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Connor
Connor

Hello, readers! If you’re just tuning in, I highly recommend you go back and read part 1 of this article, which can be found HERE.

In part one of The Ethics of Buying Board Games, I discussed a bit of the industry framework and how you, the average game player, probably gets their hands on a game. Next, let’s talk briefly about money. I know many of you have probably already thought part of this through. If the distributors buy the games from the publisher, then the publisher has already gotten their money. Why should it matter where you buy a game from? In theory, that transaction has nothing to do with the publisher, right? I’m glad you asked. We’re getting closer to the heart of the matter here.

For the next few paragraphs were going to explore a hypothetical chain of events that might be entirely out of a your view as a customer, but will help you understand some of the economics of this industry and how your dollars affect it.

The Money Chain

Let’s say that the new imaginary game from fictional publisher SL3 Games has a MSRP (manufacturer’s suggested retail price) of $40. In this example, we’ll say that the distributor bought the game from the publisher for $15. And lastly, we’ll say that the game costs $10 to make. Again, these are simplistic numbers but I’m doing my damnedest not to bog you down with accounting. With these numbers, a publisher makes $5 on a sale of a game to a distributor. The distributor then sells the game to hundreds or even thousands of retailers at a margin that will help move as many copies as possible.  These numbers hopefully give you a bit of a mental framework to understand the rest of my story here.

So let’s say this hypothetical game, we’ll call it Squanch Wars, comes out and you’re excited to get it. You stop by your local game shop and Squanch Wars is $40(MSRP). You look on Amazon and you find it for $35. Then a friend sends you a link to SuperAmazingReallyCheapGames. They have it for $27. And you get free shipping if you spend more than $50 dollars. So you order a couple of more games to get your free shipping and everyone wins, right?

Moving down the road a bit, you didn’t buy that copy on the game store shelf. You didn’t buy the Amazon copy. The publisher sold through their print run and they are considering developing Squanch Wars 2, The Revenge of Squanchy. But they don’t have enough capital, yet. They figure out that they’ll be able to do it after a second print run of the first Squanch Wars. They order a reprint, double the size this time – a whopping 8000 units. Only now, sales aren’t quite as strong. The friendly local game stores are still sitting on some of their copies and Amazon sold through theirs but it took a while. The publisher still manages to sell all of the second print run to distributors (whew!) so they have enough money to start working on Squanch Wars 2 now.

For the second print run, the distributors are having a harder time selling off Squanch Wars. They end up lowering their prices a bit and SuperAmazingReallyCheapGames picks up quite a few copies and passes those savings on to consumers, now selling it for $24. Maybe brick and mortar stores lower their prices, just to get it off the shelves or sit on their one copy at full price. Meanwhile, Amazon begins dropping its prices to match the third party sellers on its site, wanting to maintain the ‘buy box’ and sell through their copies first.

Over at SL3, they’ve just hired a new full-time graphic designer and a marketing person. They have four employees now! And Squanch Wars has generated enough interest that they’ve even managed to land a meeting with national retail chain, S-Mart, who want in on that Squanchy hype. But then someone in a meeting checks the price of Squanch Wars on Amazon. It’s at $24. “I’m sorry,” the buyer at S-Mart says. “We’d love to order 50,000 copies of Squanch Wars for our stores, but we wouldn’t be able to compete with Amazon on that price.”

Deflated, SL3 Games goes ahead with Squanch Wars 2. Maybe it does well and maybe it doesn’t. Maybe the company stays afloat, or maybe this is the end for them. The point is that had SL3 Games been able to sell 50,000 copies of their first game to S-Mart, then their follow up would be completely different. Different budget, different marketing, and maybe even a different community around the game. Maybe you had one friend who would play Squanch Wars with you because he knew you loved it. But had Squanch Wars been a mega-hit, there might have been whole nights at your local game store dedicated to Squanch Wars 2.

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

What went wrong? Where in this process could we have used an ethical structure to inform our choices? Going back to my analogy in Part 1, how could we have nurtured the garden? Let’s start with SuperAmazingReallyCheapGames. Who are they? You’ll likely never know. It could be a warehouse in Arizona somewhere. Do they care about board games? Maybe. Maybe it’s just dollars and cents for them.

I’m not saying they don’t deserve to exist, that the people who run the site are bad people. But what are they doing to ensure that your hobby grows? Do they add to the value of your community? Do you see them at cons with a booth? Do they engage the public in a way that brings new gamers into the fold? For that matter, do you think they care whether or not you enjoy your copy of Squanch Wars?

