What Do Retailers Really Want?

5 June 2017

The breaking news last week was that one of the giants in the gaming industry, CMON, is instituting a MAP policy (minimum advertised pricing) in the US. For them, this means that the listed price of all CMON products through retailers may not be less than 80% of the MSRP. This is similar to an announcement from another publishing giant, Asmodee North America.

CMON is now a big company, and some of their success stems from Kickstarter. But it’s no secret that they sell way more games through retailers than they do through Kickstarter. You’ll see this pattern with other companies too: Stonemaier Games, for example, sold 21,000 copies of Scythe on Kickstarter, and the remaining 79,000 copies we’ve made since then have been sold to distributors.

My point is that for most publishers, retail/distribution matters. It’s something to start thinking about before you even launch your Kickstarter campaign.

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Whenever I hear an announcement like this one about MAP, I think, “Am I missing something? If these companies are doing this, should Stonemaier do it too?”

I have about 500 retailers and distributors on my mailing list, so I recently contacted them to hear their thoughts on MAP and other similar strategies. 160 of them responded, and I’m going to share the results with you below. Disclaimer: Apparently one retailer briefly shared the survey link in a retailer reddit group. It’s possible that non-retailers filled out this survey, but from what I can see from the results, there’s nothing that would indicate that’s the case.

I’ll break down the data to differentiate between responses from distributors, FLGS (friendly local games stores), and online retailers.

  • MAP (minimum advertised price): 75% of distributors like it, 81% of FLGS like it, and 48% of online retailers like it
  • timed MAP (applies only for the first 3-6 months after the product’s release date): 25% of distributors like it, 23% of FLGS like it, and 35% of online retailers like it
  • FLGS priority (local game stores receive new releases 2 weeks before online stores): 25% of distributors like it, 80% of FLGS like it (the rest were ambivalent), and 0% of online retailers like it
  • EAP (equitable access program; this caps the number of games distributors can sell to each retailer): 0% of distributors like it, 34% of FLGS like it, and 22% of online retailers like it
  • retailer discounts on Kickstarter: 50% of distributors like it, 41% of FLGS like it, and 56% of online retailers like it
  • no KS (publishers who don’t use Kickstarter at all): 25% of distributors like it (the others were ambivalent), 76% of FLGS like it, and 61% of online retailers like it
  • full MSRP on website (publishers who don’t discount their games on their website): 50% of distributors like it, 70% of FLGS like it, and 55% of online retailers like it
  • promos (easy access to promos for in-store events): 100% of distributors like it, 79% of FLGS like it, 50% of online retailers like it

Conclusions: Some of these results are just weird, and it’s possible it’s a factor of someone sharing the link on reddit, or maybe some of the retailers didn’t understand the questions. I think the best way to examine this data is to look at the extremes, as well as part of the data that isn’t clear here (one of the options in the survey was ambivalence, so even if only 50% of retailers like something, the other 50% might be people who don’t care or people who strongly dislike it).

In that way, here are my conclusions:

  • Distributors like MAP and promos, and they actually seem ambivalent to whether or not publishers use Kickstarter
  • FLGS like MAP, priority access, publishers who don’t use Kickstarter, MSRP on publisher websites, and promos
  • Online retailers like discounts on Kickstarter, publishers who don’t use Kickstarter, MSRP on publisher websites, and promos

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It’s tough to juggle all of these different preferences, isn’t it? The only option that they agreed upon was promos.

In case you’re curious, the things from this list that Stonemaier Games currently does are:

  • We no longer use Kickstarter (our last project was Scythe in November 2015).
  • We sell our products for full MSRP on our website.
  • We offer promos to retailers who run Stonemaier-specific in-store events.

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While I hope these retailers are looking out for their customers, this data doesn’t directly answer the most important question, “What do consumers really want?” I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments, as well as in these two polls:



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Also read:

70 Comments on “What Do Retailers Really Want?

  1. The truth is consumers have X dollars to spend on y product and those two numbers are related. A price increase actually causes a decrease to occur in X because now that product represents a greater loss of dollars. Now some consumers will have enough in their X column that the MAP won’t effect them. Others though will have to decrease Y to match the desired ration to X.

    Years ago the electronic industry instituted similar policies because small businesses were complaining that people would come and get hands on with the electronics and then go buy cheaper online. This is actually close to the same complaint many FLGS make. They play here but don’t buy here. Here is the problem, those policies didn’t keep small business electronic stores from going under. You’d be hard pressed to find electronics in a physical store these days beyond a big box like Walmart. Why do we believe that this time around it’s going to be different for the tabletop industry? Especially when the big box chains are starting to take notice of the hobby games industry excellent year to year growth.

    I think ultimately the MAP is the wrong fix to a real problem.

    1. The difference is that people buying electronics have places to use said electronics. Those electronics do rely on the presence of additional people.

      People need places to play, run tournaments, etc. Not everyone has that space, nor does everyone always want to go to someone’s house. Game stores tend to provide a service that electronics stores did not.

      1. If you believe that people are going to game stores for their space, then perhaps games stores should start charging for usage of that space. That is a model that seems to be working for game cafes.

  2. Consumers should remember that MAP pricing could theoretically help the used game market.

    As a consumer, I make sure I purchase enough product from my FLGS that he makes a good profit because I want the space to remain available to game.

    The main reason I am driven to online buying is stocking levels and availability of a specific game not price. I admit the free shipping threshold makes me feel that I must buy more online than I actually need to buy online.

    1. That’s insane. Why are you buying product to rent the space? Your FLGS would do MUCH better if you just paid him cash rent instead.

  3. Ironically, I have been looking for a deep sale on Zombicide: Black Plague, because I want to try the game, but I know Amazon will occasionally put the other Zombicides on sale at about $50, so that is the price point I want to spend. But that’s not the ironic part, what is ironic is that I picked one up on a BGG auction recently, because right before they introduced their MAP policy they were handing them out like candy (I hear) at the CMON Expo… If they are trying to protect the “perceived value” of their games, that doesn’t seem, to me, to be the way to do it :-D

    I really dislike MAP’s, because I am a bargain hunter. I have really slowed my intake of Fantasy Flight products since they were engulfed by Asmodee and subjected to its MAP. Which is a bummer, because I really enjoy the second edition of Mansions of Madness and I want my own copy… Yes, I have the ability to buy fewer games and just pay a bit more, but my deal hunting mindset doesn’t want to do that.

