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Links: Games as Periodicals, Suffragettes on the Table, and Funagain Calls It Quits

W. Eric Martin
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• Phil Reed, CEO of Steve Jackson Games, has published that company's annual stakeholder report, and the opening line of this summary paragraph is an interesting take on the game marketplace:

Quote:
The current market is more a periodicals business than one that encourages growing and nurturing single games, leading to our evergreen titles — Munchkin and Zombie Dice — dropping in sales. Gross income was roughly $5.5 million, down about $500,000 from the previous year. Fortunately, the year was break-even, perhaps even slightly profitable; we'll have final numbers once our business office closes the books (and we will update this report at that time).

Reed adds this thought later in the report: "The flood of games continues to overwhelm distributors, retailers, and shelves, leading to an accelerated release schedule for many publishers as games get less time as a 'new release' and get dumped online as fast as they leave the 'hot and new' category." FFG's Christian Petersen mirrored this observation in an ICv2 post in December 2017: "Distributors no longer really had any time to talk about new product, talk about how those products could grow and make those stores more successful, and how they could gain new audiences... Cycle in, cycle out. The long tail-end game started really dramatically changing. They would come in, stock out, and then because that shelf space needed to be replaced so fast, it has affected the tail end of some games that should have been classics and evergreens."

I managed a comic book store from 1987 to 1990, and I hadn't considered the game industry as a periodicals business previously, but this point of view encapsulates much of what's happening on the market, from the regular release of expansion packs for games (whether FFG's Living Card Games or Star Wars: Destiny or SJG's own Munchkin Collectible Card Game, which launched in stores on February 21, 2018) to the accelerated release pattern of new editions of games (with five-year anniversary editions instead of ten or revised versions of a Kickstarted title within a year or two). BGG attended three conventions in February, and we recorded more than a hundred game overview videos in Nürnberg, recorded dozens more in Cannes, and shot dozens of pics of still more in New York. Hundreds more games are being announced each month aside from all of these we covered, and at a certain point you as a player become immune to it all, being content to reach into the waterfall to grab a few drops while everything else drains away in the river of clearance sales.

Some publishers still resist being part of that waterfall; they're content to publish only a few titles annually and push those titles over many months, while other publishers drop one or two titles a month into the stream, absorbing what sales they can for each before hopping to the next stone in the river.

• In late February 2018, Kotaku published an article on the 1909 board game Suffragetto, a game that sets "Suffragettes — women seeking the right to vote — against London police, with players basically orchestrating running street battles between the groups". From the article:

Quote:
There was an element of territorial control to it, however; the suffragettes had to hold onto Royal Albert Hall (a key landmark of their struggle) while trying to seize the House of Commons, while the police had to protect parliament while attempting to seize Albert Hall.

If a suffragette is taken, they’re moved to a prison space on the board. And touching on the street fighting theme of the game, if a police piece was taken, they’d be sent to hospital to recover from their wounds. Should both sides lose six or more pieces, then a prisoner swap could be arranged between the two players.

The article also states that "The game was lost and forgotten for decades until being recently rediscovered in 2016...", but that's not accurate given that Suffragetto has been listed in the BGG database since 2012 courtesy of user herace who devotes a fair amount of time to researching historical games.

• Funagain Games has announced that it will cease its online retail activity "in the coming months", and it will also stop serving as a fulfillment house for Kickstarter projects, although it's promised to fulfill all existing contracts through June 1, 2018 based on comments I've seen from KS project creators. I contacted the company to see whether it wanted to say something more than "all things inevitably change", but they declined to add to that public statement. Funagain was my online store of choice because it had a long history of offering a wider range of games than other online game retailers, and I appreciated them making that effort, although it was hardly altruistic on their part since they just wanted me to buy those wacky, obscure games.

Funagain will maintain brick-and-mortar stores in Eugene and Ashland, Oregon, but since those stores can't carry thousands of titles, the company is holding a clearance sale to liquidate most of its inventory.

• Designer Grant Rodiek has an interesting post on his Hyperbole! blog titled "Why I think Rising Sun really matters", and while he's approaching the game from the point of view of a designer and what designers might learn from Rising Sun, what stood out for me the most was this line: "The number one barrier to tabletop are rules. Full stop."

Okay, yes, that line stood out for me because I've been saying that for years. When you see what you perceive as truth in someone else's work, you like it more automatically. Rodiek's point is that Rising Sun does asymmetry the right way: "Every player gets one, clear, special item." You don't have a half-dozen things to remember about what you can do, not to mention the half-dozen things that each opponent can do and how all of those things interact and how one of them might spoil your plans, but you're not sure, yet you don't want to ask about it as that will reveal said plans, so you start consulting the rulebook instead or skimming BGG during the game and everyone's like, "C'mon, man, take your turn!"

I can greatly appreciate that push toward more streamlined asymmetry because I'm terrible at remembering exceptions. More generally, though, I think constantly about how the need to learn rules are probably what keeps games from being more widely accepted by the public at large. I encounter those fears whenever I host a casual game day and people have to learn something new, even when they're learning from someone who knows the game and has explained it numerous times. This process is better than someone reading from a rulebook while everyone else at the table tries to figure out what's being said in this strange otherworldly language of games, but it's hard to reproduce that experience of hands-on learning in a retail box.
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