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Monday, May 29, 2017

Ocean Breeze Soap Will Get You Clean

In a classic scene from The Muppets Take Manhattan, Kermit the Frog stumbles into a frog-operated advertising bureau struggling to come up with a new product slogan.  He tells them his name is Phil the Frog, and they introduce themselves as Bill the Frog, Gil the Frog, and Jill the Frog.


BILL: We advertise for Ocean Breeze Soap.
KERMIT: I've never heard of it.
FROGS: We know!
GIL: Our jobs are on the line.
JILL: We need a new slogan!
BILL: How about, "Ocean Breeze Soap: For People Who Don't Want to Stink?"
JILL: Be frank, Phil.
KERMIT: I don't like it.
GIL: You don't?
JILL: Oh no!
BILL: How about, "Ocean Breeze Soap: It's Just Like Taking an Ocean Cruise, Only There's No Boat, and You Don't Actually Go Anywhere?"
KERMIT: Seems a bit long.
GIL: Oh!
JILL: Ohhhh....
KERMIT: Have you tried something simple like, "Ocean Breeze Soap Will Get You Clean?"
(the FROGS are stunned.)
BILL: Wait a minute!  Wait just a second!  You just say what the product does?  Well, no one's ever tried that!
GIL: Well, it's, it's crazy.
JILL: It's madness!
FROGS: WE LOVE IT!

After which Kermit promptly becomes the bureau's newest employee, and sales of Ocean Breeze Soap skyrocket.  There is a lot we can learn from a bunch of frog-shaped puppets, folks.

Advertising jumped the shark so long ago the shark doesn't even remember the impression of its passage.  It is as slick and psychologically manipulative as money can buy, and a moment later it can be as crude and rudimentary as the lack of money makes necessary.  Nobody beats Mitch!  There are tender moments amongst the crudity, as well: boundaries stoke creativity.  But they don't guarantee it, and I've seen enough zero-budget red-herring banality to know that integrity hasn't set up its tent at either campsite.

The head-shaking thing of it is, countless hours, pages, melodies, and pixels of advert copy are produced as tires spin in runny mud, because people naturally tune out manipulative or deceptive ads.  Yes, yes, I know the psychology: you'll catch some of the people some of the time.  But once burned you don't get that person back.  And in an emerging world when anyone can find out any information at any time with a device in his or her pocket, any remaining room for arbitrage between the time a pitch is delivered and the time the mark is made aware he's been conned has narrowed to the eye of a needle.  Nobody buys white van speakers any more, folks.  You have zero minutes to swindle that stranger.  As an exercise in cost-efficiency and ROI, surely it's now more optimal to steal their wallet outright than to engineer some elaborate scheme and drape it with a veneer of legitimacy.

And all along, seriously, just playing it straight is going to have a decent hit rate of selling any product or service worth its name. (Which, if true, suggests that any inferior product or service will surely have to be marketed deceptively, which, if true, suggests that the purveyors of perfectly decent products and services are even more foolish to cede the moral high ground of playing it straight, which, iiiifff trrruuuee.... OMG INCEPTION!)

Look at the top equity brands of the present moment.  In some order, Apple, Google, Tesla, Coca-Cola, Trane, Costco, Southwest Airlines; even if I've missed a few, those seven are surely amongst the top twenty, yes?  And across the board those brands build their equity with wholesome marketing.  Apple doesn't even talk about their products in their adverts, they show what people make with them.  Southwest sets up funny skits where the punchline is always how nice it might be to take a vacation.  Trane is even more basic, their "It's hard to stop a Trane" slogan feeds advert campaigns of their HVAC devices taking extreme punishment and chugging along.  One can make a legitimate complaint that Coca-Cola handwaves away the nature of their products, sugar-syrup drinks that will kill you with diabetes if the aspartame in their diet drinks doesn't destroy your circulatory system first, but their marketing is always an inclusive message about connecting people.  Or anthropomorphic animals, as the case may be.

One would think that the example those brands are setting would resonate down the chain.  And, with depressing frequency, that's absolutely not what happens.

I scarcely need to provide non-hobby-industry examples.  Basically all door-to-door sales, all telemarketing, every pop-up window you ever saw, and the vast plurality of adverts otherwise, are festooned with gross distortions, tricks, misdirection, deception, and outright lies.  This is, again, a big part of why people learn to tune out advertising.

Here in the hobby industry, here are some of the worst offenders I see.

