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Svarog's Den - Board Games

Links: Tiny Epic Crimes Gets Meta, Magic Gets Griddled, and Pikachu Gets Pulled

by W. Eric Martin

• In its crowdfunding fulfillment efforts for the game Tiny Epic Crimes, publisher Gamelyn Games got to uncover crimes related to the game itself! Here’s an excerpt from the full story on its October 24, 2023 Kickstarter update:

Last week, one of our project backers alerted us to a concerning Facebook Marketplace post originating from southern California. The post advertised the sale of brand new board games by the pallet, with a prominent display of Tiny Epic Crimes and Tiny Epic Crimes: Kingpins on top of the sealed cartons.

This discovery raised suspicions, given that we are currently in the final stages of fulfilling our campaign and the games are not yet available for mass market distribution. Furthermore, we have approximately 2,000 backers eagerly awaiting their games, and the last known tracking information places these games in southern California.

To make matters worse, just before the discovery of this post, our fulfillment partner informed us that the packages in this area were officially missing. Adding insult to injury, these missing packages were marked as delivered within our third-party tracking software.

The situation at hand was both intriguing and worrisome. It was essential for us to investigate this matter further to ensure the integrity of our project and protect the interests of our backers.

Congrats to Michael and Nathan at Gamelyn Games for fine detective work that brought the games home!

• Retailer Gary Ray from Black Diamond Games in California always posts interesting observations about the game industry from a retailer’s perspective. Here are excerpts from an October 24, 2023 post:

Things have changed. We’re in a new era in the game trade, one where we have an “embarrassment of riches,” during uncertain economic times. We have far more excellent product available than our local markets can consume, and yet, nothing so amazing that it takes a community by storm. This creates a tremendous churn, and as the economy slows, tremendous overstock everywhere.

The richness in gaming has lead to over buying, overstock, and unprofitability, as we surround ourselves with wonders we could have only dreamt of 20 years ago. You want Magic? How about some D&D in your Magic? How about Doctor Who or 40K? How about more Magic with your Magic?

Board games? There are hundreds of great games that move so fast, they’re like magazines (the infamous periodical model). If I look at the best “game of the year” on various award lists, I have in stock somewhere between 4 and 9 over the last 20 years. Evergreens are falling to the blight of over production. I loved you, 19 award winning, out of print, Thurn and Taxis… [Editor’s note: Ray is referring to the 19 “Awards & Honors” on the BGG game page. —WEM]

It’s not uncommon for me to put a case of an amazingly reviewed board game on clearance, after selling zero copies, while getting in another dribble of a game like Heat (from the same publisher). It’s a great game, just ask my customers who already owned it before I got it!

Part of our overstock problem is not only gauging quality and demand, but gauging availability and demographic. A narrowly focused, interesting game, available before I can get it, is far more dangerous than a family game, with wider appeal, in the same availability circumstances. If it’s true that brick and mortar is only 20% or so of hobby game sales, expect this to continue or get worse.

Ray writes more about the current Magic situation here, here, and here.

The short take: Sales are up for Magic: The Gathering as a whole, but Wizards of the Coast is producing so many sets that people are pickier about what they buy, with some sets barely moving, which means you get stuck with more inventory, which leads to a lower gross margin return on investment and lots of cash tied up in undesirable product. One quote: “Commander Masters saw its value plummet days after release. I’ve never seen a Magic product sell [all right] on a release weekend and simply stop selling entirely on the following Monday. The market price dropped to below cost that quickly.”

• On the plus(?) side for Magic, Wizards of the Coast is partnering with IHOP, a.k.a. International House of Pancakes, to sell Magic-themed pancakes that give IHOP Rewards members free content in WotC’s online MTG Arena environment.

This ad copy…woof:

• To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, Pokémon Company International created a Pokémon card that featured Pikachu in a felt hat and painted in the style of van Gogh’s “Self-Portrait With Grey Felt Hat” from 1887.

Unfortunately, to quote from an Oct. 19, 2023 NY Times article by Claire Moses:

“As a result of recent incidents during which a small group of individuals created an undesirable situation,” Lisette van den Brink, on behalf of the museum, said by email, “we have had to make the difficult decision to no longer make the special Pikachu x Van Gogh Museum promo card available in the museum.”

The collaboration was aimed at attracting new audiences to the museum. But what the institution did not foresee was chaos.

Footage that circulated on social media showed a frenzy in the gift shop as people lined up to get the cards, and resellers gathered outside.

• Speaking of art, this last item isn’t specifically related to the game industry, but given how some companies have moved to use AI-generated art in their products, I thought I’d include it anyway.

On MIT Techmnology Review, Melissa Heikkilä writes about Nightshade, a digital tool that “lets artists add invisible changes to the pixels in their art before they upload it online so that if it’s scraped into an AI training set, it can cause the resulting model to break in chaotic and unpredictable ways.”

Ben Zhao, a professor at the University of Chicago, is leading the team that made Nightshade, which also made Glaze, “a tool that allows artists to ‘mask’ their own personal style to prevent it from being scraped by AI companies”. From the article:

The team intends to integrate Nightshade into Glaze, and artists can choose whether they want to use the data-poisoning tool or not. The team is also making Nightshade open source, which would allow others to tinker with it and make their own versions. The more people use it and make their own versions of it, the more powerful the tool becomes, Zhao says. The data sets for large AI models can consist of billions of images, so the more poisoned images can be scraped into the model, the more damage the technique will cause.

The image below was provided by the researchers to demonstrate how an image prompt for “car” or “hat” can be corrupted once poisoned images are incorporated into the AI model:


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