I’ve seen many people sell all of their WS decks in quitting sales. I’ve seen people driven to despair as they fail to find people to play against. I’ve heard of decks just sitting, collecting dust due to disuse. The excuse is always the same. There’s nobody to play with. Everyone is busy playing Magic.
The solution is simple, really. You spent the money, so put in the work. If you really want to play WS, you can do something about it. Make sure your cards get played by getting a scene together, or find your local scene and get the hell in there. I’m very aware this is not possible for everybody. Some people live in the middle of nowhere, and some people can’t just go out and do things due to the constraints of time or transport. However, if you have like-minded siblings, an anime club at college or a couple of anime-watching friends, you can easily get together a small circle and expand it. There is, in all likelihood, a local circle already playing WS, and you just haven’t found it yet.
If you’re really interested in expanding your scene or finding other players, you need to understand some basic marketing strategy.
1) Know your audience.
Weiss Schwarz is a niche game. There is no denying this. It is niche in the same way anime is niche. Not everyone will bother watching it, simply because it hasn’t been fully integrated into Western culture. No matter how loudly you proclaim CLANNAD to be the best love story ever told, no matter how much you rave about Serial Experiments Lain, no matter how loudly you scream about your drill piercing the heavens. There is a reason people watch Game of Thrones and fanboy about Star Wars, but have their doubts about Cowboy Bebop and Gundam anything. Anime in this day and age will not receive mainstream acclaim unless the name Miyazaki is attached to it.
That’s the crux of it. You cannot expect the game to take off with the ‘mainstream’ TCG market. You can’t go up to MtG players and expect them to take the game seriously based on the appeal of the mechanics. If anything, you will get precisely the opposite reaction. WS is not a game that lets you demonstrate skill in a tournament format. This is a major turn-off for ‘competitive cardgamers’, many of whom are used to grinding the regional circuits with well-tested decks. Don’t get me wrong; I think WS is a perfectly viable skill game. It’s just extremely difficult to show that skill in a tournament format, especially Bushiroad’s logistics-focused best-of-1 format. You aren’t going to get players by talking about the game competitive viability. The way to expand this game is to target a different audience.
The audience in question is people already engaged with WS’s strongest selling point: the franchises and series that its products are based on. Your targets will be people who watch the anime, who play the visual novels, who go to the conventions. These people do not need to be sold on the cutesy visual elements or the possibility of needing to splash out on a game that may not be mechanically appealing. If you’re at a convention, you may even find people who bought a trial deck out of curiosity, but never really took the second step into the world of anime cardgaming. We’ll cover how to manage these people later, but for now, you should know your targets, and from that knowledge, you should be able to choose your hunting grounds.
2) Advertise the game. Publicly.
There is no better way to advertise than with the product in action. Play WS in public places. University cafeterias or meeting points are good, as college students are the sort who may have some money and a need for a hobby, especially those who are big on anime or Japanese anything. If you’re at a convention with nothing to do, have a couple games in a rest area. The goal is simply to spread knowledge of the game’s existence. Any budding cardgaming store is a great place to play – you might go in on a Friday night and catch the eye of the bored storekeeper during a round of Standard. I’ve personally gotten storekeepers interested in the game through this exact method, and that in turn might lead to them stocking the product or just recommending it to people who come on through. Hell, if it’s not a set-in-stone franchise, have a chat with the owner and offer to lend them some sample product. Simply having a couple trial decks on display behind the counter can work wonders, and will grab the eye of anybody who has even remote interest in the series. It helps if you play English decks, or at least popular series like Sword Art Online, Haruhi and Madoka Magica (as opposed to niche stuff like Da Capo). These are things people are more likely to have been recommended, whereas niche series will have found their consumers through other avenues.
With that being said, the other big way to advertise is through social groups and social media. If you’re in an anime or cardgaming club, you can easily organise learn-to-play sessions at get-togethers. Rope your local stores in. Post on the relevant Facebook pages. There are many social gathering groups that may have a passing relevance to either anime or cardgames. Drop some references to your ‘anime cards’ in your posts there. See if anyone takes the bait. There are plenty of people who have heard of WS, but haven’t gone any further, or have had bad experiences/dismissed it due to personal bias. Likewise, there are probably people just like you, who have cards but nobody to play with. Your goal is to find those people and get them engaged in the game again. Some tips in doing this:
- Go out of your way to accommodate others. If there are people whose schedules clash with everyone else’s, work with them rather than with the frank majority. Instead of having a meet at a place and time they can’t make it, bus to their house on a Sunday and have a night of pizza, WS and Cards Against Humanity.
- Don’t push too hard. If people leave in the middle of a game once they hear a draft is firing, let them go. Don’t guilt trip them. You want to establish a playgroup of people who want to be there, even if it is just a fling that’s only tiding them over until the next Yugioh booster drops.
- Work closely with local shops and distributors on a regional level. Get to know the owners and the people behind the counter. Passionate storekeepers will usually be looking for more games to sell, unless they are one-track MtG players (this is surprisingly common). Even with them, you have a chance. Emphasise the profitable nature of WS. Show them ideal808, show them that the singles for multiple popular series are sold out. If they are willing to stock the DBZ cardgame, why not WS as well?
