Thursday, October 06, 2005

Game Makers - How they Destroy Gaming

I thought I might have already complained about how hard it is to own a brick & mortar game store before, but I didn’t see one. So, I thought I’d discuss games. Thankfully, we’re mainly a comic book store now, because I’d hate to own a game only store. Games did get us through the rough first few months here, and we’re thankful for all of those faithful gamers that came in and spent money every week. We were lucky!! Many game stores just become “hang-out joints” where people (not just kids) come and hang out, but don’t or rarely buy anything. But, that’s a discussion for another day. Today I’m not going to pick on gamers for not supporting their local brick & mortar gaming stores. Nor am I going to pick on game distributors, ‘cause I know I discussed that a bit once before. Today I’m going to rip into the game makers.

Game makers have everyone by the shorts—if you get my drift. Both players and game owners, and even the distributors. They set the rules, they make the product, they set the base prices. One would think they want to do what’s best for the game and for those who sell their games, as well as for those who play the games. But more often than not, it seems that they mainly worry about their own bottom line. Sure, they want to stay in business, but I think if you can create a quality game and provide quality support your game will sell and make money. I don’t make games, nor have I ever worked for a game maker, so I don’t really have the experience to say if this is the case, but my common sense tells me it should be.

But here’s the problem—or problems. Many games (I’m really talking about collectable miniature games and collectable card games primarily throughout this discussion), are designed to continually get new product into players hands. They build in retirement of cards/pieces and constantly make new sets. This I don’t have a problem with. However, some game makers (Wizkids is the main one I can think of right now) make several different games, and have the same system of retirement and new set introduction for each of them. Again, I have no problem with this, as long as the game maker can keep up with it. But when the quality of the games suffer, and when the distribution of the game suffers, then I do have a problem with it. Let’s take Heroclix for example. There were a couple of sets back last year where we got the total we ordered the day the game was released. Unfortunately this is quite rare. The last set we ordered, we ordered 6 cases (288 packs) and received 1 case (48 packs). And the quality of the pieces and the packaging was not that great. The set just before that we ordered 4 cases and again received only one. The next set we ordered, that hasn’t come out yet, we ordered 4 cases and were told we’d get 1 case. WHY!!!???!!! In my opinion, they shouldn’t have sets come out so often if they can’t get me what I ordered when it’s supposed to be on shelves. Every week after the release date that goes by it becomes harder to sell the game – it cools off. We could easily sell 2-3 cases in the first few weeks. But, if we only get one that’s all that we can sell. Then we have to wait weeks or months for more, and by then it’s substantially harder to sell them. Even if other stores don’t have them any more either. Players loose interest or go other places to find the game and then stores are stuck with extra product months later when we finally get the remainder of our order.

Now, if the game makers spread out their new releases it would help game stores in two ways: first, each set would have a longer shelf-life. In other words, if a new set comes out every 3 months I’ve got less than 3 months to clear out most of that game—probably more like a month, maybe two. If a new set comes out every 6 months, I’ve got that much longer to sell out, the game is new and fresh for at least 3 months. The other way is that maybe if they were spread out more I’d get my entire initial order, or more of my initial order on the release date. How can I even sell full cases to people if I am only guaranteed one case? I would have to give that person priority, or at least I should, but then I don’t have any packs to sell on release day. It’s a really really bad situation!
Even if game makers don’t ship in waves, I still think that some of the big games have sets that just come out too often. Magic could be spaced out more, Heroclix too, and Yu-Gi-Oh is horrible about it too. We barely recover financially from one game investment and another set lands on our doorstep. Plus, gamers would be willing to pay a higher price for the game if they didn’t have to buy a new set as often, at least if they are a gamer that’s loyal to the game and buys lots of every new set when they come out.

Another problem with game makers is rules and enforcement. Wizkids had set a rule that no one could advertise to sell their product for less than 20% off of suggested retail. If a store was caught doing this they said they’d stop selling them the product. This was largely done to help brick and mortar stores out by keeping on-line sellers from discounting the product so deeply that brick and mortar couldn’t possibly compete and still survive. However, about 6 months after they passed the rule we talked to a VP over at Wizkids, who informed us that they can’t actually enforce the rule. I think they don’t want to loose the money, but they claim that since this is America stores are free to sell product for any price, and Wizkids cannot come in and set price restrictions. I’m not an attorney, so I don’t know all the ins-and-outs of this. However, I don’t know why the Wizkids lawyers said it was OK to make the rule but then say it’s not OK to enforce it. The other rule that is a problem is “shelf date.” All product is supposed to go on sale at the same time. The game maker tells everyone—stores, distributors, gamers—what this date is. So, unless you get the product at an official pre-release event, the game product is NOT to be sold before the shelf date. However, there are always places that sell before that date. When this happens, the game maker is supposed to enforce the rule – with a fine usually, or for repeated offenses they can refuse product to that store. However, I don’t think any game maker has ever enforced this rule. So, store A breaks the rule and sells the game on Wednesday, even though the “shelf date” is Friday. Store B keeps the rule. However, shoppers discover that store A has the new set already—and it’s NEW so all of the die-hard players want to be the first one to have the best cards—so shoppers flock to store A to buy the game. Now store B is punished by loosing some business, just by keeping the rules. What happens to store A for breaking the rules? They make more money. That’s not fair in my book!

Big Retail is another problem! Upper Deck, the American arm of Konami, creators of Yu Gi Oh, used to provide stores like WalMart and Target with their cards before any brick and mortar (also called Hobby) stores got theirs. Yet, the Hobby stores host the game tournaments and demos of these games. They are the ones who help keep the game going, yet they were getting stabbed in the back. Players could load up on the games at WalMart and Target, who have plenty of other products to sell, and by the time the local gaming shop got the cards, the players wouldn’t be buying many more packs. Or they’d already have a starter so all of the starters the gaming shop had would sit because everyone already bought them from Big Retail. Finally, when game stores across the country began to cut back on their orders of Yu Gi Oh, and even threaten not to carry them any more, Upper Deck made a change. Now, the small Hobby stores get the cards first, and then a couple of weeks later Walmart and Target get theirs. See, the gaming stores need those games—that’s their main or only product. Target and Walmart won’t go out of business if a few less packs of Yu Gi Oh are purchased from them. Wizkids recently decided to jump into the Big Retail pool too. Now you can find booster packs at many Big Retail locations. They probably don’t have the same allocation problems I have. Even if they receive their product on the same day I do, if they get 20 cases and I get 1, I’m going to run out quicker, and once I do, my customers are going to buy the rest from Big Retail, so when the rest of my order shows up they won’t need it. As far as I’ve seen, Wizkids only distributed to Big Retail before hobby stores for MLB 2005 Clix set. Otherwise I don’t believe they get them before we do, but I’m sure they have them when we do. But because of the increased demand Big Retail puts on the product, it means that small stores like ours get less of their order up front than we would if Big Retail got theirs later.

The game industry has had a couple of rough years, and I’m not sure it’s over. There are many reasons for this, and I’ve only discussed some of them. I got to thinking about this because I was recently told that a game maker is opening their own game store in the area (Games Workshop). That didn’t mean much to me, since we don’t carry their games. But, I got to thinking about how game makers are actually doing damage to the very industry they should be supporting.

No comments: