Over the last six months, my intense focus on the development of Legacy Command has considerably ramped up my engagement with my tabletop gaming hobby. I have spent an average of 15-20 hours per week watching reviews, playthroughs, tournaments, and tutorials on YouTube, as well as reading and watching interviews with legendary game designers. As I develop my own game, Legacy Command, I have been ferociously consuming any content I have at my disposal. Naturally, I fell in love with many of the games I was researching to study their mechanics and themes. But when I turned to the marketplace hoping to score used games at a discount, my jaw hit the floor - along with my heart.
Frankly, the pricing was a bit offensive to my value sensibilities. I was frustrated and angry as I found game after game listed used for a price equal to retail value. These were not Kickstarter games or collectible games, nor were they out of print (OOP) games or particularly high-demand games. I have sold items on Ebay for 20 years, and never have I seen such an unbalanced market as tabletop games. As a game designer and game enthusiast, I was deeply concerned, but also deeply curious. Thoroughly disenchanted, I turned to a tabletop gaming buy/sell/trade group on Facebook to pose the question: Are people really paying retail value (or more in some cases!) for used games? And, what is the reason for such a strange market phenomenon?
As a child, I spent a great deal of time playing board games and card games. Like many people, I’m sure, they hold a special place in my heart. Much of my childhood was spent at my grandparents’ house, playing old games and new. With siblings, cousins, and neighbors, I played RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons and HeroQuest along with some of my then favorite classics such as Monopoly, Mouse Trap, Candy Land, Mall Madness, Guess Who, GirlTalk, Dreamphone (yes, really, don’t judge), Trouble, Sorry, and more. Too many to list! Today, I play “Trudvang Chronicles” with a weekly group, along with another session of random games. I have been big into Living Card Games (LCGs) because I like the idea of a cyclical release format. Legend of the Five Rings and Netrunner have had my attention lately, and I’m starting to shift towards Keyforge (Nov 15th!) and Warhammer AOS Champions for their unique mechanics. Magic: the Gathering has never been my thing. I was too deep into POGS (yes, really, don’t judge), and comics. And now, as an adult, I could never see myself getting very deep into an open-ended Collectible Card Game (CCG). I’ve heard way too many stories about the pay-to-win nature of these collectable games. Even with ban lists and the like, I can’t be bothered to invest in the MTG system. Frankly, I’m just not a fan of the mechanics. I’m especially not interested since we are currently in a kind of “renaissance” of tabletop gaming and card games. Investing in a system that is kept alive merely by virtue of a 25 year old juggernaut ecosystem seems to lack excitement and imagination for me. Beyond these reasons, my impression after so much deep research is that the community itself has a few too many accounts of toxic competition and cheating for my taste.
All this is to say:
Collectible Card Games and Collectible Board Games are not the scope of this blog post.
Though, some of the resources below may help collectors.
The scope of the problem I am addressing here is with modern games that are in-print and otherwise not rare or special in any discernible way that are in used condition being sold at or near retail prices.
So, collectibles aside, why is it so hard for someone like me who is rekindling a love for tabletop gaming (not to mention doing research for my own game design) to score some games at a deeper discount than the paltry 10% or so that seems to be the norm? Let’s first explore some argument points.
Argument #1: “The high values of used games represent a type of culture within tabletop gaming where people want to support each other by paying the full cost of a game’s retail value, provided that the game isn’t missing any pieces or damaged.”
Rebuttal to Argument #1: This inflation of value over actual value is poison for a marketplace, and it hurts everyone in a community more over time. By paying these inflated prices for used games, the prices for used games will stay high, which raises the barrier for people who are looking to get started with a more mild investment. Ultimately, this has the effect of throttling the growth of the community as a whole. This is bad because more growth would be beneficial to the prices for everyone by virtue of greater used market supply. It is possible that, with community support for enforcement of a standardized rubric or pricing model to regulate the market, EVERYONE would win over time. Instead, the prices are kept high, and many people are priced out entirely. The effect, again, is stifled community growth and a strangled rate of exchange.
Argument #2: “It is simple supply and demand. These are just the going rates!”
Rebuttal to Argument #2: Incorrect. First, supply would be greater if the community would support a rubric or some other regulatory device, but since they don’t as of yet, the claim of “supply vs. demand” as a pure explanation must be thrown out because the current market contains this evidence of this “willful ignorance.” Beyond that, supply and demand are not that black and white. This is a cultural norm for pricing that stems from acceptance of the conditions in the community, and it is detached from the actual supply or demand. As such, that norm can be adjusted independent of both the supply and the demand. To suggest otherwise would mean that the supply of used games is so rare that it loses 0% value in the used market. We know that this is not the case. While this is what appears to be a good percentage of the current reality, I’m proposing that these values are inflated as a result of the cultural “understanding” contained in and perpetuated by the above mentioned willful ignorance. Like Argument #1, the net effect is that this damages the community over the long-term and reduces trade exchange overall.
Argument #3: “You will be happy when you are the one selling the game and getting what you paid for it.”
