Monday, August 13, 2018

Time Enough at Last

In a Facebook group the other day, there was a discussion about how ROM piracy enforcement is starting to get harsher and harsher, ranging from outright litigation from publishers to prosecution by authorities to getting cut off by local ISPs for excessive downloading.  There are ways around a lot of this, of course.  You can Tor Browser your way into a limited range of anonymity.  The various repositories migrate and re-open, fueled by malware dollars and porn banner ads.  If you're bound and determined to acquire content without paying for it, it can still be done, for a while longer at least.

It struck me as I read through the discussion that I no longer bother pirating... well, anything really, but in particular, I no longer bother pirating ROMs, and I really had to think about it to realize when that transition occurred and what prompted the decision.  And this is saying something, because let me tell you, I basically spent decades pirating everything.  I was the very definition of a digital hoarder.  BBSing on the HST in the '90s, Napster and Limewire and Morpheus at the turn, Bittorrent thereafter, and no CTO box ever seemed to have storage options enough.

Thinking back, it was easy to remember when I stopped pirating other things.  Law school in 2004 was the end of computer software piracy for me.  My entire future depended on me being able to use tools like Microsoft Office with no compromises and no excuses.  I was still a PC fellow at the time so there were only a handful of apps I needed, but they were expensive and crucial.  I made a decision that I had enjoyed my fun as a computer hobbyist, downloading "LeEt WaReZ" when there was nothing at stake, but my professional career demanded legitimacy, and if I was going to make a living using these tools, I owed their creators, fair and square.

Music and movies lasted slightly longer.  Bottom line, I wanted to listen to all the music a few times, and I only wanted to pay for "keepers" among my favorite bands or movies, in the form of my CD and DVD collection.  This is a quibble.  It wasn't right.  In 2008, when Alexandra was born, I decided I wanted to be setting the right example for the kids.  By this time I was also a student of Objectivism and I believe in the value of compensating people for the enjoyment they provide me.  It didn't hurt that technology was offering a hassle-free content library that worked seamlessly across an ecosystem; 2007 had marked my migration from Windows to OS X, and I celebrated by spending absurd amounts in iTunes.  I own proper copies of most of what I consume, I subscribe to services that provide the rest, and if you see a song in my library that I haven't bought one way or the other, odds are it's simply not available at any price, and I stand willing to purchase it if that should change.

My console ROM collecting went on somewhat longer.  There haven't been above-board options for most such consumption, as a lot of it is rare or in some cases fully unobtainable legitimately.  But ultimately, I turned away from that as well, around the beginning of this decade, and now I remember how that went down.

Essentially, it became pointless to pirate ROMs when the ultimate payoff, entertainment through gameplay, became more readily attainable legitimately than illicitly.

ROM piracy wasn't always emulation, of course.  Back in the 1990s, when the Super Nintendo reigned supreme, those who knew where to ask were able to get devices called console copiers.  The Super Wild Card and Super UFO were the most popular models at the time.  They sat in the cartridge port of a SNES and allowed games to be played from ROM images saved to 1.44MB floppy disks.  If you borrowed or rented a game, you could copy the ROM from the cartridge to disk right there on the spot.  The largest carts back then took up two or three disks.  Later versions had ZIP disk support and ultimately just USB connections so you could leave everything on your PC's hard drive.  Years later it got even easier: flash memory cards were big enough to hold everything, and the console copier was superseded by the "flash cart," playing ROMs on the original hardware via a passthrough cartridge as though the original media was being used.

If the above sounds suspiciously like the emulation you already know about, that's not an accident.  Emulation grew out of what had begun as simple storage spoofing.  Computers at the time couldn't effectively emulate consoles, because you needed a computer of far greater power to run a virtual machine as a subprocess and produce a decent result.  But by the end of the decade, reasonably functional software like NESticle and SNES9x and MAME existed that allowed the games to be run on a computer directly.  Typically you'd be stuck using keyboard controls or the subpar PC joysticks of the time, but the bottom line was that you could play games without paying for them.  Lots of games.

Like typical ROM collectors, at one point I had enough video games stored and ready for play via emulation that I could spend multiple lifetimes doing it and still not reach the end.  It was an orgy of plenty that could scarcely have been approximated in human history.  The internet is endless content, of course, but this was endless gated content, endless admission to an endless festival.  It was easy to see why so many people, including me, found software piracy so appealing.  And within a few years, computers could emulate much newer systems with ease.

So I basically had free entertainment forever.

And then, somehow, just like I do with all kinds of things, I let it turn into work.

I don't mean DSG; the store has nothing to do with emulation and won't even carry products that are tailored toward it.  I mean that in order to maintain these vast, always-ready catalogs of video games for every system and every variant and every piece of hardware on which they might run, and dodging The Man the entire time doing it, I was using up inordinate amounts of time and attention collecting new release ROM dumps, installing new versions of emulator executables, testing and making sure things still worked, updating and testing firewall software, torrent software, Tor, and everything else, and on and on.

So before long, I realized I was spending more time and effort preparing to play video games for all eternity than I would actually spend just paying for games I wanted to play, and then playing them.  Then, later, I could pay for the next game I wanted to play, and so on, lather rinse repeat.  And by doing this I could let it be the publisher's problem about making it work properly on my hardware or it needed a new patch or whatever.  And that I could do this for the rest of my natural life here on this earth and still not come close to running out of ready and available content.  They'll keep making more.  And I could do it in the light of day without having to hide behind a grip of IP proxies before navigating over to The Pirate Bay.

And what's more, used retro video games are amazingly affordable.  I can pick up systems from the 32-bit era and play some of the best titles around for a pittance.  It's such a friendly consumer landscape that I literally make part of my living providing it.  I bought a used PS2 just so I could revisit titles like Vandal Hearts and Gran Turismo 4 and Katamari Damashii.  I finally had a Sega Master System come in and I'm going to re-enable the hidden FM sound channel and fire up some Phantasy Star for old time's sake.  I'm going to savor it.

So at the core of my realization was that: beyond being morally right, consuming video games via legitimate means instead of through ROM piracy was actually the superior experience.  So much so that I quickly found my cache of available legitimate content outpacing my ability to consume it, which had been the original attraction of ROMs and emulation.

The above theory is proving out: Right this moment I have more things sitting on my Xbox Live account that I have not played, or haven't touched for more than a few starting levels, than I have games I've played exhaustively, by a ratio of many times over.  My Gamerscore has a pile of points from the likes of the Rock Band series and Ori and the Blind Forest, and then a whole bunch of 50/1400 and 0/750 scores from the scads of games I swore I'd get back to when I got around to it.  This includes a bunch of retro games that I bought for the convenience of having them on my X-Bone (or the Xbox 360 before it) despite being perfectly capable of playing them in an emulator for the past ten to fifteen years or longer.  Same with the Nintendo Virtual Console.  I think I've actually purchased Super Metroid and Super Mario 64 at least a dozen times across different media and systems, including Japanese originals, preferred for speed running.  We own around 50 physical games at any one time across the Wii, Wii U, and 3DS in disc or card form, and I barely play a fraction of them.  (The kids do somewhat better.)