PITCH: (Facebook photo of some guy holding up a money card) "These cards got cracked at our draft last night!  Where were you!  They could have been yours!"
MISLEADING SUBTEXT: Players at our store have better-than-normal odds of opening good cards in booster packs.
REALITY: Casinos love it when people are dumb enough to fall for this pitch, because the odds are merciless and never change.  The contents of every booster pack are Schrödinger-approved.  You will never, can never, know what you will open until you do it, and the laws of probability are the same no matter where you are or which pack you are given.  At most you could say that over given spans of packs you're likely to get a slightly smoother yield of rares, and that's going to be the same no matter what store you play at.  Moreover, that means that if you see someone open a jackpot card, due to the same mathematics, for a little while afterward that store is actually less likely to feed you a booster with the same money card.  Given the volumes involved at the FLGS level, the odds return to chalk very quickly.
MORE HONEST PITCH: (Facebook photo of some guy holding up a money card) "Thanks to everyone who had fun booster drafting with us last night!  Join us next time and it might be your night to open an awesome foil card like this one!"

PITCH: (Facebook photo of a bunch of big money cards) "We buy awesome Magic cards every single day!  Come to Grinder's Gulch where our inventory is the best!"
MISLEADING SUBTEXT: Our entire inventory is top-end stuff and we have a limitless supply of it. Other stores that don't are just holding out on you, or don't know what they're doing.  Don't go to other stores.
REALITY: Every store's card inventory is made up of typical ratios of glitter vs trash.  In fact, the larger that store's inventory is, the more variance is eliminated, making it in the aggregate strongly resemble actual print ratios both among expansions and within expansions.  DSG actively purges bulk and it still doesn't change the proportions much in the grand scale of things.
MORE HONEST PITCH: (Facebook photo of a bunch of big money cards) "Look what just landed here at TopDeck Paradise!  We're always buying great Magic collections so we can bring you the cards you want!"

PITCH: (Facebook photo of a room full of tables of players) "Come win boxes of Magic at our weekly Modern win-a-box tournament!"
MISLEADING SUBTEXT: You're probably going to walk away with a full box, valued over $100, after buying in for ten bucks.
REALITY: There's so much wrong with this shortening.  Disposing of the rarer case, for those stores that still do actually award the box to 1st place, only the winner gets that, and the store is exaggerating the likelihood of victory considerably by phrasing it to suggest that all comers are likely to win.  It literally cannot happen.  This is why lottery and casino adverts and such give actual odds and/or say things like "for entertainment only" or "player results and outcomes may vary" so as not to float an unprotected claim that showing up suffices to guarantee BIG WINNINGS.  In the more common case, the pitch is even more misleading, because "Win-a-box" tournaments these days usually just mean at least a box worth of packs is in the prize pool, and it will get split among top finishers.  So literally nobody can "come win boxes of Magic" at that event.  The pitch actually becomes a complete and direct lie.
MORE HONEST PITCH: (Facebook photo of a room full of tables of players) "Come test your Magic skill at our weekly Modern win-a-box tournament!  Booster box or more guaranteed to the prize pool as long as event fires."

PITCH: (Facebook photo of a pile of video games) "We pay top dollar for your video games!  Call us to see what your old video games might be worth!"
MISLEADING SUBTEXT: With our electronic tendrils planted deep in the hearts of our competitors' computers, we can top their offers every time.  And you're surely sitting on a gold mine; you need only pack it up and bring it all in.  What color Land Rover you gonna buy with all that cheddar?
REALITY: Everyone sells used stuff at market price and everyone buys at a ratio of market price that hinges on market demand.  Virtually every independent uses Pricecharting.  Even when you look at Gamestop, which is forced to buy extra low to support its massive overhead and pricey leases, they at least use the same ratio mechanism.  An independent can legitimately claim they outpay Gamestop, and they mostly will, though it's bad marketing to name your competition in your adverts.  But for one video game store to claim its buy prices are always better than another independent?  Unlikely.  They're banking on the fact that a typical person trading in or selling will unload at the first place they visit, and not want to truck their totes full of games all over town.  Moreover, they're going to quote a moonshot price on the phone and then walk it back in person by pointing out every tiny condition detriment to the customer whose goods are on the table.  The thing is, it's so much easier to earn that visit and make a customer happy without being a filthy liar.  Watch:
MORE HONEST PITCH: (Facebook photo of a pile of video games) "Bring us your unwanted video games and trade for new ones or walk away with cold hard CASH!  Always buying, no collection is too big or too small!"  And when they show up, certainly take condition into account, but just explain what you're doing in a matter-of-fact way and most customers will respect you being up front about it.

PITCH: (Facebook photo of a paint rack) "Painted figures roll better!  Get your paint right here at Bob's Game Emporium and blast your way to victory!"
MISLEADING SUBTEXT: If you buy enough paint, you'll surely have enough stored-up dice advantage to win your next game of Warhammer.
REALITY: Dice behave the same regardless of the hopes and dreams of the person rolling them.  This one isn't quite as coarse as the TCG pack odds pitches, but in being milquetoast enough to avoid any real objection, it legitimizes the lie.  That's a direction the otherwise-wholesome miniatures hobby ought not to go.
MORE HONEST PITCH: (Facebook photo of a beautifully painted army) "Get the job done and look good doing it!  Paint an army worthy of the Emperor.  All the colors you need right here at Tabletoppers."