    1. Sorry, forgot to mention in my original comment that I really liked this article, and found it an interesting look at how another part of the supply chain between me and my board games thinks about this subject!

    2. Same here, I”m a deal hunter as well and frequently buy 75-50% off MSRP as games go through cycles. I find that kickstarter can either produce too few games and never have much extra inventory to sell (Alien Frontiers) or it’s overproduced and i get a steep discount (Pirate Dice). Otherwise I watch camelcamelcamel or BGG Hotdeals area.

    3. For the record, I suspect CMON gave away Black Plague to preface the Green Horde Kickstarter, which shows a change in campaign approach ($120 for base game with no expansion, but s Tom of extras). If that’s the case, it feels like it was misguided, but then again I think CMON is terribly misguided in its approach to business in general.

      I live about two miles from Fantasy Flight’s store/cafe, and it drives me insane that they sell their own stuff for MSRP. The place charging $100 for MoM 2 is literally loading trucks across the parking lot with that exact game, then shipping off to other stores that sell it for $80.

  4. To me, the biggest piece of breaking news wasn’t CMON’s MAP policy, but ANA’s switch to a single distributor. That change seems more likely to negatively affect customers and retailers alike.

    Regarding MAP, it seems to me that most sellers (distributors and stores alike) in the business would like it, as non-competitive price fixing helps sellers at the expense of consumers.

    1. One thing that didn’t seems to get much attention is CMON also reduced its distributor foot print. The 2nd largest distributor in NA will no longer be selling CMON along with a bunch of others. The same distributor that made the deal with ANA is also one of the few that can sell CMON. Not surprising that the distributor making all these deals with publishers is a child company of the company that has a monolopy on the comic distribution industry. That same child company also has exclusive rights to sell Mayfair and a few other publishers. This should be the real story since MAPP won’t matter if one distributor controls all product and can then set whatever prices they want for retailers ultimately driving retailers closer to MSRP.

  5. Not a fan of “price-fixing,” but also not sure I’d call MAP price-fixing. Like most of the community, I have a limited budget to buy games. Also, like most of the community, I have more games on my shelf than I need/would like to admit. The hobby is currently producing games at record pace. Of all the games produced, how many are bought and sit on a shelf after 1 or fewer plays? At this point, I’d rather pay a little more for a game that will stand the test of time than a game that is the hotness currently, but will fizzle when the next hotness comes out.

    1. Your comment doesn’t actually make an argument against MAP being price fixing – it simply says you’re okay with paying somewhat more.

      If you have an argument why you think MAP isn’t price fixing, I’d be genuinely interested in hearing it. I don’t buy the ‘you can still sell it for less than that’ line – it works as a legal loophole, but for practical purposes the price is fixed 99% of the time, since a sale you can’t tell people about isn’t very effective.

      1. Anthony: I’m not a lawyer, but I think there is a fine line between MAP and price fixing. Click on the link at the top of this page and read the full wording of CMON’s MAP policy statement, because there’s some specific wording there that I’m pretty sure they’re using to prevent any legal accusations of price fixing.

        1. Absolutely. It’s price fixing in effect without it technically being price fixing legally. The Supreme Court ruling in 2006 opened a legal loophole for manufacturers to be able to set ADVERTISED prices without technically setting final prices. As I mentioned above, this gets around the legal definition of price fixing, but 99% of the time, it’s effectively price fixing, since it’s impractical to be able to sell at a given price without the ability to broadly be able to tell people about it.

          1. Price-fixing arrangements are agreements among competitors to compete less vigorously. This is not that.

            Price Fixing would be Chinese manufacturers colluding together to provide more expensive cardboard rates collectively. Or Many publishers collectively deciding to charge x amount for their chess sets. Or many retailers getting together to fix a price for a game collectively.

            This is Resale Price Restrictions (or MAP in this industry) and totally legal, even if it forces you the buyer to pay more than you would otherwise. It is one company deciding one price for one product, and so forth with their line of products. It is top down affecting retailers.

          2. I have seen online retailers get around it by having a “can only view price when added to cart” on certain items.

          3. Retailers could also offer other forms of discount – % off, automatic coupons, ‘points’ that act as cash equivalents, bundling – but they’re not allowed to advertise those or announce them through email and such. Some MAPs prevent even this, which is why every Bed Bath and Beyond coupon excludes a laundry list of brands.

  6. I’m at the point where my game shelf is full. I made myself a pledge to never buy a game for more than $50 (not including tax or shipping). This is mostly because many games I own I can’t play on a regular basis, and my wife isn’t in the hobby, so this is strictly a “me” thing.

    If Pandemic Legacy hadn’t gone to under $35.00 for a flash sale earlier this year, I never would have bought it. Yes, it was under the MSRP, but I don’t mind waiting a year to try something out while I’m going through the games I already own. I would love to give Scythe a try, but I’ll probably play someone else’s copy before deciding whether or not to purchase it. And I COMPLETELY understand why publishers would sell their games at full MSRP from their website. I mean, I would probably do the same, offering discounts whenever I felt like it to boost some sales or clear some inventory.

    I may be the exception, but I’m both a consumer and a producer, so I often look at both sides of the buying transaction.

  7. I’m a consumer (not a retailer, obvs) but I think there’s an disproportionate amount of focus on what people perceive as anti-competitive, when there are plenty of ways to work around a MAP to get to the price you want to sell an item. eBay, Amazon Marketplace, blanket discounts, “check in cart” pricing, etc.

