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)
Ebay (Ebay should be a last resort as it carries fees and competition is higher, also Ebay sucks)
Category 3 - “Pricing Tools”
SpielBoy is the greatest tool I have seen among all of these resources. That needs to be said. Check it out for yourself.
Ebay (Use “Sold Items” option, PS - Ebay is generally a wasteland and I hate it)
Any of the sites in Category 2 could be used to help price games fairly by simply getting 5-10 prices and taking the average used sale price, then deducting $5-$10 to be sure the final asking price is fair. Also deduct shipping from your final price as the buyer will have to pay this as well, or, include the shipping in your ask price and offer “free” shipping. This is 2018, people. Please learn some online etiquette. There are books on this stuff.
Just to be sure I'm going to plug SpielBoy one more time, since this is the closest thing we have to a pricing rubric:
Category 4 - “Trading and More”
Did you know there is a subscription service for board games? Check out Board Game Exchange! The links in this section are focused on trading or otherwise exchanging games with minimal use of cash. This seems like the best use of the FB groups I’ve found, which is why they are included here and not in Category #2. Unless you can haggle down another 20%-40%, FB is not going to be worth the time. But if you do haggle, it definitely can be a win.
BoardGameGeek Forums (Create lists, post in trade forums, etc)
Board Game Exchange (https://boardgameexchange.com/)
Reddit Exchange (https://www.reddit.com/r/BoardGameExchange/)
Board Game Co (https://boardgameco.com/)
Game X Change (http://www.gogamexchange.com/)
Facebook Buy/Sell/Trade Groups (There are hundreds of these)
Proposed Ultimate Solutions
Ultimate Solution #1: STOP BUYING OVERPRICED GAMES IN THE USED MARKETS! LET’S REGULATE THIS MARKET! EDUCATE YOURSELF! BE PATIENT ENOUGH TO FIND A PRICE THAT MATCHES THE ACTUAL VALUE! MAKE THIS A COMMUNITY THAT IS MORE WELCOMING TO NEWCOMERS!
Nobody thinks someone is being heroic to pay full retail price for a used game. If someone is going to play the virtuous self-sacrificial lamb, they should do it as a seller, and take a hit to spread the joy around. I challenge everyone to offer up your games at half retail, or better! That is something to feel good about! Set a good example and maybe others will follow.
Ultimate Solution #2: A Universal Pricing Rubric. We could base this on historical sale prices of games alone (spielboy.com, BGG), but I think this is a mistake. Well, it is at least a HALF mistake. Yes, the rubric could use the pricing data but it would have to adjust for deliberate overpricing, supply/demand pollution (inaccurate sale instances), and finally the numerous variables associated with loss of value over TIME. Is it difficult? Yes. Is it impossible? Absolutely not. There could be a low price that was set by the engine, along with a high price set by the engine, along with a range based on condition in between, then, the engine could adjust for time since the game was released (and how long it was owned) and whether it is still in print or not. Truly, any number of factors could be included in this pricing engine algorithm. This is what computers are for. The bottom line is that it would become a standard for value. Any exchange could be verified by the pricing engine, this way the seller knows they are asking a fair price, and the buyer knows they are getting the best price possible without needing to negotiate or rely on luck.
The "supply and demand is all that matters" mindset is a short-sighted and willfully ignorant approach to the market of games. This is a lazy answer in the purest definition of the word: willfully ignorant. Supply and Demand is NOT the ultimate factor once buyers and sellers are educated to find optimal cost evaluation sources. This truth is self-evident and is proof that supply/demand does not exist in a vacuum. Further, if there WAS a tool such as a unifying rubric or clearing house of prices, the supply/demand would eventually become truly reliable. Today, prices are based on the whims of personal evaluations. In this self-regulating way the market behavior could be considered correct and fair on the surface. But, unless we ignore community feedback, this is found to be superficial. Example: If a sucker is willing to pay the full retail price for a used game, why should we stop them? Why, indeed. But when we look deeper, here is why that creates toxicity: Because over time, it will hurt the community by making the exchange too unforgiving, especially to new members (life blood) of the community such as myself. This limiting dynamic ultimately hampers community growth.