Have I personally used some of the misleading pitches?  Despite my best effort not to, I'm sure I've fumbled some phrasings and let slip a questionable beckon one at some point or another.  I'm sure it was an exceedingly rare case, and I actively attempt to avoid doing so now and forward.  I don't want you to have to take my word for it.  P.T. Barnum himself warned about the perils of believing any merchant's own "humbug," knowing that in being observant about the entire market, the honest merchants would become evident.  One pitch at a time, I know if I am being reliable, the good reputation will follow.  Better to struggle to maintain that, than to allow misdirection and deception to ruin one's reputation so much more quickly and easily.

Come have fun playing games at my store.  Come browse my wares and find collectibles that tug at your nostalgia strings.  Come check out comic stories that will immerse and engross you.  Come buy games you'll enjoy, alone or with family or friends.  Come get cash for your unwanted games.  I'm always buying.  Come entertain yourself and let's see if I can amplify your ability to do so by means of my humble business.  Come enjoy your hobby.  Ocean Breeze Soap will get you clean.  Why should I ever want to lie to you about any of that, when the truth serves both our purposes so much better?

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Substitution of Cases for Video Game Disc Media

In preparing to go large-scale with video games and especially on the expectation that some online aggregation system is likely a-brewing, I recently took a look at disc media cases to see what the outlook was for improving the condition of high-value games and making low-value games look better out of the box for general audiences.

It goes without saying that any marketplace-tied sellers are going to be expected to provide authentic cases.  However, what happens if the authentic original is generic, and no different from a substitute?  Well, let's take a look.

Here are empty cases, made in China.  Even if I never use them to substitute, they are still useful.  They can be used with printed liners as shelf proxies for shopping and you keep the real games backstage; I think this is ultimately their strongest use.  When you have a loose copy of the game, just having it in the proper color and type of case can make a good buyer impression, even if you don't have a liner.  But can they substitute?

First, let's look at Sony.  Here is an empty Amaray (DVD standard) case next to a Playstation 2 game.
As you can see, this will not substitute at all.  Most PS2 games use this case type with an offset-low spindle and a slot for the memory card that mostly never got used.  There are still things you can do here to add value; if you have a $500 Rule of Rose with a thrashed case full of dog bites, Gamestop stickers, and a broken spine, absolutely buy a $5 factory-sealed copy of some old sports game and swap the (identical, first-party) case over.  But there is zero substitution of standard Amaray cases to pass as PS2 originals here.
Not to mention the endless variations of games with multiple discs.  Even if you're going to swap authentic parts, you need a matching part.  Good luck with that.  It's still possible, of course.

PLAYSTATION 2: NO.

What about its successor?  Playstation 3 used a clear translucent blu-ray case.  Here is a generic version next to a real game:
 Uh-oh, what's that on the top band?
The Playstation logo has to be there on any game that was packaged that way, meaning no substitution.  A shame, because the interior was a dead-on match, including having no Sony-branded fine print or anything:
But wait!  Not all Playstation 3 games have the embossed logo on their cases!  Here is a factory-sealed game that does not have it!
And just to show it was no fluke, here is a factory-sealed, brand-new Greatest Hits series PS3 game with no embossed logo, though of course you'd need a solid red blu-ray case.
So for any PS3 title that does not have the embossed logo on its case, it appears the blank cases are fully substitutable without having any effect on authenticity.

PLAYSTATION 3: SOMETIMES.

What about the newest generation, Playstation 4?  The good thing was the case has no distinguishing attributes.  No embossed logo, neither on used games nor new factory-sealed games.  No fine print of note.  It should be possible to substitute here.  The bad thing is that these particular substitutes are actually made with the spindle offset low!  So if I can find better substitutes, we may be in business:
Can you believe this?  It's dead-on match externally.
 So this one is going to rate a green light, but you have to get the right materials.

PLAYSTATION 4: YES, PROVIDED THE SUBSTITUTE ACTUALLY MATCHES.

I looked into the Playstation Vita and unfortunately I did not have any used complete to test, only loose cards and new-in-box software.  No distinguishing characteristics appear on the outside, and I Googlenetted up some photos and there appears nothing on the inside.  I'm going to call this a qualified yes.
I'm going to call this a qualified yes.

PLAYSTATION VITA: YES, PROBABLY, CHECK YOUR ORIGINAL.
PLAYSTATION PORTABLE: N/A (I was unable to find a substitute case.)