    Where it seems like MAPs might do the most harm is in growing the industry. Dedicated board gamers back on Kickstarter, will hunt for good deals, track prices, etc.; however, the biggest profits in any industry come from roping in the general population (the casuals, as it were) and their threshold for what is reasonable is much lower than it is for dedicated hobbyists and their response to an $85 copy of Arcadia Quest is more likely to be “forget it, way too expensive” rather than “I’ll see if it’s cheaper on Amazon.” In other words, it seems like companies may be closing off entry into entirely new markets.

    Are there any data that show where the tipping point might be?

  8. I don’t shop at FLGS because there just aren’t any around that offer anything worth supporting. The problem with most of the game stores I’ve run across is that they feel like a TCG/Minature/comic store with misanthropic employees and if you are lucky to be around when the store isn’t full of TCG players, you may find a small grouping of board gamers who generally ignore the newcomers. When I’m not playing at home I’ll always go to a game cafe or bar and spend my money on food and drink. Why support the failing stores at all? Make them adapt.

    1. TCG players show up reliably for tournaments, but boardgamers rarely do. You have the opportunity to start a welcoming boardgame group at your LGD, but you chose not to… you want the store to adapt: they have – they’re focusing on TCG and miniatures players because they come back again and again and you do not.

      We can bang on drums with organized play kits for boardgames featuring exclusive promos… run the events for free, and we rarely get more than a handful of playera.

      Bottom line: you get out of your FLGS what you put into it.

    2. “Make them adapt”; the catch is, you just described the adaptation.
      Board gamers flock online to purchase for 50-70% off, stores are left reeling, searching for revenue. They cannot sell product for less than they paid for it, that’s a losing proposition; game stores have no real loss leader because the market has squeeze most profitability out of most items so there’s no where to make up that loss. So their adaptation then is to cater to products which require regular purchases to participate, scale well for organized play, and reliably bring old and new customers in the door with minimal effort and with effort can be enhanced greatly.
      The store has literally no reason to support a board gamer with the common attitude outlined above; the store has no reason to both lose money on each sale AND lose money on hosting events that are not profitable. None. Their answer, their solution, is to adapt and host TCGs, minis, and programs like that.

  9. I don’t live in the States so I don’t get the option to buy games at a ridiculous discount. I support my FLGS whenever possible buying games at MSRP.

    1. I also don’t live in the States but my LGS sells for many times more than MSRP. I don’t have an option but to buy online.

  10. I should have made my first comment to acknowledge Jamey for his willingness to engage in a thorny issue like MAP and provide some valuable data. Thank you for always being a positive force in the industry.

    One thing I find fascinating about the MAP debate is how it affects customers’ perceptions of a manufacturer’s brands. Brand perception has been a key argument for companies like CMON to adopt MAP – it wants to be seen as an elite and valuable brand, not something cheap.

    At the same time, informed consumers can react negatively to companies that use MAP, as per the survey results on this blog post. Companies like Asmodee and CMON obviously feel that the percentage of their customers who know and care about MAP is tiny. On the other hand, a company like Stonemaier Games, which has a customer base that tends to be more deeply engaged in the hobby, would probably encounter more negative brand perceptions if it adopted MAP (particularly in that Stonemaier probably has the best reputation in the business for being customer friendly – something like that went against that perception could probably hurt its brand).

    It will be interesting to follow going forward how other game manufacturers view MAP in terms of it affecting their own brand.

  11. The best retailers add value. The best manufacturers do too. Many of you live in a world where you feel entitled to cheap games, often at a few dollars more than they were sold to a retailer at. You back Kickstarters where you complain about shipping prices, demand exclusive stretch goals and want to flip everything for more than you paid for it.

    You know in your heart that this endemic entitlement isn’t sustainable, but hey.

    A system where half the games are $400 super KS versions and the rest are deep discounted into the bargain bin? Not sustainable. Extrapolated to the nth degree, the entire industry would collapse. Maybe with the ANA/Alliance agreement, with CMON? Maybe we’ll see just that. But there will be people out there fighting every single day to make sure that does not happen, on groups most of you will never encounter. Groups where retailers, manufacturers and distributors work tirelessly to ensure that the industry gets great games at reasonable prices into stores so people who don’t spend their lives backing Kickstarters can buy them. And most of those people happily pay retail. They understand that a game is like a car, or a meal. Cheap is not a guarantee of quality, or sustainability, or integrity of a supply chain.

    1. Opening note: assuming entitlement from people who buy games for less than retail is an unfair and insulting way to start your argument.

      Your best point is your first one – the best retailers do provide something of value. If I play games in a store because they provide a good environment there, I will absolutely buy games there. If a store doesn’t provide that kind of value, then I feel under no compunction to buy from just because they exist in my neighborhood – I mostly play games at my own meetup and others that aren’t located in stores. And MAP, which is pretty much price fixing with legal cover, isn’t an antidote to entitlement – it’s simply a way to get people to pay more money for stuff.

      1. Anthony, the fact that the thing you keyed on to in Dave’s point is the sense of entitlement many gamers feel, I think shows that maybe his message hit a little to close to home for you. The majority of customers who pay retail for products you probably count as suckers, and it is because of those “suckers” that the entitled class is able to continue their parasitic existence. Because without them the majority of brick and mortar stores would not stay open and the majority of manufacturers would cease operations shortly after. Don’t act like you’re some sort of benevolent customer, that if a store was worthy you would spend a dollar there. I doubt any store would ever be worthy of your purchases unless it offered a better deal than what you can find online. I have dealt with thousands of your kind over the three decades I have worked in this industry and you are all the same and that is fine. Just don’t expect the industry to try and adapt to your wants and whims we are too busy trying to carve out an existence in spite of you.

        1. Dave: You have some interesting points here, but I want to make sure we keep this a civil, healthy conversation on both sides. This is your one warning to tone down the finger pointing and aggression.

        2. Not to mention shopping at an FLG helps keep your local economy healthy, helps ensure where you live doesn’t suck, and it employs people.

          Dave is right however. The common online mentality is

          “if they were worth shopping there, I would”

          While they completely over look any benefit beyond what they get out of it directly.

          That’s why I shop FLGS and nothing else. Because board game land is one of the few places where almost any shop I go into is locally owned. Which is pretty awesome, and local businesses are good for me and where I live.

