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.

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