Let's take a quick look at the Playstation 1, given that it used jewel cases for most of its system lifespan.  The early "tall boy" cases are clearly not substitutable.  But later?
There's a generic case, and now the inside of Vandal Hearts, where you can see a Playstation logo in the center and obviously we cannot use any substitute whatsoever for that.
Also, with many games in the PS1 catalog being multi-disc and various different jewel case configurations for single- and multi-disc games alike, I think we're not close here.
So we have a hard "no" for the granddaddy of disc-only console games.

PLAYSTATION 1: NO.

Those generic jewels might yet be useful for other systems, but we will have to evaluate it case-by-case and see how well it matches.  Turbografx is no good as they used custom cases.  Sega CD and Sega Saturn in the U.S. used "tall boy" cases.  But Saturn Japan, Neo Geo CD, and Dreamcast:
This one is not a match for Crazy Taxi 2 and I would not use it as a substitute.  But my guess is there was likely enough production variation that you will find exact and permissible matches from generic substitute cases for "standard CD" packaging.

SEGA CD: NO.
SEGA SATURN USA: NO.
SEGA SATURN JAPAN: SOMETIMES.
SEGA DREAMCAST: SOMETIMES.
NEO GEO CD: SOMETIMES.
TURBOGRAFX SERIES: NO.

Switching now to Nintendo, we have basically zero substitute ability across the line.  Here is a generic Nintendo DS game case.  Mostly pretty accurate, right?
Except oh wait, the embossed logo.  Well, so much for that.
It was a little clearer that we were out of luck in the 3DS generation, as the case has more differences (no "air holes" as well as the logo absence).
 Yeap.
 So I'm going to call these both a hard "no" for substitute cases matching authentics.

NINTENDO DS: NO.
NINTENDO 3DS: NO.

The home systems are just as inimitable.  Check out an Amaray DVD standard case next to a Gamecube standard single-disc case:
And that's an easy one!  Memory card slot, small disc spindle, official logo.  None of this is going to show up on a substitute case, so there's no substitution whatever here.
That's without even considering multi-disc games, some of which have a top/bottom spindle in a single-width case, a configuration not seen anywhere else at all.

NINTENDO GAMECUBE: NO.

How about the Gamecube's much more successful... successor?  At first glance, it looks good.  The substitute cases, aside from being excessively shiny, look very similar.  But oh...
It's an embossed logo, which is the end of that inquiry.  If your original factory-sealed game you are certain does not have an embossed logo, maybe you can substitute freely.  I am going to say that probably isn't happening here.
Nor is it happening on the Wii U, as you can see here on Breath of the Wild.
Nintendo, ever on lockdown, and no surprise here they do the same for packaging.  You need authentic original material, and substitutes will not do.

NINTENDO WII: NO.
NINTENDO WII U: NO.
NINTENDO SWITCH: N/A (I was unable to find a substitute case.)

Finishing up with Microsoft, we've got better news, but not right away.  As you can see, the Xbox One has an embossed and colored logo right there on the case top, and there is no substituting a blank band for that.
In this case the substitute didn't get the texture right anyway, so even without that logo I would not have felt comfortable subbing in a generic case for the X-Bone.

XBOX ONE: NO.

Not much luck with my existing generics with the Xbox 2001 either, except that there's no reason it couldn't be; the original cases have no apparent embossed logo, trademark text, or other characteristics that imitation cases would have to omit.  If you can find cases that match, you should be able to use them.
Again, for multi-disc games you're on your own, but as you can see, there's nothing strange going on here.
For the Platinum Hits series, you'd need to source the correct color of case, as you can see, but once again there's no infringing element to fail on.
So I'm going to call this a qualified "yes" like I did for the PS4.

XBOX (2001): YES, PROVIDED THE SUBSTITUTE ACTUALLY MATCHES.

The Xbox 360 is where we really hit paydirt.  You can't see it as clearly in the photo because the sub case is very shiny and there's no paper behind it, but it's very, very similar, close to identical.
Here is a closer look where you can see only some variation on the interior spindle, and even that may not be consistent across versions.  I'm not sure it stops a substitution here, for most titles.
Of course, you need to take into account multi-disc games with tabs...
And multi-disc games with a multi-disc spindle...
And you'll need grape purple for the Kinect games...
But thanks to the lack of embossed logos or marks and the apparent standardization of manufacture, most Xbox 360 cases appear to be the same as generics, and substitution is likely to be possible in many cases.  When in doubt, research the title!  But I feel good about a Mostly Yes here, which I'll downgrade slightly to match the PS3 that shared this system's generation.

XBOX 360: SOMETIMES.

Let's wrap it all up with our conclusions and I'll let that be it for the week.

