Force Friday, the highly-anticipated launch day for the Star Wars: The Force Awakens toys, collectibles and gadgets, officially entered our calendar of geek holidays on September 4th. Hundreds of fans gathered in line, some at midnight, others at regular opening times, for a chance to land coveted merchandise from the upcoming Star Wars movie. Amidst the sea of plastic lightsabers, gigantic action figures, wookie plushies and other, more mundane toys, one of our kind was snuck in without fanfare by Fantasy Flight Games: The Force Awakens X-Wing Core Set.
Guess who was not invited to this party?
If you said "my friendly local game store" you would be correct.
We first learned that there could be a new X-Wing set on the horizon when a series of leaked photos started cropping up on the internet a few months ago. The photos confirmed our suspicions that something was in the works for the new movie (we noticed that three part numbers were 'skipped' in the sequence of X-Wing releases: one of them turned out to be this set), but it was not until 10:30 PM on Thursday September 3rd that we received an official communication from FFG concerning this item.
So why was the hobby channel not included in the Force Friday promotion? After all, isn't it here, on these gaming tables, that the X-Wing community is nurtured and grown? Did FFG turn its back on the tier of the industry that is responsible for 87% of their sales? More importantly, do we have a right to be upset for being left out?
Well, yes and no.
Let's be honest, I was pretty irate when our suspicions were confirmed. Our company invests a lot of time, resources and payroll supporting X-Wing, and for a number of very good reasons:
- We love Star Wars and we love this game,
- FFG has a long history of treating us as a partner,
- X-Wing is a solid game that brings happiness to our customers and,
- It makes us lots of money.
Being left out felt like a heavy handed slap to the face but, after taking a few minutes to absorb the news and calm down, I started piecing together what I believe are the reasons for not being included:
Our industry is young (and small). Let's face it, tabletop game sales on the scale we are currently seeing is a fairly new development. As large as that scale may appear to our eyes, it is still only a tiny fraction of the general toy market. As far as the big boys are concerned (and I would say that Disney qualifies as big), we're not even a blip on the radar. The fact that FFG was considered for inclusion in Force Friday is, in it of itself, a small miracle.
They are not in control. In Thursday's email announcing the new set, FFG stated that "Today is the first day that we can talk to you all about this product and we are working very hard to get these to you as quickly as possible." I believe this statement to be true and, had I been in their shoes, I probably would have complied with the same gag order in order to participate, especially given the scope of the event.
There is a bigger picture. True, some of the established X-Wing clientele rushed to mass market outlets and purchased the set early, denying those sales to the hobby market. But it is also true that a lot of you called us to ask if we had it (we do and we thank you for thinking about us). Placing X-Wing starters in outlets like Target and Barnes & Noble allows for added exposure and the possibility of creating a new hobbyist that would eventually trickle back into the hobby stores.
We cannot be trusted. Having been in the gaming industry for well over two decades, I am painfully aware that many industry professionals still treat this business as a hobby. I severely doubt that, had FFG been able to reveal these sets to hobby retailers, they would have been able to keep their mouths shut about it. Time and time again, store owners have demonstrated their inability to follow simple requests like "don't spoil it" (the early leak of the Magic Hellvault contents), "don't sell it on eBay" (promo, demo or early release copies of games), "don't sell it before street date" (Magic pre-release leftovers, D&D books, etc. etc. etc.)
So, should we be mad? If so, we should start by being mad at ourselves.
We cannot demand the respect and trust of our manufacturing partners if we insist on behaving like slobbering fanboys and petulant children. Inclusion in the 'big boy' club will come when we grow our industry to the level it rightfully deserves AND we behave in a professional and mature manner in our business endeavors (even if they happen to involve selling happiness in a box).
Until then, we should make some lemonade from this lemon and make sure that newly recruited Force Friday X-Wing pilots have a place to call home when they take that first big step into our world.