’s Box
SWE02 Star Wars Edge of the Empire RPG
DJ03 Descent 2nd Edition: Lair of the Wyrm
MEC02 Lord of the Rings LCG: The Hunt for Gollum
MEC03 Lord of the Rings LCG: Conflict at the Carrock
MEC04 Lord of the Rings LCG: A Journey to Rhosgobel
MEC05 Lord of the Rings LCG: The Hills of Emyn Muil
MEC06 Lord of the Rings LCG: The Dead Marshes
MEC07 Lord of the Rings LCG: Return to Mirkwood

Monday, October 13, 2014

We Expect Customized Goods and Services at Commodity Prices.

I have picked up the habit of posting a weeklong series of quotes from the same person on my personal Facebook page, one quote per day. Last week’s quotable person was Robert Rubin, Secretary of the Treasury during the Clinton Administration and currently head of the Hamilton Project, an economic policy think tank (as if we need another one of those). However , one of those quotes struck a chord with some  people in the industry, enough so that Gary Ray of Black Diamond Games borrowed it as the basis for a post on his Quest for Fun blog and I liked enough that I am stealing it back for this week’s column.

The quote in question from Dr. Rubin is this:  “All of us as consumers have gotten spoiled... We expect customized goods and services at commodity prices.”

Yes we do, and while this is great for consumers, for retailers it causes a monumental headache. Why? Allow me to explain but first we need to discuss what a commodity is.

Simply put, a commodity is any product that can only be differentiated by price. Take bananas as an example. One Cavendish banana (those are the long yellow bananas you find in every grocery store in America. There are hundreds of other varieties of bananas but you won’t find them in any mass market store) looks pretty much like any other Cavendish. It peels the same, feels the same and tastes the same. If I showed you one I bought at Wal-mart and one I bought at Kroger, you couldn’t tell the difference. The only difference is whether I paid 59 cents a pound at Kroger or 54 cents a pound at Wal-mart.

In a similar vein, games (and yes, comics) are commodities too. If I show you a copy of the FUDGE RPG,  or Roll For It or a Warmachine starter army or even a copy of Harley Quinn #6, unless there is a price sticker on it, you would be hard pressed to tell if it came from Barnes & Noble or Amazon or your Friendly Local Game Store. Although each is a unique product, there is nothing to differentiate any copy of Roll for It from any other copy. They are not one of a kind items, such as you might find at a crafter on Etsy or selling at your local farmer’s market or even your local bakery. They are commodities and the price can be affected by Barnes & Nobles’ economics of scale (economies of scale means simply that the more you make or sell of an item, the cheaper it becomes to produce) or Amazon’s combination of economies of scale and willingness to lose money since the day it opened or your FLGS’ lack of either.

The local game store (or comic shop) just does not have the size or capital behind it to compete on price on commoditized items. It’s futile to try to compete head to head with Amazon or Wal-mart, though the two of them may start competing against each other much more visibly, especially if Amazon starts opening physical locations as it has announced it will. So if local stores cannot compete on price, what do they compete on?

Same things we always have, the other 3 Ps. The customer can walk into a store on impulse and find a Magic card or a copy of Dark Heresy or a copy of Love Letter or other non-mainstream game (or comic) and walk out with it that day and play it that night. Though some online retailers are working on it, same-day delivery is still costly. At the FLGS, it is free. The customer can also find staff who know the games (and comics) and who are willing to discuss the finer points of Pokemon deck construction or X-men continuity. You won’t find that at Wal-mart or Barnes & Noble or Amazon. The key is showing the customer that, in order to do this, the FLGS cannot afford to compete on price but competes, and is far superior, in other areas.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

King Of New York

According to Iello, we should expect to see the long awaited release of King of New York around October 23.  Once it arrived we will host a store tournament for it in December, with the winner receiving entry to the national King of New York tournament at GenCon next summer.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Three Reasons for the Decline of the Print RPG

Walk into any hobby game store in the US and, If the store carries role-playing games, I will lay you even money that you will find at least two systems on its shelves:  Dungeons & Dragons and the Pathfinder RPG. You may find others, but generally not many and little consistency of selection from store to store. Here, though the release of 5th Edition D&D bumped RPGs up to about 10% of total sales, for the past decade, we, and many other stores, have seen the percentage hover more closely to the 5-8% mark.  Though it appears that development and sales of online RPGs remain vibrant, in store sales of the games, other than the two noted above, remain generally weak. As a store that got started in RPG sales and has seen them decline over the past decade, I ascribe much of the decline to three things, none of which I expect to see change anytime in the near future:

1.        The rise of the PDF. Prior to the development of the PDF as a way to disseminate written products, if someone wanted to publish a RPG, trees had to die to allow this and publishing required a significant investment for any book to get into print. Today, PDFs allow anyone to write and publish a product comparatively easily, quickly and inexpensively, either through their own website or through one of the large PDF aggregators: DriveThruRPG, RPGNow or even Amazon. As customers have gotten more and more comfortable with PDFs and embraced eBooks for their convenience, portability and cost. What used to take several bookshelves to store can now sit on a single computer hard drive. As customers buy more product online, demand for it drops in-store and hence, selection drops as well.

