January 20th 2003
e-Cards: A marketing nightmare
You know, it's an obvious fact that I would like the e-Reader to succeed as
a gaming sub-medium. While the dot code technology used to encode data on
e-Cards is somewhat limited, it still has a lot of potential for many
different types of applications. I think the diary entries I've written so
far tend to prove that.
However, the success of a gaming medium does not depend solely on the
technology used. There's also the whole marketing aspect to consider, and
any industry insider will tell you that marketing is an enormous beast of
complexity, especially when it comes to video games.
One marketing issue is a product's visibility in retail stores: A video game
placed in a really visible spot is more likely to be bought, and when your
video game is placed with a hundred other games behind a glass window, you
better make sure the picture on your box grabs the attention of potential
With this said, I must say I'm really dismayed at how retail stores are
selling their e-Card packs. Here are a few examples, based on my personal
- The Wal-Mart near my work place has the NES and Animal Crossing-e packs
mixed up together in a disordered fashion, on a shelf that's too high for
most people to see.
- I've been to a few Toys'R'Us stores, and a couple of them had the cards
practically hidden behind the counter in the electronics department.
- Many Zellers stores in my area have the cards, but it appears they really
don't know what to do with them: They hang them all over the place, and they're
easy to miss, even if you look hard for them. I saw the same problem in certain
- And then there's one of the EB Games boutique in my area, where they put
the card packs behind a glass window, lying flat on the shelf so you can't
see them without bothering the store employees, who obviously have better
things to do than sell trading cards, even if the e-Reader itself is
displayed very proheminently on a rack in the center of the store.
Most parents who walk into these stores will probably never buy e-Card packs
for their kids, because they're used to looking for video games in boxes, not
trading cards locked away in a cardboard package. So the only actual buyers of
e-Cards will be those who walk into the stores knowing exactly what they want,
and will ask the store employees for help if they can't find the e-Cards
they're looking for. That's not exactly a winning situation to begin with.
There's always the shoplifting issue to deal with when placing this kind of
item in a store. But seing how store managers are actually dealing with this
issue demonstrates that most stores are simply not "equipped" to sell trading
cards in their electronics department. Most of them place the cards together
with conventional video games, behind a glass window, and they don't seem to
realize that they're hurting e-Card sales by doing this: Trading cards sell
better when potential buyers can touch them and browse through them.
It seems to me like Nintendo has a big problem on its hands. Some stores seem
to be adopting this passive attitude towards the e-Reader, as if it was just a
fad that was going to die within the next month or so. I can't really blame
them, since Nintendo's track record isn't exactly spotless when it comes to
releasing new electronic gadgets. Just look at the Visual Boy fiasco...
Is the e-Reader condemned to remain a gimmick because of these "down-to-earth"
marketing issues? Let's say that third-party companies such as Capcom, Konami
or Activision jump onto the e-Reader bandwagon and start making lots of
different e-Card series. Department stores already have a problem with the
NES and Animal Crossing-e cards manufactured by Nintendo, so what's it gonna
be when many more e-Cards hit the market? Will the stores and boutiques adapt?
It's a little hard to predict...
A real solution
I exposed this problem on the IGN forum, and someone came up with a great
idea: A stand-alone cabinet, made by Nintendo, and designed specifically for
e-Reader products. I gave it some thought, and while I like the idea of a
cabinet, I tend to prefer an open rack. I came up with this design:
(1) The rack would be made of metal, maybe aluminum. There would be some
assembly required, but nothing complicated.
(2) There would be a flat space at the top, where a cardboard display
could be installed. In the picture above, only the e-Reader logo is displayed,
but this space could be used to show important information, like the release
dates of future e-Card series. I rounded the top of the rack to make it look
stylish, but the real rack would probably have a rectangular top, to make
replacing the cardboard display easier.
(3) Each "arm" would hold close to a dozen e-Card packs. Since the sides
are unobstructed, you could browse the packs without having to remove them from
the rack. This is the main reason why I prefer a rack instead of a closed
(4) The bottom arm of the rack would be used to hang a few e-Readers,
in their clamshell packaging. One thing I've noticed is that a lot of stores
put some distance between the e-Readers and the e-Card packs. This is mostly
unintentional on their part, of course, but it's still a problem that this
rack would fix.
(5) The pedestal would be heavy enough so that the rack won't fall over
if someone bumps into it accidentally. See those two holes? They'd be used to
receive a second metal rack. The racks would be placed back to back, and this
would double the amount of e-Cards packs that the rack could carry.
I truly believe the e-Reader and e-Cards would have a much better chance if
they were displayed on such racks. Also, third-party publishers who would like
to make their own e-Card series could use these racks as a well-established
promotional vehicle; they wouldn't have to worry about the visibility of their
e-Cards, since Nintendo's e-Reader racks would concentrate all the available
e-Card packs in a single, recognizable location.
There are also other ways to sell e-Cards. One way involves packaging e-Cards
together with toys. The idea is not exactly new, as you can already find
certain toys with trading cards included. Here are a couple of examples:
Toys and e-Cards are like chocolate and peanut butter! Imagine buying a Hot
Wheels toy car, and being able to "import" this toy car into a Hot Wheels
video game by swiping the e-Card included with the toy! Just visit the toy
department of any store, and you'll see lots of other possibilities. They
could also package e-Cards with GBA games...
Another avenue Nintendo should explore would be the different trading card
series produced by Wizards of the Coast. They already offer trading cards
based on successful franchises such as Harry Potter and Star Wars, in addition
to the Pokémon Trading Card Game. And let's not forget the immensely popular
Magic The Gathering! All these series could be enriched with encoded data
compatible with the e-Reader. There are also other opportunities, like the
Yu-Gi-Oh trading card game made by Konami and Upper Deck. If enough e-Card
series based on these established trading card franchises are made, comic book
shops (who have shunned e-Cards until now) will surely develop a better
opinion of the e-Reader. For Nintendo, it's a goal worth pursuing, but it's
not something the company can pull off on its own. Business partnerships are
No matter what Nintendo's plans may be for the e-Reader, I'd say they have
their work cut out for them, and it's not just a question of making more
e-Card series to satisfy the demand of e-Reader owners...