The irony has to be making Nintendo and Microsoft smile.  Before, I played games without paying for them.  Now I pay for games and I barely (or never) end up playing them.

Oh, and I can't really speed run anymore.  In the classic Twilight Zone episode referenced by the article title, Henry Bemis has a post-apocalypse library all to himself, but breaks his glasses and can no longer read.  Much the same way, I now have legit access to all the games I care to play, but I am getting older and my nerves are shot.  I can't perform the cleanest and most precise moves necessary.  I know what to do and when to do it, I can master the run routing, but my hands refuse to obey my brain's commands in real time, so getting onto today's leaderboards is an unrealistic expectation.  I enjoy watching the speed runs now, enjoying the achievements of those who are pushing the envelope and playing mistake-free football and entertaining me while they do it.  YouTube is changing passive viewing entertainment and this is just one minuscule facet of it.

I still have some flash carts that get used to test hardware more than anything else.  My kids mostly want to play Minecraft and that's cloudware like everything else on the leading edge.  Ah, the kids.  That's the other piece of this equation.  My family.  My wife who I never have enough free time to spend with, and my kids who I never have the energy to keep up with.

I think about all the time I spent making sure I had the latest bullsh*t JRPG ROMs translation-patched, which I'll grant was back when I was a single idler, and I resent that I don't have that time back now to spend sitting on a tropical beach with Stephanie, listening to the surf and drinking sweet beverages and enjoying the bliss.  I think about all the money I spent on adapters and drives and storage and specs and so on to keep this digital library that nobody cared whether I was keeping, and I resent that I don't have that time now to spend hiking through beautiful mountain wilderness with Greg, Evey, and Allie.  And it's not just the notion of vast, exotic vacations, either.  I'd be delighted just to be able to spend the time teaching my kids to play musical instruments, or watching mystery shows with Steph, or taking the entire crew for a great dinner out, or what have you.  It's not too late, but so much time has already elapsed.

And now as my collection of purchased iTunes Media has grown truly massive and the XBL and VC purchased game collections are sufficient to meet the greater share of the our family consumption, let alone the physical media we still own, I find myself in this gradual toboggan ride down where I get onto my computer, poke through the old directories, find a bunch of MKV files of movies I just don't care if I ever find time to watch, and I delete them unseen.  Or a bunch of downloaded ISOs for one system or another that I'm just never going to bother trying to burn and modchip and screw with, so let's get those gigabytes back.  Or I'll raid the bookshelf for games with a layer of dust on them and just trade them in to the store for resale.  I'll probably upset a lot of people from my old #ytsejam days by admitting that I deleted most of the bootleg concert recordings I had collected.  I just don't listen to them, and I got tired of curating the library around them.  I'm still holding onto my collection of rare music videos and concert videos, since even with the reality of modern YouTube, a lot of it is still not circulating publicly, and if I tried to upload it to YouTube it would get me shut down on copyright strikes.  I'll surely find some way to bequeath and offload it all to "the world" eventually and then I can watch on demand the same as everyone else.  And sure enough, the amount of time I spend having anything to do with emulation is now essentially zero.

I will never stop loving video games, of course.  Unlike tabletop, which I take no joy in right now because of burnout from work, I still find myself able to steal a spare hour and savor Ori or Street Fighter or Metroid or Castlevania.  But mostly?  I find that there aren't enough hours in the day, or days in the week, or years left in my life, to endlessly tinker with the mechanisms of hoarding illicit content, never mind its appeal to the autism endorphins.  Life is just so much better than that.  I can have all the fun for a fraction of the effort if I'm willing to fork over some dollars of money to parties that, bottom line, are entitled to that compensation in the first place.  It makes piracy as such seem even pettier in hindsight, a pursuit undertaken by the oblivious and entitled gamer/viewer/listener.  The Spanish Proverb proves true again: "Take what you want, and pay for it."

I wish I had achieved that epiphany back when I had the time, youth, and health to spare.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Six Years of Survival

By a quirk of the calendar and there being only one leap day since we opened, our 6th anniversary week matches exactly our original opening week in August 2012!

While we had online operations underway already and had a soft opening on Thursday the 9th, Desert Sky Games in Gilbert opened for the first time publicly on Friday, August 10th!  That first "Magic on a Friday Night" (since we were awaiting our Wizards Play Network approval) drew 30-ish players and it seemed like we had all the space in the world at our original 2,400-square-foot suite at 2531 South Gilbert Road.
This blog does plenty of reminiscing and of comparing past performance to current trends, so I won't dig too deeply into those particulars.  But right now my overall impression as I look back at the company's history so far is one of survival.  This is perhaps colored by the past twelve months being the most challenging since we opened, and in fact the most challenging career year in my adult life up to this point.

Now that the move is pretty much in our rear-view mirror, looking back on how badly it went has been a somber experience.  We went into the move flush with money from a moving sale and we had arrangements in place for an inexpensive buildout.  Even with a projected sales drop due to the move, we were on track to return to normal growth trajectory within a few months, ostensibly assured by holiday sales.  In practice, we had months of delay, had to have a bunch of work re-done to meet code, and thanks to all the downtime and our initial ability to use only a third of the new space, we saw sluggish sales throughout late 2017 and well into 2018, including a moribund holiday season where it seemed like nobody shopped local until it became too late to buy from Prime.  We had to borrow, and that meant servicing debt, and that meant money flushed down the rat hole.  It sucked.

The good news is that we had substantial inventory and asset reserves, and we were able to lean on that throughout the months after the move.  Between cashing chunks of that out and utilizing financing as cash-flow reinforcement, we were back to mostly normal operation by late spring.  Most of the moving debts are paid off and none of them are coming back.  The store's economic machine is running hot now, and we're starting to really taste that size advantage.

And that size advantage has been at the center of all this.  During this entire ordeal, the key asset, the reason we moved where we did in the first place, was in our hands and locked down.  We had the space and we had the location and we had it on a favorable lease.  We have DSG Chandler, the biggest game store in Arizona, by a nose over Prescott's Game On and Glendale's Imperial Outpost, both excellent businesses.  We have access to the freeway less than a mile east and additional freeway access to our south and west, and we're in the heart of Chandler's professional tech corridor, an outstanding place to do business.  We have acres of parking and great food options nearby.  We face north so the afternoon sun no longer scorches the storefront.  And we have by far the most organized play capacity in the East Valley, coming at a time when other area stores were opening larger storefronts and starting to get a little braggy and belligerent against the compact-but-high-volume business engine I had in place at DSG Gilbert.  Now we have over 6,000 square feet, elbow drop.  We know how to leverage that asset into monetizable activities.  And best of all, we're paying the right price for it.

