The Worldwide Battle for Zendikar Fat Pack Shortage – What Went Wrong?
I am back but not on my normal stomping ground of Cube. Today we will be taking a look at a community issue that raised its head recently and impacted many players including myself.
In the beginning
Fat Packs were introduced to Magic as part of the Mercadian Masques expansion (1999) at the same time I left the game for the first time (it wasn’t their fault!). Since then for every set there has been a Fat Pack, the contents have changed over time, they have over time contain the story books for the set, player guides, rules, poster you name it along with a number of boosters of the new set. In 9th Edition (2005) they changed to become very new-player friendly including a land pack of 40 lands that helped you build decks with the booster packs contained.
When Zendikar came around these lands were of the full art variety and a great source to pick up good quantities of the lands. This was the first mainstream product to have full art lands previously only seen in parody sets (Unglued and Unhinged). Zendikar is often cited as the point Magic player numbers exploded which also brought along a much greater appreciation of the financial side with online retailers all over the world becoming names Magic players began to recognize and use as a vital resource. These lands over the years began to increase in value and now trade around the £2-3 mark. So if you bought a Fat Pack back then you got around £100 of basic land cards sitting in your binders, not shabby.
In the present day Magic is now returning and preparing to Battle for Zendikar, and we get 80 basic lands in a Fat Pack…
The starter gun was fired by yours truly with a simple tweet to Wizards wandering if the Fat Packs would indeed include full art lands again. They responded.
Magic players love value and very quickly did the Fat Pack Math
80 basic full art lands * 50p (general UK retailer price) = £40. MSRP of Fat Pack £30. We haven’t even cracked all the boosters inside…..
It was a full on gold rush with people bankrolling orders for as many Fat Packs as they could muster, free money is always nice. People were ordering Fat Packs instead of booster boxes, why wouldn’t you!
On 23rd September a week and a half before release I received an email from the company I had placed an order for two fat packs from Battle for Zendikar. They were very sorry to inform me that they had received less stock than anticipated and were allocating on first come first serve basis, they were refunding me my money and offering £5 store credit.
I was obviously disappointed and vented my frustrations publicly citing the company by name and lamenting the poor business practice of letting so many order without having stock to cover. This is not an approach I recommend.
However after some responses and conversations it became quickly apparent that the majority of retailers worldwide had been suddenly informed that their orders could not be satisfied by distributors. I removed the original post and clarified with a new post to try out more information regarding the situation. You can find that post here.
So what went wrong?
I will not be naming specific retailers or distributors or citing names or numbers. Quite frankly there isn’t enough transparent and verifiable data and I don’t want to potentially label someone unfairly.
I have been in conversation with the retailer that my order was placed to try and understand how I failed to receive my product and will try and follow things through the supply chain. I obviously don’t know that this is exactly how things work but is a reasonable perception for a consumer to have.
Consumer – want as many Fat Packs as they can get and place orders with retailers
Retailers – forward on orders to distributors in many cases highlighting the extremely high demand, asking relevant questions like “Are you sure I can get all these?”
Distributor – takes orders from retailers and orders from Wizards, waits to see what their allocation from Wizards will be but do not tell retailers there will be a supply problem with the higher numbers.
Wizards – look at sales data of previous sets in order to figure out print runs and number of products, this makes sense for Magic as a whole if player numbers and purchases are showing trending up then you meet the demand but you aren’t over supplying if there is a downturn. The trend on Fat Packs has been flat/down over the past few sets. Looking at that Wizards doesn’t want to print products that cost them money and don’t sell so they cut back on Fat Packs/keep the same as previous sets. Remember that these are often set up and printed well ahead of time. They then send out the allocations to distributors which is very similar to previous sets.
Distributor – at some point (let’s assume it was this week because that’s when consumers found out) realize that the allocation is nowhere near enough to supply all their retailers and contact them to confirm how much they can supply.
Retailer – realizes that they have nowhere near enough to fulfil all their orders and has to decide how to allocate, do they put limits on number per order, satisfy all orders in timestamp received, etc
Consumer – receives an email telling them they cannot get the free money they ordered or less cynically the full art lands for limited or present for their brother.
There are no winners (unless you still got your full chunk of Fat Packs) in the chain above, no one wants to let customers down and from Wizards to retailers that is what has happened, retailers who have refunded quickly or as in my case going even further by way of apology is a good damage limitation but costly in terms of bank and IT system usage. As is normal when things in Magic go wrong most players ultimately blame Wizards, is this fair? Wasn’t it the collective greed of the community the problem?
Just take a moment and re-read my section in the chain above on Wizards. This is a very reasonable business model until you factor in that all Magic sets are not created equal. I would bet that if you asked anyone in R&D from Mark Rosewater down would Fat Packs with full art lands in them sell well compared to other Fat Packs they would look at you as if you asked the simplest question in the world ever.
So that leaves to me three feasible lines:
1. Wizard’s doesn’t understand the secondary market or doesn’t care.
2. Wizards do not want to sell Fat Packs instead of booster boxes.
3. The person deciding print runs, amount of each type of product to create isn’t a person knowledgeable of Magic: The Gathering, and isn’t flexible enough to have input into the print runs and ebb and flow with expected demand freely.
Of those number 3 is the most worrying as it leads to the same issue repeating in the future.
Regardless once the demand became apparent early communication from Wizards through the chain would have helped retailers manage the order process much better.
For me the problem lies with anyone in the chain that understood how many Fat Packs would be available, when they understood and when they realized that demand was extending beyond this and if they didn’t say anything. I would think that distributors and even some retailers would understand the general trend of product availability and how Wizards manage this and would have used that to temper the numbers accepted in orders of the Fat Packs. If they did know and still accepted these orders then they were either hoping for a change in tact from Wizards, looking for blind luck or fiendishly leading their customers on until the last moment.
I see two main fixes to this issue moving forward:
1. Wizards needs to print Fat Packs to meet demand much more closely.
2. Wizards needs to be more transparent earlier in the supply chain cycle to clarify availability of product and methodology of stock creation.
I think doing the first may be unrealistic and even unhealthy but the second boils down to good old fashioned communication, it does no-one any good to destroy customer faith and perception.
Fat Packs have always been a single print run and I wouldn’t expect this to change for BFZ so for those that got some rejoice and if you see one locally grab them while you can.
Community Question – What are your feelings towards limited print run products in Magic: The Gathering? And how do they affect your experience of the game overall?
Thanks for reading,
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