Rebuttal to Argument #3: The reason this is inaccurate is due to the fact that, like most reasonable people, I am willing to accept the reality that by opening a game (or any media), I have reduced its value by some significant percentage. Typically, for most media, this is along the lines of 15-30%. Like other media such as books, video games, movies, or music, once that shrink wrap is off, you have changed the value of the media. Period. In certain circumstances, a case could be made for someone to pay full retail if the game pieces haven’t been punched out and the contents haven’t been unwrapped at all, but to me this would require a kind of personal trust that would be akin to a personal network connection (i.e., friend, family member). Once the game has been played (aka, “used,” aka “your bodily greezy human oils and bacteria have now soiled the components) even once, the value drops again by a factor of 10-20% more, depending on the hardiness of the game pieces and the actual visible wear. I would make the argument that most games, after being played 2-3 times, have reached a threshold of “used value” equal to about 40% the original retail. From which point, they continue to drop in regular smaller increments such as 2-5% per use unless protected and stored properly. However, if you think this 40% estimation is egregious, consider the following: The more you play it without further damage or wear, the intrinsic value of the game to you and your gaming gang actually INCREASES. Many gamers are familiar with this concept. At some point, you have “got your money’s worth.” If protective sleeves are used, and storage is of high quality, this threshold value point can be maintained at about 40-50% of retail. If after the threshold the game is not cared for properly, the value can and should drop to as much as 75% of retail value as time and use compile on the item itself, and extrinsic market value continues to drop.
Personally, if I get any number of hours worth of entertainment and use of a game (even one single hour), and I am no longer interested in it, AND I KNOW THAT I COULD BUY IT USED AGAIN FOR A FAIR PRICE, I would have absolutely no issue letting that game go for as much as 75% off original retail.
And why not? Even if I keep it, and have cared well for the game, it still has a degree of use and intrinsic value commensurate with the discount. Thus, by following some kind of rubric (the above is only an example) we are allowing others to experience the game at a lower barrier price than full retail. The net effect of which is no less than expanding the health and growth of the community instead of being motivated by a recovery of personal funds.
The highest risk in any purchase is on the original buyer, we need to own that as a community and stop passing it off to newbies who might not know any better.
Argument #4: “People just have no idea how to value or price their items.”
Rebuttal to Argument #4: This is correct. I have no objection to this observation. It extends past board gaming to include all things. This is precisely why I am proposing a universal pricing rubric for used board games. I am also providing resources below to pricing tools. Education is the first step to moving forward.
Argument #5: “People don’t actually want to sell their games.” (Yet, they still list them anyway. The items they don’t really want to sell, which they are listing for sale, even though they don’t want to sell said items.)
Rebuttal to Argument #5: This scenario seems to be at least a moderate percentage of the market and - How Fascinating! You are listing for sale something that you don’t actually want to sell. After some research, it seems this originates from a board game owner’s spouse requesting/suggesting/demanding that board game owner unload some of the many games they own. In response, board game owner lists game at a price that contains no actual urgency so as to reduce the likelihood of their game actually selling. However, by some wonder, those who have not put any time into research or education on fair market prices for the game manage to justify buying it at the inflated price that does not reflect a used status. Whether initiated by a spouse, or by the owner who wants to make room or recover money but is not motivated by pricing that is based in reality, the solution to this is the same: Education. Buyers need to be educated on resources and tools to understand board game pricing. Further, this scenario would be less of a deception (both to the spouse and to the buyers) if there was a universal pricing rubric. Again, another case for such a tool to exist.
TableTop Game Trade Tools
In the name of considering as many games as I can to inform the design of Legacy Command, I have been building a list of games to try. Much to my dismay, the used values of these games are not much cheaper than the retail values. As you can imagine by now, this was much of the motivation for my crafting this blog post. However, the experience has led me on a quest to compile the greatest buyer resources for finding games at discount prices. I am, of course, also motivated to discover better sources for my gaming research. Additionally, these tools can be used by sellers so as to discontinue their feigned ignorance and take responsibility for being a positive force in the community instead of a (no offense) parasitic force. This guide was built using the suggestions and recommendations of an overwhelming number of community members who felt just as I do. I felt compelled to gather it all together for the benefit of the community. Based on the incredible feedback I received in my buy/sell/trade Facebook group, I have compiled the following resources, and organized them into 4 categories:
Category 1 - “Analog Methods”
I am calling these “Analog” because they require some type of in-person interaction, scouting, and/or traveling. They may require some internet resources to arrange (Craigslist, etc) but the success of a discount in this category is based on some luck and timing relating to your physical location.
Flea Markets/Swap Meets
Good Will or other Second Hand Stores
Larger Retail Store Sales or Closeouts (GameStop, Barnes n’ Noble, etc)
FLGS (Friendly Local Gaming Store, Shop where board/card games are sold and usually played)
Category 2 - “Discount Websites”
This category is bound by unpredictable frequency of cycles, limited availability, and higher competition. While being an obviously viable option for most, buyers will have to strike a bit of luck and timing to make it worth the grind. Also, this is a mix of resources. Some are better for new, some are better for used. How much is an hour worth to you? If you spend an hour searching for a deal, and your time is worth $20 or more an hour, any discount starts to seem arbitrary. A deeper discussion there, but something to keep in mind if you assign actual monetary value to your time (which many do).
Miniature Market (www.miniaturemarket.com)
Cool Stuff Inc (www.coolstuffinc.com)
Publisher Websites (Fantasy Flight, etc., occasionally have clearance and closeouts)
Noble Knight (www.nobleknight.com)
Board Game Co (https://boardgameco.com/)
BoardGameGeek Market (http://boardgamegeek.com/geekmarket)
BoardGameGeek Forums (Create lists, post in "looking to buy" forums, etc)