Jim Hughes: How Behind-the-Scenes Competitors Can Derail Your OP

August 21, 2017 | 3 min to read

By Jim Hughes, Business Operations Manager, Pat's Games

Organized play (OP) can be the gift that keeps giving. Players will buy boosters, accessories like sleeves and dice, and, most importantly, bring their friends. On any given day at Pat's Games in Austin, Texas, it's easy to tell whether or not we ran a tournament. Just look at the daily sales.

Providing a great experience is key to building a community around organized play. But there are other experiences that compete for your community's attention, and ignoring them can lead to wasted time and money.

To maximize the resources you put into OP, it's important to be aware of those competing options, to understand their impact, and adjust accordingly.

Running OP means competing for players—their money, their time, and their interest.

I use the term "local cycle" to describe those external things which affect attendance. Some are obvious and others are subtle, but they all can derail attendance. Over our years running OP, we've identified some of the major ones.

For example, a new school year starts with an uptick but ends with lighter turnout around finals. Big events—like South By Southwest here in Austin—pull away regulars but bring in new players. And of course if there are big competitive Magic tournaments, count your "grinders" out for FNM.

Getting a handle on this will help you make better business decisions, from scheduling higher-risk tournaments to scheduling vacation time to maximizing your advertising.

Working around the local cycle is pretty straightforward.

Here's how we do it at Pat's:

Track the Data

This is how you "keep score" of the game. It can easily be done in a spreadsheet and doesn't really take much time.

Record each event's attendance, broken down by format, and track the number of new players. Now note costs and revenue sources, from entry fees to staff costs (like Michael Bahr explains in this article). Finally, note any competing events or external forces that may have raised or lowered attendance.

Analyze the Data

Graph the data with time as the X axis. Just eyeball it. Are the various lines moving in similarly? Do you see trends—say 3–5 data points—all going up or down? Do you see a sudden increase or decrease in some metric? If so, are there events that seem to explain what is happening?

Validate the Data

This is easier than it appears. Once you've noticed a trend—say, a spike in new players—it's just a matter of talking to them. See if they are in town temporarily or permanently, how they heard about your store and all that.

Once you've got a good amount of data, you can predict player behavior and prepare.

There is a lot that goes into developing a thriving OP base.

The most important thing is providing a great experience. But understanding the local cycle helps you choose the right experience for the right time.

Which formats should you focus on when a set first launches? Which player segments should your advertising target in June? Which prize structure is best for weekends?

Understanding the market forces and dynamics can help you answer these questions and lead to greater success for a local game shop. In fact, it can be transformative.

Jim has been playing Magic for ten years and has served as Pat's Games' Business Operations Manager for seven. He holds an MBA in Operations Research from University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. When not drafting or running Legacy Elves, Jim enjoys photography, especially taking pictures of his new grandson.