IS THE ORIGINAL DISC MEDIA CASE FROM THIS SYSTEM SUFFICIENTLY GENERIC THAT A GENERIC CASE CAN BE USED WITHOUT LOSING AUTHENTICITY?

3DO: NO, MOSTLY ("Tall Boy" boxes regardless of CD jewel cases).
ATARI JAGUAR CD: I HAVE NO IDEA.
NEO GEO CD: SOMETIMES.
NINTENDO DS: NO.
NINTENDO 3DS: NO.
NINTENDO GAMECUBE: NO.
NINTENDO SWITCH: N/A (I was unable to find a substitute case.)
NINTENDO WII: NO.
NINTENDO WII U: NO.
PHILIPS CD-I: SHRUG EMOTICON.
PLAYSTATION 1: NO.
PLAYSTATION 2: NO.
PLAYSTATION 3: SOMETIMES.
PLAYSTATION 4: YES, PROVIDED THE SUBSTITUTE ACTUALLY MATCHES.
PLAYSTATION PORTABLE: N/A (I was unable to find a substitute case.)
PLAYSTATION VITA: YES, PROBABLY, CHECK YOUR ORIGINAL.
SEGA CD: NO.
SEGA DREAMCAST: SOMETIMES.
SEGA SATURN JAPAN: SOMETIMES.
SEGA SATURN USA: NO.
TURBOGRAFX SERIES: NO.
XBOX (2001): YES, PROVIDED THE SUBSTITUTE ACTUALLY MATCHES.
XBOX 360: SOMETIMES.
XBOX ONE: NO.

Hope someone out there found this useful!  See you next time here on The Backstage Pass.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Chasing Tornadoes

Talula, Talula,
I don't want to lose it
It must be worth losing
If it is worth something...
And I never cared too much for the money
But I know right now, honey
That it's in God's hands,
But I don't know who the father is.
-Tori Amos
In the "games" business there are products that go white-hot seemingly without warning, that become instant unobtainium, and then either just jump beyond reasonable presence, normalize and meet demand, or fade out into obscurity, their moment wasted and demand withered on the vine.

The Nintendo NES Classic has never been readily available on retail shelves for longer than minutes at a time, and that's reasonably mainstream.  Here in our niche we have games like Star Wars Destiny, Gloomhaven, and Scythe that never came close to meeting market clamor.  We have games like Dice Masters that went thermonuclear on day one and never caught a second wind because the longshoreman's strike kept reinforcements away for too long.

And then there are times when the stars align and something blows up in the mainstream market and crosses over into ours.  And it makes the NES Classic and Gloomhaven seem moribund by comparison.

Have you ever heard of fidget spinners?
These plastic ball-bearing doodads have blown up to the point at which any amount we can put on the shelves sells out within days or less.  China is already making them in staggering quantities, so for a brief and scintillating moment, we can order huge-margin items, wait with trembling hands as our crates cross the Pacific Ocean, and then turn that money into much more money as soon as customs is done with its customary striptease.

The fidget spinner, like its spiritual cousin the fidget cube, was originally developed as a sensory toy for people on the autism spectrum.  Autistic neurotypes are known for "stimming," short for "stimulating," making repetitive muscle motions such as snapping, flapping hands or fingers, cracking knuckles, grinding teeth, rocking back and forth, and so forth.  The self-stimulation actually has a calming effect, paradoxically, because it helps deaden the autistic person's high sensitivity to external stimuli.  Thus, it helps them focus, in the same way that closing your office door helps when you're trying to decipher a complex document.

Naturally, the neurotypical mainstream can't let anyone have anything to themselves, so ordinary kids who are hyperactive and accustomed to a high-stimulus environment have apprehended the joy and contentment of stimming.  Fidget toys then blew up at a rate that's staggering to behold: in February we started to see distributor offers from our various overseas factory sources; in March the first few stores to gamble were getting their boxes full and selling out; in April those box orders turned to cases, and in May those cases turned to master cartons.  And since my stores are like mediocre NBA point guards who can't create their own shot, it took until April before I was finally ordering them.  Within hours of their arrival earlier this month, they became the top selling items in the Toys & Figures subcategory.

And it's already over.  The Asian supply chain has already caught up to big box integration.  The spinners we readily sell for $10-$15 are showing up at Wal-Marts for half that (but disappearing fast enough that we still get business).  No carton or case or box of fidget toys that I order now is going to appear in time to get ahead of mass market entropy.  By the time I adjust to half the price, Wal-Mart will be at a quarter of the price.  And then they'll start getting container loads from Guangzhou for a tenth of what I've been paying, or less, and in half the transit time.  And then the public will stop caring and the fad will have passed.

I've got near-zero risk here with Phoenix Comicon and a slate of convention and movie release table dates coming up for the store, and there's no way we fail to clear a table of fidget toys at an event where we already sell out of every doodad we bring.  But for ordinary small specialty retail store shelf inventory purposes, the window of opportunity for these things opened, and now it is closing.  It was that fast.