        3. Dave – your assumptions about my buying habits and my views of local games stores and their customers aren’t accurate, and I humbly suggest that your view that ‘you are all the same’ is both inaccurate, and not likely to bring you or those around you happiness.

          The discussion about supporting local businesses vs. buying cheaper online is obviously one that transcends board games, and could be discussed at great length – my point here regarding MAP is that I simply don’t believe in fixed prices, for many reasons. And I don’t believe that they are a long term solution for local businesses, particularly when the market tends to find a way. If people don’t get that low price on CSI, they’ll find it on Amazon Marketplace, Ebay or somewhere else.

  12. I don’t like when companies use strategies such as MAP, but it also doesn’t bother me enough for me to keep up to date on it, or impact my purchasing practices.

    Amusing timing for this article, though, seeing as Chaz Marler’s just started a three part series of his weekly editorials on MAP today.

  13. If I’m to be honest I find MAPP pricing sleazy and something that pushes me away from a company. CMON as an example I think greatly overprices their games these days. Zombicide green horde is essentially a fancy expansion of Black Plague with extra pieces to play on its own. still runs 120 bucks! When I see these practices it makes me feel less likely to buy a game as I begin to question the publishers will to do right by the customer. I don’t begrudge a business to make money off me. That is the purpose after all :) I don’t like it though when a publisher overvalues their product and places too much control on others ability to sell it or for me as a customer to buy it at a value that I prefer.

    Again, it’s a business and I expect companies to make money off me. I don’t like feeling like it’s at any cost though. It’s their choice to do mapp just as it’s mine to not buy from them as a result :)

    1. So Green Horde is an entirely new game with more than Black Plague and you’re complaning that it costs more?

      1. No it’s not. It’s the same mechanics with different zombie minis . Are there some nuances ….of course. But those could have been introduced in an expansion. Expansions oftentimes introduce new elements. That’s what wulfsburg did. Just because the game has significant hype doesn’t mean it justifies the value. plus I would challenge your argument that there is “more” vs Black Plague.

        My point is that the relationship between customer and company is a delicate one. We all know a business wants to make money. I accept that. We want to feel like we’re getting fair value for what we pay for. A customer is almost always willing to pay a little more for quality and a fair deal. Ask for too much it compromises that trust. Ask for too little and you diminish your own brand. Going back to CMON, I wish I felt there was more than what an expansion could have offered. Instead I feel it’s a reskin which makes me feel disappointed especially with the price of entry.

  14. For those interested in whether MAP is legal/illegal, price fixing. Here is the most up to date ruling by the Supreme Court

    https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/551/877/

    The TLDR; version is thus, a business can absolutely be taken to court for MAP policies, and the court will decide on a case to case basis on whether or not that particular businesses policy is illegal. There needs to be evidence of the MAP creating a procompetitive environment and the court must determine that a retail cartel has not been formed do said MAP policy.

    1. Don’t forget this is all US based. The EU has VERY strict policies on price fixing http://europa.eu/youreurope/business/sell-abroad/free-competition/index_en.htm

      The general feeling seems to be any attempt to alter the free trade of goods by influencing prices either with competitors or the distribution network, is anti-competitive, and will therefore land you in hot water.

      Personally I’m against it anyway – for me it stinks of control and money grabbing, regardless of the actual intentions of those involved.

  15. I might be over simplifying my approach to this but my end purchase decision is based solely to a perceived “hours of enjoyment” per dollar ratio. MAP will most likely keep prices from falling over time so that some percentage of games will not fall into that threshold. I don’t know if that percentage is meaningful or not. To me or the publisher. Most likely it just means I make a more discriminating decision.

    I will however say that because of my deep love of this hobby’s “biosphere” my enjoyment is much more than just The inherent quality of the game itself.

    It includes.
    * Reading BGG forums.
    * Designer diaries
    * You tube reviews
    * You tube play-throughs.
    * Kickstarter updates (Miss you Jamey.. though your newsletter comes close)
    * Reading the manual.
    * Looking at what exists to bling out a game. or what I can create.
    * User based add on content. (The wind gambit)
    * Fawning over art.
    * Even complaining about a game brings its own perverse enjoyment

    These things will generally overshadow a 15 to 30 % price differential for me.

    And sometimes… you just want it and that’s it.

    1. Peter: If you miss my Kickstarter updates and you like designer diaries, you should join the Charterstone Facebook group. :) I post a detailed update/designer diary there once a week. I did one in the Scythe Facebook group recently too, but they’re more sporadic.

  16. I’m glad we’re having a conversation on this, thank you for taking initiative, Jamey, and for starting a survey. Let me add a few thoughts and then speak to your results – after thikning for an hour I’m in TL;DR territory.

    I’m a little surprised at retailers trying something so risky as an MAP – it’s effectively a one-size price-setting. My 80% MAP both keeps my flagship, 9+ rating on BGG game from being discounted in a price war, and keeps my 4-rating and 6-rating rejected-ideas games from entering an effective bargain bin. For a retailer to accept this MAP, I need to consistently deliver quality games, or they know I’m saddling them with 1 palette in 12 that they just cannot move.

    So the only way I can succeed with an MAP is 1) I’m bigger than you and 2) My network includes your competition. Or I limit my print runs so that small supply guarantees a game’s demand. Or I include a buyback, trade-in-credit or some other measure to offer you protection, because a game that doesn’t sell is just moldering cardboard.

    I’d think a graduated MAP would be an option – these games are tier 1, no discount; the next are tier 2, 80% MAP, the remainder are 60% MAP. That might appeal better.

    The point about WalMart is an interesting one. If WalMart ever tried to take on the board gaming market, the local FLGS would die as quickly as independent coffee houses died under Starbucks. Ironically, the FLGS’ biggest threat – online retailers – probably keep WalMart out of the game, so to speak, and penetration there is mainly CCGs aimed at 12-and-under. No publisher is big enough to demand an MAP with WalMart, but I think any such arrangement with other retailers would be moot anyway if the Beast entered the market.

    To the survey!

