Column by Paul Alexander Butler
Posted by Paul Alexander Butler on May 4, 2022 @ 4:12 am CT
Prices are going up everywhere lately. You can’t turn around without running into yet another think piece about rising costs for food, fuel, and everything else. And, our ubiquitous little plastic dragons and space soldiers are no exception to cost increases.
'Firefight 2E: Two-Player Starter Set'"). The new D&D Onslaught miniatures game is going to be $139.99 (see "'D&D Onslaught'"). The soon-to-be released Necromunda Ash Wastes is $299 (see "'Ash Wastes'"), and I’ve heard rumors that the forthcoming The Horus Heresy box set will be close to $500; to say nothing of the countless retailers I’ve seen pushing back on the pricing of Wizkid’s new Frameworks line.
Welcome to the new normal.
Is it the end times? Far from it. Look, costs are up across the board. Barely three weeks go by these days without a price increase from one of my publishing partners. And, with plastics continuing to be sourced from the other side of the Pacific for the foreseeable future, miniatures were always gonna be a stress point, so it’s no surprise that we’re seeing some of the biggest increases there (I’m actually kind of surprised it’s taken this long to happen).
My store Games and Stuff is fairly miniatures-heavy; minis and related paints and accessories account for over 25% of my overall sales. We carry a lot of miniatures lines and probably too many paint lines. However, those customers that are the traditional wargamer/hobbyist types (i.e. competitive players and serious modelers and painters) probably spend on average more money than any other category of customer. It’s highly unlikely a new gamer is going to come into your store and want to dip their toes into something like The Horus Heresy. That’s a hobby product for a hobby customer. In some respects, that end of the minis market has a fair amount of tolerance with regards to price increases. Games Workshop has been raising prices near yearly for ages, and I only see more units moved each year.
What’s more complicated is the matter of WizKids. I don’t even think of my average D&D Nolzur’s or Pathfinder Deep Cuts customer as a “miniatures” customer, but as an "RPG" customer. And as such, they’re looking for different things from a miniature product. Usually, it’s price, convenience, and a certain grab-and-go functionality.
So far, those latter two points are winning against rising prices, but they won’t forever. Some of the larger premium dragon figures have a barely perceptible price difference between the painted and unpainted versions. Sure, we’re talking about "premium" products here, but there was a time when I stocked every dragon 6-10 units deep. Long gone are those halcyon days when my miniatures department was ruled by plastic dragons in window boxes.
Costs are up everywhere, and a pre-painted product has a certain labor cost that has to have gone up substantially. And, I don’t envy WizKids the accounting that must occur when shipping those dragons. All of this stuff has a cost. I presume we’ve all noticed that Asmodee’s Star Wars Legion line, a once a snap-fit miniatures game, now has "options" on sprues? I’ve even heard the unsubstantiated rumor that X-Wing will be moving to unassembled sprued ships. I don’t believe it, but could you imagine? This is a customer that returns a ship if it’s got a broken flight stand, as if they’ve never met a bottle of super glue. Most X-Wing players are decidedly not hobby modelers and painters.
'D&D Frameworks' Character Packs") was simply a response to these manufacturing concerns. But, I also think that a lot of the pushback I’ve seen from retailers is unfounded. While $14.99 for a single human-sized figure is a lot more than a Nolzur’s miniature, I don’t think that the target market is the same. I think the Frameworks customer exists in the shared Venn diagram space of D&D players and hobby modelers, because when compared to a Games Workshop figure, $14.99 for a single figure is pocket change. Is there enough crossover there to support an entire line? We’ll see. I think they’ll ultimately do pretty well, but "pretty well" when measured against the launch of Nolzur’s is a very different thing.
In the end, you’ll have to decide if your market can bear these prices. But, I would caution against dismissing them out of hand. I’m reminded of the response many retailers have to most new CCGs when introduced: “My Magic customers will never play that." Why are you trying to cannibalize your own customer’s spending power when you could be creating new customers? I mean sure there will always be opportunities to sell existing customers on new but similar experiences, but pick your battles. I’m not sure trying to sell Frameworks to your average Nolzur’s customer is the way to go. Similarly, I think D&D Onslaught is an opportunity to create a brand-new community. Look how the recent D&D Magic set (see "Summer 2021") brought out people who are fans of the D&D IP, even though they may not be actively buying or playing the RPG. D&D Onslaught should be a go-to option for people playing X-Wing, D&D, or the D&D Adventure series board games (see "'Dungeons & Dragons: Ghosts of Saltmarsh'").
* Full Disclosure: the author has a business relationship with one of the designers of Dungeons and Dragons Onslaught.
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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