2.       Kickstarter. Kickstarter and similar crowdsourcing methods have proven an incredible boon for game developers, allowing creators to solicit funding of a project prior to producing it. If enough potential customers want the proposed project, they fund it and, usually, it gets published. However, with the average RPG supplement, according to figures I have heard, selling between 300-500 copies, unless there is a “name” attached to the project, like Monte Cook or Matt Forbeck, Kickstarter backers typically account for the vast number of “sales” of a back product, leaving only a small percentage of demand for the traditional distribution channel to service.

3.       Comparative difficulty of selling the product. Because of the visual appeal, it is much easier for a retailer to sell a boardgame than a RPG. Boradgames usually explain gameplay on the back along with an indication of how many can plan, how long it will take to play and what the box contains. The TCG is even easier as most purchasers are repeat buyers, needed almost no selling aside from completing the actual transaction. Contrast this with selling the average role playing game, which has little of the visual appeal of the average boardgame or the repeat purchasability of the trading card game. The average store owner, unless they have a strong background or familiarity with role playing games, will find selling one much more difficult than a boardgame or TCG.

Considering that the typical profit margin on RPGs is generally the same as that on boardgames and TCGs, and that the turn rate on anything that does not come bearing the D&D or Pathfinder brand is abysmal, it is no wonder that, aside from a love of the category, stores eschew RPGs in favor of their faster selling brethren.  I hope that the success of such RPGs as Numenera from Monte Cook Games and Adventure Maximus from Eden Studios herald a change in focus for the RPG category in stores but fear they are but outliers in the category.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Game Store Model

Midway through release weekend for Khans of Tarkir and it is the quiet time of the evening so naturally I got to musing about how the typical hobby game store has changed over the years and just how uniquely the hobby game store model has developed compared to other store categories with which it is typically lumped, such as comic book and pop culture stores. Despite the fact that we operate using the same basic model of distribution as do Macy’s, Target, Dollar General, Hibbit’s, even Toys r Us and Olive Garden, the hobby game store, with the encouragement of manufacturers, has developed a very unique business plan closely tying sales to events.

In the traditional or full model of distribution, which even mighty Amazon uses in a modified format, the manufacturer makes the product, then sells it to the retailer, who then sells it to the consumer, who then takes it home and uses it. For many products, the distributor also fits into the channel, positioned between the manufacturer and retailer.

The difference between the hobby game store and almost every other type of retailer out there is that hobby game stores sell the product and then are expected to facilitate their use. Take Macys. Macys sells you clothes, shoes, curtains, bedding, etc. The customer buys them and takes them home, then wears them, puts them on the bed, hangs them on the windows and so forth.

Contrast that with the typical hobby game store. Not only do we sell the customer a product but we provide play space for the product and organize events in which customers can participate, with most stores running events every day, many of which have prizes and organization provided by the manufacturer. Structured play has developed into such an important facet of the industry that we call it Organized Play or OP and most game companies have some form of OP program in place, with more companies looking to start up their own OP programs every week or so it seems. I just received an email from Japanime Games, asking us if we had any interest in starting OP for Tanto Cuore and/or Krosmaster:  Arena. Currently, I can think of Organized Play programs from WOTC, AEG, Privateer, Alderac, Bushiroad, Konami, Arcane Wonders, Fantasy Flight Games, StoneBridge, Paizo and probably others that I cannot think of at the moment.

The thing is, no other retail category (with the possible exception of the traditional hobby i.e. RC, model railroads, etc.) has developed a model in which they sell a product to the customer then provides the customer with places and times in which to use it. We sell customers Magic cards, then are expected to run Magic tournaments. We sell customers Warhammer 40,000 figures then are expected to have terrain and table space available. We sell people King of Tokyo and are expected to host King of Tokyo championships. A common question from manufacturers when stores apply for OP status is how many players can the store seat and many stores I have seen run their merchandise displays along the walls with table space in the center.

We do this because, over time, we, and I mean both stores and manufacturers, have found that this model promotes more sales.  WOTC often refers to studies the company has done showing that OP boosts sales. It’s a no-brainer for most stores but it is also a fairly unique model we have developed.