Physical facilities are the most difficult part of a retail business to change.  Leases typically lock the business in for three to five years or more.  Internal changes are expensive and external changes are oftentimes not possible at all.  I spent over four years at Gilbert literally climbing the walls extracting every last square inch of value I could out of that facility, and it was maxed out.  I wasn't going to be able to take the business any further until I reset the baseline.  DSG Chandler was the result of that.  We went big rather than going home.  Going home would have been easier, but then we wouldn't have the vast untapped potential of our physical plant today.

The ownership group is finally exactly where it needs to be.  We had some great contributory investors early on in 2012 who sold their equity during the first year or so of business.  We then had two difficult separations from partners who went on to open competing stores, one of which had a decent two-year run and closed in late 2016, and the other of which opened in 2017 and has not been consequential.  The ownership group now includes one of the best and most respected judges in the southwest, an electrical engineer who works miracles for us behind the scenes, some guy who writes blogs, and my wonderful wife who serves as our final sanity filter when we're about to embark on some risky plan.

They say hard times make strong people, and if that's the case, then sun's out and guns out as far as we're concerned.  I don't think DSG Chandler is performing anywhere near its ceiling yet, and we are only beginning to scratch the surface of what our new hub facility can do.  We are painstakingly gardening up a business culture where our employees know we have their back and trust them to use integrity and good judgment, and their performance reflects that trust and confidence.  We are carefully cultivating a player community through the fearless expulsion of toxic individuals, despite our foreknowledge that those we ban will repay us with a social media smearing, which indeed several have done.  It is worth it because the player base that remains is Good People Whom Others Like To Interact With.  We're in the business of selling fun.  It is essential that every part of this mechanism be oriented toward that.

DSG Chandler won't always be the biggest dog in the yard.  Capitalism ensues as usual, and someone else will expand and be the new square footage leader, or someone else will show up and open huge right from the grip.  They will benefit from that the way we're benefiting from it now.  In the meanwhile we will have had that much more additional time to iterate, improve, develop, diversify, deepen, and reinforce.  We'll probably have satellite locations again before much longer.  That was something we figured would be in place by now back when I posted our move announcement for our 5th anniversary.  Then the store move ran late, and ran expensive, and so on, and I figured the prudent thing to do was to shelve expansion plans and just make sure we got the core back to 100%.  We did, and we want to spend the rest of 2018 laying in reserves, and then our eyes will be on the horizon again for branching out.  Meanwhile, at our hub, by the time the DSG Chandler lease ends in September 2022, I hope against hope that it's just like DSG Gilbert was in 2017, where we burgeon at the boundaries and cannot possibly squeeze anything else in.

And if the trade winds shift and blow cold, we'll pivot and do something different.  Despite all of the foregoing and how much pride I have in our people and this thing we've built, I am eminently willing to go "microstore" and pick up my stethoscope and hang out a shingle and do things that way.  It wouldn't be my first choice, not after putting a year of blood and treasure into building a megastore, but I will do what I must to ensure the best long-term outcome.  Volition supersedes all other prerogatives.

Here's hoping for good tidings when the end of Year Seven comes around the bend!

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Most Tabletop Game Stores Should Ignore Video Games

In a seminar at the GAMA Trade Show in 2017, and then in the retailer-only Facebook group Hybrid Theory, and then informally at GAMA this year, Paul Simer from Nerdvana in Tennessee joined me in extolling the virtues of the video game category and encouraging tabletop game stores to diversify into it.  The benefits range from the financial to the logistical and have far-reaching ramifications to anyone operating a storefront.  The business of independent video game stores as such is strong right now and the category is in a boom cycle.

Paul is tremendously well-grounded in realism and approached this topic in pure pragmatism; the store he bought was tabletop first and he forged ground into video games and ended up having them perform their way into being a primary category.  My desire to sell video games was less based in rational evaluation.  I have loved video games since early childhood and simply want to be in the category forever.  In terms of raw volume, DSG is Magic first, other TCG-related accessories and games second, and then there's a bit of a logjam with video games, D&D, and Warhammer.  Board games are in their offseason right now but will poke back into the top tier once we get past Halloween.  Minor categories that don't sustain the store themselves include comics, LCGs, apparel, toys and figures, and art.  So my rationale doesn't fully hold video games to the same level of scrutiny as Paul's did.  Paul's approach is better.

I had something of an epiphany the other day while reading the Facebook retailer groups generally, and that has caused me to reverse course on video games and recommending them as a category.  For most tabletop stores, they should stay away.
Seriously, stay away.  Video games are not for most of you (stores).  And so that I don't appear self-serving here, recall that I've stated again and again, and I maintain even now, that it's a gigantic market with room for plenty, and I'm thriving in it despite having a GameStop literally about 500 feet from my door.  But what I'm telling you today is, for most tabletop game stores, video games aren't where you want to be.  And I can back that argument up with facts and reasons.  Look here.

1. Volume? What volume?  I hope you weren't a fan of having volume.
A dirty secret that is masked by video games having great net margins is that video-game-focused stores tend to be at much lower revenue levels overall and can often only support an owner and perhaps a couple of part-timers, if that.  Increasingly in the video game retailer groups online we hear stores bemoan $10k months at the till, which is why so many of them are tiny in square footage, they cannot possibly afford higher occupancy expenses.  (For perspective, I pay more than that every week in bills.)  There are tabletop stores for whom $10k is a subpar Friday, and we're sniffing that ballpark on better release frames.  The limitation, of course, stems from stock.  A pure used video game store can only buy what used games walk in the door, and new accessories and supplies.  There's some pittance from liquidations of one another, convention activity, and low-margin new titles, but the main hay is trade-ins.  There's no distributor sitting on stacks of CIB SNES Chrono Triggers ready to ship them by the carton.  The activity level for Magic singles is far greater on a per-store basis, despite being smaller in aggregate than the video game market.  And tabletop stores can get brand new merch from distribution every day.  A high-octane engine needs fuel.

2. Baloney sandwiches are considered sufficiently nourishing for many gamers' diets.
You think counterfeit Magic and Pokemon cards and bootleg Chinese Warhammer recasts are a problem, you have no idea.  Counterfeit video games are far more prevalent, and more crucially, the bootlegs are good enough for most players because there's no sanctioning entity that cares.  They have no collectible value obviously, but the assortment of sources pushing X-in-1 knockoffs of the NES Classic or modded Xboxes or various flash-ROM carts are providing sufficient play functionality that plenty of players are ponying up the dough that way rather than on authentic goods.  We recently had to pull an otherwise good product from the shelf, the previously discussed EON GCHD adapter, because its packaging resembled a bootleg mini Gamecube, and it was actively upsetting customers to see it and then be disappointed that it was not, in fact, a bootleg mini Gamecube.  For an instant they were super excited that they could spend ~$100 and play Super Mario Sunshine and Metroid Prime and PN03 and Zelda Twilight Princess and twenty or so more of their favorites.  Never mind that such a thing doesn't exist, seeing something that resembled it and then being denied that consummation was a psychological dealbreaker.  Note that they were ready in a blind instant to buy bogus if it meant playing for cheap.  That's how pervasive the recognition of bootleg video games has become.  And I haven't even addressed piracy or emulation, which stores mostly should just ignore but does have a suppressive effect.

