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Hot titles from a different perspective

Andrei Novac
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Microbadge: Board & Dice fanMicrobadge: Empire Building Games fanMicrobadge: Eurogamer
Spiel Essen is about a month away and every true gamer has already prepared a list of their most wanted titles. Thus, we have a bunch of Geek lists dealing with the hottest titles for Essen. Probably the most popular one of these lists is the Essen preview curated by W. Eric Martin himself, followed by SPIEL'18 Most Wanted Games Tracker.

We (NSKN Games) are fortunate enough to have not one, but two games on these geek lists, very close to the top. This is a first for us, and we want to think this is a result of: our hard work over the past 8 years, famous designers added into the mix, good artwork, marketing effort and a bit of luck.

But this is not really about us or our games. If you look at the hottest games from past years - 2015 through 2017 - you will discover that Spiel's most anticipated games ended up being retail hits, with very few exceptions. More than 80% of the games listed in each year's top 25 most desired games before Essen came through and made the Essen hot list and later made a splash in retail, with numbers in the thousands (most of them) or even the tens of thousands (e.g. Terraforming Mars).

Quite recently, I have had the chance to speak face to face with one of the buyers of a major distributors, so I asked the following question: "what are, in your opinion, the most anticipated board games of the fall of 2018?". I expected an answer looking like a small subset of the games listed in the aforementioned geek lists. I did not expect to hear one of our titles listed in there, but latest games from Stefan Feld and Uwe Rosenberg should have made it to the list. Well, if not that, how about Newton made by CMON Global Limited? It turns out my expectations were completely out of line. The hottest titles from where they stand are: latest release of Magic: The Gathering and whatever Asmodee and WizKids have up their sleeve, for example the new Star Wars: X-Wing (Second Edition).

In fact, even after a few follow-up questions like "Is Spiel Essen affecting the way you look at hot titles at all?", no new games made it to the list. The reality for small and medium publishers is that huge marketing budgets are dwarfing any other effort to promote board games. Carpe Diem, Teotihuacan: City of Gods, Architects of the West Kingdom, Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game or Reykholt are apparently not on the watch list of relevant buyers from the key distributors.

The effect of this affects everyone on the distribution chain: hot Essen titles will be stocked in very limited quantities by retailers, thus small/medium publishers are keeping print runs short to avoid over stocking (which can have really bad effects on cash flow and can lead even to bankruptcy) and gamers end up buying games on eBay at ridiculous prices.

Is there anything we can do - and I use "we" here to define all of us board game publishers who do not have hundreds of thousands of dollars in marketing budgets - anything at all we can come up with to compete?
My only thought is that more of us should put forces together, not in a large, fragile alliance, but rather properly consolidating, putting forces together and forming larger companies, which can start having at least a tenth of the marketing budgets of large publishers.

What do you think about this?
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