It was incendiary hot for the shortest time you can imagine, and we were basically printing money at the speed these things moved, but now it's over.

This has been a good lesson for the hobby game trade because there was some money available on the table for anyone with the prescience to act quickly, but a store that simply stayed the course and focused on fundamentals probably did just fine and had less work to do and less uncertainty and less credit card balance tied up in a transoceanic supply chain.  A store that just stood pat probably ended up very close to breakeven with the stores that, you know, did anything with regard to fidget toys.

An ideal scenario is perhaps a full-line game store that plans to keep the fidget toys around regardless of the fad, perhaps to supplement an existing deployment of educational and construction toys.  They'll become like other products that the mass market has destroyed, where we have them in stock but most people gripe that our $9.99 spinners are $2.99 (by then) at Walgreens.  Our mainline distributors will have the really nice design-print spinners and cubes, at the awful margins we've come to accept, and they'll fit right in next to the 65% COGS Diamond statues.  We'll tell stories to new retailers about the margins we got for two brilliant weeks when the fidget spinner trend first exploded, and they'll call bullsh*t and won't believe us.

Chasing tornadoes, attempting to catch the leading edge of a trend, is something that feels very right and appropriate for a hobby game store, and especially for a comic store where trends and the product are often one and the same.  But it's akin to speculation.  It's something less than a "spec," while still being speculative.  It's like a steakhouse adding in a trendy fish entree to capitalize on publicity.  They may sell some, but the reality is they disrupted their menu and added process and created exceptions and did all this despite the reality that most of their patrons came in because they wanted steak.

Fundamentals.  Make sure you're still selling steak.  Make sure your steak-eating customers still get what they showed up for.  And if you think you have that mastered -- well, none of us do, but if you think you've got it under control -- then sure, be my guest.   The occasional dalliance with some market darling can be excused, but don't let a cheap thrill cost you your marriage.

EDIT JUNE 12TH: IT'S OVER!!!  That was fast.  Wal-Mart is under five bucks now.  We can still make some sales here but it went from worth-it to not-worth-it essentially.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Stabbing Westward

It's happening: Desert Sky Games: Gilbert will be moving to nearby Chandler!
We know this is a big announcement and will set off a lot of questions.  It's too soon for some of them but perfect for others:

Q: Where exactly in Chandler?
A: We are not at liberty to give an exact address until (I think) July 1st.  The destination space and the lease arrangement involve existing businesses.  We don't want to start off our relationship with our landlord by upsetting his tenants, who have their own location moves, upgrades, and potentially closures underway.  It is not far from the current store, and is close to the freeway.

Q: How much room will you have?
A: When fully built, the new store will be five times the size of the current store.  Our gameplay area alone will be more square feet than the entirety of each other store in the East Valley.

Q: When exactly is the move?
A: We have to be clear of the Gilbert location in just under six months, so we're aiming for a late-summer opening knowing it's likely to be more of an early-fall opening.

Q: So why announce so early?
A: An explanation is warranted.  The trendy thing right now is crowdfunding (Kickstarter, Gofundme, Indiegogo) when a store needs to expand, or move, or survive a downturn.  We don't believe in that kind of thing.  Panhandling just isn't our way.  We intend that our clients always get their money's worth.

Meanwhile, construction always costs more than expected, and we intend to fund this entire move out of operating capital rather than borrowing.  (And if we do end up having to borrow, we will still have that option open.)

Therefore: We are starting our MOVING SALE... NOW.

With the plan being that the sale will supplement the construction budget at this early stage.  This also gives us the flexibility to refresh the sale a couple of times every week as we go, adding new deals to give our customers something more to discover.  We have even more merch stored away that there hasn't even been room for us to floor, and now we can bring that out.  Doing all this meant announcing early was best.

Q: So, what kind of deals are we talking about here?
A: We are offering 40% to 90% OFF all items in the moving sale.  Look for the yellow tag.  Prices are good in-store only and are while stock lasts. We are not messing around.

Q: What kind of merch is included in the moving sale?
A: Almost everything, but especially toys and collectibles, board games, miniatures, CMGs, apparel, and accessories.  You know, stuff that takes up room and is bulky or fiddly to transport.  Deep sales on lines like Warmachine/Hordes and Guild Ball, HeroClix, Ultra-Pro, and Funko.

Q: Wait, are you getting out of those categories and games?
A: NO.  In fact, at the new location we're going to have more of them than ever.  It's a paradox of retail finance that it makes more sense to sell off an item, even at a deep discount, and reorder it at full wholesale six months down the road, rather than conveying it.  It's kind of like how you're better off holding a big garage sale before you move, reducing costs for transportation and/or storage.