3. Returns are reality, and many of them are fraudulent but you have to eat the loss anyway.
In the tabletop-only world, you can put up a sign that says ALL SALES FINAL and probably have it make about zero percent negative impact on your sales.  For pure Magic-based or TCG-based shops, they could not possibly do it any other way.  Market pricing on singles, after all.  In the video game world, nobody will buy from you if they fear being stuck with non-working gear, and unfortunately, some people are dishonest, and will break or damage or mess up the gear themselves and bring it back for a refund claiming it didn't work when they bought it.  (Do they seriously think we don't test the systems?  Sigh.)  This takes a bite out of those otherwise appealing video game margins.  Fortunately, if you can achieve some volume (see #1 above), returns aren't a big problem.  But until you can wash out those costs in the law of large numbers, it will seem like you're getting big returns on the regular and each one will hurt like a kick in the crotch.  But if you try to move away from a customer-friendly return policy, sales plummet.

4. You have to do handstands to beat shoplifters, and it works against the tabletop best practices of hands-on demos and accessible merchandising.
There is shrinkage in tabletop but it's not serious.  Most stores keep the most pocketable stuff backcounter, such as singles and booster packs.  The board game hobby just doesn't have a whole lot of people trying to five-finger-discount the product.  Video games are an order of magnitude larger market, and shoplifting is absolutely ubiquitous.  Which is why you can't just have the product, you have to put the disc media (and in our case the manuals!) backcounter with a retrieval process in place, and the displays out on the floor, ultimately more than doubling the square footage sunk into the product due to accessibility and logistics.  Cartridges can be under glass (okay visibility, no shrinkage, not as much sales), on the racks (best visibility and shoppability but tons of theft), or put away backcounter like discs with proxy display cases on the racks, for best shoppability and security, but it's a bunch of extra work and cost.  We've had people steal five-dollar AC cords off the rack.  It's discouraging.  Provided you can make your store somewhat scumproof, you'll do okay, but this is another one of those things that eats into those appealing margins.

5. Digital delivery is killing the market Variants and rares can be a big problem from the outset.
Digital delivery isn't killing the market, though that's a popular pundit line.  Video games are in a boom cycle right now and the current generation leader, the Playstation 4, made its hay on a day-zero promise that players would still get physical discs as the primary delivery media for content.  There's a sunset coming, much as there is with comic books, but we're not close to it yet.  I just wanted to dispose of that talking point here.  Variants and rare items are a bigger problem.  You know how it takes some teaching before a staffer who isn't versed in Magic can buy singles without getting rolled by sharps?  While the video game catalog across all of history is much smaller than Magic or Pokemon or Yugioh, it is easier to lose money when a sharp presents a common variant or version as a rare one (and that's assuming it's authentic; see #2 above).  You have to really love and immerse in video games to be able to catch this stuff.  Magic-heavy stores: You know how your first reaction goes when some board-games-first store says they're going to get into Magic singles and asks the Facebook retailer group for pointers?  And how big the gulf is between what you know and what they know and how much of an uphill climb it's going to be for them and you can hardly articulate the magnitude of it?  Yeah, that.  Except for video games, the greenhorn is you.  You can master all the common stuff but you're going to take literally years to know all the corner cases, and meanwhile the sharps in town will roll you over and over.  I've been a video gamer for literally forty years and they still get us sometimes when I'm looking the other way.  Yes, I am old.

6. Dumpers are everywhere and distributors have no control over them.
The major publishers like Nintendo don't do a lot of distribution in the sense we know it from the tabletop side, and when they do, margins are close to nonexistent.  However, the accessory-and-supply distributors like Hyperkin, Innex, Vast, Video Game Advantage, and so on, are used to selling to garage or convention vendors in addition to brick-and-mortar stores.  It's just a reality of the category, there's no Leegin or Wizards Play Network or Otter Screening here.  And there are a ton of those scrapper dealers who are willing to buy Retrons or Cirkas or Old Skool merch and flip it for a nickel over wholesale out of the trunk of their car, because they don't value their time or labor and they generally commit sales tax fraud and the usual rack of reasons.  The saving grace in-store is that most buyers are skeptical of flea-market-esque sourcing, because those flippers don't tend to stand behind the product (see #3 above), but when they dump on Amazon and eBay, the buyer protection covers that.  Long story short, these products are still safe to resell if you're already in the video game category, and you'll make good money on them, and the quality is perfectly acceptable, but understand that you aren't going to make money selling it online or at swap meets or anything because you'll be undercut heavily, and if you ever close up shop, you're not going to recoup on it, and you may as well push it all into a lake.

7. Machamp = Madden and Here Come the Feelbads, also meth is a scourge.
I hope you like bad reviews, because just like every millennial who brings in the same childhood Ash binder full of heavily played Base Jungle Fossil cards missing the Charizard and is crushed to learn you won't be providing them a down payment on the house they're trying to buy before the baby comes, you're going to get castigated by every broheim with a stack of worthless previous-gen sports titles who can't believe you refuse to pay them half of original retail.  It's not quite as bad as that, I suppose, but it's a far cry from the world of Magic singles trades where everyone basically knows how it all works and most stacks of cards get processed with barely a shrug out of the customer and we all move on happily with our day. The secondary thing is that it's relatively rare for the swarf and dross of humanity to walk in the door with actual Magic cards to sell, but I guaran-damn-tee you the toothless meth-head who smells like an open grave will gladly plop a filthy broken PS3 that they found in a dumpster right onto your countertop and a roach will crawl out the vent.  Sometimes a roach colony.  Also they'll be pissed you won't pay them at least $100 cash for it.  It's a video game thingy, it's obviously worth that much.

8. Operational software isn't much better on the video game side and in fact a lot of it is the same software.
Part of the tabletop store reality is accepting the fact that our industry doesn't have enough money in it to get us access to the best point-of-sale and inventory management software.  Branching into video games offers a few minor upgrades, but they're not wow-good and they won't have you jumping ship with vigor from whatever you're running now.  In some cases it's the same thing you're already running.

9. The future growth subcategory in video games is repairs and video mods and controller mods and vintage restoration and other custom value-adds.  If you aren't already competent at electronics and engineering, the category is going to get worse for you over time.
Yeah, that.  Also to get a decent disc resurfacer you're gonna be out four figures minimum, and yes you do need one.

