Since 1993, Magic the Gathering has practically been a household name in the trading card game community. Wizards of the Coast, the publishers of MTG, have done a fantastic job throughout the decades at building and fostering a loyal community of players and enthusiasts — or have they?
Unknown to most, Wizards of the Coast is actually a subsidiary of Hasbro and has been for quite some time. Hasbro is a large conglomerate specializing in toys and board games and they started working with Wizards of the Coast in 1999. While the relationship has largely been beneficial to the core of the game, critics are now making the argument that Hasbro’s recent decisions are killing the game.
Being a card game, Magic the Gathering was traditionally played in person and local game stores were often best suited for hosting these events. It gave players an opportunity to not only play the game but to also purchase more cards. It was also a great opportunity for the game store owner to sell food, merchandise, and promote foot traffic to their store. This begs the question: just how much of the brand’s success can be attributed to the efforts of local game stores? Without retailers hosting weekly community events, players wouldn’t have had an opportunity to come together and collaborate.
To answer this question, it must first be understood that the vast majority of retail commerce has historically been conducted via distributor/retailer networks. Hasbro sells the cards to distributors and the distributors sell the cards to retailers. The retailers then sell the cards to the customers. This pattern of commerce was more or less found in every retail operation on the planet.
With so many hands in the pie, it’s no surprise that some of the profits are lost to the various middlemen in the chain of distribution. By comparison, a direct-to-consumer model would eliminate the need for both distributors and retailers. A great example of this is the automobile manufacturer Tesla. Tesla saw no reason for car dealerships to take a piece of the pie and instead opted for a direct-to-consumer model which saved them a bunch of money.
This raises the question: why do we need the middlemen at all?
It seems that Hasbro has started to wonder the same thing. While there is no official statement from them, the general sentiment among store owners and community figures is that Hasbro is in the process of switching to a direct-to-consumer business model. This means that Hasbro will now sell more of their products directly to consumers rather than utilizing a traditional network of distributors and retailers. It’s unclear what percentage of product will continue to be sold via traditional channels.
This decision has naturally resulted in people accusing Hasbro of being a “greedy corporation ruining the game in the name of profits”. While this claim is certainly up for debate, it’s disingenuous to not acknowledge that the retail landscape as a whole has dramatically shifted in the last decade. Traditional distribution models are slow, inefficient, and antiquated. Improvements in software technology have largely replaced what distributors were originally used for. This begs the question: why wouldn’t these companies use a direct-to-consumer model?
The growth of the internet also allows for communities to be built and fostered entirely online. Perhaps Hasbro no longer has a need for offline engagement. They’ll engage customers themselves using their own social media platforms and games like MTG Arena. Perhaps they have a better pulse on customers than we think. Perhaps physical interactions are a dying phenomenon and we’ll all soon be resigned to our virtual playgrounds. Regardless, the fact remains: without the local game stores, there would be no Magic The Gathering. If confirmed to be true, Hasbro’s decision is certainly insulting to many.
What do you guys think? Is Hasbro justified in potentially pulling the plug on these game stores? Is it a decidedly greedy move by a soulless corporation or is it simply a symptom of a broader trend we are seeing in commerce?