View from the Game Store is a new weekly(-ish) column by Marcus King of Titan Games & Music in Battle Creek and Kalamazoo, Michigan. This week, King looks at the line between games he carries and those he doesn’t.
Lately I have been looking at nothing but numbers. And, though there are only ten of them, some of the numbers I have been looking at are pretty good (double digit sales growth for our company in 2009), and some are pretty dismal (14.9% unemployment in Michigan). Other numbers are 24--the number of years I have been involved in the retail operation of a game store. And, also the number of years I have been carrying Tunnels & Trolls RPG by Flying Buffalo. More on that later.
As part of my annual tax prep, I also have been evaluating our sales performance per category. What is doing well (boardgames, Magic: The Gathering singles sales, music CDs) and what isn't (new comics, RPGs, a few other things). And, considering what to do about that.
Looking back I have eliminated some categories of merchandise over the past eight years that we have been in our location in Battle Creek. Records, VHS tapes, used novels--all gone now. There are categories of items we are considering bringing in, but for each thing we add to the mix, we either have to eliminate or reduce another category. If we add, say, model rockets we may have to drop 20 board game titles, or take out a comics rack, or maybe drop our rack of bare metal miniatures. If we add a larger category, say “plastic model kits,” we'd have to eliminate a lot of stuff to make room for the 200 or so kits we would bring in. It's a balancing act.
But I guess all business boils down to that very thing--balance.
I was reminded of that this past week when my manager and I were talking about role-playing games, and what we do stock, what we should stock, and what we would like to stock. We started identifying products that we know our customers will buy: Dungeons & Dragons, White Wolf stuff, GURPS, Mutants & Masterminds, All Flesh Must Be Eaten, everything by Margaret Weis Productions (Battlestar Galactica, Serenity, Supernatural), Pathfinder and a couple others. We continued on with products I believe in or carry because I think they are important and we sell occasionally; Earthdawn, Traveller, Cyberpunk, Shadowrun, Conan and several more--actually, there are more systems in this category than in the first one.
But then we got to the defining line. That line above which we stock the RPG systems, and below which we don't. The line of obscurity? Maybe. The line of sell-ability? Yes, at least for us. But, in my mind, the line of demarcation can be called “The Line of Importance.” At the bottom of my list of important RPGs is a game called Tunnels & Trolls. We stock the core boxed set, and occasionally other titles as available. That is not much of a “commitment” to a game line, I must admit, but we do stock it at both of my stores.
And I came to realize that many times in the past couple years that I had used Tunnels & Trolls as a measure for how we stock our RPGs. In many instances when I was trying to determine if we would carry or continue to carry a role-playing game line I had, quite literally while holding that game's core book in my hand, asked myself, “Is this at least as important to my store as Tunnels & Trolls?”.
When the answer was yes, we continued to carry that game. If not, we dropped it.
Now, I can't carry everything. Looking at my latest copy of the Greater Games Industry Catalog (if you don't know what that is, Google it!!) I see that there are about a zillion (okay, maybe 150,000?) different products I could carry. So, no, I cannot have every item on my shelves--for two reasons: 4,000 square feet won't hold it, and I can't afford all that. So, I have to have a measuring stick by which I decide what I do and don't carry. And, for RPGs that yardstick is, well, Tunnels & Trolls. And, why not? I mean, I have to have some way to determine what we carry.
Does that mean that Tunnels & Trolls is the worst RPG I carry? No, far from it actually. And, of all the RPGs I carry (about 30 systems), I have only played two--Serenity and Tunnels & Trolls. In my life I have played about 10 RPGs. None of the others are currently being produced in the format or edition I played: D&D 1st & 2nd, Traveller 2300, MegaTraveller, Twilight 2000, Arduin Grimoire, Boot Hill, West End's Star Wars in the 80's.
So, why does Tunnels & Trolls reside just above the line while many RPGs I have carried in the past do not? I could go on for hours about that, really. I guess that sometimes only sales matter. Other times, maybe continuity wins out. Tunnels & Trolls is an old school RPG for me. It was the second RPG I played. It has solo-play capability, which in my mind was important in its day. It is produced by a company I have carried, non-stop I believe, for 24 years. And, maybe most importantly, some of the names in the Tunnels & Trolls history--Rick Loomis & Lou Zocchi--are nothing short of legends in the game industry, and Rick still publishes T&T.
How could I not carry it? Heck, when you get right down to it, any game would be lucky to be considered so important as I consider Tunnels & Trolls.
The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of ICv2.com.
Column by Marcus King
Posted by ICv2 on April 11, 2010 @ 11:00 pm CT