    I’d be curious to see the distribution of results from the survey – I imagine you talked to more FLGS and distributors than online retailers, did you see more variation among them, and did you see some FLGS respond positively to more questions than others?

    Assuming the responses from reddit were from online retailers and they were indeed online retailers, I think the responses make sense in context of each business’ strategy.

    If I read distributor correctly to mean a wholesaler whose customer is a retailer (online or FLGS), then the distributor’s strategy is to move inventory and the distributor prefers being able to set price by volume, preferred store, etc. Deep price cuts by one store are a signal to all stores stop buying. A MAP protects the distributor; a timed MAP starts a price war in 3-to-6 months. Anything that cuts a distributor’s business – EAPs, FLGS Priority – aren’t liked. Promos are awesome because they build the relationship – yes, I’d love to come to your FLGS and set up for your in-store tournament and by the way I’ve got some exclusives.

    Online retailers compete on price, so they are least likely to benefit from price controls. They are most fond of retailer discounts during KS, but even more fond of publishers who don’t use KS. I think the complexity is in KS campaigns themselves – while we consumers take a risk with a single pledge, retailers take a 6-fold to 10-fold risk. For Gloomhaven, that paid off in spades. For , that could sink two weeks’ profit. Promos are just something else to pay shipping on (unless they can get away with bundling or selling for incremental income).

    FLGS are the target of a MAP. They lose to online retailers on price, partly because online retailers buy in volume (so an EAP helps the FLGS), partly because of lower overhead. FLGS exclusives help even more – timed MAPs give a small window before the playing field is no longer level. Kickstarter is just another competitor, and so is the publisher selling at a discount. Promos speak to the relationship; yes, come into my shop, pay 10% more than online, I’m happy to give you this deck box.

    A couple of good points were made above (and if you’ve read my post this far, thank you). I think there may be validity to resale price support for MAP items, it’d be interesting to study. I think an active market valuation helps more – ie, prize and cash supported tournaments like LCGs and MTG.

    1. JT: Thanks for your detailed reply! You asked, “I imagine you talked to more FLGS and distributors than online retailers, did you see more variation among them, and did you see some FLGS respond positively to more questions than others?”

      4 distributors replied to the survey, 21 online retailers, and 135 FLGS. I didn’t look at each FLGS’ answers across the board–I was just looking at the sum of the data.

  17. What do I want as a FLGS retailer without a online shop (without online because I like to talk and seem my customers and hate sending boxes)
    – the gap between prices online and FLGS not to far apart. I have to make some proffit to contineu my shop, Amazon etc do have a total different way of making money and they can make it with selling stuff with low or even no proffit.
    – Availability : I WANT THE GAMES TO BE AVAILIBLE TO SELL…….this is costing me more then price difference. Scythe, Terraforming Mars etc etc. Every hype is sold out after I sold my first stock. As a small shop I can’t buy big stock, so I buy when I sell. And so I miss a lot a selling when stock runs out. SANTORINI , grrrrrr
    Difficult to see a solution for this, maybe a stock just for FLGS, but this will be a cost for the publicer…
    – My solution for dealing with a this in my shop :
    more family friendly games, female friendly shop (no gaming cave) more localized games (i’m dutch and very happy with a Dutch Charterstone and games like Terraforming Mars), rotation of non family games, so I have some of the hottest games (if availible) but not for long. And we know almost all games and can give service to the customer. This is why our shop is still growing.

    Maybe a nice topic to discus in Essen, setup a meeting between publicers, retailers and distrubitors. II will be there

    Gr Michael

    1. Michael: Thanks for sharing your perspective as a retailer, and I’m glad you brought up the issue of availability. I’ve been working on a solution to that (especially for Scythe and Charterstone) for months now–lots of surveys to customers, retailers, and distributors to gauge demand before I start production, basically. I’ve actually been the most surprised by how few retailers reply to those surveys. Without up-front data, determining the size of a print run is a complete shot in the dark. So my suggestion to retailers is to communicate with publishers and distributors about what you want and how much you want way in advance. I know this is hard to do, but you’re at the forefront–you have your finger on the pulse of what your customers want.

  18. The quantity of Mayfair games I sell suggest that the answerer of the polls are not “consumers at large” but are a cohort of special gamers. They do not represent the larger body of game purchasing individuals.

      1. Fwiw I think casual gamers are the most sensitive to price. I think public expectation of games are that they should be less than $40. It’s harder to get them to buy in because they worry they’ll buy something and not get the value because the game is too hard to understand or they won’t play it enough to validate cost. It’s not so different with video games as a hobby or even something as small as gaming apps.

  19. Another interesting topic.

    I have not answered the surveys as neither have options I want to choose so I will try and explain here.

    For the first question about effecting my perception of a company, until reading this article I had no idea what a MAP was or who may or may not have implemented one. Having read the article and now knowing what they are and two companies that have implemented them I can say it has not changed my view on either company.

    For the second question, clearly I have not had my buying habits effected by such as policy (see above), and having learned what they are, I really don’t think they would, mostly it is do I like the item and am I happy with the value I perceive I will get at that price point.

    I prefer to support independant retailers where possible but occaisionally the cash vs principal equation is just too imbalanced to stick to that to my shame.

    They do sound anti-competitive and I think the closest we get to them in Europe is a manufacturers recommended price or retailers recommended price depending on how they feel like wording it but all these are in place to do is stop retailers over-charging for items, not discounting.

    Finally, I may be missing something here but surely an MAP has no effect on a publishers income, they sell to a distributor at a fixed percentage of what they think should be the selling price, 40% if I remember one of your earlier articles correctly, the distributor then sells to the retailer and whilst they may get preasure from some of the bigger online retailers surely they sell at a fixed price, the retailer then decides how much or how little profit they need to make on an item? Or is there actually a back flow of price preasure down the chain, maybe effecting future products inital price points?

    1. Paul: You’ve touched upon something important here: MAP has no impact on publisher revenue on a per-unit basis. Distributors usually get a 60% discount off MSRP, so regardless of the final price from a retailer, the publisher is getting the same amount. The only difference is total quantity sold–if MAP results in a publisher selling 10,000 games instead of 20,000, that’s a significant difference in revenue (I’m not saying it does–that’s just an example).

