Monday, March 30, 2015

Too Much of A Good Thing?

Quite a hectic weekend so far with both Dragons of Tarkir and Star Wars Armada releasing on the same day and I have heard tales of stores blowing through their initial orders of each. Well done, WOTC and FFG, though we do need to discuss increasing MSRP on both products rather than making your Local Game Store absorb the extra reduction in margin. Work on that, would you? 

Meanwhile, last week I mentioned one trend I saw at the GAMA trade show that rather concerned me and that trend is the growth in the number of companies promoting events, typically some form of what the industry has come to call Organized Play. Although I agree that better events and Organized Play has had nothing but positive effects on the industry, the number of companies I saw at the GTS announcing they would launch an OP program or expand on an already existing one blew me away. Among the ones that I remember, Japaneme, Iello and Asmodee all discussed how they were expanding their OP programs, White Wizard Games promoted the tournament program for Star Realms, even Slugfist Games offered retailers the opportunity to purchase an event kit for Red Dragon Inn, while Catalyst promoted the OP program for their Shadowrun: Crossfire deckbuilding game. The most ambitious program I saw was from Upper Deck, which announced $10,000 championships for both their Legendary deckbuilding game as well as the relaunch of their Vs. card game. Couple this with already existing strong OP programs from WOTC, Konami, Bushiroad, Fantasy Flight, Pazio and AEG, plus probably 2 or 12 I have overlooked and what we have is an embarrassment of Organized Play riches, all focused on the Local Game Store (You will noticed I did not say Friendly. I take the Friendly in FLGS as a given. Very few game stores I have visited have proven unfriendly). This leads to a bit of a problem. Who will run all of these events?

Many game stores operate with a paper thin staff, often the owner and a few part time employees. Though nowise as bad as we used to see, most stores still see payroll as their second biggest expense, after rent and adding another employee seriously affects their bottom line. Most stores also run a full slate of OP events already (as I have mentioned before, most game stores have shifted to an OP driven model over the past decade), so the question becomes, where does the staff come from to run all of these new events and when does the LGS run them. Currently we have events already running every night of the week and multiple events on the weekend and we are not an atypical store. In economic terms, we have scarce resources and an allocation problem. 

When I tell companies about the staff shortage problem, quite often the tell me: “Find one of your customers who plays our game and we’ll make them a (whatever the name of the company’s demo team is).” That’s well and good, save for two things. 

#1 As a store recommended demo person, they quasi-represent the store, without any of the control the store could exercise over a staff member.

#2 The company eventually wants them to demo the game at other places, cutting into their ability to run events at my store.

That’s why the Envoy program announced at the GTS attracted my attention. If it works as described, it could help tremendously with the resource program and, provided the Heralds do get extensive training, assuage my concerns about problem number one as well.

Friday, March 27, 2015

GenCon and The Religious Freedom Restoration Act

GenCon has received quite a bit of attention this week over its stance on the recently signed Indiana Religious Freedom Act, essentially telling Gov. Mike Pence that it would look for a new location if he signed the act, which he proceeded to do, joining 19 other states, including Illinois, with similar laws. Of course, given GenCon's that GenCon's contract with the convention center there runs until 2020, I doubt we will see them leave early as breaking such a contract generally comes with heavy financial penalties.

While I am not a big fan of laws like this, it is the business' choice to opt to not to serve customers based on religious beliefs and the law supports their decision to do so. Most stores are in business to make money and turning away a customer is generally not a good idea. The best thing that you as a customer can do is boycott any business that opts to discriminate against customer based on religious reasons and tell them you are doing so. Of course, this has much more effect if you are currently a customer. Telling a business with which you have never done business that you will no longer do business with them will likely elicit a confused look and a shrug.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Why I Went to the GTS and What I Found There

Just flew in from Vegas and boy, are my arms tired!  Thank you, thank you, I’ll be here all week, try the special.  Every year, when time for the GAMA Trade Show rolls around, I, along with many other retailers, ask myself if it is worth the money and the time away from the store. Making the decision this year was especially hard since, as I noted last week, with National Pi Day and the Dragons of Tarkir bracketing the event, I had to fly out instead of taking my usual road trip and I HATE to fly.
So was it worth it? A resounding “Yes”. Not for the seminars or the manufacturer presentations or even the Big Box (and I really hate to break it to GAMA but some of the stuff in there just ain’t gonna sell), though. As a friend pointed out, I can find out most of that information through the Interwebs, if I spend enough time.

