Get In The Game is a new column by Dan Yarrington, managing partner of Myriad Games in Manchester and Salem, New Hampshire. This week, Yarrington recommends reform of hobby game release dates.
Welcome back to Get In The Game, a column that focuses on proactive ways we can improve the games industry.
Release dates for many forms of entertainment are sacrosanct, and tabletop games should be no exception. Movies, music, video games, and books release on Tuesdays. Comic books release on Wednesdays. New movies release on Fridays. Release dates allow an entire industry to build excitement and expectation for new products while simultaneously allowing consumers to expect a steady flow of new releases. Without a consistent date to market around, and a good information flow system to help manage that data, we’re hampered in our ability to properly promote and sell new games.
What’s in a name? Street date, release date, ship date, on-sale date -- what’s the difference? For the purposes of this discussion, I will use release date to refer to the date that product should be on sale in stores. Street dates are often synonymous with the release or launch of a product, but the term “release date” jives better in vernacular usage. Some distributors use “release date” to indicate the date they ship product from their warehouses to stores. This would more accurately be called the ship date, with the release date being 2 days later -- for most stores in the US -- due to time in transit.
With a few exceptions, tabletop games do not have regular release schedules. This is not good. Exceptions include the following, all bigger companies. Wizards of the Coast releases new D&D books on Tuesdays in most stores (and about 10 days earlier -- on Fridays -- for WPN Premier Stores). New Magic: The Gathering sets release like clockwork on Fridays. They even have specific weekends (usually the first of the months they come out) for new sets to hit the street. Privateer Press releases have regular Wednesday release dates as well. Cryptozoic releases new product on Tuesdays (syncing up with the big box stores new media day as illustrated above). Those products with release dates that are consistent, enforced, and reliable get a boost in promotion and sales from that consistency.
We’re way behind the curve on information management in this industry and we need to fix it. Look at the video game industry, movies, books, etc. They have coordinated release schedules, lots of previews leading up to the release, and then launch events and big celebrations marking the arrival of the Coolest New Thing EVER (since last week)™. Firm release dates make all this possible. The way tabletop games work now, publishers just try to get things out as soon as physically possible. Some try to maintain some consistency about enforcing a release date, but most just ship them whenever, not fully thinking through that if they authorize distribution to ship a product on a Thursday, it will be in most stores on Monday or Tuesday, or Wednesday, depending on the store’s order cycle. And there are very few coordinated preview programs leading up to the launch of a new product. This means that we too often don’t hear enough about a game before it releases, making the entire preorder system irrelevant, and obviating any sense of urgency the stores and consumers have about new releases.
We should have a similar information flow to other entertainment industries, with preview copies going out to press and stores well in advance to help build up the game for the release. Look at the Mansions of Madness Preview Events, the ambitious Nightfall preview copy program, or the upcoming Eminent Domain Preview Nights. These types of programs put games into the hands of alpha gamers and decision makers to preview and generate buzz leading up to the release date and that positively impacts sales. Every major release should have opportunities like this. These sorts of innovative events are so few and far between right now, they make me automatically review (and usually increase) my orders for the corresponding product.
You’re a publisher. What happens when your game (that you spent so much time and energy designing, developing, producing, and shipping) shows up in stores on a random Monday? It’s lost in the shuffle. There’s no fanfare, no excitement around that day -- it could have been Wednesday, Thursday, or any other day of the week. But put a big release date on the calendar and you build anticipation. Anticipation is a huge part of the psychological appeal of entertainment options, and we need to catch up with the rest of the entertainment world and start acting like a real, professional industry in this regard.
The most frustrating part of the release date issue is that it’s a relatively easy fix. The infrastructure is already in place, as are the protocols for managing product flow to hit target dates. Many companies already enforce release dates, to their benefit. So publishers, please, take the extra time and thought to coordinate a release date and then promote around that release date. If, after accounting for ship times, your game would arrive in stores on a Monday or Tuesday, push it a couple of days and have it arrive in stores on Thursday instead. Then, whenever you’re scheduling a release date, just hit that same day of the week with every product release. Simple. Consistent. Better.
I propose that as an industry we come together and embrace a specific day (I suggest Friday) and tout it as New Games Day each and every week. It makes sense to sync up the new releases arriving right before the weekend, since folks are expecting those new releases to enjoy during their time off. We could even move toward day-early delivery (for qualified accounts) like most entertainment options, making shipments arrive on Thursday (which would accommodate even 3-day ship stores) for release on Friday. We need to make sure that New Games Day is something to look forward to each and every week. Let’s make it happen.
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The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of ICv2.com.