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Tuesday, April 4, 2017

That Guy With the Opinions Again

My peers in this industry are highly variable, but from among those who I communicate with regularly, I have found genuine compatriots.  Paul Simer often says that if you've run a comic or game store for longer than a few years, you are a "survivor."  It is a sentiment I share.  We survivors tend to band together for mutual protection.  We fortify, trade, and intermarry.  Or something.

For the most part, retailers learn best practices, put them into place, bang around the edges of them with custom tweaks, lose some money on the custom tweaks, and then return to the center of best practices with allowances for whatever must be adapted to the resources at hand.  It is ever thus, nobody gets into this trade without enough arrogance in tow to think we can do it better.  Then, reality is beaten into our faces and we get religion in a hurry.

For example, despite some disagreement in the trenches, the data we have internally in the trade suggests that board games (or any boxed game really, but for simplicity, "board games") that are featured for demonstration to customers sell four to ten times the quantity that they do at similarly situated stores that opt not to demo that particular game.  Performing a demo of a board game is also an important social function because it opens the gateway to the tabletop hobby overall to a visitor who might not already be engaged.  It is an overwhelmingly positive best practice on multiple fronts.  And I don't do it.

Why don't I engage in the proven best practice of boxed game demos?  Because I don't have room in Gilbert to do it in any meaningful way, and in Tempe where I do have room, I don't have the consistency of customer traffic or the board game clientele depth to support it.  I could say I don't have enough board game volume overall to do it, but I don't want to beg the question or use circular reasoning.  The counterargument becomes, of course you don't have the board game volume, you don't demo.  If you did, you'd build that volume.  Chicken and egg perhaps.  That's without addressing the online dumping element, but either you've got a coping mechanism to dampen the sting from that or you're out of the category anyway.

Take this for what you will: Board games are bouncing back slowly but surely in Gilbert, showing signs of life in Tempe, and depending on the particulars of the move this autumn, might feature meaningfully at DSG New, perhaps including room to demo them.  So while I may dismiss board game demos as a non-starter under my immediate circumstances, I recognize the best practice for what it is.

At any given time, there are best practices that I believe might not be everything they were promised to be.  Or, perhaps, I believe I've found an even more betterer practice.  Or I'm just tired or irritated that morning, especially if I have had to be on the phone.  Whatever the reason, I often find myself at odds with many of my peers, doggedly insisting on swimming the stream less traveled and being typically verbose and vocal about it.  Sometimes I'm wrong, but sometimes I am right, so I stick to my judgment until process and outcomes reveal more.

Here is some current evidence of my obstinate contrariness:

I carry video games.  Something this basic constitutes something of a sore spot for many retailers.  Gamers are notoriously cliquish and many retailers in this trade are ascended gamers, so that is to be expected to some degree.  Others simply don't like or understand the category, or are apprehensive about the rougher edges of the much wider audience video games attract.  In some cases a shopkeep will get tired of unknowing customers blurting, "I thought this was a game store.  Where are the X-Box games?" or calling incessantly last winter asking for a NES Classic the store never even carried, and a snarky reply will follow.  "Oh, we don't sell electronic games."  The customer shrugs and offers their wallet full of money to someone more interested in taking it, like me.  There are three strong arguments for a game store not to carry "vidya games" that I know of: (1) They don't have the product expertise and are not inclined to import it, a perfectly reasonable basis to stay away;  (2) The store's brand is focused on something that isn't video games, or is focused on analog/tabletop generally, and the owner doesn't think the brand dilution will be worth the payoff; or (3) The store can't carry them due to exclusive rights of a GameStop in their plaza or whatever.
The prevailing opinion is against the Amonkhet Invocations, but I like them.  I don't like the Egyptian theme that much, and I don't care that much about the specific aesthetic.  This is nothing new; I did not like the floating rocks and Aztec theme of the Zendikar Expeditions, whereas I did enjoy the filigree bronze of the Kaladesh Inventions.  But my specific aesthetic preference isn't the reason I like the Invocations.  I like them because it means we are going to see more and more daring departures from the norm for special Magic cards, and that is both exciting and compelling.  Can you imagine the kind of gorgeous, solemn, hauntingly beautiful gothic frames we'll get on the Masterpieces from In Keeping Secrets of Silent Innistrad 3?  Or the intricate, superfine, exquisite Kanji frames we'll get on Masterpieces from Spirit Wars of Kamigawa? Or the old-world, refined Italian-style splendor of the Renaissance frames we'll get on Masterpieces from the next traditional high-fantasy Mediterranean block setting?  So yeah, I like the Invocations.  Because they mean so much more still to come, and oh by the way, there are probably some Egyptophiles who are absolutely loving them right here and now, so how about if we let people enjoy things.

