John Riley of Grasshopper's Comics in Williston Park, New York saw the coverage of the current game market in the last ICv2 Retailers Guide to Games (see ''05 Game Sales Starting Weak'), and feels that better long-term growth for games can be achieved if the trade downplays collectibility:
I read today's ICv2 Retailers Guide to Games with tremendous interest and believe that Chris Powell nailed it on the head when he said that we need '...to emphasize the gameplay aspects...and downplay the collectibility...' of the games that we carry. I also believe that this is absolutely essential for the long-term health of the gaming industry. Yet the common perception seems to be that what we really need is essentially 'another Pokemon.' In fact, the Guide to Games itself mentions that nothing would '...stimulate the over-all market single-handedly like a big new collectable game hit could'. We need to build a generation of gamers, not collectors. We need less 'collectible' focused merchandise, not more of it.
During the speculator boom of the early 90's the comic industry collectively told a generation of kids that the collectibility of their comics was more important than the content. All this did was leave us with a generation of kids who felt cheated and unable to enjoy a comic for its own entertainment. It's taken years for that generation to 'age out' and a new generation to take its place. Finally, ten years later, I can once again sell comics to kids who have no pre-conceived negative feelings towards them, and to adults who have been away from them long enough to 'rediscover' them for the joy of the stories alone.
The game industry repeated this fiasco with Pokemon. Years after the fad I still have parents complaining about the money they spent on 'collectible' Pokemon cards. The fact that our store never sold a pack of Pokemon above retail (or promoted a comic as a collectible for that matter) is irrelevant. An entire generation was encouraged to 'collect' these now worthless pieces of cardboard. Now let's add to this phenomenon the many serious gamers who invested heavily into multiple CCG's, (Star Wars, Highlander, Doomtown, etc...) only to have these games disappear leaving them with tens of thousands of 'useless' cards. As a gamer, how many dead games would you choose to 'invest' a few hundred or thousand dollars in before you called it quits on the category?
Over the past ten years we have repeated this process to a generation, first with Magic then with Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh!. Yet the prevailing wisdom seems to be that the only way to 'fix' our market is to repeat this process again. How do we try to woo these gamers back? Apparently with a tidal wave of more anime-inspired CCG's! While at GAMA I was stunned by the amount of anime-inspired CCG's. While I'm sure some of these are good games, I was consistently informed by each manufacturer of the 'unique collectible elements' of each product. I fail to see how this can be a logical course of action to regain the interest of this generation.
I'm sure that many stores can include some level of collectible product within their mix quite successfully. But waiting as an industry for the next 'big thing' is not only a waste of valuable time, but an attempt to solve a long-term problem with a short term solution. If manufacturers feel that some level of collectibility is essential, they can always do this within the packaging while still keeping it a semi-perpetual item. Magic has done this for years as each new set is 'limited and random' but remains in print for approximately a year. Both HeroClix and Star Wars initially worked on this model, yet are now moving toward being more limited production 'collectible' items. HeroClix Legacy sold out only 4 weeks after release, leaving us without a key product for two months and resulting in massive lost sales. And at the moment every Star Wars miniatures set is out of print. How do we sell and promote these products and continue to support and grow a gaming community when we have no product to sell?
Manufacturers and retailers alike need to abandon, or at the very least downplay, the collectible elements of their games and concentrate on the fun and excitement of gaming as a hobby. The joy of gaming alone should be an easy sell, after all, I'm sure it motivated most of us to choose selling games as a career!
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 ICv2.com.