I Hear The Silence of The Canaries in the Mine

Monolith Edition Games (not to be confused with Monolith Games, a division of Warner Brothers) has had several successful game releases, including the Conan and Mythic Battles: Pantheon board games.

One of their upcoming games has caught a lot of consumer interest because of its name, Batman: The Board Game.  This is apparently a huge undertaking and fans are no doubt anxious to see a copy of the game, but you won’t be able to shop for it in your Local Game Store.  The company made a surprise announcement about the game:

“We have decided to go “Kickstarter Exclusive” on our games … because the deal to go to retail is not fair for us.

“If we want to offer Batman: The Board Game in retail, we would have to sell it to Asmodee at a fair price for our work, like any other board game publisher does. With all the intermediaries getting their own margin, the game would be sold around $250 in your local store. That is not something most of the local stores want to sell because it is a high price, and buying this from their distributors will immobilize a lot of their cash flow. They would rather buy [other cheaper games] and be sure to sell them than offering a board game that already did (hopefully) well on Kickstarter.”

and “The type of games we do is just not fit for the retail channel.”

I’ve talked about the challenges of carrying games that come out of Kickstarter before and explained why our store usually does not sell games that start out life on Kickstarter unless a customer specifically orders them.  As far as I know, this is the first time a game company with a major game has gone on record to explain why they’ve taken the step of going exclusive on Kickstarter.

I can understand the reasoning behind their decision.  Retailers pay distributors about 40% to 50% of the retail price of a game (because retailers have expenses like rent and salaries and utilities and have to make money or go out of business).  Distributors probably get discounts of another 10% to 15%, which leaves the poor manufacturer getting maybe 35% of the retail cost of their game.  That’s not a lot of money when you factor in all the pieces included in big box board games, and that’s one of the reasons a lot of those games are released at big conventions before retailers get them to sell.  When they sell direct to the public, manufacturers get 100% of the sales price.  It was just a matter of time before Kickstarter started replacing retailers for the expensive big box games.

People supporting the project on Kickstarter can expect to pay at least $100 or so for the base game, but I’m sure there will be lots of extras available that could easily bump that price up significantly.  Because of the increased costs associated with shipping, it is likely that shipping charges will be added to the cost.  And if you want to wait to buy it online you can no doubt expect to pay the $250 Monolith Editions is talking about – the Conan Board Game with all the original pieces now sells for nearly $500, and the Batman game with all the extras will probably cost even more in the aftermarket.

Right now there are few details about the game itself, but this is just the first shot in the battle.  The next step is for companies to make deals with Amazon and/or Target to give them exclusives after the Kickstarter project.  Selling the store to consumers in game stores?  Simply too expensive.  The Internet strikes out against the inefficiencies of retailing again.

Don’t for an instant think that I don’t sympathize with small game companies that are being forced into Kickstarter.  A similar situation faced music creators until they figured out how to make money with digital downloads (something board game companies can’t quite do….yet).

The Kinks’ career had faded in the late sixties.  Their last top ten single in the United States had been released in 1965.  Even in their home country of England, the hit records stopped coming in 1967.  In 1970 they had a surprise hit record with Lola, a song that succeeded in part because of the clever line, “I’m glad I’m a man and so’s Lola.”  So, is Lola glad or another man?  Either way, the Kinks seemed to have a bit of trouble making money from a single that probably sold over a million copies if the song The Moneygoround is to be believed.  It takes less than two minutes to feel their pain; clearly, Monolith Edition feels it, too.

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