Friday, April 11, 2014

Paizo's Pathfinder Miniatures: Self-Defeating Business Decisions

I'm still trying to digest last week's announcement on the Paizo website (see the blog-post entitled "ch-ch-changes") regarding a change to their Pathfinder Miniatures structure. 

I don't play Pathfinder RPG, but I'm a proponent of Paizo, and a supporter of their pre-painted miniatures line. I've been purchasing a case of each of Paizo's pre-painted miniatures sets since they were first released. 

By my calculation, only 70-75% of Paizo's pre-painted miniatures will see play at my table: many Pathfinder pre-painted miniatures are entirely unsuitable for my games, being too specific to Paizo's adventure paths.  A few other miniatures have been re-purposed to represent similar, non-Pathfinder creatures.  To wit, my personal suitability evaluation of each set:

Heroes + Monsters: 31/41 = 76%

Rise Runelords: 48/65 = 74%

Shattered Star: 43/55 = 78%

Skulls + Shackles 39/55 = 71%

Legends Golarion 40/55 = 73%

Wrath Righteous 41/55 = 75%

Nevertheless, the variety of figures in each Pathfinder set has, heretofore, been sufficiently broad to ensure I get very few figures I don't want, while getting more figures that I do want.

That changed during mid-reveal of their newest, Reign of Winter set.  See an excerpt of Paizo's announcement, below:

"Number of Figures Per Set

Starting with Reign of Winter, Pathfinder Battles sets will go [from 54] to 44 figures plus the Gargantuan case incentive figure. This reduction in number of figures per set is designed to help WizKids get its costs in line, and also comes with the added benefit of providing more common and uncommon figures to folks who buy their miniatures by the case (something a lot of customers have been asking for). The number of figures in a case, brick, or booster does not change, just the composition of the set in terms of total sculpts.

A case should still contain a full set (as always in the case of a collated product we can't guarantee this, but it's certainly the goal). Below is the model rarity breakdown for a case:

56 commons,
32 uncommons,
8 rares,
28 large uncommons,
4 large rares.

Here is the figure breakdown for the Reign of Winter set:

7 common (Small),
6 common (Medium),
11 uncommon (Medium),
8 uncommon (Large),
8 rare (Medium), and
4 rare (Large).

The total number of figures per case and the overall price of the case will not change. The specific figure size breakdowns will differ slightly from set to set, but the model rarity breakdown should be stable from release to release."

This reduction, in the number of unique figures, results in 5 fewer rare miniatures, 3 fewer uncommons, and 2 fewer commons, with a corresponding increase in the number of duplicate common and uncommon figures. 

I see this reduction as both a bad business decision and a poorly timed one.  Wizards of the Coast and Wizkids have already announced the introduction of a new line of Dungeons and Dragons miniatures, slated for a summer 2014 release.  Fooling around with Paizo's miniatures format so close to the entry of Wizards of the Coast  into the pre-painted miniatures market seems defensive and suggests financial trouble at Paizo.  And if Paizo really wants to satisfy customer demands for more commons, they should be costing them properly on their website, since they do offer individual miniatures for sale on-line.

So I don't buy Paizo's spin that customers are asking for more commons and uncommons in case-lots.  And suggesting that customer demand is reason for this change is too much.  If Paizo's margins are getting squeezed, they should be raising their wholesale prices to on-line retailers (who are undercutting Paizo's website prices) or raising retail prices, not reducing the quality and quantity of their miniatures line.

With Reign of Winter, this will be the first time, since the launch of the Paizo pre-painted miniatures line (and may not be the last) that I take a pass on purchasing a complete case, or any individual miniatures for that matter. 

Here's hoping that Paizo reconsiders their decision and provides a better quality product with future releases.


Erik Mona said...

Hey, Aaron. Erik Mona, here. Thanks for your comments on the Pathfinder Battles line. I thought I'd add a couple of additional points to the discussion to provide some additional context.

I agree with you that the announcement is poorly timed. I'd have preferred to implement a change of this magnitude on a set that was a little less "out there" in theme, and I'd have preferred to make the announcement about the piece reduction at the same time we announced the product. However, this is a licensed a product, and a lot of the day-to-day business decisions are made by WizKids, even if I am the "face" of the brand online. So sometimes I have to make the best out of decisions that are ultimately made by other companies.

My understanding is that the new D&D minis sets will be the same size as the "new" Pathfinder Battles standard. WizKids believes that this is the right mix for the sets, but even with that in mind I can tell you that I am pushing for more individual sculpts, and expect to see at least a partial step back toward the old set size within two or three sets' time.

This change should not be read as "financial trouble at Paizo," as you suggest. Paizo is coming off its best year ever, and we are satisfied with sales not just of our entire line of products, but of the Pathfinder Battles line itself. We think there are some changes to be made to our subscription benefits (also mentioned in the same blog post), but for the most part we think it's a solid business. The reduction in sculpts did not come from Paizo, or have anything to do with Paizo's business.

I mentioned that a lot of customers had been asking for more commons and uncommons, but that's more by way of context than the justification for the change. The justification for the change is outlined specifically in part of my blog that you directly quoted: "to help WizKids get its costs in line". The "added benefit" is, as I said, an "added benefit." A mitigating factor, if you will.

That said, it seems clear that you won't, so I may be wasting my time with this response. I can understand stepping back from a case purchase because of this change, but I am disappointed to hear that this change means you will not buy ANY figures from the set. I certainly hope that is not a universal response to the change--especially from people who have supported the line as you have. If that's the case, I can see the sculpt count trending toward zero much more rapidly than I may have anticipated.

Here's hoping that doesn't happen. :)

--Erik Mona
Paizo Publishing

Timothy Brannan said...

I love that witch character.

Aaron E. Steele said...

Erik, I agree that (for me) this was not the best set to introduce a shrinkage in variety. The selection in the RoW set was already significantly less applicable to my table than previous PF cases(with only about 55% of the 44 revealed miniatures on my "suitability" list) and I was hopeful, prior to the set shrinkage announcement, that the remaining miniatures in a 54-miniature set would "bring up the percentages."

That hope was dashed when it was announced that the set would be truncated to 44 figs.

I'm a big fan of Paizo, despite my only peripheral interest in the Pathfinder RPG, and continue to financially support Paizo through the card decks, and Pathfinder card game. Paizo has more consistently than anyone delivered high quality products, and I want to see Paizo thrive.

And I'm serious about the prices, and on-line retailers. One, I'd rather pay more for quality, and two, as a proponent of Paizo and my FLGS, I'm tired of on-line retailers undercutting my FLGS and Paizo's on-line prices.

Having had a chance to cool off, I agree with you, to not buy some of the figs from this set would be lose-lose, since there are still many excellent figures, even if there are too few must-haves this time (for me) to justify a full case purchase.

Thanks for the measured and thoughtful response.

Aaron E. Steele said...

Tim, Feiya is the reason I was initially enthusiastic about, and then disappointed with this minis set. Feiya is a fantastic Iconic. To have her released in a unexpectedly diminished set, with too few must-haves to justify purchasing, put me into a week-long funk, where in frustration, for several days I considered abandoning Pathfinder minis entirely.

Erik Mona said...

That is brutal to hear, man. I hope it does not increase your pain and frustration when I say that the Feiya miniature is absolutely gorgeous. :)

Aaron E. Steele said...

For twisting the knife, now i'll only buy five Feiyas instead of six.