Store credit should be good for purchase on anything in the store, period.  This might be the single point on which I differ the most from other retailers.  Anything, including tournament entry.  If there is anything store credit is not accepted for, that store is devaluing its own Itchy & Scratchy Money.  Many retailers cringe when customers redeem large chunks of store credit on premium items, but the problem isn't the redemption, the problem is that the retailer foolishly gave out too much store credit for whatever value they got.  Store credit isn't an independent currency.  It can only be obtained from our stores, nowhere else.  We control the spigot and the well pump.  If we are paying the right amount for card and game buys, and our credit bonus is reasonable, and we are prizing tournaments prudently, then we will already have accrued the needed value at the time of the store credit disbursement.  The redemption, when it happens, is mere bookkeeping at that point.  It was a long-term interest-free loan against merchandise at margin.  I welcome it, it gets deliverables off the books.  I believe it is unacceptable to place restrictions on the redemption of store credit, and I think consumers will vote with their wallets on that.

A lot of retailer-to-retailer advice is given without any manner of disclosure that the advising store's situation is, in some instances, grossly atypical.  And I'm not just talking about places in hip coastal enclaves who can collect MSRP on social pressure versus those of us in the southern wastelands competing against pervasive online plus every backpack/garage dealer the tides can wash up.  I'm talking about someone asking for advice on handling seating and parking for his first PPTQ and hearing the way it's done from the guy who has a 700-square-foot board game store and has never had more than six people in his building at the same time.  Or someone asking for help organizing their TCG singles so they can move into online sales and hearing advice from a store that does no online sales and dispenses singles from binders.  Or someone asking how to handle aggressive local competition and hearing sage wisdom from the only store within a 70-mile radius in Tertiary Micropolitan Census Designated Area.  Look, if you're a gross outlier on a given question, maybe leave that help request alone and let the parallel stores give guidance instead?  When a new Facebook group was formed for board-game centric retailers, I did not join.  Many of my friends are in there and I'm sure I would have been welcomed, but that's not what my store is and my input there would have been of low value to them.  In that group, I would be the outlier.  It was appropriate for me not to crash that party.
Finally, booster drafts should never be paired randomly.  15 37 26 48, odds vs odds and evens vs evens round 2, and round 3 writes itself.  You simply tree the rest of the bracket if you have swiss rounds and no elimination.  It's so easy, and it's not even taught anymore except for qualifier playoffs, and now we have situations where real drafts happen in real stores and you can get paired against the person who fed you in packs 1 and 3, and who has a steep statistical advantage against you.  I've been complaining to Wizards of the Coast about this for years and yet WER still pairs randomly because reasons mumble mumble.  Worse yet, most store owners don't care.  For the player who enjoys playing at a high level, and this is not necessarily a "grinder" but can be anyone who enjoys drafting enough to perceive why this is more than mere nuance, I want to be able to provide a superior experience.

I'll leave it at that for now, I'm sure these same debates will rage on within the trade and our forlorn little corner of it.  In an environment where three dozen business concepts a day find themselves the subject of argument, it's not difficult to find a contrary view.  Hopefully, even if you don't follow the contrary view, you're understanding why you went the other way.

Also, pineapple does not belong on pizza.  That's an absurdity.


  1. Great post! I really enjoy reading your stuff. Thanks! And, totally agree about pineapple.

  2. You and I are on the same page for draft. Even if it were only nuance, it's still one of the nuances that makes draft, DRAFT. It is not hard to teach new staff, contrary to what people tell me (I've taught over a dozen TOs how to do this using the terrible WER software...) and it does create a much better draft experience.