 Nope, what makes it worth my time is the opportunity to hang out, talk with and (especially) listen to, the smartest people in the industry.  At meal times or just in the hall way or wandering around the exhibit hall, I will bump into someone who says something that gets me to view a game or product line differently or gives me an idea on how to improve the store. However, most people go there to look at new stuff, which is why the lines get so long outside the exhibit hall before it opens. I really didn’t see anything product wise that knocked my socks off (You may have found otherwise. Please send an email to ICV2 if you did), though I did notice the Donkey game people had moved to a less visible section of the exhibit hall and I never did spot Privateer Press. Oh, and WOTC really wants stores to up their look.  There were, however, two programs that interested me and one trend that has me a bit worried. This week, the two programs, later in the week,  the worrisome trend.

Program #1—Bits & Mortar.  Although this one has been around for a couple of years, I was glad to see publishers still supporting it. For those not familiar with B&M, it allows retailers to give their customer a free PDF of a participating RPG when the customer purchases a print copy. The customer buys the hard copy, gives the staff their email, and staff emails a link to the PDF. Pretty simple and I have lost track of the number of RPGs we have sold as a result of this program. The big drawback is that the participants are all small press publishers but it does not cost anything for stores to sign up and it can help sell RPGs from companies such as Cubicle 7, Evil Hat and Arc Dream. 

Program #2—Envoy Program. This program , on the other hand, debuted at the GTS. The program plans to provide stores with trained Heralds to demonstrate products from a large number of small press game companies.  Demonstrations are generally considered the best way to sell games but most small press companies do not have the resources to mount a viable demo program and most retailers have neither the time or staff to adequately demo the hundreds of games a store might carry.  The Envoy Program proposes to deal with these problems by providing Heralds (at no cost to retailers, I imagine there is some charge to the publishers) to visit stores to demo games from publishers participating in the program. The idea sounds great in theory but I would like more detail on the training the Heralds get, as I have seen some really good demo people over the years as well as some downright horrible demo people ( A really bad demonstration years ago is the reason I never played the Legend of the Five Rings TCG). I have high hopes for this and saw lots of signs at the GTS indicating smaller publishers had signed on with the program. On the company’s website, it shows over 40 companies have already signed up and just over 50 stores.  More information is available at

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Too Much OP

Just returned from the annual GAMA Trade Show in Las Vegas and one of the things that struck me (besides the decline in smokers in the casino) was the increase in organized play programs from various companies targeted at boardgames. The companies behind Red Dragon Inn, 7 Wonders, and King of Tokyo all announced OP programs. Even the king of boardgame companies, Mayfair Games, announced it plans to launch an organized play program later this year. Two things about this worry me:

1.  Staffing. We have all these programs coming out but who will run them? That's right, the stores, which means more staffing and co-ordination devoted to making sure the events run properlyMost stores run a fairly tight ship in turns of staffing already, which means we will have to pick and choose carefully which programs to run.

2. Everybody into the Pool. In the past, when a number of companies have started jumping on a trend, it winds up bad. For those of you who were in the industry or playing TCGs in the 90s, you likely remember the 30 plus trading card games that hit the market within two years after Magic released. Of all those, only Legend of the Five Rings still gets much play. After 3.0 Dungeons & Dragons release, we had the OGL tsunami. Only a handful of the companies that launched with OGL products  still have viable products. Granted, what we are seeing today are program rather than product launches but I still wager a number of them will crash and burn.

Monday, March 16, 2015

National Pi Day: A Sweet Promotion

Normally, this time of year, I would have hit the road along Route 66 to the GAMA Trade Show and draw some sort of metaphor from thriving or dying businesses along the old road and incorporated it into a column. However, due to National Pi Day (yes this exists 3/14/15 and if you open at the right time it is possible to stretch the figure out to 3/14/15-9:26) the Saturday before GTS and the pre-release for Dragons of Tarkir the weekend after, I did not feel like leaving the store during two big events, which the trip to GTS would have required. So, not wishing to miss the opportunity to confab with my fellow retailers, I forewent the pleasures of Two Guns and “standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona” (yes, you can do this and there is even a “flatbed Ford” parked there for picture taking) and caught a flight from St. Louis to Las Vegas.

What is so special about National Pi Day that I did not want to leave the store during it? Nothing really. It’s rather like National Star Wars Day:  May 4th. You have heard of it, right?  “May the Fourth be with you!” However, like some other stores in the country, we decided to take National Pi Day and see what we could do to make a promotional event out of it.  This started with advanced planning on our part. A month ahead of time, we set three quantifiable (measurable) goals:

1.        Secure three mentions in the local mass media (newspapers, radio, television, email blasts from other organizations, etc).

2.       Have at least 20 people demo one of the three Mensa Select games we featured.  Later, when Looney Labs sent us a promo copy, we added Just Desserts to the list.

3.       Sell 20% more than the target number for a typical Saturday.

Over the next two weeks we spent time refreshing staff member’s memories on how to play the selected game and determining which local media would most likely respond to press releases and give us coverage. Starting the first of March, we began sending out press releases, not many, to the selected local media. We passed on local radio since most of it does not cover local events, save sports, well.  We are on good terms with reporters at two of the local newspapers and have a nodding acquaintance with a reporter for the local tv station. As a member of the local Chamber of Commerce, we figured we could get at least one email blast from them. We also used social media but did not set  responses from it as one of our goals.

As Pi Day approached, we sent out a few more PR reminders then arranged to bring in pies to give away to customers on the day (Unlike some other stores of which I know, none of our customers brought us in a pie to celebrate). So far, total cost was about 6 hours spent on planning and PR and $40 on pies.


1.       6 mentions in local media including 2 television interviews, 3 write ups in local papers and 1 email from the Chamber of Commerce.

2.       Demos to a total of 26 people

3.       Sales up 10% over the target for a typical Saturday

Bonus:  5 brand new customers in directly as a result of the television appearances. What we found is that people respond better to television appearances than to print and that PR even the day of the event will pull in customers. Unfortunately, we only exceeded 2 of our three goals so I consider the event a qualified success. Yes, we will take this into consideration in our planning for International TableTop Day, Free Comic Book Day, Free RPG Day, and back to school, for which we already have plans in the works.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Miniatures are a Dicey Business

About once a month or so, we get asked by a miniatures company to pick up their line. We generally do not for two reasons:

1. Expense. Investing in miniatures is much more costly than other products. We can bring in a copy of a new RPG or boardgame with a fairly minimal investment. We stock in one copy and see if it sells. If it does, lather, rinse repeat, so to speak. In order to do well with a miniatures line, you have to stock the core rules, plus a reasonable footprint of single figures and boxed sets. This can come to quite a bit of money. Stocking the core Flames of War line will run a store over $1000, which is not an amount we, or any store for that matter, is willing to invest without some assurance that the line will sell.  This leads to #2:

2. Burnout.  Not us, the players. With the exception of Warhammer 40,000, all miniatures gaming in the US is highly regional. Warmachine may do very well in one area, while Flames of War sells like hotcakes in another. Many miniatures games have a fairly short interest span. The players try one out, it does well to that group for 1-2 months,t hen they move onto something else or back to their favored game. We have about half a dozen miniature lines that did well for a period of time then interest in them petered out, leaving the remnants on the shelf.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

April Releses from FFG

New Releases:

DJ39 Descent 2nd Edition: Heirs of Blood
KN25 Tigris & Euphrates
MEC45 Lord of the Rings LCG: The Treason of Saruman


MAD01 Mansions of Madness

Monday, March 9, 2015

Bowling for Dragons and the Dragons of Tarkir Pre-release

Received our pre-release kit for Dragons of Tarkir today and I must admit that it had me rather befuddled when I first opened the box as I had no idea was the Tarkir Dragonfury game was or really how to assemble it. At first sight, I thought we hung the board on the wall, fastened the pawns to it and let players drop their Spindown counters down through it ala Plinko. A little closer look at the directions, though, and I realized it was actually a bowling game, with the Spindown counter as the ball and what look like repurposed Stratego tokens as the pins.  Each token is worth so many points if knocked over and players receive promotional Magic cards based on how many point they score with a roll. The staff has had fun today playing with the set (I think the high score was 22) and, by leaving it out on display for the next two weeks, I figure we should generate even more interest for the Dragons of Tarkir pre-release. I know we had a customer sign up for all 4 pre-releases after seeing the display and a number of people have commented on it.  The set has proven much better than the also included poster in terms of ginning up interest for the pre-releases.

A lot of companies out there now do pre-releases or launch parties for their new products but the Dragons of Tarkir pre-release kit  shows why WOTC stands head and shoulders above every other company in the industry in terms of preparing for and assisting stores with pre-releases. Although nice, I am not talking about the Tarkir Dragonfury game or the promo crards or Fate Reforged Ulin’s Vault or even the poster. Why WOTC stands so far above any other company in the industry is the date.