Nine reasons is good.  I don't think I have to go much further right now, and that's not touching on some of the minor obstacles, such as video games not generally being copacetic with Meeple-esque branding, or the human septic tank that is Smash Bros organized play, or the major YouTube personalities and tastemakers being in some cases virulently anti-store.  I could go on all night.  Tip your waitress and try the veal.

So with all that, why should any tabletop store ever get into video games?  What's the counterargument?  Why is my store in the category, and in it to stay, for that matter?  Am I just being hypocritical?

I'm in video games for as long as I remain in commercial retail, because I love video games and I am willing to immerse to the Nth degree to know and recognize all the goods and the rares and the variants and make the repairs and service the thingies and do the mods and so on.  It's the market I personally want to be in.  I'd sacrifice everything else in the business if it made business sense to do so (rest assured right now it would not make sense to do so) and if I had to reboot from the brink of disaster into some build-it-again scenario, I'd be in Magic and video games and possibly D&D and that's it.  Other stuff might come along in time, or might not.  Or I guess if I got bought out of the tabletop side of things, there we go.  It's partly a lifestyle choice and partly an acknowledgment that as I grow older, I can no longer do everything in the business myself, and certain components of it have grown beyond my everyday attention capacity, and that may not always be the case.

If you aren't similarly devoted and focused on making video games as a retail category work for your tabletop game store... don't try.  Much like comics, it's a category that punishes dabblers.  You'll be throwing money away.

Monday, July 23, 2018

The Money Train Requires Many Dollars But Only Two Rails

This article will be a bit brusque, so I want to start with a disclaimer.  Since it was recently made public that I was invited to take part in Wizards of the Coast's WPN Retailer Advisory Panel, I think it prudent at the outset to state that what you are about to read is my own editorial, opinions are mine only and not sanctioned or endorsed by any third party, and nothing you are about to read reflects anything discussed in the Panel, the content of which I am not permitted to disclose and will not be discussing in any way here on this weblog.  Everybody got that?  Now then.

Last week Wizards of the Coast announced that, effective this September, they would no longer distribute directly to stores.  Their direct distribution encompassed Magic: the Gathering, Dungeons & Dragons, and a small smattering of board games under their own label and that of Avalon Hill, such as Axis & Allies and the Betrayal series.

Within a few days, the authorized distributors announced that the price of those products at wholesale, especially Magic, would be increasing, presumably owing to Wizards increasing distributor cost as the flip side of handing the distributors all the volume previously serviced by direct sales.  Distributors then passed that cost through.  In fact, for stores that do not select a given distributor for Magic prerelease allocations, the price of Wizards products will be going up quite a bit and quantity allocations are not at all assured.

And you know what?

Good.

Oh, the outcry from the massive sea of Magic Pit game stores has been immediate and anguished.  Wizards Direct, you see, was their primary source for product.  Many of them don't move enough general volume of product to hit pricing tiers from the major distributors.  So this change represents an existential threat for them.  They can no longer count on swiping exactly $75.96 per box on their rewards card to sell it at $85 "cash price only" and commit sales tax fraud over and over as many times each week as shipments can reach them, in a desperate race to the bottom hoping to win the fleeting approval of local grinders.  They're finding their box prices shooting up about $5 per, in some cases more, which when you're in a business that has a 3% to 7% average final net on MSRP, is basically the entire profit on the previous box flip.  Remember, a box of Magic has an MSRP of $143.64.  Not $110, not $100, not $90 or whatever the MTGfinance subreddits suggest.  If you leave sixty bucks on the table hundreds of times every week, eventually the store fails.  You can only make up so much of that on snacks and sodas.

For those of you unfamiliar with the landscape, Wizards has twelve mainline distributors in North America, four of which are region-restricted to Canada and Latin America for Wizards products:

U.S.:

  • ACD (national)
  • Aladdin (regional, upper Midwest)
  • Alliance (national and Canada)
  • Diamond (national)
  • GTS (national)
  • Mad Al (regional, Appalachia)
  • Magazine Exchange (regional, Pacific coast)
  • PHD (national)
  • Southern Hobby (national)


Non-U.S.:

  • (Alliance, as noted above)
  • Devir Americas (Latin America)
  • Lion Rampant (Canada)
  • Universal (Canada)


The smaller distributors, which I call "regional" because their reach is concentrated with the stores within shorter distances of them (though they do ship nationally), were out of the gate with slightly lower price points than what was offered by the national distributors.  This is natural, they want to gain what business they can, and as there's no such thing as a free lunch, they hope to make it up in additional sales of sleeves, playmats, Pokemon, and whatever else.  We're talking $1-$2 difference per box though, and a lesser hit from not picking them for the prerelease.

The national distributors tend to have basically everything in stock, and are less desperate for that business; their client stores may have ordered Magic and D&D in volume, but also ordered many other things.  Any store carrying sports cards was going to need to buy from GTS or Southern Hobby anyway.  Any store carrying board games in any serious way would find that Alliance has exclusivity on products from major publishers, and ACD and GTS have exclusivity on a few as well.

So, why would Wizards of the Coast do this?  Why scrap their own distribution fulfillment and turn things over to the channel, knowing price increases would follow and they would be ceding some amount of market control?

Well, there's an immediate reason that I'll reach in a moment, but first it helps to understand why Wizards distributed directly in the first place, since many publishers don't do so.

Back in the late 1990s, there was no real control over who bought product from where.  If you knew the phone number to call, you could get wholesale access to anything in the game industry that you wanted, provided you could supply a tax or business license number and you didn't mind allocations and occasionally waiting.  Distribution was a bit of a mess.  Diamond was the last comic distributor standing as Second Genesis, Pacific, Heroes World, and every other comic distributor bit the dust or got swallowed up.  Zocchi was on the ropes.  Gamus had not yet merged with Talkin' Sports to form GTS.  The arrival of the first TCG bubble in 1995-1996 hurt a lot of stores and finding day-and-date game stock was becoming a cottage industry on its own.  (For board games we still don't always have it even today.  In many cases, the street date is you can sell it whenever you can get your hands on it.)  Wizards of the Coast needed to be able to push volume, and it was a good thing they set up direct sales to do so, because that made it possible for them to cash in on the 1999 Pokemon craze.

Throughout the 2000s, distribution normalized for the most part.  Diamond acquired Alliance, the GTS merger occurred, and the major players survived the 9/11 downturn and the d20 bust and saw things stabilize mid-decade.  The economic meltdown of 2008-2009 claimed a lot of stores, but this time distribution didn't lose their shirts on terms like they had back in the '90s.  In 2006, the Supreme Court ruling in Leegin v. PSKS allowed Wizards to lock out non-brick-and-mortar businesses from distribution, and the Premiere Store program evolved into today's Wizards Play Network (WPN) Retailer program, enforcing standardization of organized play, conduct standards (which we'll circle back to shortly), and street date adherence unless you're Target or Wal-Mart.

