In this essay, Mayfair CEO Will Niebling shares his thoughts on the importance of brick and mortar retailers to the growth of games, and what his company does to support the channel.


As most of us know, change is inevitable and ever-accelerating. It's a fact in business as well as life. It's often transformative, and often good.


Today consumers have affordable access to more goods and markets than we could have dreamed of 20 years ago. This is largely due to the Internet. Online auctions and retail channels provide a host of good options. This is especially true for the educated buyer. It's even more so for the 'core consumers,' whose specific expertise enables them to seek and evaluate deals for specialized goods or products found outside the broad or mass market environments.


Core game consumers, for instance, know enough about their market and products to effectively research and buy games online. As especially learned consumers, they often have the luxury of effectively bypassing traditional brick and mortar retail stores in order to find cheaper prices. They weigh their deep understanding of precedent against any modest risk. Using their understanding of publishers, designers, and reliable reviews, they know that they're likely to get the deal they want without having to see and feel a game, much less visit a retail shop. Of course, the core consumer has many other research channels. Many first encounter a game at a consumer show, game club, or through a core market friend. These channels define the core market community.


Like any entertainment and publishing industry, the game business requires a healthy core market. Core consumers serve as advocates and educators. They provide a reliable revenue foundation. Without them, the business would falter. Most game titles, especially in the non-electronic 'social game' market, sell in very limited numbers outside the core market.


Still, social game publishers rely on sales outside the core market to generate much, if not most, of their real profit. The relatively few social games that sell to non-core consumers yield disproportionately large and important profits for their manufacturers. They in fact subsidize the development of other, less popular or sellable games. This means that the entire chain of game design, development, manufacturing, sale, and consumption relies on a healthy balance of games sold both within and without the core game community.


As game manufacturers, we need to maintain a reliable mix of titles. Most, if not most all, should appeal to a wide audience of core consumers. Some, if not many, should have some appeal to a broader audience. A few should appeal to a still-broader public.


This means that, while core consumers are critical to a manufacturer's success, they cannot be the exclusive audience. As in the case of title selection, the industry relies on balanced selection of consumers.


This balance carries over to the distribution and sales of games. The game market needs a healthy balance of core market and broad market retailers. The former serve as our consistent retail foundation, the latter as a means of occasionally reaching out to a broader audience. Titles that appeal to the latter still sell in the core market; however, it's not a two-way street. This means that in order to sell the games that generate much if not most of the profit that keeps the industry alive and healthy, manufacturers rely on shops both within and without the core game trade.


As noted, online retailers typically appeal to core consumers. They are, in a sense, the 'core of the core.' They use price and convenience to offset the fact that they offer only a two-dimensional, digital experience. This is fine for the educated, hard-core game buyer. It's rarely sufficient to support the less educated consumer. The broader the audience, the more it relies on strong boutique retail venues. Traditional game retailers provide a three-dimensional setting where consumers can see, and perhaps interact with, actual goods.

They can actually speak with educated retailers and/or fellow consumers in a more social setting. Casual game customers, even those from the core market, need access to healthy retail shops. These 'destinations' serve as our industries best 'greeting places.'


Again, as with products and target markets, a good balance of online and offline retailers strengthens the game market. Internet retailers simply cannot handle the entire load. They can only complement their offline counterparts. This is especially true with respect to broader market customers. The more casual the consumer, the more likely he'll need access to a traditional store setting.


Mayfair Games believes in this balanced approach to publishing, marketing, and retailing. It explains the diversity of our brands and products. This is why we carefully support our core market. It's why we distribute to broad market shops like bookshops and museum stores, all the while ensuring that they derive no advantage over their core market counterparts. Our reluctance to enter the mass market, where full return policies and dumping give undue leverage to big box stores and threaten judicious brand-building, makes perfect sense.


This is also why we refuse to give Internet discounters subsidies and other undue advantages. While they provide a free market service to our hard core customers, they can upset the overall balance for our industry as a whole.


Besides undercutting our core retailers, they retard sales in the broad market. This means less exposure for our games to more casual consumers. It means a less balanced mix of game titles. While we are hardly hostile to Internet retailers, we discourage the de facto dumping of our products. Such practices harm everyone from the casual consumers who grow our market to the game designers and artists who fuel our content.


Advertising in magazines that promote the hard-core practice of buying discounted games online is one obvious form of subsidy for Internet discounters. We understand how a privileged group of hard-core customers benefits from these practices. They know where to seek out the cheapest price for our goods. Again, we support free markets. Nonetheless, these learned consumers need no encouragement from us when it comes to their support of online discounting. For us to support such practices is to undercut our other consumer and trade customers. This would upset the critical balance of healthy retailers, a balance that our industry needs in order to prosper.


Mayfair Games elects to support, and advertise in, publications that recognize this need for balance in our market. We support shows of like philosophy.


It's in our best interest... and in the best interest of the entire social game industry.


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