Column by Scott Thorne
Posted by Scott Thorne on May 13, 2018 @ 6:07 pm CT
A couple of moderately important gaming industry stories showed up this past week, one of which will affect consumers somewhat and other members of the channel significantly; the other, depending on its outcome, has the potential to affect the entire gaming industry pretty significantly. I refer to, of course, the announced sale of Love Letter to Z-Man Games and the announcement that Asmodee is exploring a sale of the company. So Love Letter this week and a look at the Asmodee announcement next week.
Most of you are familiar with Love Letter, which hit the shelves in 2012 and quickly became one of Alderac Entertainment Group's (AEG) most popular games, encouraging the company to release a number of similarly simple but elegant and quick playing card games. This past week, the company announced the sale of the game and its spin-offs, Love Letter Premium (already removed from the AEG website) and Lovecraft Letter, to Z-Man Games, best known as the publisher of Pandemic. What does this mean to you?
Well, as with the sale of English language rights to Catan and its related game lines by Mayfair Games to Asmodee North America in 2016 (see "Asmodee NA Gets 'Catan'"), AEG has sold off a second one of its recognizable brands to a company that operates under the Asmodee NA banner (rights to the Legend of the Five Rings card game went to Fantasy Flight Games last year, see "’FFG Acquires 'L5R'") leaving Smash Up as AEG’s most iconic game line (yes the company also produces Mystic Vale and Space Base but neither have the name recognition of Smash Up). This should not mean too much to consumers as Love Letter has proven itself a very steady seller, even some five years after its release.
The problem for consumers comes if the FLGS they deal with does not have an account with Alliance Distribution as that distributor has exclusive rights to supply stores in the "hobby game" channel with games produced under the Asmodee umbrella. Stores will have to have an account with Alliance in order to restock Love Letter once supplies at other distributors run out.
Love Letter may prove harder to find once current stock sells through as Z-Man Games does have problems keeping popular titles in stock. The Pandemic: On the Brink expansion for the company’s Pandemic game line has been out of stock since sometime last year, making it very hard to sell the In The Lab expansion, which requires both Pandemic and On The Brink in order to play. However, if Z-man keeps the supply chain running smoothly, consumers should continue to see Love Letter in stock regularly.
The sale will affect distributors in the game industry much more significantly than it will retailers. Most stores, due to the popularity of the games sold by companies under Asmodee’s purview, have found it necessary to open up an account with Alliance already. For them, it means only one source for Love Letter instead of multiple ones. The big problem for retailers is that, if Alliance has run out of Love Letter, they will have no additional sources from which to get it. Currently, if Alliance ran out, a store could turn to Mad Al’s or another distributor and have a good chance of finding copies at one of them. Now, that option has vanished. It’s Alliance or nothing.
Meanwhile, distributors have lost a steady income stream. The game sold steadily at most stores, necessitating regular reorders which put money in distributor pockets. Now, once distributors sell out of their stocks of Love Letter, that money shifts to Alliance. A death blow to other distributors? Of course not. However, the sale of the line is just one more little thing making it harder to operate as a game distributor in the game industry.
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.
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