On Kickstarter and impact on game stores

Customers occasionally ask me “Isn’t Kickstarter bad for game stores?” They almost ask this like they want me to be pissed off about it. Or like they want me to agree “Oh yes, it’s killing me, and your total comes to $145.62, would you like a receipt?” Or they wonder how we can possibly be surviving in a landscape where games can come right to their door 12-24 months later, long after they have forgotten about some of them.

I recently had one of our sales reps remark that “There are 500 new games this week.” That’s right, he said “this week.” That’s pretty representative of 2016, which is representative of the last few years. Which means ~26,000 games came out this year. A good store stocks 1-2,000 of those. According to Kickstarter 1,980 games were funded on Kickstarter in 2014. Assuming all of those were non-electronic tabletop games (they weren’t!) that means only 7.6% of the games released in my industry were first funded on Kickstarter. Meaning 92.3% of the games were still available at my store and stores like it first.

So, it’s safe to say that Kickstarter is not killing local game stores. It is occasionally irritating them, for example, when a previously sane trade partner begins using it as a big pre-order system. It is also not significantly “changing the landscape” of gaming. It is guaranteeing that many games that are Kickstarted won’t ever see the light of a display shelf, because most stores refuse to compete directly with manufacturers.

If a company sells for below their own MSRP on a Kickstarter, we won’t stock it. If we do, it will be by special order. We do not purposefully advertise any company’s game that does this. I know; cheaper is better! But here’s the thing, game industry margins are pretty fixed, and most game stores make perhaps 7 cents for each dollar they sell, so a 20% Kickstarter discount is basically a dead game. The only way to make 20% or so off viable would be not to advertise or run organized play, and guess what? Those are the two ways most game stores sell games, soooo…

Another killer is a company that asks me to demo their game in the store while it is on Kickstarter. That’s a big no-no. No, I don’t want to give you free advertising direct to the customer base our business has spent tens of thousands a year marketing to. No, I don’t want to send someone who came in to buy a game now to a website to get a game later. It’s actually the opposite side of the service coin from what stores are providing.

Now, what kind of Kickstarters will my store back? A project with an option for a store to back at a reasonable margin, for customers to pay for their Kickstarter at the store counter, and a delivery date that’s the same as all other Kickstarter backers. Preferably at a deeper discount than usual, because for me buying your Kickstarter game is a business investment, not a hobby, and I have no interest in giving you a 12-18 month interest free loan if I don’t get a small return on my investment. 1-5% is sufficient. Make be believe you care about the time and floor space we will spend promoting your product. And let me buy in case quantities, not “master cartons” or some unit of 20+ of your unproven title.

That’s it. I can count on one hand the Kickstarter’s doing that in the last year though, so it’s pretty clear that for most manufacturers on Kickstarter, their business model diverges from most game stores pretty quickly. Perhaps that is changing (see Dark Souls and Massive Darkness) but I doubt it.