Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Trading Game Experience: Part 1

The Trading Game Experience
Part 1 - The Customer Experience

With the release of Magic: The Gathering back in 1993 and continuing well into the 21st century with the Anime themed Yu-Gi-Oh and Full Metal Alchemist, trading card games have been a staple of the entertainment industry for well over a decade. How did this relatively new form of entertainment become so popular, and how has it managed to stay popular for years in an industry where fads come and go with the seasons? Why are people paying hundreds of dollars every few months to stay competitive when other types of games can be purchased and enjoyed for a fraction of that amount? I can explain.

Experience Nirvana
It’s possible you’ve noticed it. The term “experience” has become a marketing buzzword in the last couple of years. Its thrown around like the new “best seller” or “4 out of 5 doctors”, but what does it mean? The customer experience comprises of every aspect of a customer’s contact with the product (or service or whatever.) Those experiences directly impact the customer's view of the product and company, and their likelihood to purchase once and purchase again.

The Trading Game
The most common sort of trading game is the Trading Card Game, or TCG. Other trading games include collectable miniatures games such as D&D Miniatures, Mage Knight, and HeroClix. A few newer games don’t fit so well into the established categories, like the so-called constructible games including Pirates of the Spanish Main and Rocketman, and poker chip based Clout: Fantasy. No matter the medium, all of these games revolve around collection and play with a large assortment of individual, collectable, playing pieces, normally of varying rarity and value, sold in randomly assorted packages. Players know what game they are buying, but they never know exactly what playing pieces they will get. While these collectable pieces differ radically from one category of trading game to another, they all fit neatly into the trading game niche. For ease of discussion, I will default to the term ‘card’ throughout this document, though unless pointed out otherwise, card will mean any trading game playing piece, whether it be a die, a miniature, or a card.

What is the Trading Game Experience?
The Trading Game Experience is the interaction between the player and every aspect of the game. Unlike typical board games such as Monopoly or Parcheesi, where the experience is largely limited to the purchase at the store and the play at the family table, trading games are complex products requiring a great deal of interaction between the publisher, the retailers, the players, and of course the game itself. At each point of interaction, there is chance for the player to impressed and a chance to be disenchanted. The strongest possible trading game will have the best possible experience planned by the publisher at every point of contact. If a game is being sold by independent retailers, those retailers will be educated about the game and will know the sort of player that will most enjoy it. Online content will allow interested players the ability to learn about the game, and quickly and easily find a place to buy it, once they decide it is for them. Tournaments will be will run by enthusiastic and capable tournament organizers who, supported by the publisher, strive to make the tournament experience as entertaining and rewarding for the players as possible. The game itself will be clear and understandable, with engaging design and graphics. The rules of the game will be built with a specific sort of player in mind, and tailored to meet those players needs above all others.

In short, every aspect of the gaming experience is crafted into a unified total process with a single goal of entertaining a specific kind of customer. If you’re a publisher, do you know who those customers are? Do you know what they really want? Are you asking them? If you don’t, there’s a good chance you’ll fail.

A key concept in ‘experience management’ is this simple fact: The customer is getting an experience whether you are doing something about it or not. A publisher can manage those experiences, or they can be left to chance. Regardless, they do happen. The choice is simple, roll the dice or work a lot harder. When it comes to customer experience, most publishers roll the dice.

Obviously, not all aspects of the trading game experience can be directly managed. Publishers have limited influence over independent retailers and distributors, and practically no influence over the players. Players who have a massive amount of influence over the quality of the gaming experience (more on that later.) Not everything can be controlled, but everything can be considered. Once there is a list, you can start working on it. Start with the easy stuff.

What is your game experience like?
If you're a gamer, think about the games you play, even if they’re not trading games. What do you like about them? What annoys you, or keeps you from enjoying them as much as you think you otherwise could? Can you think of anything the publisher could do to fix those problems? Are you willing to pay an extra few bucks for each game to get exactly what you want?

If you're a publisher, think about these things as well.

Next Installment: Part 2 - Obstacles and Solutions

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

You said, "The Trading Game Experience is the interaction between the player and every aspect of the game. Unlike typical board games such as Monopoly or Parcheesi, where the experience is largely limited to the purchase at the store and the play at the family table, trading games are complex products requiring a great deal of interaction between the publisher, the retailers, the players, and of course the game itself."

I think you meant to say "monetary transaction", where you wrote "interaction".

Adam Conus said...

While the interaction I'm talking about certainly takes place at the cash register, there are many other non-sale points of contact that need to be considered. Tournaments, on-line forums, customer service departments, convention events and booths, and more. Yes, every one of these things ultimately exist to increase sales (which is really waht I'm talking about), but they do it by making the game experience better. When done perfectly, the customers really get their money's worth. When done poorly, the customers feel strong-armed into buying things they don't want. That strategy ALWAYS fails.

Adam Conus said...

I should say, that strategy always fails in the long run. In the short term, forcing players to buy things they need to compete can work, but it generates serious ill-will. That is NOT what I'm talking about.

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