Rolling for Initiative is a weekly column by Scott Thorne, PhD, owner of Castle Perilous Games & Books in Carbondale, Illinois and instructor in marketing at Southeast Missouri State University.  This week, Thorne compares how different game companies support their major launches.
With this week falling between the releases of Legacy of the Valiant (Yu-Gi-Oh! CCG) from Konami and Born of the Gods (Magic: The Gathering) from Wizards of the Coast, and with the Superman and the Legend of Super Heroes (HeroClix) set from WizKids coming out the middle of February, I started thinking about how each of the three companies handles its new releases.
In our store, these three companies have the strongest following among our customer base, and because of that, have the greatest turnout for a new release.  With the exceptions of AEG,  Fantasy Flight Games and The Pokemon Company, most gaming companies do not appear to want to make an event of a new release of a product and since our customer base for Pokemon and Legend of the Five Rings is miniscule  and our customers  do not get excited about new releases of FFG's boardgames, at least not to the extent that they pre-order them or show up for events.  However, people do show up for launch events featuring Magic (sorry WOTC, not Kaijudo), Yu-Gi-Oh! (but not in the numbers they did a year ago), and HeroClix.  Comparing the approach each company takes to launch events provides an interesting perspective on how they appear to view the relative importance of a new release and the avenue chosen by each company.
Take WizKids.  Though WizKids has never had "pre-release" events per se, preferring in recent years to focus extensively on OP campaigns such as No Man's Land and Fear Itself.  New releases in past years came with one or more promotional posters, often used as a case topper or sent out to stores in advance.  As WizKids has chosen over time to invest more in its OP programs, and really nice programs they are, the company leaves it up to the store to run any launch events with pre-releases out of the question.
Moving onto Konami, this company doesn't run any launch events for new releases, such as Legacy of the Valiant but does run "Sneak Peeks."  Sneak Peeks take place the weekend before the release of the set and come with enough materials to seat 16 players per kit ordered and two playmats that go to random players.  Very nice for the day of the event, but Konami lacks in advance promotional material as the kits only arrive a day or two before the Sneak Peek and the only other promotional material sent is a PDF of a promotional flyer for stores to print out meaning stores must develop any other promotional material they wish to use.
Hands down, WOTC does the best job in the industry in terms of promoting releases of a new expansion set.  The excitement generated by the Helvault promotion for Avacyn Restored a few years ago was the best of any promotion within the industry that I remember.  No other launch by WOTC has generated the excitement of that one, but the company still puts together a pretty impressive release campaign, starting off about two months before the release sending out teasers regarding the new set to its huge fan base. Then, about two weeks before the pre-release, stores receive a marketing kit with promotional materials including posters and info about the set.  Finally, the week of the pre-release comes materials for the event as well as for the actual launch of the set, including a promotional card for buying a display of boosters (WizKids used to do this with their BITBTB figure program but abandoned it for a Marquee Figure promotion).
Every time, like clockwork, stores can count on WOTC's promotion of the new set. Sometimes, the company throws in a variation, like the Hero's Path for Theros or the Dragon's Maze competition but their basic release schedule stays the same, which really, really helps retailers plan their event schedules over the course of the year.  I really wish more companies would ape the WOTC method of product release of their CCGs (or other products, for that matter).
The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of