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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

DSG Autumn 2015 Hours, Schedule, and Pricing Changes

I'll do my postmortem review on the Magic: the Gathering "Battle for Zendikar" prerelease and release weekends in next week's article, for October 6th.

Desert Sky Games and Comics is announcing some changes for the new season as a result of the growth of our business and gaining a better understanding of where organized play is headed regionally.  We hope we're keeping pace with the needs and expectations of our player community.

HOURS
We're offering extended holiday hours on Saturdays and Sundays.  If these hours work out well, they might become permanent, but they'll be in effect until the calendar reads 2016 no matter what else happens:

Monday through Saturday: 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. (Continuing late as tournaments require)
Sunday: 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

The expansion of Sunday was actually a fairly easy decision with how many events we've had lately, including last weekend's prerelease, that had us coming in earlier than Sunday's regular noon opening anyway.  With more of the same on the horizon, it seems like lost opportunity not to be open.

Saturday evening marks a bigger change.  We used to be open late on Saturdays in the early days of the store, but our metrics told us it wasn't profitable and most of the money we were getting then, we would get at other times anyway.  We were also closed Sundays at the time so a late Saturday would be followed by a day of rest and recuperation.  However, DSG's business has grown since then.  We get a lot more customer traffic all weekend long.  We almost always see people "camping out" in front of the store before we open Sunday, waiting to shop.  And the reality is that we're out of space, so the next resource we have available is time.  Closing at 8:00 p.m. on Saturdays has proven limiting with our Warhammer and other miniatures games audiences growing quickly, and there has been great clamor in the community for a late-day Saturday constructed Magic event now that Preliminary Pro-Tour Qualifiers have captured the earlier hours in many cases.  We're also shifting Pokemon to what should be a better time and day, as explained below.

SCHEDULE
Our weekly fixed schedule is getting some adjustment:

Monday:

  • Unchanged: MTG Standard at 7:00 p.m. with Monday Night Football and pizza.
  • Moved: Star Wars X-Wing/Armada/Imperial Assault open play 5:00 p.m. through close (was Wednesday evenings).

Tuesday:

  • Unchanged: MTG Modern at 7:00 p.m.; Roleplaying open play 5:00 p.m through close.

Wednesday:

  • Unchanged: MTG Booster Draft at 5:30 p.m.; MTG Legacy at 7:00 p.m.
  • NEWLY ADDED!: Warhammer League open play, 6:00 p.m. through close.
  • Moved: Star Wars X-Wing/Armada/Imperial Assault (now on Mondays).
  • Discontinued: Force of Will TCG open play.

Thursday:

  • Unchanged: MTG Commander pods from 5:00 p.m. to close; MTG Standard Star City Game Night at 7:00 p.m.

Friday:

  • ADJUSTED FORMAT: Friday Night Magic Standard at 7:00 p.m. is changing to a fixed FIVE rounds (fewer if 16 players or less) with payouts to 5-0 and 4-1 finishers by record and no playoff.
  • Unchanged: Friday Night Magic Booster Draft 8:00 p.m.

Saturday:

  • Unchanged: Prerelease, Game Day, Championship, Pro Qualifier events as scheduled.
  • Unchanged: FFG and WizKids Events as scheduled; MTG Standard Win-a-Box at noon.
  • NEWLY ADDED!: Pathfinder Society as scheduled.
  • NEWLY ADDED!: Warhammer 40K tournament at 6:00 p.m.
  • NEWLY ADDED!: MTG Modern at 6:00 p.m. (Daily format).
  • Moved: Pokemon open play (now on Sundays).

Sunday:

  • Unchanged: MTG Booster Draft 12:30 p.m.; Weiss Schwarz TCG 1:00 p.m.; Board Games open play.
  • Moved: Pokemon open play 3:00 p.m. through close (was Saturday evenings).

There is a lot happening here, so I'll explain the reasons we went this way.

Our X-Wing etc players actually tend to come in earlier in the day and play on whichever day they want, so the move to Monday for their "reserved" time on the minis tables won't make a big difference.  It's meant to open up space on Wednesday for Warhammer League Night, which started in September and is just now getting underway.

Force of Will is not proving to be a tournament draw, but we do have some devoted player groups who play at home.  We need the reserved space on Wednesdays so we're taking it off the calendar, but open FOW play is still welcome when no conflicting event is going on.

Friday Night Magic's change to Standard was very carefully considered.  More and more we've seen players turned off to the prospect of playing out a playoff cut until 2:00 a.m. or later.  When competitive events were harder to come by, these late nights served an important purpose.  Now that most Saturdays host a PPTQ somewhere, competitive players are quenching their thirst in those events, and in fact they need to get home and rack out in time to get a good night's sleep and play sharp the next day.  In order to maintain FNM's higher general payout level, we think five rounds is appropriate, rather than our Daily Format of four fixed rounds.

