What is the feeling I am feeling? Is it envy, resentment, excitement, hope?
I woke up this morning to yet another thread on my Facebook feed with people talking about where they see Wingspan being sold. This time it is Bed Bath and Beyond, of all places. Retailers cannot get it for their stores and they are unhappy it is popping up for sale in places you never see games for sale.
It’s not my place to talk about the distribution of Wingspan. That is being debated in enough forums and blogs that I could not possibly add anything to that conversation. I can say, as someone who has worked hard to figure out how to sell our great games, that seeing Wingspan at Bed Bath and Beyond—at full retail, mind you—while my team spends extra time trying to figure out how to get our games on the same retailers’ shelves who are upset they cannot get Wingspan is both frustrating and invigorating at the same time. We would love to have this problem.
After 27 years there are still things about selling games that are a mystery to us. When you go into a local hardware store and see a display of dice games that you have never heard of you think, “Where did they come from?” Who thought, “I am going to sell these dice games to a hardware store”? But here they are and the cashier tells you they sell quite a few at Christmas time. Sheesh!
Obviously, the traditional way to sell games is not the only way.
Look at Fog of Love. This is a game that was exclusively sold through walmart.com (heresy) and then marketed in the same way we market our games, through core channels and at conventions like Pax with a booth full of people doing demos and wondering one thing, “Where can I buy this game?”
The consumer did not care where they had to get it. The game had a unique hook, but maybe the legend of this product grew because you could not get it through traditional channels and that was part of the story.
I wondered why Chip Theory Games was just selling direct to consumer. Then I got Too Many Bones and realized there was no way that product could be sold into distribution, the margins would never work.
One of our best selling games is War Chest. I know for a fact that about 80% of those games are being sold online. I see where we sell them, and I know we are pushing traditional hobby to keep it stocked in stores. Retailers have some good notes on this product. It’s a strange box size and my small store needs the shelf space. It sold out very fast and we had it stocked out for 4 months, so retailers are worried about bringing it back in. If it was not for online retail and convention sales this game would be warehouse fodder, but because that market is open to us War Chest continues to grow. When—not if—this game gets in the retailer limelight again, is there some unwritten three-tier code that says I must feed the game channel first? (NOTE: We probably will.)
The early days of Kickstarter were the same. The companies that dared to stand up to the established three-tier system broke the mold and now almost half of the top-selling games at the best core retailers in the country get their start on Kickstarter. CMON was like Frankenstein’s monster and the distributors and retailers had their pitchforks out and wanted that monster dead.
I sympathize with retailers. I think that a good core-market hobby store is the hardest of the three tiers to manage and turn into a good living. I read blogs by super retailers Gary Ray, Travis A. Millennium and others and I talk with friends who own retail shops and have been or are also publishers, and I know that retailing is just hard.
We are a retailer-friendly company. We recently gave back margin to retailers. This is the second most important thing we can offer to a retailer.
The most important thing we can give a retailer is a game that sells not just today, but tomorrow and next year.
I don’t know how many copies of an individual board game that each retailer sells, but our research tells us that for most this number is not quite tens and certainly not hundreds. And I think that when the smoke clears and distribution for Wingspan gets sorted out, they will sell many more than they would have if this game had not grown to legendary status this year.