[stella] Calling all...

Subject: [stella] Calling all...
From: Glenn Saunders <cybpunks@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Tue, 15 May 2001 03:44:21 -0700
I think what Randy is doing is equivalent to the publisher that John Paul Jones used for his Zooma album.... It's an arrangement that favors the artist/programmer rather than the publisher.

Another analogy might be MP3.com and their disc-making facilities.

2600 games are one person (and some help from others on stellalist) per game titles, and the fewer middlemen, the more direct the return on the time investment.

It's true that the biggest cost in making these carts is the packaging. Color inkjet is great but it's water-based and it runs like crazy (as my poor EBVision boxes can attest to). Nothing beats the professional look of full bown 4-color offset printing, glossy paper, and custom boxes and labels. But it costs thousands of dollars to get to that point. You can imagine how expensive it was for 4-Play to make the packaging for Battlesphere in proportion to the few numbers of carts they made. That kind of printing is only cost-effective when you're at least moving a thousand units, and few if any 2600 hobby games have sold that many.

I do think that the market for this kind of stuff is a lot larger in theory, but the awareness isn't there, and may never be. For instance, if Randy showed up as a guest of Jay Leno's or something, his sales would probably go through the roof.

Aside from a few magazine articles, awareness of the hobby cart scene just hasn't penetrated into the true mainstream. If it did, I probably would have been able to find a broadcast deal for Stella at 20. This hobby is still a subculture to many, despite the scholarly books coming out and occasional magazine articles...

So for all intents and purposes I think we're stuck with the level of sales we're seeing now.

That being said, what Chris said about it being almost impossible to build a viable business model around this is true. There is a HUGE GAP between a hobby 2nd business you can run in your spare time (like Cyberpunks is for me) that you can fold rather painlessly and a primary sustaining business. Besides the packaging issue, there are middlemen, lots of middlemen. You have to have a large enough market to compensate for the royalty fees and the middlemen otherwise you'll walk away having sold 100s of times as many as the hobbyists and not even breaking even.

Heck, even people like Lance at Video61 are in big trouble with standing warehouses full of stock because by and large the market that still exists for classic games is saturated (i.e. we've pretty much got everything we need). Storage costs alone can kill a business, even if you have a lot of worth in your inventory. The local guy near me that sold me the 5 arcade machines I have had to start Ebaying off his leftovers because he couldn't afford the warehouse space.

I used to be active in the Atari8-bit scene and there was a guy called Mike Hohman who bought out the rights to ICD's 8-bit stuff (like SpartaDOS-X and the R-TIME8 cartridge). This was like in 1993 or 94, when the 8-bit userbase was shrinking fast. He paid a shitload of money for these rights, and after a long period of time managed to reintroduce some of this stuff and do some minor versioning before disappearing completely from the face of the earth, probably to escape his creditors. I felt bad for the guy, but I pretty much knew it was going to go down that way.

When you get involved in business you have to think more like a calculator and less with your heart. I'm sure Mike was a big 8-bit fan and he thought he was going to save the platform by doing what he did, but he didn't make a wise assessment of the marketplace. He was either too emotionally invested or just plain foolish.

Now, I wish everybody luck in their endeavors. I really hope that Chad can close the deal with Bridgestone and get that awesome Cuttle Cart out there. And I hope that Ben manages to roll off some decent numbers of VCSp's. But this is definitely the kind of market where you need to be willing to lose money and not be too disappointed about it. It's definitely not a cash cow right now.


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