Kendall Swafford of Up Up & Away! in Cincinnati, Ohio saw the news about WizKids closing and Upper Deck layoffs (see “Topps Shuts Down WizKids” and “Upper Deck Lays Off 40”) and says he’s sorry that people are losing jobs, but the companies are “reaping what they've sown:”
I'm the first to admit I don't play any of the games I sell. Never been a gamer; I've always been a comic fan. Not that the two are mutually exclusive, I just happen to fall on the comic book side of the fence in my store. My store is 70% comics and related merchandise, and 30% games and related merchandise. Anyway, besides the obvious economic concerns I have regarding WizKids shutting down and Upper Deck laying off, I feel like they're both reaping what they've sown.
First, let me say that I hate to see anyone lose their job in this, or any other industry. It weakens all of us when that happens. But let's take a look at each company in kind, from this one retailer's point of view. I think WizKids is a victim of two separate issues, only one of which they had any control over. As recently as two years ago, the HeroClix price point was $7.99, and as such we had as many kids playing the game as adults. Several releases later, the price point is $11.99. What does the extra four bucks get ya? One more fig, no checklist and a cheaply printed stat card! At $11.99, the kids left the game en masse as WizKids chose to run 11 sealed events in 11 weeks. With sales tax, that's over $280 just to participate in the Secret Invasion sealed event! And the prize? A lousy card! As a retailer, I love sealed events, since I really don't feel like running a clubhouse for deadbeats that play but never pay, but 11 in 11 weeks was just too much for most. So the perfect storm of bad decisions was brewing for WizKids.
The other factor that prompted their demise was out of their control to some extent. I think consumers have grown weary of the “blind” collectible miniatures format. Twelve bucks ($15 for Wizards of the Coast) for a handful of figs, and you don't know what you're gonna get. It's worked for several years, but fans of any of these games have grown tired of the shell game. I've seen it with D&D, Star Wars and now HeroClix. WizKids had the advantage for several years, as a $7 or $8 price point made it an easier impulse decision to buy blind.
The format has run its course, accept it. Nearly every game has a life span, which is a notion that the gaming industry at large is loathe to accept. For every Monopoly, Magic: The Gathering or D&D that lives a long, healthy life, we're inundated with hundreds of wannabes. Some are fun for a while, many are mere copycats, but most are trying to milk a dry cow. If Pinata is successful in buying the HeroClix brand, here's hoping it's not the same old same old. But with a former WizKids brand manager at the helm, I fear it may be exactly that.
As for Upper Deck, a large part of me hopes they fail miserably, and go down in flames. Again, I truly hope for the sake of their employees this it not the case, but no company deserves it more than Upper Deck. Case in point; WoW Miniatures. Orders nationwide were severely allocated, by 50% or more according to anecdotal information from distributors. Upper Deck loves to artificially manufacture demand for its products, and what better way to do that than produce far less than they have orders for. Upper Deck expects hobby stores to support their product by doing what hobby stores do; in-store demos, in-store game play, etc... to keep the fan base rabid.
But Upper Deck will sell us out for Wal-Mart or Target in a heartbeat every time! Try telling a Target manager that you want to sit down at a table and chairs (provided by Target) and play one of their games that you may or may not have bought from Target, simply because you may (or may not) have shopped there once in your life, and therefore you deserve to have a place to play. Yeah, I can hear the laughter coming from Target stores nationwide! But that's A) the sense of entitlement that many gamers seem to have and B) exactly what companies like Upper Deck expect hobby stores to do. And yet the mass market volume dealers get the product sooner and cheaper, and in greater supply. And yes, I understand the economies of scale, and the luxuries that come with it. Just don't expect me to feel bad that Upper Deck, and game manufacturers like them are falling on hard times. "For they sow the wind, and they reap the whirlwind."
These are heady times for the gaming industry. I fear the bloodbath has just begun.
The opinions expressed in this Talk Back article are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of ICv2.com.