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 looks at the impact of the coronavirus on in-store play, a key element of the game store business model.
Well, some places have started to open up after the nationwide shelter in place. Much of Georgia and some of Florida opened this past weekend and, according to an interview with the Mayor of Las Vegas, that city’s ready to re-open. Meanwhile, we here in Illinois will see some relaxing of the shelter order whilst in Virginia, everything remains closed until mid-June. However, due to the nature of the game store model prior to the national shelter in place, most stores will see significant changes in their business model once their state lifts the shutdown order. This is due to the reliance of most game stores on in-store play (I have seen estimates of around 80% and higher) to drive an extensive amount of store traffic and sales. After the shutdown ends, the game industry will see a significant change in that business model, at least for the next year.
Case in point the Pokemon Pre-release for the Sword and Shield Rebel Strike booster set scheduled for the past week. Unless your store is located in one of the areas that is not practicing social distancing, you were not running a pre-release for the set this week (see “Pokemon Shuts Down Organized Play”).
If you check DCI Reporter (which most of us have had no reason to do since WOTC canceled all events through mid-May, you will notice that all events you had scheduled through mid-May have vanished from your schedule and the pre-release events have all disappeared as well. Instead, the only option offered is to run a Magic Casual Pre-release: Ikoria At-home Prerelease (see “WotC Adds Coronavirus Accommodations for ‘Ikoria’ Prereleases”). Stores can sell customers Ikoria Pre-release Packs and Commander Decks (although, according to my distributor, the main allocation of Commander Decks will be delayed, see “Half the ‘Commander’ Decks for ‘Ikoria’ Delayed”; deck displays allocated for the prerelease weekend should arrive on time, but not those stores ordered for regular release), but they do not get the excitement of having customers in the store opening booster packs and excitedly exclaiming over the cards that they pulled. Of course, since we have had people on YouTube opening boxes and cracking packs of Ikoria for at least a week now, and spoiler lists have appeared since early this month, any surprise over cards in the set has long dissipated, with only the excitement of players opening their own packs and seeing what they get remaining. (There is a growing body of evidence that indicates giving product early to social media "influencers" has little to no impact on subsequent sales or consumer behavior, but that is a topic for another column.)
Konami has also canceled all of their events through mid-May (see "’Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG’ Printer Shuts Down") and is allowing stores to cancel or reduce orders on the pre-release for their next set of Yu-Gi-Oh!.
Given that so many stores base their model around events and in-store play, it is hard to see how that model continues given the new environment, at least for the estimated year it takes to develop a vaccine for COVID-19. Given the traditional design of tournaments, especially card tournaments, for the players to sit directly across the table from each other in order to allow a clear view of the opponent’s cards, it is hard to see how maintaining a safe distance from one another happens. I have some ideas on this and would be interested in hearing from anyone with thoughts on how to accomplish it. Email me at Castleperilousgames@gmail.com with your thoughts.
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.