Rolling for Initiative is a weekly column by Scott Thorne, PhD, owner of Castle Perilous Games & Books in Carbondale, Illinois and instructor in marketing at Southeast Missouri State University.  This week, Thorne looks at the use of publicity in the games business, and the new Magic block.

Not my favorite way to celebrate Halloween with a headache and an upset stomach, but still, when you own a small business, it is rather hard to call in sick.  Still I am luckier than other store owners I know, who run their operations with just themselves and one or two part time workers. It raises hob for them when they get sick.

Rather appropriately for Halloween, Wizards of the Coast let drop the name of the next block of Magic: The Gathering, coming next April:  Shadows Over Innistrad (see "New 'Magic: The Gathering' Set Announced").  While a return to the Innistrad setting is quite welcome and I am certain we will sell quite a lot of the set, I do have a couple of quibbles. 

  1. Spring is a less than appropriate time for the release of a gothic-themed set. Fall is when the customer’s mindset turns to things dark and scary.  While making the announcement on Halloween was indeed appropriate (though not good timing from a public relations viewpoint), having the set come out in Fall would have suited the season and setting more.
  2. While I understand WOTC wanting to use the Grand Prix Indianapolis tournament as a backdrop for the announcement, generating excitement among players at the event, doing so violates the basic rules of public relations.  You don’t release big news on a weekend and you don’t release big news on a holiday.  The Shadows over Innistrad announcement violates both of those.  Still though, I am talking about it, so a Saturday holiday announcement obviously didn’t hurt the news release that much.

It also shows the limitations of public relations in our industry.  The hobby or specialty game industry is a comparatively small market.  I would be willing to bet that the entire industry’s annual sales only amount to a small percentage of Walmart’s or Amazon’s sales, meaning that news in our industry does not matter much to those who don’t play hobby games.  The trick, in order to get people in the greater market and the news media to pay attention to your news, is to tie it to their interests or to tie it to a more "newsworthy" event, and unfortunately, while the release of Battle for Zendikar and the Zendikar Expeditions cards were very important to those within our industry, it caused barely a ripple in the wider world.

This means looking for events that the general public has an interest in and finding a novel way to tie your product or business to it.  I have managed to get invited to appear on the local morning news twice this year, but not because of any of the games or comics that we sell. Heck even Free Comic Book Day and Free RPG Day didn’t warrant a mention in the local news, except in the event listings of the local entertainment paper.  What did get attention was our embrace of National Pi Day (March 14), with an offer of free pie to customers coming in and our Haunted Carbondale tours in October.  Both were only tangential to the store focus but they did get the store’s name out there and brought in a number of customers.  Publicity works, unfortunately moreso than advertising in today’s market.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of