We spoke to Steve Horvath, Fantasy Flight Games’ VP of Marketing Communications, about the company’s new campaign to explain its LCG game format and how it can produce sales above those of a CCG despite a lower spend per customer.
Maybe you could start off by explaining to our readers, some of whom could use the clarification, how are LCGs like CCGs and how are they different?
LCGs or Living Card Games (what we call them) offer the same kind of play experience that you would have from a CCG. You have your customizable deck of cards that you make beforehand, before you play. It has the same type of strategy elements that you would find, the depth of play, in that every game plays out differently, the same strategy.
They differ in the fact that it’s not collectible. You know what you’re going to buy in the packages that you buy. You don’t have to chase cards to build decks. You can play with the cards that you want to play with. We’ve a sharp decline in the CCG category over the past several years but still believe people want that same play experience, they want the same community, the same tournaments that a CCG offers but the blind-buy purchase model has really burned a lot of people out and chased them away.
If it’s not blind we assume people can spend less to play the game. What’s the annual spend difference for a player of a game that’s in the LCG category versus a CCG?
You can play an LCG and buy the product that you need for a year for what some people will pay for one expansion on a CCG. Every LCG starts with a core set; the main product is the core set. It’s very playable in its own right if you’re a more casual player and just wanted to have a CCG experience without a growing card pool. All the cards you need for the core set and all of the expansion packs for the year you’re talking about maybe a five hundred dollar investment, as opposed to a hundred dollar plus for a single display of a CCG.
Fantasy Flight obviously made a calculation that you were willing to take less per player in the hope that the number of players would grow and you’d be able reach players that maybe wouldn’t otherwise be able to participate in this kind of game. How has that worked out?
Very well. We’ve seen people who have left the CCG category come back to play, people who have always been intimidated by the chase model that CCGs have actually trying the games that they never tried before. We’re very excited and happy with how it’s turned out.
At least two of the LCGs were conversions from CCGs. Warhammer Invasion, that was new?
Warhammer Invasion is new. The first two, Game of Thrones and Call of Cthulhu, were CCGs that Fantasy Flight put out for years and saw decline with the decline of the CCG market overall. But the company really believed strongly in the mechanics of the game. It was one of the drivers of us taking a risk to try a completely different sub-category if you will, a new take on the category. Sales are actually growing on those games where before they were in decline as a CCG.
So the sales on Call of Cthulhu or Game of Thrones are actually higher in dollars now than they were at the end of their CCGs?
They’re much stronger now as LCGs, yes. We’re also seeing a lot of international partners coming on board to print localized versions of the games when that was just not feasible as a CCG.
With the lower spend per year on the titles you converted, the number of players must be a lot higher than it was when they were CCGs.
Yes. The number of players is growing. It’s very exciting to see the play groups grow and spring up again around the country.
Is there organized play support in stores?
Yes. What we offer is league kits that are very flexible. Stores buy the kit from our B2B web store and they’re free to run it in a variety of ways, whether they want to run a casual league, round robin tournaments, Swiss, whatever format suits their players best. Now with the LCG format, these games are reaching a wider customer audience meaning that in some areas the play groups are more casual, some they’re more competitive, some play groups have a mixture of both. We want to give the stores tools that will match the thinking used to match up to their play groups. We’re not being really rigid, “Well you have to run this many rounds of this each week.” It’s more like here’s some tools and prizes for you to use, you use them the best way you think works for your customer base.
Of the three games what’s the best seller? What are you seeing the best trends on?
Warhammer Invasion has taken the lead so far. We released a limited amount of those at Gen Con. I think we flew over 200 to sell at the show and we sold them in just a few hours and had over seventy people show up to an event the next day that we just kind of did because of the response. It’s just been going crazy from there.
What else should our readers know about these games?
In the heyday of CCGs you would find people who played two, maybe three different CCGs and it made it very easy to find somebody to play with because people played multiple games. There was a very good chance you would find an opponent to play. Which drives these games, like all games. If you don’t have anybody to play with it doesn’t matter how good they are. With the decline of CCGs we saw people going down to just one game. It makes it harder for play groups to spring up and for people to find games at their local stores or gathering place. The ease of entry for the LCG means we see people playing at least two of the three. Not everybody does but a large segment of the players are playing at least two of the three games that we have out and we have more on the way. We’re going to see a rise again in people being able to have an easier time finding opponents when they go down to their store and for tournaments to thrive better on a local level because people can afford to play more than one of these games.
It’s the same mechanics across all three?
No, no. The mechanics are all individual. They’re not compatible in any way, shape, or form and deliver different game experiences. Just like I said in the heyday of the CCGs people might play widely different ones but will play multiple ones because they really enjoy the experience so much. We’re offering you different play experiences that you can enjoy because you can afford to play more than one of them.
Tell us a little bit about the life cycle or product cycle on the core set and expansions for the LCG.
One of the things that is really amazing about the sales on the LCGs as compared to CCGs is the lifespan of the product. For most collectible card games, each expansion has a fairly short life span to it and then it’s on to the next product. What we’ve seen with living card games is quite the opposite. They have very long tails to them. The core set for Game of Thrones came out over a year and a half ago. It’s in its second print run and we have strong reorders for that product every single month. The same goes for Call of Cthulhu and Warhammer Invasion. All three of those games are into their second print run and we’re seeing strong, steady reorders for them month after month. The expansion packs as well. You would expect normally for a game cycle, once the next expansion comes out the sales would dwindle for the one before hand. But in this case we’re still seeing strong reorders again and again and again. For Game of Thrones we’re in our third cycle of expansion packs. There are six to a cycle. We’re still seeing reorders for the earlier packs. We’ve had a couple that have sold out that we’re going to have to get back into print for some of these games. There are back orders for them. It’s unprecedented and it has a shelf life more of an evergreen product than what a collectible would have.
How are they displayed in the store?
The core sets are larger boxes. They’re free-standing. The chapter packs have hooks on them so that you can either hang them from a hook or they come in a display box that you can set on the counter as well.
Why do you feel like now’s a good time to work on publicizing these?
It’s been a rough economy for years. A lot of stores are thankfully recovering from that now but like I said to begin with we’ve seen an overall decline of the CCG category over the last several years and we still a desire for this type of game out there and we think that we have found a game type, a new category if you will, that fills that niche very well. We want to let people know that this exists. People who have left CCGs and maybe left the game industry completely, we want to get their attention and let them know that that game experience that they like so much still exists in a format that’s much more desirable for them, and much more friendly on their (wallet).