- Show them that you have people who are willing to buy product. Support your locals. Getting a store into English WS is easier if they already stock English Vanguard. Once a store has enough fingers in the pie, encourage them to bust boxes and sell singles. Not nearly enough stores do this, even ones with large, established WS communities.
- Work with shops to organise pre-made decks for sale, even if it means buying the cards from Japan yourself. This is much easier with stores that aren’t part of a larger franchise. There are always underappreciated archetypes in series that can serve as good, budget decks. This is a fantastic way of getting savvy people into a game, as cardgamers understand that trial decks rarely eventuate in ‘meta’ deck shells. Stores frequently do this for Yugioh and Pokemon, so why not WS?
- Give good deals on singles and stacks to new players, with the tradeoff that they will endeavour to play the game with their respective playgroup. I’ve sold several decks myself for well below market value, simply because it was obvious to me that these people had the passion to keep a scene going.
- If you can afford to, keep a swag binder around. This is a common practice in MtG and Yugioh, and having some pretty cards to show to prospective players is a great way to create new collectors, and therefore new potential players.
- Keep some spare sleeves around. It’s good practice for any passionate player or store – if you see someone crack an expensive card, most stores will have spare sleeves to give away for the express purpose of protecting those cards. More importantly, you can do this with character sleeves, which are frowned upon or even illegal in other cardgames. WS has the distinction of being able to use any character sleeves you want, which is in itself a draw to the game.
3) Organise. Take initiative.
Playgroups do not form spontaneously. The best way to solidify something is to establish a routine. Meet up before FNM each week for a few games. Go together to your local gaming shop when they have tournaments. These people aren’t just dummies for you to play against – they are hopefully people you can be friends with. You are essentially establishing Social Links, so commit, damn it. If you are starting your own group, you have no choice but to take some initiative. Some things you can do:
- Start a Facebook chat/Skype group/Whatsapp conversation with the involved members. This creates a shared link; a sense that you guys are together for some reason. You also get to start making bad in-jokes.
- Organise a group account to order singles. Whether this be a Tenso account for yuyu-tei cards, a Buyee account for YAJ, or just somebody who can handle group orders from English vendors – it doesn’t matter, but doing this is often more convenient and frequently cheaper than relying on proxies. This is not necessary, but it creates a sense of cohesion. It also lets you catalog how much money you’re throwing at your anime cardboard.
- Once you have enough of a scene, run tournaments. Establish a power ranking. Provide some amount of incentive to keep getting better, to keep improving your decks and playing skill. Teach a man to fish etc.
- Post match videos. People like publicity. People enjoy being on the internet, with varying degrees of anonymity.
- Encourage people to post publicly about things. Ask the internet why their deck isn’t performing. Make forum posts inquiring as to why X card is good. Get people more involved and make them think for themselves. WS is a fairly deep game if you care to think about it, and people who are able to take that first step will naturally get more and more involved with it.
- Link people to sites like this one. A list of useful sites is below. I recommend public forums more than blogs like this – people are more willing to jump into the conversation if there are more individuals contributing. Strategy sites like this one also have their role – they will hopefully make people think there is more to the game than slamming +2 Soul climaxes and hoping to thread the needle.
- Whenever anyone buys product, encourage a group opening + sorting. This will not only foster some degree of friendship, but it’ll give everyone the chance to pull that awesome foil or RR, and it can even be linked into teaching people about sets they wouldn’t normally touch.
- If a big set release is coming up, split colours/characters with interested parties. Not everyone has appropriately good taste, and there were always be people who want inferior characters. I would suggest you put it in more diplomatic terms, but you get the idea. Everyone wins.
- Organise 2-pack WS or draft formats with sealed product for the same reasons – there isn’t really any ruleset that’s widely accepted, but at our locals we just keep each climax and are relatively lax about colour restrictions.
4) Embrace the salt.
This has nothing to do with marketing, but this is the last point, and possibly the most important one. The initial reaction to this heading is predictable and meme-filled, but I promise, there’s actually a point to be made here. Salt is very desirable. It implies people want to win. People get extremely upset when they lose badly. You need to help people work their way out of these slumps, and you want to take advantage of it. You do not want to discourage salt. A complete lack of salt in a competitive scene means there is no drive to do better. Salt is what builds rivalries. Salt is what expands scenes. Salt is often the basis of passion, and salt is what establishes legends.
Instead of letting them stew, offer to see if you can help them improve. Ask if they were able to identify what caused them to lose. If they blame it on luck, ask the exact same question. Perfect play is exceptionally rare, and those who play perfectly will generally not be that salty. Even veterans and established scene mainstays will have moments like this, and you need to be able to engage with them. There is always a way to improve, and your goal is to make people ask this question themselves. If you see them misplay cards, don’t just sit there afterwards. Discuss it. Explain exactly what you would have done differently. Encourage them to see the plays through your eyes, and in turn learn why they did what they did. It’s quite possible you’re in the wrong, and they knew something you didn’t. The student and the teacher are very interchangeable roles, and you need to approach this with an open, salty mind. You’re all in this together.
Also, throw the salt around. It’s fun.
The next few articles will be about helping people to build from sealed cardpools (an essential skill to help people improve their decks), and how to effectively modify a TD for new players (a very good way to help people understand the basics of WS).