As an industry, we are suffering. I spoke last week about how bloody October was on the retail level, but as I thought about it more and more we're doomed because as an industry we are bloated at every level. Originally, when I was writing about the struggles in retail, I thought that distribution might be a primary culprit behind some of our issues, but as I thought on it more and more, I came to realize that we are bloated at every single level. .
Who is to blame for that bloat? I think it's all of us, although I will lay a decent amount of the blame at the feet of one company during this post.
Retail is to blame because the barrier to entry is easy. I'd venture that a hundred new stores have opened every year over the last half decade, while forty to fifty stores have closed. That pace of growth is not sustainable for the industry, on numerous levels.
Distribution is to blame as well, because in the chase for their cut out of the middle they have engaged in unhealthy buying practices, and those unhealthy buying practices have left some of them in unhealthy positions. Much like retail, distribution depends on information to make smart buying purchases, and the flow of information is too slow across the three tiers.
For retailers, the change is easy. I look at a new release solicitation in a GTM or Meeple Monthly and go "Hmmm, that comes out next month and this is the first I've heard of it, oh well, skip it."
Distribution already placed their order though, and let's hope they're psychic, because they're stuck with shit. That shit goes on sale through distribution, or in the case of some distributors gets shipped to their own shell-store and sold online for prices that are only sustainable for a company that paid distribution prices on it. That practice is a great way to guarantee no retailer supports the game.
Publishers are not blameless for this either. There are far too many publishers pushing far too many new products on a monthly basis. I remember the olden days when a publisher could make four games a year and be healthy, and when all four of those games would be Triple A games worthy of demo space. Now it's a constant churn of new product, and if something sells out its first print run it's mostly irrelevant on its return. The Meeple Monthly I get from ACD each month is approximately fifty pages longer than a healthy industry can actually support. You know the back part of it? You can pretty much throw it away. I'd venture that 95% of the products in the front part of your monthly trade magazine don't deserve space on your shelves, and 99% of the products that are short-solicited don't deserve space on your shelf.
Which causes problems. Publishing pushes something out without enough notice, distribution is forced to order blind, and then retail may not give a damn.
This bloat is unsustainable, and I feel like the multi-level pursuit of the almighty dollar is causing a huge disruption to the industry.
I earlier laid the blame for this at the feet of us at every level, and I truly believe we're all at least partially to blame, but the fault for this must start with the single largest entity in our industry.
Wizards of the Coast, probably at the behest of GiantToyCorp has attempted this year to turn Magic players into ATM machines, and the opposite has happened. In what has been the most aggressive release schedule in Wizards history, Magic has fallen as a percentage of my business, and I couldn't be happier. Look at this year...
Aether Revolt - 20 JAN (Booster) Modern Masters 2017 - 17 MAR (Booster - $9.99 MSRP) Mind vs Might Duel Deck - 31 MAR Amonkhet - 28 APR (Booster) Commander Anthology - 9 JUN (LIMITED) Archenemy: Nicol Bolas - 16 JUN Hour of Devastation - 14 JUL (Booster) Commander 2017 - 25 AUG (LIMITED) Ixalan - 29 SEP (Booster) Kaladesh: The Gift Pack - 20 OCT Merfolk vs Goblins Duel Deck - 10 NOV Iconic Masters - 17 NOV (Booster - $9.99 MSRP) From the Vault: Transform - 24 NOV (LIMITED) Explorers of Ixalan - 24 NOV (Board Game?) Unstable - 8 DEC (Booster)
What a strange mixture of way too much darn product. The Duel Decks I used to order 12 or 18 of I order six of, and I'm still looking at three copies of the most recent one. The booster boxes I would order eight cases of I'm happy at four. The limited products I could sell twenty or thirty of? Nope, I'm not getting that many. A year with a second Masters series, and it was spoiled what feels like years ago? No one cares.
This industry has suffered a catastrophic popping in every full decade of its existence. In the 80s the RPG market crashed, taking publishers with it. In the 90s the CCG market crashed, in large part because Fallen Empires was printed to meet a demand that was wholly artificial. This pop took retailers and distributors out, and crippled many publishers for years to come. In the 00's, Wizards of the Coast once again caused a huge market disruption with the fiasco licensing issues of D&D that resulted in the D20/OGL bubble bursting as Wizards crippled the flagship brand of role-playing with thirty months of inactivity, and then released 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons as a horrid product and limited third party support for it. Once again, publishers got hurt, and retailers got hurt.
I think we're approaching the second CCG pop, which would fit the pattern of the last three decades, where RPGs go bad, CCGs go bad, then RPGs go bad again...so it's time for CCGs to take their turn.
Wizards of the Coast, at least the people at Wizards who are responsible for Magic brand development and release schedules, are apparently off their rocker. The only positive thing accomplished by Magic this year is that they've taught Magic players how much fun other games are. Buried under an untenable release schedule, Magic players are spending their money in other places. I've had so much joy watching Magic players learn Bunny Kingdom and Ethnos, or pick up their first ever paint brushes for their new Warmachine army.
Unable to feel like they can keep up with the product release schedule that Wizards of the Coast has set, Magic players are actually just finding new games to play. I sincerely didn't believe that was even possible.