Q: So you're not dropping board games?
A: Nope.  Keeping them.  DSG Chandler will have room to feature a huge array of board games, including a demo library for players.  The way we always hoped to do it.

Q: And you're not dropping WarmaHordes and Guild Ball?
A: Not at all.  Miniatures players will finally have room to roam at DSG Chandler.  And Warhammer is hotter than ever right now.

Q: What about HeroClix?  You canceled your upcoming events.
A: We are rebooting HeroClix this fall at DSG Chandler.  We saw two straight years without player base growth, which is atypical for a game that is successful at many stores nationwide.  This tells us our processes for HeroClix were not working and not serving our player community.  We're going to give all local Clixers a parting gift with this blowout sale, and then rebuild from the ground up later.  Meanwhile Clix is strong at Imperial Outpost and Game On Prescott to tide you over.

Q: What about comics?  Gilbert moved them all to Tempe.  In fact, what about Tempe?
A: DSG Chandler will have room for all comics, but that's phase two or three.  Phase one is getting DSG Chandler open as a replacement for DSG Gilbert.  DSG Tempe will continue to host the vast comic inventory in the meanwhile.

Q: What about Gilbert?  DSG has a lot of customers east and south of the store.
A: We're still going to be close with easy freeway access.  But this move also gives us an option we didn't have before, that East and South Gilbert customers may like.  The San Tan Village Mall opened its first leases in late 2007.  That means the next 12 to 20 months will see initial 10-year and 5+5 option leases expiring, which opens up an opportunity for a perfect DSG Gilbert branch location at the STV in 2018+. I'm very excited about this as it's a strong commercial property.  It's possible this supersedes the Superstition Springs plan.  We'll reach that question at a later date.

Q: Isn't it going to be weird having a bunch of empty aisles and racks?
A: We have it covered: Another purpose of the sale is so we can take some racks down and move them to Chandler ahead of time.  This will also allow us to open more of the room to gameplay, and make DSG Gilbert a little more comfortable in its final months.

Q: Sounds awesome.  Thanks for explaining all this.  But wait, did you... did you just...
A: Yes, I have been waiting to use that article title for years.  Had we moved in the other direction, I would have used "Eastbound and Down" from Smokey and the Bandit.  North and South weren't really in play because I wanted to stay close to the freeway.  But we're loaded up and truckin', and we're gonna do what they say can't be done.

That's it!  Hope you're as jazzed as we are to move forward into the DSG future with our enormous new hub location and headquarters!  In the meanwhile, we hope you will visit DSG Gilbert and take advantage of deals that, honestly, we will probably never be offering again.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Thoughts, Part 7

Yesterday was the first of May, and in addition to what JoCo would recommend we be doing, this meant the beginning of a whirlwind cycle of releases, convention appearances, and oh yeah moving the Gilbert store to adjacent Chandler, as is now about 98% likely.  Basically barring some critical lease problem, we have moved forward working on DSG New and look to wrap construction in time for a fall opening.  I'll post updates sometimes.

MTG Amonkhet launched very well, especially for an off-cycle large set, and pound-for-pound basically did better than Modern Masters 2017 for us.  In part I think this might have been a bad time to hold the line at MSRP.  I felt stung by having pushed so hard with Eternal Masters and seeing other dealers scoop up MSRP with ease, and I wanted to hedge in any case against the softness that we saw after Modern Masters 2015 landed.  This time I didn't really need to hedge so I figured, OK, I'm going to take the approach I saw the larger and more stable dealers do.  Only to have most of the market dump the set.  I vented a little bit of it at market but with my last dozen cases I'm off that plan, I'm going to sell it a pack at a time now and follow the market price up... eventually.  I still have Eternal Masters in stock.  Magic is stabilizing for me after Aether Revolt underperformed in the early frames.

Games Workshop's new policies go into effect tomorrow for hobby retailers.  A minimum advertised price of 85% of MSRP as well as permission to sell online under assorted guidelines.  I think a lot of stores will rush to sync their stock to Amazon or eBay, and since there can be no price competition really, we won't actually see that become a revenue driver.  I am going to hold off on that and instead work on mastering the buy-on-your-phone-and-pick-up-at-the-shop process through our website that has already proven a winner for Magic and Destiny singles and event registration.  DSG's existing wargamer community is pretty healthy the way it is and we want to keep that focus local.  Getting the staff accustomed to minis and especially paint and supplies orders through the web system will be good exercise and a chance to get some more efficiency of scale there.

