Steven Olsen of A Little Shop of Comics in Scotch Plains, New Jersey saw the column by John Riley in which he mentioned concerns about pre-release events (see 'Sharpening the Sword -- GAMA Trade Show Wrap-Up'), and offers his views on the issue:
A few weeks ago in his GAMA Trade Show column John Riley mentioned the uproar against the current pre-release tournament format for collectible card games and how manufacturers are sidestepping the majority of brick and mortar stores retailers' concerns. I'm sure I was one of the people he was talking about, as I was very vocal during the WOTC Premier Store Presentation. I too was shocked at the number of retailers that feel the way I do about this situation and was hoping to start a discussion among the many retailers who read ICv2.
Just to be clear, it is not my intention to obtain a Premier Tournament Organizer status. Nor do I have anything personally against any PTO. However from a purely business standpoint I do have a problem with the current policies concerning pre-releases for various CCGs. Throughout the year, thousands of game stores run weekly events to support the games of many manufacturers. These brick and mortar stores run weekly events, such as Friday Night Magic, in order to build the player base and keep the customers excited about the games and playing between releases. But we all know that the majority of any CCG set's sales come immediately upon release of the new product. It's then that a PTO comes in with a Pre-Release Event that essentially sucks the sales out of that entire region. Since we know the majority of sales happen when the product first comes out, why should these be given away to a PTO who only comes to the area three to four times a year? This hurts those brick and mortar retailers who support the game all year! It's understandable that players want the newest cards ASAP. They are not going to wait two weeks until the Friendly Local Game Stores receive their shipments. So in essence the manufacturer breaks its own street date.
The best thing for the growth of this segment of our industry would be for all manufactures to cease all Pre-Releases. I have heard WotC and UDE's take on this at the 2007 GAMA show, and they believe that they are gaining new players from these events. My question is how? Where does a new person who is interested in starting MTG find out about a Pre-Release? A magazine? A Website?
Quite frankly I do not think it is the place for a new player. Would a novice poker player start out playing in the World Series of Poker? I doubt it. He may try a local tournament, or maybe a local casino, but nobody starts in the most high pressure event possible with ruthless experts. So then why would we assume a new CCG player would jump into the shark pond of a Pre-Release tournament? They're filled with veteran players who want their cards asap (to be able to trounce their opponents at their local venues). Not a place for a novice or even worse a 10 year old that loves that cartoon and wants to start dueling.
One point that WOTC brought up at the meeting was that 1,000 stores run release events, while by my calculation there are only 50 Pre-Releases run nationwide. There may be even fewer PTOs, as the one in our area runs
Apparently, WotC thinks that 50 Pre-Release events would be better than say 1,000 brick and mortar release events? Honestly, these numbers don't add up. A very small group is being heavily rewarded for the labor of a thousand stores. I say drop the 50 Pre-Releases and instead launch 1,000 Release Day Tournaments nationwide. Perhaps by tying this to some exclusive prizes, or 'tournament exclusive' cards that you can only get by purchasing your product in a brick and mortar store that day (perhaps similar to WizKids brick program) we might even be able to coax players to buy that big initial surge of product from brick and mortar stores rather than from Internet discounters.
Sadly WOTC doesn't see this. I can understand that we all have our different points of view, but their unwillingness to even engage in this conversation is amazing. They believe everything is OK, while I can easily demonstrate to them that Pre-Releases have had serious impact on my MTG sales, and I'm sure other local stores could say the same.
I spoke with a few retailers after the Premier Store meeting who were very supportive and in full agreement on this. Others would pass by and give a thumbs up. And I know there are many retailers out there who feel the same way that I have yet to meet. I'm hoping that through this public forum we might be able to get WOTC, Upper Deck, and the other manufacturers to at least have a conversation with us.
Want an example of a friend of the FLGS? Just look at Bandai. They release the products to the direct market first, then send it to the big boxes about 60 days later.
Excellent! I have a two month jump on the evil empire. Then they actually run a Release event. They load the retailers up with goodies and we rock and roll on release day. My ten Naruto players, on release day, spend twice as much as my 22 MTG players.
Brick and mortar stores are supposed to be the manufacturers' partners. So don't our opinions count? Shouldn't we at least be able to talk about this situation? Or are 40-50 PTOs quietly running the CCG industry? What about the other 950 accounts that run events for these games? I understand that they have to work out the logistics of release events, but while I'm sure 50 PTOs can move a lot of product, I think 950 stores move more.
What I don't think the manufacturers understand is that they are taking away my motivation to support their product. We spend months in between product releases to teach new players and maintain interest in the current ones, knowing that the majority of may sales will come within that first week or two of a new release. If they are going to give the majority of those sales to PTO's and internet discounters, where's my motivation to continue supporting their game? Why should I do all this work for someone else to make the money? For us the effects have been startling. Although our player base didn't change, we saw a 50-70% drop in sales. This because our players are going to the MTG Pre-Release (just 15 minute from us) 2 weeks before the product comes out, and spending all they are going to spend on that set. Then two weeks later we are running a Release event in which they no longer have the desire or the funds to buy the new set from their FLGS. I hope that those 50 PTOs can teach players all across the country to play, because my motivation is disappearing with each Pre-Release they run.
I hope this is just the first step in a dialogue between us retailers and the manufacturers.