By 2013 or so, most stores could get as much of any Magic standard booster expansion or Dungeons & Dragons sourcebook at launch as they wanted, and have it day-and-date.  Wizards could have shut down direct sales at any time since then.  They are doing it now, right at the culmination of Magic's 25th Anniversary year, and I think they've chosen this point in time for another reason.

And that reason is this: They don't need us anymore.

Magic is successful in the mass market now.  Magic Arena, though nascent, is clearly going to be good enough at this point to move forward.  Watch as this September's new set, Guilds of Ravnica, likely includes some manner of redemption or code card.  Possibly Ravnica Allegiance in January if they aren't quite there yet in time for this fall.  They have a Magic-based D&D setting now, with Guildmasters of Ravnica launching in tandem.  They have a market vertical that they can support through traditional channels.  And meanwhile, there are too many independent hobby game stores, a great deal more of them than the market needs by a long shot, and they are the most difficult faucet end of the product channel for Wizards to deal with.

Unless you've been there running a WPN-participating store for the entire boom cycle we're now on the back end of, you can't truly appreciate just how much hand-holding Wizards does for WPN member stores.  We literally get monthly shipments of free promo cards and marketing materials, everything from posters and standees to rack and fixture (a demo table in June) to elaborate advert decor to free giveaway decks to teach new players the game.

All Wizards ever asks of us for this bounty is that we use the materials the way they were intended.  By an astonishing coincidence, that happens to be the way we get the most value out of them.  Why, it's almost as though they had people with marketing degrees sitting there every day imagining promotional schemes and developing materials meant to work in tandem with those schemes... on purpose!  Can you believe it?

And for all that effort, the independent game store channel just thumbs its nose at Wizards on a discouragingly regular basis.  And I'm not just talking about the litany of complaints on the WPN Facebook Group by retailers whose porridge is too hot and who would have used the promo pack from Whatever Set if only it had been a lighter shade of chartreuse.  I mean there are stores who just do nasty things and it makes us all look bad in so doing.

Earlier this summer, Wizards sent all WPN stores a very professional-looking heavy stock poster of their Conduct Commitment, basically a statement that WPN stores are a safe space where bullying and harassment are not tolerated, and all are welcome.  You haven't seen this posted at my store yet for the sole reason that we are in the process of having it framed and it's a non-standard size so we couldn't just use frames we had on hand.  It's nice enough that we don't want to ruin it with push pins and everyday direct wear and tear.  But it's going up on the wall.

Naturally, the proprietors of A Store of Fire and Dice in Lynbrook, New York, which is apparently located within some jurisdiction called "Kekistan," defaced the Conduct Commitment poster and posted for all the glorious internet to see that their store is not a safe space, plays by its own rules, you get the picture.  It's such juvenile behavior and so easily avoided by, you know, not behaving like a juvenile, that it boggles the mind that a store would do such a thing.  And yet here we are.  What's more is that introducing politics into a public business is such a bad idea in virtually all circumstances.  Even in coastal California where liberal politics are as big a layup as you'll ever see, area stores tread carefully.

Wizards revoked the store's WPN membership, which means they're going to get the worst of it on distributor pricing for Magic now, because they have no prerelease selection to bestow.  Depending on how much Magic is in their sales mix, this might be a store death sentence, in effect.  With so much on the line, one marvels that they would poke the bear, but they did.

Oh, we only know about this because the store publicized it on Facebook Live, complete with a GoFundMe campaign for the customary digital panhandling.  Wizards does not publicize its program enforcement.  This means we don't know whether the poster defacement was the store's first WPN offense or its twentieth, whether they have been the source of complaints by players or judges in the past, whether they have broken any policy before, and so on.  And we won't know because, again, there are no public smitings in program enforcement.  This is just a normal aspect of how these things work.

Quietly losing access to sanctioned Magic isn't something a Magic-heavy store can do, of course, so they have to paint themselves as aggrieved and invent a mighty persecution narrative with which to "fight back."  Lifetime-DCI-banned outrage pornographer Jeremy Hambly jumped in to defend them, because of course he did.

Wizards doesn't need that hassle.  Hasbro doesn't need that grief.  And they especially don't need to be spending multi-million-dollar marketing budgets trying to teach these kinds of reprobates how to be professional and run a real business.  Why should they?  These stores can exhaust their capital, fail, and then be replaced by the next ready dreamer without a business clue in the world other than they want wholesale access to Magic.

Well, if that's how it's going to be, then "wholesale access to Magic" needs to be something that Hasbro maximizes the value of.  And now, with their distribution change, they're closer to maximizing it.  They are getting theirs.  They have a duty to their shareholders to do this.

And to those stores who see this as a serious problem, I say... you know, you could always just close up shop?  I mean, if a five-dollar increase in the price of booster boxes you're already giving away at a nickel over wholesale is an existential threat to you, maybe just wind down your business and leave this gig to the professionals?

Come on now, don't say you haven't considered it.  Most of you got in when the singles boom was at its peak around late 2013 to early 2014.  You've been complaining for months now that you didn't get to sell $20 bills for ten dollars with the past two Masters sets underperforming the market.  You never branched out into additional revenue sources, you never made your primary Magic revenue line sustainable, and now you don't have the capital to do either of those things.  You've got to be coming up on lease terminations soon.  Why stay in the game when you're close to dead in the water and now Hasbro has made it abundantly clear you aren't needed?

Your market has made that clear too, but you were too deaf to hear it.  You looked at an oversaturated industry, and because you wanted wholesale access to Magic so badly, instead of rationally realizing that there wasn't room in the pool for infinite people to dive, you barged right in, "ME TOO!"  The player base is salami-sliced so thin by the abundance of stores that the grinders know they can brush you up for free blood and treasure, and when you fail, they'll just move on to the next sucker community builder who will pay them to play cards.

Heck, the grinders are being smart.  They're being smarter than the people opening up new game stores these days.  The grinders, at least, know exactly what they're doing, and it's working for them.  Why should they do otherwise?  If I were them, I would not change a thing.  Maybe they are playing their role in this distorted ecosystem better than ever before.

(We just hit peak Backstage Pass.  I'm sitting here siding with grinders over independent retail hobby game stores.  We did it, folks.  Cats and dogs living together, mass hysteria.)

