Tuesday, August 27, 2019

RIP Rick Loomis

It was only a few weeks ago that  game industry mainstays Bill Jafee, James Mathe , Lee Garvin and Steve Creech passed away. Saturday brought notice that Rick Loomis, owner of Flying Buffalo Games and publisher of the Tunnels and Trolls RPG and Nuclear War card game, passed away after a lengthy struggle with lymphatic  cancer. Loomis’ position (much of the following information comes from Rick’s Wikipedia page) as a major figure in the gaming industry dates back to 1970 when, while serving at Fort Shafter in Hawaii, he picked up a copy of Avalon Hill’s Gettysburg. Finding himself fascinated by the game, he soon developed his own game, Nuclear Destruction, one of the earliest, if not the earliest boardgames to feature hidden movement. Offering to moderate play by mail games of Nuclear Destruction with fellow soldiers, he soon had  some 200 servicemen signed up to play, leading  Loomis to ask friend and fellow soldier Steve MacGregor to write a computer program to moderate play. When this proved successful, Loomis and MacGregor founded Flying Buffalo Inc. in 1972, to run play by mail games as a for-profit operation, making Loomis, as far as he knew, the first person to ever purchase a computer solely for gaming.  While focusing on play by mail games at the time, Loomis also acquired the rights to Nuclear War, which (I remember owning a white boxed copy of the game back in the early 1990s) became one of the company’s best selling products, with multiple expansions, including a randomized set of 40 cards released during the first TCG craze in 1995.

In 1975, Ken St. Andre approached Loomis with the new RPG he had developed:  Tunnels and Trolls. RPGs were still very new then, with Dungeons and Dragons the only published one. While the rules for D&D fell under copyright protection, the concept of roleplaying was not and Tunnels and Trolls, or T&T as players soon shortened it to, approached the genre with a much looser feel and more clearly written rules, making it the second published RPG. Loomis took 40 copies of the game to the Origins Game Fair and sold every copy, leading him to acquire the rights to T&T and bring a second edition of the game out under the FBI imprint. Loomis then wrote Buffalo Castle using the T&T rules, arguably the first solo RPG adventure, even pre-dating the “Choose your own Adventure” books . FBI’s newsletter SuperNova contained some of artist  Liz Danforth’s first work in the gaming field (FBI printed three magazines over time. The third, Sorcerer’s Apprentice, is still one of my favorites). In 1981, Loomis published  the first of the Grimtooth’s Traps books, one of the first RPG sourcebooks not tied to a specific system (although Judges’ Guild predated the release of the Grimtooth books, its early supplements were all tied to specific RPG systems such as D&D and RuneQuest).

In 1978, the Association of Game Manufacturers formed, soon renamed the Game Manufacturers Association, nee GAMA, and elected Rick temporary president and treasurer. He went on to serve as GAMA President for a number of terms, then moving to the President-Emeritus position, regularly attending board meetings. Loomis and Flying Buffalo were fixtures at both national and regional gaming conventions, setting up for decades in dealer and exhibit halls at Origins, GenCon, Eisen Game Fair and the GAMA Trade Show to name a few. After I got to know Rick, I learned we shared a fondness for Diet Mountain Dew, so if I knew he would have a booth at a convention , I made it a point to always bring in a couple of twelve packs of Diet Dew and drop them off at his booth.
Even with his veteran’s benefits, the family’s medical bills will run in the tens of thousands. If you are of a mind, you can contribute to the Go Fund Me campaign or purchase a Catalyst Bundle of Holding .

During the decades he spent in the industry, I never heard him speak a bad word about anyone and never heard anyone say anything negative about him. Thanks for everything Rick. The world is a better place because you were in it.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

How to Get Your Company or Game Name "Out There"

WOTC has been doing a pretty good job of weekly disseminating both basic and novel ideas used by other stores to keep their customers coming back and making customers feel special. However,  even though it is far easier to generate additional sales from existing customers, at some point you need to get your name out in front of new potential customers and get them into the store. Without a flow of new customers, a store will eventually tap out its existing customer base and see flatlined sales. I wanted to suggest three ways to get your name in front of new customers. As a savvy store owner (or publisher) you are likely already but just in case you’re not:

1.       Social Media—the great thing about social media is that it is free, to start. Set up an account on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, maybe even Vine, Snapchap and Instagram.  Unfortunately, due to the ways in which the various social media sources have tweaked their software, you now really do have to spend money in order to get your name and posts out in front of potential customers. The great thing about social media it that you start out for as little as 5 bucks to boost a Facebook post and have a lot more control over who will see it than you would with advertising in traditional formats. Facebook, and other forms of social media, allow you to have friends and friends of friends see your boosted posts or you can keep them from seeing them and spend your money to reach a targeted market that’s not already familiar with your company. I know stores spending 4 figures just on monthly boosting of social media.