      1. This raises a particularly interesting question. What is their motivation in making this change? Why are they weighing in on online vs brick & mortar sales? I guess they must think that FLGS will be more likely to stock their product instead of competitors product. However, if a gamer is going to spend $200 on games they can buy a lot more product online than from the FLGS, which translates into a significantly higher percentage of a gamer’s total spend going to them.

        I rarely shop at my FLGS partially because I like deep discounts, but more because I never play there. I have 2 kids, so for me to leave the house for an evening is way more burdensome than having friends over and hosting. Also my FLGS is minis and war gaming based while I like Euros, so in order for me to get something at the store I’d likely have to special request it. That balance might change as my kids get older, and I definitely prefer to give my money to a business that delivers value to me.

        1. Derian: Here’s what CMON’s statement says:

          “By unilaterally imposing restrictions on minimum prices advertised by CMON’s new distribution network and retail partners, CMON products’ perceived value in the customers’ eyes will be enhanced, which is in the best interest of consumers and CMON’s partners.”

          It doesn’t quite answer your question, but that’s all the information I have. :)

      2. It does have an impact though.
        Retail stores typically lengthen the tail past the point of the initial hotness. This keeps the game infront of more people longer, netting more sales. Online dealers seek out the products they can flip fast for the small profit at high volume; they essentially depend on people already looking for the game, not generating new customers for the game.
        A game released that goes into price freefall is ultimately passed on by most retail stores. A publisher, especially a young publisher, seeing that initial velocity may overextend on a reprint order to meet what they perceive as high demand…only, it takes long enough in production and shipment that by the time wave 2 is available, the newness and hotness has passed from the online retailers and customer-only, cheerleader groups who are onto the newest hotness. Stores have passed on the item because the devaluation meant they wouldn’t be able to honestly profit on it and have no interest in buying it. So this new wave is essentially dead in the water, requiring the publisher themselves to dump the product to market somehow. At that point, their game is now worth essentially cost of goods plus a couple bucks, and will almost never be worth reprinting, or at the very least not in the near-term. Then, rather than have a steady flow of sales to build with and grow on, the publisher has to build new titles, and faster than they might otherwise, and not have a back catalog they can depend on for reliable revenue. This is part of the Kickstarter cycle with some publishers jamming games out at breakneck pace: their model isn’t generating a tail and a long-term income stream, its generating essentially a one-shot product more often than not.
        MAP or taking the initiative and protecting the value proposition is something of a cost, but its a cost aimed at building the long term product. Its a recruitment cost; earning the assistance of retailers who will continue to push the product because doing so is in their interest as well. They will promote, generate new interest, new customers, and new sales, making subsequent waves healthy sellers. If the game is good, even price sensitive players will come around at some point, either saving up, taking advantage of credit, holiday specials, gift requests from family & friends, etc. If the game is not good, or the player not really interested but just bargain hunting the way mall shoppers buy garbage because its “on sale and I might want it later,” you won’t see that sale, true. But sales to people who actually WANT the game are more powerful because they’re also advocating for the game instead of letting it sit on a shelf opened and unread.

  20. Great post as always Jamey! The poll results are fascinating, if not particularly surprising. My main surprise is that the percentages are not higher i.e more strongly skewed to each / any response. Perhaps this reflects the state of the industry where the actual effects of MAP are still behind debated / not fully understood. To my understanding, Games Workshop is the only company operating with such policies for any great deal of time? Even so, that occurred largely in a vacuum with only recently there being others to actually moving into their market share.

    I am personally more interested in the respondents’ reasoning behind their answer (other than financials, if any). They seem best-placed to illuminate our understanding of the dynamics brought on by MAP, or at least their perception of it.

    =====

    Living Down Under means that my purchase decisions are often dictated not by comparative prices, but by product availability. I try to support the FLGS whenever possible, but sometimes online retailers are the only option when the FLGS’ do not carry a particular game. This is another reason KS is rather infamous in these parts – it is often one of the only ways to get a game, in exchange for often exorbitant shipping rates.

    If the above holds true for others also, MAP is unlikely to shake up the Australian market too much.

    =====

    Overall industry growth is driven at least in part by the volume of sales. In an ideal world MAP merely has the potential to divert sales from companies that has MAP to companies that don’t, without actually changing the total sales volume (assuming there are equally good games from companies with MAP and those without).

  21. I have a first hand knowledge of creating, implementing and enforcing MAP Policies in both US & CA. MAP in CA is actually not that old (2012 as a result of the Competition Act). A few things to note:

    MAP refers to Advertised Prices only. Any retailer, including Amazon is free to sell a product at whatever price they wish and it depends on the suppliers policy as to what constitutes advertising. In some cases suppliers will not consider prices viewed in cart only
    or mouse-overs as violations of their MAP policy. There is no hard fast rule as to what is/isnt allowed, the supplier defines this. In most cases mouse-overs or click to cart are approved because it avoids automatic price scrapping for sites like camelcamelcamel (manual collection is still possible but typically only happens with highest volume products).
    Also important to note that MAP policies dont apply to Amazon 3rd Party Sellers.

    Additionally any retailer could sell Arcadia Quest for $1 in their store so long as they dont promote the price outside their stores (some MAP policies define in-store advertising such as endcaps as promotion but no policy can penalize a company for simply having a shelf price of $1).

    It also cannot be considered a MAP violation if a store wide discount is applied to the product so long as the store wide discount is not shown as the product price in advertisements. For example, the Target Red Card gives a 5% discount on any purchase but you wont see Apple’s latest tech in Target’s Sunday Ad showing the price after 5% discount as that would be a MAP violation.

    It’s a misnomer to think that Amazon wants to drive down prices. They just dont want to be beat on price and consider a broad range of resellers as competition (from Walmart to Cool Stuff Inc.). Amazon would happily maintain the same price as FLGS as long as the product is turning and so long as another retailer (they deem as competition) is selling at a lower price. Typically suppliers enable MAP policies to ensure key, high traffic retailers (Amazon, Target, etc.) continue to stock and sell their product.