I am writing this on March 7. We received the kit this morning and had everything set up and on display within a couple of hours. When is the actual pre-release? Not until the weekend of March 21. WOTC got the materials to us two weeks prior to the event. Do you know what released on Friday March 6? The new Heroes and Villans expansion set for the Dragonball Z TCG. Do you know when I got the launch kit for the Heroes and Villains expansion set for the Dragonball Z TCG? Thursday March 6. If you remember the difficulty I had several weeks ago just getting signed up for Dragonball Z Organized Play, I am quite happy to get the launch materials from Panini. However, I would have been much happier to have had the items in the kit, especially the poster one to four weeks ago so that I could point to it and tell customers “Yeah, we are getting in the new DBZ expansion . We expect to have it in on March 6 and will run a launch event for it at our next scheduled DBZ night.”  We would have had 2-4 weeks to build buzz as opposed to 2 to 4 days. Almost every other company does the same thing, apparently worried that stores will sell the promo items instead of giving them out to customers. Yeah, there are stores that will do that, but if you are that worried about it, monitor stores and come down hard on the ones that do. Look at WOTC. Get us the materials far enough in advance that we can use them to help both of us.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Snow Day

The store is open today with new comics on the shelf and some new games on the New Release shelf including the Yu Gi Oh HeroClix set 2 and the Pretty Pretty expansion for Smash Up. Check tomorrow to see if the days events go on as scheduled.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Promoting TableTop Day

Guess what just showed up in my email inbox this week?  If you guessed solicitations for the promo packs for International Table Top Day over a month ahead of the event date, you would be right. In case you missed the blurb in ICV2 last week, this year’s International Table Top Day is scheduled for April 11 and we already know the contents of the kits way in advance.

As has happened with the previous two kits, there are problems with this one but not of Geek & Sundry, TableTop or PSI’s (the company coordinating the assembly of the kits) making. Instead, we apparently get to blame the manufacturers of the games getting promoted. Manufacturers we are looking at two major problems here:

11)       Your game was not on TableTop in season 1, 2 or 3 but I am getting promo items or a copy of you game in the kit, which by the way I do not receive for free. I get to shell out perfectly  good  Jacksons and Washingtons to pay for this kit and I get promo items for such things as Reverse Charades,  Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magic Carrot, Roll for It,  Cash n Guns, Dead Man’s Draw, and Where Art Thou Romeo. If I purchase the smaller of the two promotional packs offered, with an MSRP of $250, depending on which distributor I place an order with, I will pay approximately $1.60 to $1.75 per promo item. If I order the more expensive kit, at $600 MSRP, the cost per promo item breaks down to $3.15 to $4 per item.  Granted, stores do get full copies of some games, such as Dead of Winter, Council of Verona and Geek Out (in the more expensive kit) which did appear on TableTop and which do help justify the cost, but I am also getting copies of Clubs, Dark Seas and Dead Man’s Draw, which have not appeared on the series. Still, I am not particularly enthused about paying to get promotional items that I do not want and cannot use but  that pales in comparison to 

22)      I don’t get enough of a promo item to give one away to everyone who plays in a demo of the game. I can understand getting one of the Munchkin hoodies and one of the Krosmaster promo figures (no, not on that one I can’t. They have enough promo figures floating around that I could get two or more), but the rest of the promo items are cards. There is no reason that I should get 1 Roll for It Promo Owlbear promo card or 1 Three Cheers for Master promo card. Granted I don’t publish cards but from everything I hear from publishers, they are cheap. Cheap enough that I should get more than one in the box.  Everyone who plays a demo of your game that day should walk away with a promo item, not just one person.  Steve Jackson Games, Looney Labs and Fantasy Flight Games did it right, including enough items so that everyone who plays should get something. A number of the promo items are listed as “1 pack”. Is that one pack to give to one person or a pack to break up and distribute to players? I don’t know and the solicitation doesn’t tell me.

I have already heard from a number of retailers who plan to register as a location for International TableTop Day but who plan to skip the kits altogether, contacting distributors and publishers directly to get promo items to give away. Hopefully, next  year publishers will take a cue from events like Free Comic Book Day or Free RPG Day. If you want me to spend money promoting your product, give me enough support in the kit to justify the effort to promote your product. Otherwise, I will pick the product I want to promote and contact those manufacturers for help.