Wednesday, August 31, 2016

On the Role of the FLGS Part 3: What's Being Done To Preserve the FLGS

So two weeks ago, I talked about one reason why game stores were struggling.  Last week, I posted about why I feel they are a necessary thing.  This week, I want to talk a bit about what publishers and manufacturers are doing to help game stores.

Ironically, this post is going live just as the FLGS which I have supported for more than a dozen years is about to close its doors. And not because of financial problems, either. But I'll post a requiem for Phoenix another time.

This is also going to be the shortest post in the series, because ... well ... you'll see.

The Online vs. Brick-And-Mortar debate has been going on for a long time, and it's not limited just to boardgaming.  My day job is at a wholesaler, and we carry several brands for which you need to be an "approved" retailer in order to buy the product from us. The manufacturers offer less warranty coverage if an item is purchased from a retailer who isn't on their list. Very few online retailers are on these lists. When I worked in car audio, the company for which I worked was very proud to be the only online authorized retailer for a couple of brands. To make that list, we needed to have knowledgeable staff (which was accomplished via in-house training) and had to be available certain hours (which is just a scheduling thing). We also needed to make certain pricing constraints.  When you sell a product that you want to have perceived as being high-end, it does you no good to have it selling for bargain-basement prices.

The first major tabletop game publisher to start working towards preserving the FLGS was Mayfair. A few years ago, they adjusted their retail pricing policy to cap discounts. Game stores who didn't meet the requirements of the policy would be cut off from buying Mayfair product. Distributors who kept selling to retailers on the "no sell" list would be at risk of being cut off, too.

That was 2007. It caused a huge hue and cry from gamers, who suddenly saw their low-price resources suddenly drying up. There were cries of "price-fixing" and dozens of folks declared an intent to boycott Mayfair over it.

But it meant that online game stores couldn't compete with the FLGS solely on price anymore.

Earlier this year, Asmodee North America announced a similar plan and - again - it caused a huge hue and cry. Boycotts were declared (and I'll wager that many if not most of those boycotts have been broken by now).  Privateer Press announced a "free rider" policy that they've put into place, too.

Realistically, not much has changed. Deep discounters online continue to be deep discounters.  There are fewer of them, as their sources slowly dry up, but you can still find cheap games all over the internet.

Many publishers are also providing "organized play" kits. The Asmoplay kits, for example, include promos and goodies for a number of their games. Wizards of the Coast produces promo bundles for Friday Night Magic. Sometimes these bundles are free for supporting stores, sometimes they cost a bit.

Tournaments are another form of organized play - and some publishers are now supporting tournaments for their games as well.

On the RPG end, there's the Bits and Mortar program that many RPG publishers are driving. The summary of the program is simple: If you buy your RPG material from a local game store instead of via the internet, you can get free PDF versions of what you bought. I've taken crazy-advantage of this, because I buy a ton of RPG materials (and publishers who support this program are given priority for my purchases).

Unfortunately, there's not much else that manufacturers can do to support the health of the FLGS model beyond that - mind you, they're always trying to come up with new methods.

Realistically, the health of the FLGS model isn't in the hands of the manufacturers. They are doing what they can. The people who decide the future of the industry are the market.

And by "the market," I mean, of course, "customers."

You know: You and me.

Where you spend your money now directly impacts where you will be able to spend it in the future.

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