    TL;DR It will be important to see what CMON deems as “advertising” for online resellers

    1. James, I love your insights. I think you really brought something really important to this discussion: the reality that MAP only limits so much. That’s a rather critical “A” in the middle there.

      What I think it limits most notably is MiniatureMarket and CoolStuff’s ability to undercut FLGS in the most obvious of ways, and my experience and reading has shown that’s the a key reason publishers institute MAPs, and the #1 reason why FLGSs like them.

      But you’re right, there’s nothing to stop what actually happens in the shopping cart or at the cash register.

  22. As a consumer, I actively avoid buying anything from Asmodee and Privateer Press, and have not done so in over a year. I have not continued buying X-Wing or Armada, and will not do so because of their anti-consumer policy. Notable exception to this list than enforces MAP is Games Workshop, with their re-release of Blood Bowl. In my perception they have slowly been turning ship into the right direction recently. I will still get 3p teams if I find more value to those, though…..

    Ok the bright side, I’ve been buying games from smaller publishers and my collection has seen the table a bit more, among them Viticulture ;).

  23. Great article.
    It has so much data, but I wonder… how many retailers responded?
    The larger the group the more the data matters.

    Regarding “Publishers who don’t use Kickstarter”, I don’t think the FLGS’s common concern (they lose those sales, etc.) really take into account the immense benefit KS is to them. KS vets the game and gets it onto the BGG hotlist they buy off of in the first place.
    I think the type of person (personality wise) that OWNs a FLGS is also the type of person to look at the dollar in hand actual more than the dollar in hand potential – but the potential needs the consideration.

    KS is decidedly good for FLGSs. Nevermind the ability to bring new games to the market that they can sell that otherwise never would have been made.

    It’s a good day for gaming; it’s a good day for FLGSs. : )

      1. That’s a pretty solid number of retailers.
        Obviously distributors are fewer in quantity, nor do you don’t know “who” in the company answered, so I’d take those stats with a grain of salt. But the Retailer count is certainly substantial enough to generate reliable trends.
        I hear this post has created quite a buzz in the industry. We can all count on you to do cool things. : )

  24. As a practice, I think MAP is a bad policy. I’d like to think that in a distribution model, the buyer of a product should be able to sell the product for whatever they want… so long as that seller isn’t engaged in some sort of illegal undercutting activity.

    That said though, I don’t think it will make much of a difference in my buying patterns. If Stonemaier Games adopted a MAP policy, I think I would still value their games above those of other designers/publishers I like less. Of course I’d love to get a discounted price on the Scythe expansion or a copy of Between Two Cities to give as holiday gifts… but I just evaluate each purchase individually and decide if the box of goodies is worth the asking price.

    For what it’s worth, I generally buy something whenever I visit a FLGS, but I rarely buy full size games at MSRP. The store doesn’t offer me anything that would justify the 15-20% price increase over Amazon or CSI. For others, they are a meeting place, a social outlet, etc… but for me, they are a browsing space where I can get my hands on games I’ve been researching. For that service, I always buy a booster pack or deck box or small expansion for a game I already own… worst case, I buy a soda and some chips.

  25. I’m not sure that your survey will give accurate results – in that I suspect a lot of people will click that the MAP policy doesn’t influence their buying, but that it’s having a noticeable effect indirectly.

    I don’t even know which direction that’ll go in. I can see people getting used to the idea that some games retain their value and being more likely to buy from them earlier or back Kickstarters. I can see people looking only for the lower price points and shrugging their shoulders and walking away from games that don’t offer it.

  26. […] Stegmaier on CMON’s MAP policy Stonemaier Games’ Jamey Stegmaier writes about Cool Mini Or Not’s recent announcement regarding a Minimum Advertised Pricing policy. “[T]he listed price of all CMON products through retailers may not be less than 80% of the MSRP. This is similar to an announcement from another publishing giant, Asmodee North America.” Source: https://stonemaiergames.com/what-do-retailers-really-want/ […]

  27. Here is my opinion on this matter. First let’s look Apple, maker of iPhones and Macs. Here is the thing; I won’t swear to it but I’m all but certain Apple has a MAP policy themselves such that retailers like Wal-Mart/Target/Best Buy can’t sell their products for a cost that is lower than X amount of MSRP. Well see here is the thing then; In the eyes of most consumers they look at Apple products as having a premium price and thus being a premium product.

    If you look at this is ultimately true. Switching gears for a second if I go buy a Windows laptop (Note I am not including the Microsoft Surface line of products in this example) who knows what I might end up with. Why? Well, the hardware inside, the design outside, and the price can all vary quite differently. I go buy a Windows laptop and it may technically meet the minimum requirements for Windows but that doesn’t ultimately mean I will have an enjoyable experience.

    Also think about what happens with the next iteration of Windows becomes available. So I buy a Windows 10 laptop and then say Windows 11 (or whatever they’d call it) comes out. First of all, for the average consumer it isn’t immediately obvious if my Windows 10 laptop can support the new Windows 11. Even if it can though and I do make the upgrade will my experience still be the same or will I suffer a noticeable drop in performance.

    Switching back to Apple however their Macbook laptops have a clean, consistent quality that you can count on. If I go buy a Macbook today, be it a Macbook Air, a regular Macbook or even the Macbook Pro I know that all of them will run the current MacOS, MacOS Sierra, just fine. When the new MacOS, MacOS High Sierra, I will know if my laptop supports (in fact such information is already, easily, available on Apple’s website) and if it does I know it will support it well. When I upgrade I know that I won’t suffer a significant decrease in performance (Yes there may be some edge cases here and there where performance decreases can happen).

    Basic point is is that when I buy an Apple product I know that although I am paying a premium I am getting a premium product. Apple knows this too and so to protect their products they have a MAP policy too. If they were to let retailers sell their products for next to nothing or rather at generous discounts it would then HURT Apple’s overall perceived quality.

