Gaming becoming more expensive?

04 Dec

I stopped at Mind Games today to see what they had in. Was pleasantly surprised to see some of the newer (OMGESSEN!) games in stock … at least until I saw  the prices.

Now, there are a couple of things to say before I go into details.

  • There were games that I passed on in OMGESSEN! because I thought they were Just.Too.Expensive – “I can get that at home for not much more than they are charging!”
  • The Aussie dollar is in the toilet. Thoroughly. I think we’re buying about half a Euro these days – $1 US costs $1.55 AU as at right now.
  • I am not an economist, nor do I have any recent retail or game industry experience. Ergo, talking out of somewhere that shouldn’t speak in polite company.

But still …

  • They have Agricola. It’s $140. I think that is the most expensive boardgame I’ve ever seen.
  • Formula D is $110
  • Royal Palace is $80. Now I’m on record as liking this a lot as a light Euro, but that price is ridiculous. It, more than anything, made me realise that game-buying habits may have to change.
  • $90 is the new price point. There was Chicago Express, Dominion, Sylla, 1960, even older titles (clearly re-ordered recently?) like End of the Triumvirate, Reef Encounter.

We bought a copy of Felix: The cat in the Sack for a friend of the Bigster’s (10th birthday gift). It was $25, less our discount – which I think was cheap. Betcha it’s over $40 when they re-stock, though.

It’s going to be interesting to see what effect these prices have on local game buying habits. True, this was only one shop, but there’s not generally significant variation between game shops here.

My suspicions include:

For the hobby market:

  • Possible return to online discounters – there’s really one of note, here, plus a specialist shop that I think would continue to have legs, regardless. The issue here might be that their costs will go up just as the stores’ costs go up – will there really be room for much discounting? At least postage costs (for the local leg) would be in Aussie pesetas.
  • Reduced sales of marginal games – I think people will still buy the ‘big hit’ titles but I expect there might be a reduction in discretionary buying. This is quite apart from any local economic influences. I know Fraser and I have discussed that our big haul from this year’s OMGESSEN! might have to last us till next year’s OMGESSEN! (Before you think I am having a whine: on a scale of hardships, this does not really rate highly).
  • Further increases in game costs. Yes really – I think there is a good chance of this. If shops have fixed overheads but are selling less, their profit per item will have to go up or something will have to give. Over the past few years, we’ve seen per-item profits drop as sales increased; I suspect we may see a reversal of this. Probably not at the top end of the market, but I think that those $20 card games are going to be pushing up to $25 and $30.
  • Of course, that last point could be wrong. We could also see some margin squeezing to try to increase sales volume and stock turnover. My guess is that we may see some sort of combination – increased regular margins but also heavier discounting for sales – or more frequent sales.

For the general market:

  • Tightening of the family game market. I think the over $40 bracket is really incredibly tough for family games. The big players have the market share to keep their prices relatively low, although even there we’ve seen the $25s push up to $40s already. I don’t think $45 or $50 is out of the question, although these games are traditionally discounted fairly heavily at the larger stores anyway.

What I would like to see, because I think it would make good economic sense, is more co-production. For a long time, there were two versions of Carcassonne available in Australia. Some stores carried the $55 Rio Grande-branded version …  the others carried the $35 Ventura-branded version. And Carcassonne had great market penetration, because $35 was a fantastic price for a family boardgame.

If local companies can buy the rights to produce games locally, they’re not paying to ship the (heavy) game from China or Europe to the US and then to Australia. They’re not sucking up all those delays, and they’re not paying for all that shipping in (variable) foreign currencies. The licence fees are paid in Euros, Pounds or $$$ – but after that, everything can be local – and, therefore, predictable. And there’s no, or minimal, lost $$$ from high shipping costs.

The question, of course, is what game or games they would pick. It’d need to have broad appeal and be relatively simple to produce – my beloved Agricola is definitely not a candidate. I’m not sure that there’s a no-brainer like Carcassonne out there any more – although I’d love to be wrong. The gamer market here is so small (maybe 200 units of a really REALLY popular gamers’ game?) that there’s no real future there, unless you could ship internationally too – which of course would undercut the licensor (and therefore be so far beyond unlikely as to be effectively impossible). I’d love to see some english-language sales figures around the Aus/NZ/SouthAfrica/Singapore/Malaysian market, but I think the numbers are still far from there. Even mass-market success seems pretty unlikely to me, at least in the sort of dollars that would make commercial sense.

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Posted by on December 4, 2008 in games


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