You can, of course, ask the same questions about Amazon. It’s easy to say we should just all buy from our FLGS, but what if you don’t live near one? What if you’re a hundred miles from the nearest place that sells Squanch Wars? If you have to purchase online, how can you possibly know which seller will nurture the garden, as it were. And what if you can’t afford $40 but you can afford $24? Should you be deprived of the game you want?

These are complex questions and I certainly don’t have simplistic answers for you here. But what I do want you all to realize, the whole point of this blog post, is that buying a board game isn’t the same as buying that pair of shoes from Burma made by the multi-million dollar corporation who has worldwide logo recognition. Even the larger board game companies out there, the ones that some hobbyists like to throw around as some sort of mustachioed villain within the industry, just aren’t that large. And before demonizing Amazon too much, remember that many publishers rely on it to get their games out to a wider audience, to those that sometimes can’t get to a physical game store.

Straight From the Meeples’ Mouth

Rather than take my word for it though, listen to just a few of the things that Laura Schneider, owner of Meeples Games in Seattle, had to say about it. “I’ve heard customers say to each other that our games are expensive or that they can get it cheaper on Amazon.  When I hear this, I mention that we’re a local business and while it costs more, they are supporting their community by paying a little more.  We are lucky in that the community that we are a part of really appreciates that we’re here and they buy from us to support us and make sure that our awesome space stays here…Some shops haven’t been able to adapt and so fall back on deep discounting which makes it harder for everyone else.  When the guy down the street sells everything for 20% off MSRP (an unsustainable model unless the volume is crazy high like online), the result is that buyers expect these lower prices everywhere.”

Your dollars matter. Your choices matter. That extra money you spent at your brick and mortar store helps pay to keep their doors open. Maybe you think that that doesn’t affect you directly. Maybe you play at home and prefer to buy online. But that store, and the community it survives on, is part of the ecosystem that allowed the publisher to create the game you bought so cheaply online. Again, I’m not saying you should never buy online. I want to be clear on that.

What I will say is that I have some ideas to maybe help you build your ethical framework for buying board games, ways you can nurture the garden. Everyone’s got a different story, whether it’s where they live, how much money they have or who they play games with, so I’m not suggesting these ideas will work for everyone. Your mileage may vary.


Four Ideas To Keep In Mind When Buying A Board Game

One

Buy from a Friendly Local Game store if you can, and you feel like they are a store you want to support. Almost as important as that purchase is letting the store know what you want in advance when it comes to new or upcoming games. If they have a pre-order system, use it. Forecasting sales in this industry is very difficult and store owners thrill at having a good understanding of how many, if any, to order of a particular game. Once you order a game, be sure to actually pick it up.

Two

If you go into your FLGS to actually play a game, be sure to spend money on snacks or food as that space costs the store money. Think of it as rent. You get the snacks, the store stays open. Plus, you might make new friends!

Three

If you can’t buy from an FLGS, try buying directly from the publisher or asking a publisher where you should buy from. You may get a good price and it’s another way that a publisher can get a grasp on the popularity of their game, as well as keep in touch with fans. You might also get a good deal this way as sometimes publishers have sales, or can include promos and extras.

Four

Try to understand and spot the difference between a sale and competitive pricing. Lots of things go on sale and will often be advertised as such (20% off!). Healthy competition is fine, but many of the non-sale prices you’ll find online are generated by algorithms and are a simple race to the bottom. The $1 you save might be going to support someone who has no interest in seeing the board gaming hobby thrive.


Final Thoughts

There is no one right or wrong formula for where you should buy your games or for how much. But unlike so many of the rest of our purchases, your dollars really do have an influence on the board game hobby. Your local store, the publishers, they truly value you. Not just your money, but you. Your tastes and habits and style directly affect them. And most of them are gamers too! They’re your peers when they are across the game table. They want to make or sell you something you love as much as they do and they deserve to be able to pay their bills and send their kids to school for doing it.

I hope that these two posts have left you feeling empowered. As I said earlier, it’s easy to feel like your money just disappears into a void. Sometimes it does. But I’m thrilled to tell you that you have real power when it comes to board games. You don’t have to make every purchase into some monumental decision, but take comfort in the fact that your board game dollars mean something. Use your power for good. Nurture your garden and you will benefit.

Last thing before I sign off. This was a pretty broad overview of this topic and some of my thoughts. In future installments, I’ll be digging in deeper into some of these issues and will be including some comments from other folks who are in the industry. If any of you have ideas or would like to contribute to this discussion, please hit me up on my contact page.

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