    So…. When I see a board game publisher announcing that they are instituting a MAP policy I CAN be okay with this but here is the thing. If I am going to pay a premium price for a game then I better get a premium game. Give me good components such as cards with a nice, THICK core, cardboard tokens that aren’t too thin or cheap, a good custom insert that supports sleeved cards, etc.

    Now I can’t take the time to go publisher by publisher but with specific regards to Stonemaier Games what I can say is this. If Jamey wanted to implement a MAP policy for Stonemaier games I honestly would NOT be that bothered by it because I know Jamey is a fantastic designer, and Stonemaier Games is a fantastic publisher. I mean I’ve played a fully decked out copy of Scythe so I know how great the game can be and look. Granted Scythe doesn’t include an insert and it didn’t need to.

    My point above was that Jamey never tried to half ass things and include ill-designed insert unlike some designers/publishers. I mean I’ve seen plenty of games that include a custom designed insert but not designed or thought out enough because they either don’t support sleeved cards or the plastic is very thin/cheap and easily damaged.

    To go forward a bit with another example, look at Charterstone. I don’t know yet if I will actually purchase the game but it does sound very much right up my alley. However if Stonemaier Games announced they would be implementing a MAP policy for Charterstone that honestly wouldn’t affect my decision in buying it one way or another because with Stonemaier Games, at least, I know when I buy one of their games I am getting a great product for the price.

    Oh and that reminds me of another good point. Going back to Apple, not only do you get a premium product for the price but you also get great support too. Whether it is at an Apple store, online or over the phone. Stonemaier Games is no different. You have a question or concern about a game, I know Jamey is happy to answer. Missing parts or some got damaged during shipping (or otherwise) I know Stonemaier Games will happily assist you with that. Point is just as much as the games are good, so too is the customer service, if you need it.

    So if ANY publisher wants to implement a MAP policy that’s fine but then at the same time that publisher needs to be sure I’m getting a quality product for the price as well as good customer service, if I need it.

    Not having dug too deep into any of these MAP policies my perception of them may be 100% wrong fine but that doesn’t change anything I just said.

  28. When I buy, I make two calculations: “Can I afford this game?” – meaning, is there space in my gaming budget for me to buy it? A higher price, however achieved, will reduce the number of games I buy purely because my budget will not grow along with prices. Chances are I’ll prioritize a few must-have games and won’t even consider giving other games a try, even though they might be fantastic. Effectively, this will push my spending toward only a couple of major publishers and lead me to neglect minor publishers unless they have a true breakout hit.

    Second, I ask myself, “Is this game worth it?” I think the perfect example of a game violating this principle is The Great Zimbabwe. Mechanically, it is a great game and I have no doubt that I would enjoy it in my collection and play it. However, there is no shortage of excellent board games. My collection is full of amazing games that I am happy to play. And unfortunately, the lackluster components and production value, suggests a $30 price tag, maximum. Frankly, it looks so terrible that I’d have a hard time convincing people to play it. Instead, it retails at $99, and even during a recent sale, was at $75. A part of me wanted to buy it, but given how much of my gaming budget it ate up and how I could buy similar inexpensively-produced but mechanically-excellent games much cheaper, I could not justify the purchase. Compare TGZ with Mechs vs. Minions, also sold for $75 (…here I am being kind to TGZ and using the one-day sale price rather than the retail price). This game is full of miniatures, has stunning artwork, gorgeous production, AND excellent gameplay.

    Typically, I categorize wanted games into four general buckets: ‘must have as soon as it is available’ (very rare, but it happens), ‘must have as soon as the price meets value & is in budget’ (and if it never does, I don’t get it), ‘would like to have’, and ‘would buy to try if I got a great deal.’ MAPs will not affect the games in the first category, but those games are a tiny percentage of my purchases. Most of my buys are from category 2 – a category for which firmly held MAPs would lead me to just not buy the game. The effect on category 3 would be even worse – while I currently buy some of those games as ‘impulse purchases’ when they go on sale, I would no longer buy these games at all. Often, these are games that have smaller publishers and haven’t been able to get the sort of publicity that would truly get me hyped up about a game. Worse yet, my friends probably don’t have these games, so I can’t really try them before I buy. So if there are MAPs causing higher prices, I just probably won’t give them a chance.

    Prior to MAP, I used to buy Fantasy Flight games. Since MAP, I have not bought a single one. For example, Mansions of Madness is still on my list, but as long as prices remain unacceptable, it’s not getting bought. And why should I buy it? There are plenty of other similar experiences that don’t cost an arm and a leg. Same goes for other publishers who have instituted MAP. Unless they have a true ‘must have as soon as its available’ game, I am probably just not buying it at all.

    I personally hate the protecting FLGS argument. In my area, we have several FLGS, but only one that I actually go to. Why that one? Because it has reasonable prices. Sometimes a little higher than online prices, sometimes even lower. They get plenty of business from me. As for the others in my area? Well, I can’t remember the last time I walked in. After all, for most games, MSRP is a terrible value and MAP or no, I bet I’ll still be able to find a lower price elsewhere. Frankly, I think gaming stores should start pricing games reasonably and instead charging people to use gaming space. An FLGS has perfect synergy with the ‘board gaming cafe’ concept, so why not just include one with the store, sell drinks & snacks, charge for access, and make ends meet that way?

  29. I’m a FLGS in a major city and I sell a lot of boardgames at MSRP. Just because *you* don’t see the wisdom of *protecting* FLGS’ does not mean that this is what is happening. FLGS’ are an excellent ‘product window’ for most games companies, who – like Jamey – have found they sell far more copies through FLGS’ than received wisdom from internet cogniscenti would imply. But that race to the bottom on price has consequences for everybody in the boardgame chain. Boardgames *are* priced reasonably, but that pricing is against other similar boardgames and lifestyle choices. Four people going to the cinema? Why not buy a boardgame instead. I don’t see the boardgame price refusniks complaining about the cost of going to the cinema or popping down the pub for drinks. But what I do see are hundreds and thousands of regular folks who enjoy boardgaming and seem happy to pay slightly higher than internet prices to have a pleasant environment to browse and shop in.

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