2.       Join Civic Organizations—Become a member of organizations like your local Chamber of Commerce or Rotary Club or Kiwanis or Jaycees or Main Street. Not only do they work to better the community, and he better your community is doing , the better your business will do, but becoming a member allows you to take advantage of the services the organization offers. For example, as a member of our local Chamber of Commerce, I can send out promotions and notices to all other Chamber members , many of whom would have no idea what the store sells. Also,  if you have some sort of negative event take place, a position as a recognized member of the local community  helps mitigate the effects of bad publicity.

3.       Press Releases—The local media is always looking for local news and your store (or company) is newsworthy, whether you are hosting an event, are hiring new staff or even have a list of the top 5 games in your community for the year. This last one is one we sent out and we got a spot on local TV as well as mentions in two local papers, all for about half an hour’s work and another 5 minutes or so emailing them to the local media. Remember, you may not follow local news much but there are a lot of people that do, people who may not know you exist but have money to spend on what you are selling. Don’t know how to write a press release? Search for “sample press release” on the interwebs or hire a local journalism student to write one for you.

There are plenty of other ways to get your name out there, so if you have a good idea that worked, and would like to share it, send it to icv2.com and I will gladly put it in a future column.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

A Look At Everyone's Favorite: Sales Taxes

Interesting column in the current issue of Internet Retailer looking at the reaction of online retailers to the potential overturning of the SCOTUS 1992 ruling in Quill Corp. vs. North Dakota.  For those who are not familiar with the ruling, Quill Corp. vs. North Dakota was the Supreme Court ruling that said businesses without a physical presence in a state did not have to collect sales tax from customers who lived in that state, effectively preventing states from collecting sales tax on mail order and online purchases. The ruling was based on the Dormant Commerce Clause of the Constitution, which prevents states from interfering with interstate commerce unless specifically authorized by the United States Congress. Since Congress had not passed any laws dealing with the situation at the time, the court determined that Quill did not have a “substantial nexus” or connection to North Dakota and was thus exempted from collecting  and remitting sales or use tax to the state. However, the Court did explicitly state in its ruling that nothing prevented Congress from passing legislation to deal with the situation. Since, internet commerce was in its infancy at the time, with sales amounting to less than 1% of all retail sales, and the Congress has never met a situation it did not want to kick down the road until it became absolutely imperative to deal with it, Congress passed on developing any legislation to authorize states to collect sales tax from internet companies without some physical location in the state.

However in 2015, in his concurrence to the Court’s ruling on Direct Marketing Association vs. Brohl,  Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote about Quill’s “Tenuous nature” and the “serious continuing injustice faced by Colorado and many other States”, offering the states an opportunity to forcing “Kill Quill” suits by passing legislation compelling out of state vendors to collect and remit sales tax, forcing the vendors to bring lawsuits attempting to overturn the legislation. The states then expect these lawsuits to provide a legal vehicle to move the dispute back to the Supreme Court, revisiting and, the states hope, overturning the ruling. So far, the states’ plan has worked with argument of South Dakota v. Wayfair Inc. before the Court scheduled for this April .

Some of the comments from online only retailers in the column noted at the top really struck me, especially this one, in the light of the increased use of MAP in the gaming industry, by Deb Beresford, ecommerce manager at web-only sunglasses retailer X-wear.com:   “In the last two years, many of the sunglasses brands that we sell have changed their policies to require their retailers to maintain minimum advertised pricing. Because we can no longer discount most of these sunglasses, we lost huge revenue on the marketplaces where we list our products. The only reason I believe we capture any out of state customers is because they don’t have to pay sales tax. It’s very hard to find an edge in this market now without the courts taking away the one thing that gives any of us a fighting chance” and this one from Atinc  Sonmezer,  CEO of dancewear retailer MissbellyDance.com:  “ It will be very costly. I’m not sure how small businesses selling on Amazon nationwide will be able to handle it.”

Even Congress will probably move on this. I spoke with my House Representative this week and he said online sales tax reform was the number one topic mayors in the cities in his district wanted to discuss. We will see what happens but I expect to see some legislation dealing with the situation in the next year or three.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

New Space Marines Codex

GW will release an updated Space Marines Codex on August 17, along with several other items.  If you would like to trade in your current codex, we will give you $15 in credit on it towards the new one. This offer good until 8/24. 