In any case, established stores will be ready and willing to buy up whatever assets remain from stores that throw in the towel, just as it ever was.  That purchasing will take place at salvage rates.  I therefore remind everyone who wants wholesale access to Magic that such access can be procured simply by opening a small game store, and if you don't have any particular ideas on how to make that business function, there is always the option of racing to the bottom on price so as to gain the fleeting approval of grinders.  Just, you know, leave politics out of the equation.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Dumping Commenceth

It's Prime Day, which means all the stuff that hasn't sold well in the hobby game industry is going to be dumped at merciless rates online.  And it won't be over; watch for the major players to follow suit in turn later in July and throughout August, such as Target, Toys R Us, Barnes & Noble, Wal-Mart, and so on.
This ain't my first rodeo, and I knew a few things going in:

  • I needed to let the board game category lie fallow all "offseason," and saved money doing it; we'll be groaning under the weight of all the new releases by November anyway.
  • Fewer things on the wall means fewer things that are priced "double what it costs online!" and thus fewer negative visitor experiences, never mind that online is liquidation blowout on Prime Day and not really an apples-to-apples comparison.
  • This will soak up some customer dollars now, but the games discounted the steepest are the ones that didn't sell -- and thus the ones with higher odds of not being all that good -- which means their thirst for a great game won't be quenched, and their interest in the autumn onslaught of new releases will be undiminished.
  • No lessons will be learned by most publishers or mass-market resellers from all this.

What's the point of this blog article?  There is no point.  It's the circle of life.  Zebras are dancing.

Monday, July 9, 2018

The Games That Played Us

I've been reveling in the enjoyable Netflix miniseries The Toys That Made Us, a set of documentaries covering the major breakthrough toys in the industry from roughly the 1970s through today.
The series features sky-high production value, insightful interviews with the surviving veterans of the businesses from the time, excellent product shots with clean, restored specimens of the rarest and most valuable pieces, and just enough snark to make you smile.  (In the Star Trek episode, they kept smash cutting to the Star Wars logo when they had to explain what had gotten in the way.)

The first season predictably covered Star Wars (Kenner/Hasbro), Barbie (Mattel), Masters of the Universe (Mattel), and G.I. Joe (Hasbro).  The second season covered Star Trek (MEGO/Playmates/Diamond), Transformers (Takara/Hasbro), LEGO (um, Lego), and Hello Kitty (Sanrio).

If I had to guess, I'd expect their third season to explore the likes of Nintendo (by far the largest product line in the toy trade they haven't examined), Beanie Babies, Hot Wheels, My Little Pony, Thundercats, NERF, and/or probably something that was bigger overseas but flashed in the pan here, like Tamagotchi.

It occurred to me that Netflix (or YouTube Premium, or Amazon, or whoever) could do the same sort of show based on the history of the modern game industry, and they'd have enough surviving principals and physical product safely stored in collections and company vaults that they'd be able to do a lot of showing and not just telling.

I say modern game industry because they wouldn't be able to get a lot of viewership if they covered their diligence for a season or two with chess, checkers, whist/poker, cribbage, billiards, and so on.  They'd have to limit the scope to the games that present-day adults grew up playing, that a generation or two before that either weren't as widespread, or have evolved significantly since.

Here are the games I'd love to see documented on The Games That Played Us!

Monopoly
We know they have to start here as the modern board-game industry began in 1935 with Parker Brothers' seminal game of capitalism and futility.  The journey to what we have today with USAopoly and the licensing tie-in of classic board games has reshaped the analog game landscape.

Dungeons & Dragons
Gary Gygax's 1974 Rules for Fantastic Medieval Wargames Campaigns Playable with Paper and Pencil and Miniature Figures, actually originally an expansion for his 1971 miniatures wargame Chainmail, grew in the hobby trade for the rest of the decade, but then went nuclear after appearing in the movie E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial in 1982.  The D&D Basic Set and Expert Set were everywhere, and Advanced D&D sourcebooks were showing up in grocery stores.  An eponymous Saturday-morning cartoon left us all wondering if the party would ever get back to the rollercoaster.  Before long comic shops and bookstores moved heavily into RPGs, including spinoffs in other genres like Traveller, Gamma World, and Champions.  Then came all the mysterious cults and devil worship and Michigan steam tunnels and whatever.  AD&D 2nd Edition in the 1990s purged the hellfire but we all knew what a Baatezu was.  There was a silly movie starring Jeremy Irons, and Everquest and World of Warcraft largely supplanted D&D for years, until a double-whammy that nobody saw coming: an unexpectedly excellent 5th edition, and retro-chic thriller Stranger Things showing an entire new generation of players that fighting the Demogorgon was cool.

Warhammer
Games Workshop started out as a broader player in the hobby realm, publishing hobby review magazine White Dwarf (since the term had relevance both in fantasy and science fiction) and introducing an assortment of RPG and miniatures lines.  Since the 1990s, things simplified: Warhammer 40k is the most popular miniature-figure wargame in the world and everything else Games Workshop does is ancillary to it.  White Dwarf dropped all third-party content and became a house organ.  Tray-pusher Warhammer Fantasy persisted for over a decade more, especially in Europe, but has now been supplanted by a "40k version" of the same setting, Age of Sigmar.  The episode on Warhammer will get to look at lot at the business side of things, because while we were mostly just chuckin' dice, Games Workshop had to contend with technological upheaval and metallurgical problems such as worldwide spikes in the price of tin.

World of Darkness
This could be a very timely episode if the new 5th Edition of Vampire: the Masquerade takes off after its forthcoming release.  The 1990s saw D&D continue to be the category leader, but weaker than it ever had been (and it would be even weaker in the late 2000s, enough so that Pathfinder arose against it).  Goth subculture struck around that time and White Wolf's Vampire, Werewolf, and Changeling RPGs and Rage TCG all raked in the cash.  They even had a TV show, Kindred: the Embraced.  The impact was significant enough that for over 20 years, Chessex continued to make packs solely of 10-sided dice.

Catan
Klaus Teuber changed the way board games were played with The Settlers of Catan in 1995.  There was no more elimination, everyone could influence gameplay to the end, and rule sets gave full agency to the players, reducing RNG and making strategic choices the core game determinant.  "Euro-style" board games began a slow build over the course of over a decade, and after some economic dry spells, finally saw their boom in the 2010s when the entire culture of board gaming married itself to social media.  The histories of Mayfair, once an RPG publisher, and Asmodee, now the biggest board game publisher in the trade, are both entwined with the history of Catan.

Pocket Monsters
It all started as a Game Boy game and some trading cards in Japan.  But GameFreak's Pocket Monsters made the leap, somehow, to North America to become Pokemon in 1998-99, and here we are 20 years later and it's the single biggest media franchise in history, surpassing even Star Wars and Batman with a staggering 59 billion dollars in sales and its own property oversight subsidiary spun off from Nintendo, The Pokemon Company.  Linking all the milestones Pokemon has seen come and go would be a series of articles by itself.  Somehow Pokemon became the best, like no one ever was, very likely because it was the focal toy of the gigantic Millennial generation.

