Asmodee, the publisher of such games at Formula D and 7 Wonders, has been making waves in the past several months. They cannot seem to go even a week without someone comparing them to the evil Games Workshop. A recent announcement from Christian T Petersen, CEO of Fantasy Flight Games, sent some users on board game geek intoa tizzy. In this post, I will, to the best of my ability, break down the recent events at Asmodee, the recent FFG announcements and what this will mean for the gaming hobby.
1. What is Asmodee?
Asmodee is a French board game publisher. Founded in 1995, Asmodee has published many hits like Formula D, Dice Town, Ca$h and Guns and Hanabi. Asmodee has a reputation for making not just good games but for making excellent components for games. This is why Wizkids and Pokemon gave Asmodee the European publishing rights to their respective intellectual properties.
I’ve been a fan of Asmodee’s games. Their gameartwork and component quality are almost Fantasy Flight or Days of Wonder level in their excellence.
So what’s the humdrum about?
2. August 25, 2015: Asmodee buys Days of Wonder
Days of Wonder, the publisher of Ticket to Ride and Memoir ’44, was bought out by Asmodee. This took the game world by surprise.
Days of Wonder, the Los Altos, CA based company, makes a small cache of games with high quality components. This purchase gave Asmodee a substantial U.S. presence. According to Forbes, this acquisition would not affect the overall direction of Days of Wonder. They would act as a studio in the Asmodee Group.
This news was greeted by users on BGG very positively. “Can’t think of a negative”, “Two class acts merging”. Positive post after positive post.
3. November 17, 2015: Asmodee acquires Fantasy Flight Games
Paris-based board game giant Asmodee announced on Monday that it is merging with independent U.S. publisher Fantasy Flight Games. It’s Asmodee’s second major North American acquisition in the last three months, and more evidence of the company’s desire to expand out of European markets.
The merger works well for both concerns. FFG now has access to the European market for its games and vice versa for Asmodee.
Asmodee was no longer a small fish. They made their move. And we welcomed our new Asmodee overlords. If Asmodee buys one more game line, they can form Voltron.
4. January 6, 2016: Asmodee buys Catan
So Asmodee can form Voltron now. They’ve acquired the rights to Settlers of Catan from Mayfair Games.
The press release from Mayfair Games is a boilerplate.
It says the “Catan Studio” was acquired by Asmodee for English language rights. Which, in layman terms, means everywhere but France and Quebec.
With the rights to Catan, Asmodee now has a strong Euro portfolio to go along with their FFG and DoW line up.
But the news didn’t stop there…
5. History is repeating itself: the evils of Hasbro
The Hassenfeld Brothers, Hasbro for short, founded their company in 1923. They didn’t become a toy manufacturer until the 1940’s. They struck gold in the 1960’s when they got the rights to make a doll for boys: the G.I. Joe action figure.
In 1983, Hasbro acquired major game publisher Milton Bradley. Hasbro acquired major game publisher Parker Brothers in 1991. And 1998 and 1999 saw Hasbro add Avalon Hill and Wizards of the Coast to their menagerie. Gamers are keenly aware of this history. The acquisition of Avalon Hill by a department store game publisher like Hasbro was ill received.
And for good reason. Hasbro had little interest in reprinting Avalon Hill’s wonderful catalog of high strategy games. Hasbro only wanted the rights so they wouldn’t have any competition.
The question on everyone’s mind is: Will Asmodee do the same with the wonderful catalog of games they have now acquired? The answer is: probably not. Hasbro spent a lot of money on all those brands. When Hasbro wouldn’t reprint games, little publishers came out of the wood work to make games. Hasbro’s attempt to eliminate the competition has only made the competition more competent. I doubt that Asmodee is going to do the same. Unlike Hasbro, Asmodee wants its subsidiaries to continue to do what they do best: publish awesome games.
6. History is repeating itself: the evils of Games Workshop
Asmodee Group has released a statement regarding a new pricing policy for its distributors. This has sent the board game world into its current tizzy. There have been howls from right field that Asmodee has become another Games Workshop.
The announcement about new pricing was met with great apprehension. Why acquire all these companies and then announce that you’re updating your pricing? The CEO of Fantasy Flight Games, Christian Petersen, gave an interview to clarify the policy.
Asmodee, and therefore FFG, want to nurture the local game stores over the online game stores. This is the heart of the new pricing policy. Asmodee values the local game stores and the new customers they bring to the hobby over the online game stores. As such, they are going to give better discounts to local game stores than to online game stores.
This can be taken to mean that local game stores will get a steeper discount. But more than likely it means that online stores will get worse discounts while local game stores will get the existing discount. Which means that Asmodee is simply increasing their own margins at the detriment of online stores. Coupled with their massive acquisitions, this can be seen to be bad news for our hobby. A good game company is now buying everything it can and screwing over its customer base.
Games Workshop indeed.
7. Of Monopolies and Paydays
Asmodee’s price restructuring was met by lots of apprehension and teeth gnashing by gamers. But owners of local game stores were very happy with the news. Jeff from Out of the Box
was very vocal about it. He believes he can sell more Asmodee products with such a scheme. Other game shop owners have said the same thing.
This new policy will undoubtedly mean that if you buy games online, you will be paying more than before. Before you might now get 25% less than MSRP whereas you’ve been enjoying a 30+% discount heretofore. This policy will level the playing field between online and local game stores. It sucks for people who buy their games online because they will just be paying more.
But what about those of us with a local game store? How will it affect us? First off: it won’t affect us financially. We will not get games cheaper than before–it’s just that online stores will get their games more expensive than before. Second off: it will drive local demand. This means that your local stores will see an influx in consumers. People who shop for games online are not opposed to making local purchase when the prices are comparable
And this should make things more comparable.
This means that local game clubs (like the Muskegon Area Gamers) could see growth. This is the true goal of the new pricing. Petersen said he estimates that 10% to 20% of the people in our hobby leave each year. This means he needs more gamers to make up the deficit. I agree with him here. We see gamers leave our group all the time. This means we need to constantly recruit.
With all of these mergers going on, the specter of antitrust has reared its head. Do all these recent acquisitions along a new price structure constitute a monopoly or unfair market practice? Probably not. Asmodee is simply paying for a more prominent location in the stores of its choosing–the stores that Asmodee believes will drive demand long term.
The real question is: with Asmodee becoming the size it has now become…when will Disney or Hasbro make them an offer to join their collective?