In a past life our main marketing effort was to give out free sample decks for our CCGs. In our years of publishing CCGs we gave away over one million decks.
The sampling model worked for CCGs because a CCG is a lot like the razor and razor blades business. Give someone the razor (The Deck) and they buy the razor blades (Boosters). This is not a sustainable marketing idea for board games but as someone who coined the phrase “sampling works if your product does not suck” I have been looking for ways to do this for board games.
Since we are not selling in the razors and razor blades model we have to think about how a wide sampling of a game might help the game sell better.
The smart folks at Wizards of the Coast once said: “The number 1 reason why someone quits or starts playing a game… is having someone to play with”. If you game does not have a reasonable level of sell-in then the things that must happen to allow it to reach a wider audience do not happen. Plainly put: If no one is playing your game then it gets forgotten and no one is buying your game.
We have, over the past few years, in as stealthy a way as possible pushed a few titles into the market at a discounted rate to try and perk up the market and number of people playing. Dice City is a recent example. It was very hot after release and we ran out of stock and while the next print run was on the water the game sort of died down. Uh OH. Every publisher’s worst fear. Demand dying on the water. What a nightmare.
When the restock arrived, we stealthily moved quite a few copies out at a deep discount. In multiple ways with the high hopes that it would re-stimulate sales. It worked. While Dice City did not become the most talked-about AEG release it has become a solid and steady seller for us and we were able to track the sales response well enough to be convinced that the recovery of the game was linked to the sales of the deeply discounted product..
Our plan was to do the same for Scorpius Freighter. We made some release mistakes with Scorpius. We released it deep in the Christmas Holiday (Like, late November deep when NO retailer is thinking about new releases).
I think we also underestimated our reach to customers who play games like Scorpius – players who like low-conflict euro-style games. Scorpius is extremely well reviewed, and has a solid BGG rating, but I am guessing that the players who are the target market for this game didn’t think about AEG as a solid euro game publisher. We did not communicate or find the customers who would most likely fall in love with this game.
Not surprisingly this blog has me thinking that secrets are less interesting and a stealthy push to sample out Scorpius might not be the right play. What if we just were up front and said: “Hey. We are going to offer a limited, but not insignificant, sampling of Scorpius to the market at what is essentially a break-even price. $25.00 to any US customer shipping included. Our goal: Find the customers we should have been talking to by offering them a deal they can’t refuse.
UPDATE: Day one went pretty great. We oversold the marketing allocation of product, crashed our e-mail system, and have decided on a second allocation but with a price bump to $30.00.
In a previous blog I talked about our desire to make fewer games and that means that we must also adapt and think differently about how we solve problems. The old AEG would have looked at this as one of the games that failed because the market was too crowded. But with fewer, better games we have to believe that if we’ve done our jobs right at making a great game then that game does have an audience; we just have to work harder to connect the game to that audience.
Our answer… Go back to what worked. Sampling works when your product does not suck.
Retailers who supported us and took a chance on Scorpius Freighter: Thank you. We are not doing this promotion to undercut sales in your store. We think this might shine a new light on Scorpius Freighter and help you sell the inventory you have on hand. Worried? We would suggest that you give one of your regular customers who like this style of game a good deal and if they like it ask them to spread the word. We all win if the market decides it missed out on a gem and Scorpius Freighter becomes an evergreen title. A little short-term discounting can become a long-term high value business for AEG and our retailer partners.