Magic: the Gathering
There have already been some treatments of Magic in documentary form, but pieces like Enter the Battlefield focus on pro players, and while those guys are surely decent people, their personal journeys as players are of near-zero interest to me and anyone interested in the business history of Wizards of the Coast and Magic.  We've read bits and pieces of it through decades of mothership articles, Mark Rosewater pieces, and hobby media, but for a product that arrived in 1993 and for which internet chronicling has always existed, we should be able to do better.  We should be able to show that history.  My understanding is that Wizards has some special tidbits in prep for Gen Con next month, video and media and product from the company vault that we'll all get to enjoy.  Peter Adkison and Dr. Richard Garfield are still alive.  Let's not let this one slip away; we've already lost Christopher Rush and Quinton Hoover, two of the first artists who brought the visual beauty of the game to life.

Cards Against Humanity
For the 2010s, this game is at the center of the industry's story, from the rise of Kickstarter (and the thousands upon thousands of shovelware titles that appear for every one success that breaks through) to the explosion of lowbrow party games and copycats to the publisher's brash political stunts and so on and so forth.  Love it or hate it, Cards Against Humanity is a thing now, and so are Exploding Kittens and What Do You Meme and Joking Hazard and on and on, and it all started with a bunch of people making sex and fart jokes and playing Apples to Apples with it.

There you go, Hulazon YouFlix.  Two full seasons worth of material ready for your writers and producers to do awesome things with.  I have every faith in your skills and talents.  Please make that check out to Michael Bahr, it's spelled B-a-h-r, in care of Desert Sky Games, 3875 W Ray Rd Ste 7, Chandler, AZ 85226.  I look forward to celebrating your success!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Hobby Comic and Game Store Closures, First Half of 2018

It's still a bloodbath out there.  Just as it was for late 2017, so it continues to be.

And this is just the stores we know about!  To add them to this list they have to be discovered closed or announce their closure firsthand on social media.  In a private retailer channel we've been collecting screenshots and photos, doing our diligence.  As I said in the original article linked above, my information is imperfect, but I am confident this list does not materially mischaracterize events.

So how many more closed beyond these?  Believe it or not, probably fewer than there were new stores opening.  The false lure of "being paid to play games all day" possesses a pull so fierce that heroin is shaking its head in awe muttering "damn, that's tempting!"

Gaze ye and despair:

  1. Archangel Games (Clio, MI) 
  2. Badlands Comics and Games (Dickinson, ND)
  3. BattleZone Games (Marion, IA)
  4. BC Comix (3 locations in Fenton, MI, Battle Creek, MI, and Brighton, MI, but opened one 9200sf combined location in Howell, MI)
  5. Book and CD Hut (Somerset, KY)
  6. Boxcar Cafe (Calgary, AB, Canada)
  7. Break From Reality (Johnstown, CO)
  8. Card Advantage Game Center (Athens, GA)
  9. Cardboard Crowns (Dayton, OH)
  10. Central City Comix (Surrey, BC, Canada)
  11. Chinook & Hobby West (Calgary, AB, Canada)
  12. Comikaze & Toys (Goodyear, AZ)
  13. Conway Games (Vancouver, WA) reopened different owner/brand
  14. The Comix Gallery (Wilmette, IL)
  15. Discland (Bloomington, MN)
  16. E&D Games (Port Richey, FL)
  17. Epic Puzzles and Games (West Valley City, UT)
  18. EXP Restaurant + Bar (Vancouver, BC, Canada)
  19. Face Off Cards (Winnipeg, MB, Canada)
  20. Frontrunner Comics (Dallas, TX)
  21. Funagain Games (Amazon and online operations)
  22. The Game Castle (Londonderry, NH)
  23. Game Master (Laguna Hills, CA)
  24. Game Paradise (Indianapolis, IN)
  25. Gamers (3 locations in IA, still open in 3 locations in NE)
  26. Gamestar (Multiple locations in Washington state)
  27. The Game Warehouse (Greencastle, IN)
  28. Get Your Game On (Ferndale, MI) other location remains open
  29. Highlander Games (Minneapolis, MN)
  30. Hobby Invasion (Selma, NC)
  31. Jay St. Video Games (Saratoga Springs, NY) other locations remain open
  32. Just By Chance Games (Waterloo, ON, Canada)
  33. The Legendary Lotus (Garden Grove, CA)
  34. Legends Comics & Games (Santa Clara, CA) other locations remain open
  35. Mad Reads Comics (Brighton, CO)
  36. McGuffin Games (Little Falls, MN)
  37. Meltdown Comics (Los Angeles, CA)
  38. Modern Myths (2 locations in Massachusetts)
  39. Myth Games (Calgary, AB, Canada)
  40. Mythic Game Store (Henderson, NV)
  41. People Play Games (Chicago, IL)
  42. Phyrexian Games (Fitchburg, MA)
  43. Pips Board Game Cafe (Calgary, AB, Canada)
  44. Play N Trade (Duncan, BC, Canada)
  45. PlayersMTG (Lewisville, TX)
  46. Radiant Rogue Games (Dawagiac, MI)
  47. Revolution Games (Calgary, AB, Canada)
  48. The Safehouse (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)
  49. Save Point (Lemoyne, PA)
  50. Silver Jem Games (Arlington, TX)
  51. Silver Lime Cafe (Altrincham, Manchester, UK)
  52. Star Port (Lynchburg, VA)
  53. Super Michael Bros (Tampa, FL)
  54. Tabletop Game Shoppe (Mesa, AZ)
  55. Toys R Us (735 U.S. locations)
  56. The Uncanny Comic Shop (Clermont, FL)
  57. Unique Gifts and Games (Grayslake, IL)
  58. Villainous Lair (San Diego, CA)
  59. Wizards Retro Games (Southington, CT)


The list is a bit longer than last time, and of course there's that big one nestled in there right before the end.

Moreover, this isn't just a list of deadbeat stores.  While there are surely some that ought not to have opened to begin with, there are a pretty respectable number of very good businesses on that casualty list, and the reality is that business is pretty treacherous territory.  When you're in small specialty retail, you get close to zero shelter from laws and regulations meant for megacorps who can either afford compliance or can just push that cost onto their customers.  You get much less economy of scale than the big boxes and big shippers.  Ultimately every problem is yours and every cost comes right out of the owner's take home at the end of the day.  You can cheat, but eventually cheaters get caught and there is a risk of ruinous consequence.  Or you can play it straight, and be even further at a competitive disadvantage to the cheaters, as new ones spring up to replace those that get crushed.

Whatever the reason, the stores above have closed their doors.  The typical former customer who visits the empty husk that used to be that store will rattle the door handle for a few seconds, shrug, and walk away.  A tiny percentage will find a new waterin' hole among that store's surviving competitors, or even the inevitable new upstarts that will appear.  Slightly more will become storeless gamers playing mostly at home.  The largest percentage will simply quit the hobby.  That's the saddest part of all, because the mutual goal of all stores for the betterment of the entire industry is to get as many people as possible to engage.  When gamers disengage and become non-gamers, nobody wins.