Hasbro has quietly been ingesting some classic Avalon Hill and Wizards of the Coast titles, moving them from the subsidiary catalog up to the main imprint.  Acquire and RoboRally are already done, and we'll see which games get tabbed next.  My two tabletop distributors, GTS and Alliance, are both selling Hasbro-branded merch firsthand now.  GTS already had a deal in place with Diamond that included Previews Exclusive SKUs, and Alliance is, well, part of Diamond.  I am stopping short of foretelling suffering to come or any such thing; I just wonder if we are seeing a significant piece of the consolidation trail played out quietly before us, in realtime.

I'm stuck on a metrics pinion right now.  A fair number of board games and miniatures failed to meet turns for Q1.  In terms of cash flow management, the correct move is to clearance them with a sale of some kind.  But with DSG Next so close upon us, I'm going to want a lot of product to fill up all that footage.  What do you do when you don't really want to clear the deadwood because you know bonfire season is approaching?  In the end I think I'll cash out some chips with a sale, but it will be small and understated compared to my usual strike first strike hard no mercy sir closeouts.

Online traffic continues to pick up.  TCGPlayer is adding Final Fantasy and Destiny to its offerings, which suits me just fine to be perfectly truthful, as I am already dealing in both.  It's irksome seeing a 90%/10% split of online/in-store singles sales, when the transactional cost is so much better in-store and these buyers are passing up a lower price card-by-card to buy through TCGPlayer.  (I use a multiplier to defray fees with a 20% price bump; all DSG website and in-store singles sales pay 20% less.)  But volume, man, volume.  With mastered subprocesses there's an opportunity there.  I have some great folks in the high-end dealer community to thank for teaching me how that works.

Square doesn't offer the best rates for credit card interchange, and they don't offer the fastest payment (though you can insta-withdraw for a small surcharge).  But their system really is easy and faults are rare.  I finally ran into one this week where the chip dipper kept disconnecting for some reason.  In the end deleting the Square app from that iPad and redownloading it fixed the problem.  Have you tried turning it off and on again?  With their use of device codes so I don't have to give all and sundry my Square login credentials, I think they've got a winning system.  PayPal Here is close but I still run into technical problems more often than anyone should.  Saving money on the interchange rate is extremely important but how much money do you lose when there's an interruption in your ability to take payments?

We ran a table at Zapcon 5 last weekend, an arcade game and pinball convention that wasn't really tailored toward shopping, but where I wanted to get some more exposure now that video games are becoming prominent for us.  It was cool to see the guys from The Gaming Zone, Starfighters Arcade, and Game Over again, and we appreciate Wes and the Zapcon organization inviting us.  We sold out of everything Rick & Morty, sold most of the Nintendo marketing trinkets I brought (there is more), and sold a respectable amount of Magic and Pokemon cards.  I think if we're invited back I'm going to find some way to feature console free play or testing at our booth, since we had electricity at no extra charge.  I took a few jaunts into the game room and most of what I wanted to play had a line waiting, but that's OK in my world -- it means people are enjoying something I am passionate about.

Speaking of which, I got myself an X-Bone for my birthday, without much of a clear direction for what games I wanted to play on it, figuring to use Plex and the media center functions.  I had already played a bit of Destiny and Forza Horizon, as well as brief durdling on Dark Souls III and Deus Ex Mankind Divided.  That last one, by the way, has some solid worldbuilding in it.  I love me a good twenty-minutes-into-the-future storyline, and Mankind Divided executes that splendidly.  Forza delivers as promised in the racing department, which I occasionally decide to obsess over.  But the revelation on the Xbox One thus far has been Moon Studios' masterpiece Ori and the Blind Forest.  I was given the recommendation by people I trust, and wow, I was not ready for the impact of this game.
Most of what I might tell you about Ori has already been said.  It's beautiful, both visually and musically -- perhaps the best ever.  It's a mechanical delight, the pinnacle of both the Metroidvania mechanic specifically and 2D platforming generally.  And the story is Pixar quality, including the requisite "all those feels."  I would not have regretted buying the system solely to play this game.

I do have some other games -- about a third of my DLC from the Xbox 360 ported over, and most of our disc titles are apparently on the backward-compatible list.  I picked up Mighty No. 9 at the right price and I'm ready for a letdown but hoping for the best.  I'm told that Life is Strange, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Axiom Verge, and Batman Arkham Knight are also worth a look.  There seems to be an abundance of high-production-value first-person-shooters and sports games on the platform, but I can't do much with those these days.  I just don't have the patience for them, and even as I was able to appreciate the tactile polish of Destiny, I could not summon up the urge to play more.  I didn't even redeem my code for Madden 17 that came with the console.

Once the store has enough systems in stock, I'll procure a Playstation 4 so I can try that silly VR thing, and play titles like Journey and The Last of Us that I've had strongly recommended to me.  The kids have their Wii U to play the LEGO games on... and Minecraft.

Hope everyone's May is off to a great start.  Enjoy the onset of summer!