This week we release Codex: Space Marines, together with a brand new set ofDatacards, and that’s not all...

We also, Codex: Ultramarines and Codex: White Scars, two supplement codexes used in conjunction with Codex: Space Marines, and each with their own set ofDatacards and Themed Dice Sets.

And for two new codexes, two heroes of legend: Ultramarines Chief Librarian Tigurius and White Scars Kor’sarro Khan.

  The new release has a street release date of Saturday 08-17-19.

(Please note these items may be allocated for release.)

Friday, August 9, 2019

Commander 2019 Decks

Just got information on the Commander 2019  decks, which release on August 23 just in time for the first officially sanctioned Commander Weekend.
Merciless Rage--This black/ red deck relies on the "madness" discard mechanic, allowing you to cycle through the deck quickly looking for powerful cards. $44.99

Primal Genesis-A red/green/white deck designed to create lots of tokens to overwhelm your opponent's board. $39.99

Mystic Intellect--A red/white/ blue deck featuring "flashback" and "jumpstart" allowing you to duplicate the first card cast from your graveyard each turn. $34.99

Faceless Menace--This black/blue/green deck uses the "bluff" mechanic. Its commander reduces the cost of face down creatures by 3 mana and has a draw trigger when a face down creature enters the battlefield.  $44.99

While they last, a case of all 4 decks is $149.99

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Betrayal Legacy Vs. Gloomhaven

The design for  Betrayal Legacy as WOTC is referring to it, comes from Rob Daviau, one of the designers of the original Betrayal at House on the Hill and designer of the Legacy series of games:  Risk Legacy, Pandemic Legacy Seasons 1 and 2 and Seafall. All of these are, for want of a better word, customizable boardgames. In fact, as far as I am aware, Risk Legacy paved the way for what could be called the customizable board game, a campaign style of game in which the board gets modified permanently, cards get altered or destroyed and the players wind up with a individualized, but still playable, game.  Games in a similar vein include Charterstone and Gloomhaven. As you play the game, over time you wind up with an individualized version of the game.  The Legacy version of Betrayal is projected to include a prologue and a thirteen chapter story arc covering several generations in the history of one family that occupies the House on the Hill with player characters aging over the course of gameplay and even descendants of the original characters making appearances in later stories.

However, based on recent experience, I am not particularly sure about how well this version of the game will sell. Risk Legacy did pretty well, but the game established a new category and games that create their own product niche always dominate that niche until competitive arises (See Dominion and deckbuilding games). Pandemic Legacy Season 1 did pretty well but nowise as well as Risk Legacy and I do not think we have moved a copy of Pandemic Legacy Season 2 yet. As far as Seafall, we still have our original copy on the shelf and I noticed Asmodee/ Plaid Hat Games had the game listed on their annual Christmas clearance sale last year. Charterstone has done OK, moving quite well when it first came out but sales have slowed down on the game since Stonemaier Games dealt with the out of stock problems Charterstone had when it first released, a problem that Cephalofair Games has not managed to overcome yet with Gloomhaven as it still suffers from horrendous out of stock problems for the past year. This, however, has not affected demand for the game as, of this writing, it still ranks number one on BoardGameGeek’s Hotness Index and sports a 9.0 ranking on the website.

Much of the demand for Gloomhaven is driven by the scarcity of the game. Since stores have been told they should see much of the scarcity problem alleviated when a new printing arrives this summer, it will be interesting to see if demand for the game stays at the same level it is now, with copies selling for over $400. Pre-sales of the new printing indicate a drop in interest as some stores are taking preorders for as little as $92. Based on this, it looks to me as if the great interest by customers in Gloomhaven is driven more by scarcity than by actual gameplay and I worry we may see the same reaction with Betrayal Legacy. The original Betrayal still sells well, as does the Widow’s Walk expansion, but Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate met with a distinct lack of enthusiasm among customers. Given WOTC’s supply chain, I do not expect to see any shortages in Betrayal Legacy, so demand for the game will be driven by customer perception of gameplay, not scarcity. Will be interesting to see what happens.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Hero Strike Decks

Konami is reprinting the Hero Strike Structure Decks that came out in 2015.  Right now the single decks are selling online for around $45 each. The reprint will be regular pricing though and 8 decks per display like usual.  Orders are due 8/16 and they are releasing 11/8/19. Let us know if you want 1 or 8.