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Links: Z-Man Games Goes Exclusive, British Toy Fair 2012 & Ouija: The Movie

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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Z-Man Games, owned by the Canadian publisher Filosofia, announced today that it's signed an exclusive distribution deal with Alliance Game Distributors and its parent company Diamond Comic Distributors, a deal that goes into effect immediately. From the press release:

Z-Man Games will continue to work directly with its current distributors for the rest of the world and these relationships remain unaffected by this agreement.

"In our view, an exclusive agreement is a better business model in some markets to insure that the games we publish get the necessary marketing efforts they deserve," said Z-Man Games CEO and President, Sophie Gravel. "This added effort will benefit not only our own games, but also the games our foreign partners entrust into our care for the English language market. The cost of duplicated effort in shipping, warehousing and customer management was significant and did not make much business sense. Consolidating efforts with Alliance will give us back time and resources to concentrate on what we do best: publish great and unique games."

Upcoming marketing and communication programs to be detailed later this spring will include demo packages and event kits for retailers. An organized play program is also in the works.

Thus, Z-Man Games is following in the footsteps of Days of Wonder (which moved exclusively to Alliance in 2008 in a similarly-worded press release), Playroom Entertainment (which went exclusive with ACD Distribution in July 2011) and Looney Labs (which cut back to ACD and Alliance in January 2012).

What does this deal mean for you, the game player? Perhaps fewer outlets from which to buy Z-Man titles or fewer titles on store shelves from which to choose. In a private industry forum, Alliance has noted that it's maintaining the same discount for Z-Man titles as it has previously done – meaning that the exclusivity does not come at a higher price for the retailer – but not every game store in the U.S. uses Alliance as its main distributor, and for those that order from Alliance only occasionally, the costs probably will be higher (since a distributor's discount depends on the volume of merchandise ordered over a set amount of time). If a store now has to pay more to order Z-Man titles, it will likely carry fewer titles or make less of an effort to keep everything in stock.

Sheesh, maybe the game industry really will go the way of the comics industry, as I've speculated a number of times. That industry entered a distributor death spiral in 1994 when Marvel Comics bought Heroes World Distribution – Heroes World being the distributor used by Iron Vic Comics in Poughkeepsie, NY, my first "employer" – then DC Comics, Dark Horse Comics, Image Comics and other comic publishers signed exclusives of their own with the other two largest comic distributors. Heroes World had terrible nationwide distribution and failed after a few years. Capital City Distribution signed a few exclusive deals, but not enough to keep it viable when most of the rest of the market had been stripped from its offerings. By 1997 only one comics distributor remained an active business in the U.S. – Diamond Comic Distributors.

Is history repeating itself?

• Paul Evans – aka, Pevans – has posted a report from the 2012 British Toy Fair on his website. His takeaway: "[G]ames seem to be an increasingly small part of the toy industry. I'd say vanishingly small, judging by what I saw at the 2012 London Toy Fair. With a few honourable exceptions, there was a distinct lack of new games to see." That said, he does highlight a few titles (while lowlighting many others).

• The on-again, off-again film based on the Ouija "board game" is back on Universal's release schedule, according to ICv2, but with the budget cut from $100 million to $5 million.

• The annual Mind Sports Olympiad, which holds tournaments in dozens of games including Acquire, Lost Cities, Blokus and Dominion, takes place August 18-27 at the University of London.
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