Our Pokemon players are extremely loyal and passionate about playing at DSG, and we felt bad about how often we keep having to cancel Pokemon open play because of scheduled events.  We think that moving Pokemon open play to Sunday will finally let us avoid canceling it for the most part.  Only the Magic prereleases look likely to interfere, and that's only four times per year.  Also, ending it at 6:00 p.m. instead of 8:00 p.m. seems like a healthier change for younger players not to be out as late.  Scheduled events like our Breakthrough XY prerelease and costume party on October 31st (Saturday) will still take place as planned.

PRICING

There was going to be some adjustment to tournament pricing and payouts (formats, not value level) based on our migration to a new point-of-sale system, Microsoft RMS.  However, our move has been delayed until our banks actually release an EMV chip-and-signature credit card processor that's RMS-compatible.  Can't very well move on without having a way to accept money!  Light Speed Retail had a solution already in place from Cayan, so we're bringing that in and will use it until RMS is updated.  As such, no changes to tournament pricing or prize payouts at this time.

We are, however, making changes to how we price Magic: the Gathering singles.

Many players prefer that stores use an internet price index that is constantly updated from aggregated data.  The most popular index, however, TCGPlayer's pricing, is too easily subject to manipulation for us to trust it.  The second-most-popular index, Star City Games, has good validity but tends to run prices too high for our competitive market.  Given those options, we have instead been pricing based on an internal system that adjusts down from Star City's index.  This mostly works, but has caused some bad experiences where a card that isn't moving with frequency for Star City is being sold to us or bought from us, and the customer feels that the SCG price is stale, among other issues.

We've been experimenting with the MTGPrice.com Fair Trade Price sell value and Best Buylist Price buy value.  It hasn't been perfect, but we think it's going to be the best index for us to use.  Prices are scraped from a group of large web stores, as well as Amazon and eBay.  This reduces the impact of price volatility and market interference, while still accounting for some influence from the TCGPlayer index.  Sometimes highly volatile cards won't poll on MTGPrice, and we'll default to adjusting off Star City for those.  If the card's price is just so far out of whack we can't get a realistic number on it, then the TCGPlayer index price is likely to be dangerously wrong and/or shenanigans anyway, and we want to protect our customers and ourselves from problematic transactions.

So here are our new pricing methods:

Sell (market-value cards in the case): MTGPrice.com Fair Trade Price for case cards, rounded down at least 10%, stopping at the next price tier.  (since we price in "retail" amounts such as $4.99 and $12.99, etc.)

Sell (base-value cards in binders or racks)Commons $0.25, Uncommons $0.50, Rares $0.99, Mythic Rares $1.99, Foil Commons and Foil Basic Lands $0.50, Foil Uncommons $0.75, Foil Rares $1.99, Foil Mythic Rares $2.99.  This is unchanged from before.

Buy: For cards on our buylist, which is now really just a "want list," reflecting what's in the highest demand, we will pay the MTGPrice.com Best Buylist price in CASH for up to a playset (and possibly more) at a time.  Store credit will offer more.  For cards not on the buylist, each purchase is evaluated on a case-by-case basis as a percentage of MTGPrice's Fair Trade Price.

Fallback: Star City's index as used before, adjusted down 5%-15% for our competitive market.

We actually rolled out the buylist change a few weeks ago and it looked moderately good in the early going, and then I think our player base kind of figured it out and the buys have come flooding in ever since.  Knowing that if you have a card on the want list you will get the highest legit published buy price anywhere, in cash, is a strong incentive to sell to DSG.  Why would you ship to ABU, Strike Zone, or Channel Fireball when DSG will pay you that money on the spot and require no postage or packing.  And because the want list are the most demanded cards, they sell quickly for us even at a discount off the Fair Trade Price -- and as I've taught here on this business blog and elsewhere, turn rate speed is just as important as margin.

There are minor caveats that are just reasonable precautions.  For example, we may need to make an arrangement for extremely large or expensive collections.  Also, we limit the want-list buy to a playset in case of some market failure where we will honor our offer to the customer who brings the issue to our attention, but we really need to stop buying the card after that (for example to strike it from the want list).  People should be rewarded for being honest and this policy achieves that.  If Expensive Card X just got banned and it's in the midst of plummeting 75% in value, we're willing to make good for the person who warns us before the chaos ensues.  Most players are honest but we had multiple people bring in stacks of Birthing Pods first thing in the morning when it was banned in Modern, hoping to cash out quick before we got wise.  (We knew.)

WRAP-UP

There we have it!  A nice rich batch of changes that we hope will improve the DSG experience for everyone.  If you have questions or concerns, our door is of course wide open and we're eager to listen.  Thank you for all your support and have a great week!

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