[Musings of a Game Store Owner] Manufacturer Support

Which manufacturer of major game systems supports you the best in supporting their product?

Snafu asked this question last week, and it’s a really good one. 

It’s a hard question to answer, because “best” is completely subjective. I thought I’d talk a bit about some of the companies and the support they offer, and then offer some insight on what makes that support good, bad, in the middle or the best. 

Games Workshop– Their support of the hobby community has evolved and taken weird turns over the years. Long ago, they had Outriders and Forums. They had reliable tournament support. They had Grand Tournaments and ‘Ard Boyz level competitions for those in the hobby that enjoy that sort of thing.

Each of those options had their own “seasons” if you will, and the various levels of support have come and gone as the company tries to determine whether the financial investment is worth the return they see out of their programs.

At the moment, their support for store level tournaments is all I know. GW recently made announcements that sounds a lot like higher level company sponsored tournaments are going away in favor of fan run and organized events.

In order for me to receive any sort of “prizes”, my support is entirely dependent on carrying a certain number of lines in the store. In exchange,  I get x per quarter (roughly $25 right now, if I remember right).

Right now, this level of support is not all that great to me. Yes, it’s “free stuff”; but to get it, I have to have items on my shelf that simply won’t sell. That doesn’t seem like “free stuff” to me; it seems like a trade off. 

Privateer Press– USED to be the SHIT. Their league rewards during MkI were BOMBTASTIC- awesome medals, pins, coins,  iron ons and other bad-ass stuff that was all about the “play like you got a pair” mantra. The rewards for playing were so effin cool, it was unreal. I know a couple guys whose army bags look like “salad bars”, they are so decorated. Tournament support was just as good.

Privateer Press continues to be awesome in supporting FOODMACHINE, their charity events- the rewards for these events are out of this world. It’s super cool to see a big player get behind charity so fully, and encourage it so strongly.

Their PressGanger system leaves a LOT to be desired. Even in MkI days, the insistence that any given town could only have one PG meant folks that effectively quit kept new blood from entering the system and taking over. 

Small events, especially in MkII, have taken a downward swing in support. Leagues now get certificates and so many of the fun, cool and just plain awesome goodies  for small size groups have gone by the wayside. I’ve heard they support larger events VERY well, with giveaways of army boxes, battle engines and Collosals being the norm- but the “little guys” (small stores that feed into the big tournament scene) are being left behind. 

Wizards of the Coast– This is another company whose support has evolved over the years. WotC supports multiple games, but their main focus is on their two big money makers: Magic the Gathering and Dungeons and Dragons.

Magic has had some AWESOME support in the past. Things like Textless Cards-

SO Badass!

There have also been Foil Judge Promos (something Judges really wish would come back!), specialty cards,  Boy a Box promos, FNM Foils, pre-release cards, Launch day cards, Game Day foils and much more.

Each version of support and promotionals coming from WotC has faced high levels of scrutiny, because every card released hits the secondary market, and that is something WotC watches and in some cases, invests in. There are several reported cases of certain cards or promos being bought up by Wizards employees after they hit the secondary market due to high value or unforeseen tournament repercussions.

Cards aren’t all that WotC offers for Magic- they have other support items as well. Very popular among them are the “spindown” dice, as these are actually valuable and usable by the players.

The promos for Magic have gone through a very noticeable shift over the past few years. They’ve gone from very cool and interesting, USEABLE items to weird and non-functional or gimmicky items (rub on tattoos are a great example).

The support for D&D is all aimed at Encounters or Organized Play. There are promo treasure cards and special maps or adventures, all for those that play inside the structured and reportable offerings of the DCI system. This means the casual player often gets left behind or left out, and there’s no room for creativity or player created adventures, which many players find limiting.

People forget this is a company that makes toys operating a company that is NOT about toys, and sometimes the mentality of being a toy operator bleeds through. Examples of this kind of thing are items that break or need replacing, novelty items like the Helvault, goofy things like collectible cards for roleplaying games or rub on tattoos.

Wizards’ support is unparalleled in that it’s consistent, defined, plentiful, and usually offers something “different”. There are downsides- there are so many restrictions on the promos that it gets hard to keep track at times of what’s allowed and what will cause us headaches. Additionally, the promos are occasionally strange and out of touch, which makes a lot of players nervous. 

Battlefront- These guys are serious about getting new players into their games. They send out starter or promo boxes of goodies quite often. Additionally, they spend a ton of money on their website and forums and even give away rules to get new players addicted. They have a strong and well supported tournament scene, and they offer crazy prizes at those events.

Their downside? The cost of entry into their games for a store is ridiculously high. Stores have to have a firm and committed base of interest to attempt to get into their product. These guys are aimed at PLAYERS.

Z-Man Games has had a great demonstration program for several years. Their outreach and demo offerings have been fantastic, with new games coming into the store pretty much every month. They had a wonderful vetting system for their demo guys, so a store wasn’t stuck with a guy that never showed up just collecting games and doing no real work.

They were recently bought, and the changeover has caused a lot of the demonstrators to quit, leaving Zman pretty far behind the curve in ability to keep customers (and stores) interested in their product. 

If I had to pick one as the “best”, I’d say WotC; with a caveat that if it doesn’t improve soon, they’re going to lose players. The Helvault was an unmitigated disaster on every front; and customers were rightfully pissed. However, free foils every Friday, cards for buying product, cards for winning events (and lots more support if you play tournaments) make them hard to beat at the moment.

I’d like to talk a little about distributors next week. Please let me know if you have questions or would like me to talk about other stuff- I’m flexible.

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