Yu-Gi-Oh is a hot topic with retailers because they can see that this CCG could be a top seller in the hobby if only enough product were available. Gail Burt of Metropolis Comics contrasts Magic: The Gathering with Pokemon and has some advice for Upper Deck if they want to make Yu-Gi-Oh a perennial seller rather than just a flash in the pan. For an overview of the Yu-Gi-Oh situation see 'Yu-Gi-Oh Still Scarce in Hobby Stores.'
Ron Palmisano couldn't be more on target when he points to the shortsightedness of the manufacturers of what could be a big seller for a lot of years. By reserving the most product for the mass market retail chains, Upper Deck now, and Wizards of the Coast (or should I say Hasbro) before them, are ensuring that there will be a big fad, then a drastic and final drop in sales. Instead, perhaps they should look even further back in time for the better paradigm: Magic: The Gathering was kept in hobby shops, it succeeded there. That's where it was fostered, that's where it stayed, for the most part. There were some shortages at first, but once rectified, the product sold strong -- and still sells strong. It may not have had the spectacular sales spike that Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh! have had, but it was and is an engine that still runs. Without the incredible highs and lows, perhaps Magic is not as successful in new releases, but 10 years later it's still a stable, credible product with as many adherents as it has ever had. The former 'Pokies' are now sniffing around Magic, and that is the pool we are drawing our next generation players from -- it's a big damn pool, too.
There's no doubt that when Pokemon was plentiful, I could sell it by the bucketful, and it allowed WOTC to open zillions of retail outlets in malls countrywide; but when the retail chains dropped it and the kids could no longer get it at Target or Toys 'R Us, they lost interest, as kids will. Meanwhile, WOTC made no true attempt to foster their game in hobby stores or the specialty direct market, or to really aggressively support their leagues, and the product's sales drop has resulted in multiple store closures for them. So what was the big gain there? At my store, it's dead dead dead. It began to die in May of 2000. I get a couple or three boxes of each new release, and it sells, slowly. I still have boxes of Pokemon left, and it just sits there. It sells maybe a pack or two a week -- at $1.99. I guess that's okay for a dead fad game. But why wouldn't you want it to be like a Magic, which I still sell two to four boxes of per week, at full retail of $3.29 per pack? Why wouldn't Upper Deck want to do that with Yu-Gi-Oh!? Why are they so blind to the truth that is before them? Because they're a great big corporation, and for them, the bottom line for this quarter is as far ahead as they're looking.
So am I going to play the game this time? Hell, yeah. I'm going to go out and spend $6.50 a pack for the stuff, like I did last week. I'll get it one box or a half box at a time, whatever I can afford. Then I'll bring it back and mark it for sale at $11 per pack. Some kids will bitch and some parents will look at me like I'm a criminal. But when they can't find it anyplace else for less, they'll come back -- and if I don't have it, they'll drive, sometimes 40 miles to spend the same or more for it. So yeah, it costs me $110 to $140 for a box of the stuff; I only make $50 or $60 a box on it, which is what I make on Magic, and it ties up more of my money in the process. But having it at the store keeps the kids at my place...where I allow them to play whatever they want to at two long tables, set up all the time. And there, one of my best staffers sits....with his Magic decks. He loans them to kids, lets them use his best ones, and teaches them how to play. And they learn, because they have time to kill, and because there's hardly ever anyone around who actually knows how to play Yu-Gi-Oh!, so they pass the time learning to play Magic. And once they learn, they're lifers.
And that's what it's all about. I ain't in it for the money today or tomorrow or next month. I'm in it to make a Magic player, or hook that kid on the comics in my store. I've done it before, I'll do it again, and I'll still be in business 10 years from now, with a bunch of the same customers I cultivated today. Because I understand that my customers want what they want, and if they can get it from me in a slow, steady stream, they will come, week after week to get it. Because I understand that if nobody is playing that game, nobody is buying that game, and I make room and time for them to play at my store, so that I grow my customer base and keep people who want those products in my store. I don't care if it sells slower, as long as it sells steady. And 10 years from now, I bet I'll have a new expansion of Magic to sell, maybe the 50th in the history of the game. Wouldn't that be something? I wonder if there will still be any Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh! cards around then?