With the technology available today, it absolutely IS possible to include MUCH more in a price than supply and demand. The algorithm could be elegant and fair to the extent that it could potentially totally regulate the market. It would end up being like, "did you use the rubric to get this price?" and if your answer is no, you simply won't sell it. Because they simply won’t buy it. Fact is, this kind of regulatory dynamic is healthy for a community of trade. Relying on simple supply/demand is the most rudimentary form of economy, and often favors the more experienced traders. The last 5 years have changed the way games are made, sold, and traded. And, the changes are only going to get more extreme. It may feel good to be on top at the moment as experienced traders, but unless something changes, relying on this experience alone will work against these same community members in the future. There will always be a place for direct exchange and barter, but there is certainly room for improvement in terms of how the trade market can support growth of the tabletop community, which ultimately benefits all. I understand the occasional case for this romantic sense of the tabletop community being small and tight-knit, but in reality that is nothing more than nostalgic romance. To fight progress and change can only lead a community to fracturing and a lack of coherence. From a community growth and psychology standpoint (my main fields of study), I consider the current trade atmosphere a threat to itself. Maybe community health isn't something everyone thinks about with board games, but as a designer myself, I am very interested in creating as much fairness and transparency as possible because that is how communities thrive. Not to mention, people putting healthy community growth before their need to line their own pockets will generate a better culture over time, as well.
As a final point, it is worth pointing out that purchasing new board games is not an environmentally aware solution to the problem of overpriced used games.
I’m going to repeat that, with jazz hands this time:
Purchasing new board games is not an environmentally aware solution to the problem of overpriced used games.
Accessibility to gently used tabletop games, at reasonably discounted prices can be a pillar of higher environmental consciousness in the tabletop gaming community.
If the tabletop gaming community was pricing their used games appropriately, there would be less need for the purchase of new game copies. High used prices allow for the used market to strongly encourage buyers into simply buying new instead of used. Any buyer who can do a lick of research quickly identifies the retail price on a used game as the scam that it is, and they just default to adding another new copy to the ecosystem. Board games contain plastics, paper, cardboard, and inks, and carry with them a built in fossil fuel cost and carbon footprint. The facilities that manufacture and distribute games have a carbon footprint that would only be offset if they were using renewable energy. One of the main tenets in sustainability is Reuse. By making the used market for board games more accessible and attractive to both new gamers and existing gamers, we are encouraging the Reuse of a post-production product (a product already introduced into the market ecosystem) over the purchase of a brand new set of components. Maybe, in time, we can usher in an age of near 100% renewable materials being used to manufacture games. Some companies are doing this already, and we will likely see this become the gold standard of what it means to be a responsible game maker.
In addition to psychology and community development, I also study environmental sustainability. I am slimming down some PhD programs to bring together knowledge from 20 years of research and passion. So, again, I don't expect everyone to think the way I do about this industry, but to me, this is the future of where the community and the industry of gaming are going. This is the HEART.
This is not a point to make anyone stop buying new games - I know I personally consider it a sustainability trade-off. Most decisions we make these days are a sustainability trade-off. It is ridiculous to feel any guilt about such an eco-friendly hobby. A single tabletop game can provide hundreds of hours of entertainment, uses no electricity, and brings people together. Connection is crucially important to maintaining mental health and social context for the individual. This is how a sense of meaning can be reinforced for the members of a community, which is where the true challenge of sustainability lies. Connection makes us care about the future more. Gaming can be a vitally important catalyst for building strong community! Hell, look at sports team enthusiasts! They are practically a religious cult (Go Sox, Go Bruins, Go Celtics, Go Patriots). However, this is why the impact of a skewed-value used market for games is something worth seriously considering. With sports, it is like the feeling when you pay for an overpriced scalped ticket. The team doesn’t benefit, you got raked over the coals, and the seller walks away with a fat wad they didn’t earn. In this same way, as a relatively new member of the modern tabletop gaming community, the current market has me feeling the same grimy, nasty feeling I feel with ticket scalpers. It isn’t an exact analogy, but the feeling is similar for me, and that is my point. And, I'm definitely not alone in this complaint.
Maybe my displeasure means very little to you, dear reader, but I’m hoping to at least be a blip on a radar for someone. Hopefully, to anyone reading this who will ever buy or sell a game. Games are my business now, and my industry, and I care deeply for the power of games. Our psychology is hard-wired to make what we learn in games valuable, and applicable to life. So yes, I do think this was worth typing all of this out. If you read any of my other blog posts, you will find I'm heart-attack dead serious about the power of games.
Next time you consider selling your game for anything less than 20% discount off retail, my hope is that you will think twice. I challenge you to think differently. Think about the community, think about the environment, and think about what would have felt welcoming to you as a new gamer when you were first starting out. Pay it forward!
Thanks for reading.