This is something that's bugged me for ages, and I'd appreciate any über-Fools' weighing in on it.The big U.S. game manufacturers protest that the public won't pay more than $30 for a game (and my understanding is that they're more or less right), so they have to cut corners in production quality. But the games that have been taking Germany (and the hobby sector in other countries) by storm sell there, on average, for 45DM to 50DM -- roughly $25 to $28. They come with top-quality wooden, plastic and pewter -- _pewter!_ -- playing pieces, have mouthwatering graphics, are developed by designers who are recognized for their work, and sell like crazy. The boards lie flat, and the cardboard counters punch out cleanly with the lightest touch. When the games contain plastic pieces, the customer doesn't have to cut them off the sprues with an X-Acto knife. Yet U.S. companies say that if they put the same effort into a game, they'd have to charge $40 or more for it. Why? Why is America, this supposed wonder of can-do industrial ingenuity, totally incapable of producing a decent game and pricing it affordably? Because those games aren't mass-market items, they say, and so they have to be priced commensurately with their smaller niche-market production runs.But that's a circular argument: The games aren't under $30 because they're not mass-marketed, but they're not mass-marketed because they're not under $30. It's not as if these companies don't wield enough marketing and distribution clout not only to mass-market decent games but to make the public want them with all the fervor it feels for cosmetics and cars and bleeping electronic gizmos. But when Hasbro, for example, gets into the designer game sector, one of two things happens:* It treats the games halfheartedly, as a sop thrown to the "specialty" game market, like when it bought the rights to Reiner Knizia's Flinke Pinke, renamed it Quandary, did its usual grinning-family-on-the-back packaging job and jacked the price up from $10 to $35 to cash in on the niche market's higher average price point.* It somehow _forgets to market the games at all,_ as it seems to have done with Lord of the Rings. Reports are coming in of Wizards of the Coast and Game Keeper store employees -- and even managers -- who've never heard of the game, even though it's made by their parent company, and insist that _if such a thing existed, they'd know about it!_As for game _development_ . . . fuhgeddaboutit. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is great, but it's a fluke. Most of the time, Hasbro's idea of innovation is something along the lines of Pokémon Clue. The tradition, inherited from disappearing subsidiaries Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley, is to buy games with proven track records and coast on them: Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit, Mille Bornes, Jenga, Ouija, even flagship game Monopoly were all bought (or, in some cases, simply ripped off) from outside designers.Why can't America compete? The only conclusion I can draw is that _it doesn't want to._ Which, frankly, strikes me as bizarre. Who ever heard of a good capitalist seeing a market and not wanting to dominate it? There must be some hidden benefit in keeping the game market dominated by simplistic, badly made products.Like AOL's ability to dominate its market despite a chronically dismal customer service record, this is a fundamental business issue that I think someone needs to take a good, hard look at.
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