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Requiem for a Game Store

Written by Nicholas - Published on March 10, 2009

Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.


Picture by Paul & Aline

In the past few weeks I have watched the signs in my local game store slowly slide from ten percent off everything to forty percent. The shelves become increasingly bare and not being replenished as usual. A note on the counter informs visitors that frequent customer cards are being phased out. It doesn’t take a prophet to see the writing on the wall.

Capitalism

In my head I know that it is the free market at work, the free market of which I am a firm believer. I can rationalize it all I want. They deal with a niche market and a tech savvy one at that. Their customers are extremely likely to shop online and a little brick and mortar store simply can’t compete on stock and pricing with an internet giant like Amazon. It is just the future of business. Knowing all of these things logically doesn’t make it any easier when I carry my purchase up to the counter, the nice lady who smiles at me every time I come in rings me out and tells me “see you soon” and in my head I wonder “will you? Will you still have a store the next time I come by here?”. Knowing these things has also not stopped me from buying boxes of minis I didn’t actually need in the vain notion that it will make the slightest difference.

Why Do We Need Game Stores?

I have often heard the claim thrown around that fourth edition has turned D&D into an MMO. I am of the opinion that so long as we are sitting around a table and rolling dice together in person that will never be the case. Game stores are an important part of that social network. Game stores are the hub around which we meet new gamers and discover products and styles of playing we might never have thought of before. Game stores are a beacon that call out to our brothers and sister who live their gaming lives in secret. They can come in and be among friends. Game stores keep those who are all too often isolated in their own little groups grounded in the social aspect of what is supposed to be a social hobby.

So What Do We Do?

We as a community need to sit down and decide what is important to us. You might pay a little bit more but is it worth it to see a friendly face and chat with some fellow gamers while you make your purchase? I know that I think it is. That is not to say that I am blameless. When Fourth Edition came out I was seduced by Amazon’s discounts on the box set. I also recall that even though I ordered months before release my shipment was delayed for weeks while my friends who ordered a few days before release got their books right away. I could have walked into my local game store and picked them up release day had I not thrown my lot in with the fickle internet spirits.

You might pay a little more than online but most stores will do their best to make it up to you. Physical stores may not be able to compete on stock but most would be glad to order whatever they don’t have in stock. I could rant and rave all day and never change anyone’s mind, I just hope that we collectively take a moment and decide that game stores are important enough to save.

I wish that I had some great story about meeting the love of my life in a game store or a summer I spent working there, but I don’t. However I’m sure that some of you do! So let us raise a glass and tell tales of game stores past and present!

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Written by Nicholas

Nick DiPetrillo is the original author behind the games Arete and Zombie Murder Mystery available at http://games.dungeonmastering.com

Nick is no longer active with DungeonMastering.com, however he is an accomplished writer and published his first game in 2009.

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Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.

 

 Comments

30 Responses to “Requiem for a Game Store”
  1. Pharen says:

    Hmm, the game store closest here is doing quite well I think, but that’s mainly because it has multiple focuses. It sells DnD stuff, but also warhammer, board games, card games, go, chess, it organises all sorts of events and also those trading card thingies which I don’t know much about. I’m prolly forgetting something, too.

    But another reason might be that it’s the only one in a wide span. It doesn’t have just a few returning costumers, but it has a huge amount of I’ll-fisit-once-in-three-months-customers which fill the store daily.

    I think there will be less game stores in the future, but the one’s that survive the longest might profit from it if people are prepared to travel a little longer to their store.

  2. Chi says:

    I live in Vancouver, which has a thriving gaming community. I can count a half a dozen gaming stores within 20 minutes driving distance, and maybe another 5 or 6 in the nearby cities too.

    Of these, I notice that the most successful ones sell things other than RPGs. Some are comic stores/gaming stores. Other are solely gaming stores, but have also an extensive collection of miniatures, tcgs, and board games. For those sole gaming stores, their survival is fairly steady as long as their miniature gaming and tcgs are strong. Not only do those things sell more, their clientele /will/ come back every week or every month to participate in events. It’s hard (not impossible, but hard) to play Warmachine or Blood Bowl or whatever in your friend’s basement. But it’s easy if you know that every weekend there will be players at the gaming store looking for a game.

    Gaming stores can survive, as long as they can adapt, and know how to build up a community.

  3. Kartones says:

    I have seen this happen not with RPG/boardgames stores, but with videogame stores. When I was a child they were the only ones selling stuff near and everyone was nice and gentle. Then they started having “customer cards” and we would get extras, lower prices and good stuff like that.
    Years after, the big stores starting to focus more on selling videogames and videoconsoles, and the small ones did the bad approach: Instead of keeping those good extras, they started charging more to those customers without the customer card (and the normal price to “vip ones”), sometimes even more with the “discount” than if bought elsewere.

    Shortly after, the big stores started accepting pre-orders (with sometimes important discounts or extras like t-shirts), and now those small stores (almost all were subsidiaries of a national spanish firm, “Centro Mail”) are either closed or absorbed into an international firm (“Game”).

    IMHO they dig their own grave, loosing the extras that a small store offers: nice sellers, personal advice, small extras (that big store policies won’t allow, like a free rent of a game just for being a good customer)… the “human factor” (much like the “build a community” you said, they had it and they lost it).

    With boardgame/RPG stores it is not the case and at least in Madrid (Spain) there is no danger of them dissapearing. They all keep gaming sessions on the store, employees who love explaining every book or game to you, competitive prices, new stuff as soon as it is available, and nice extras, like manually translated instruction booklets of english products.

    I buy things like DnD books from Amazon, Warhammer 40k miniatures from official local Games Workshop stores, and all the other stuff (like boardgames, plush toys, books or comics) from local stores.

    At least

  4. L0N says:

    Well I pulled my wifes name out of a box at one of the local hobby stores over 20 years ago. We were looking for more players in our group and she became one of them. And after 8 years of gaming with us, the two of us ended up walking down the aisle and now are coming up on 16 years of marriage. Its great having a gaming spouse.

  5. Nikos says:

    Last year I took a girl to my local gaming store. 4th edition had just come out. She was new to the genre (only having played a couple of session on 3.5) and still she wanted to experience by thrill.

    A year later and she is now my wife and expecting our twin boys by summer. They will become the next generation!

    The gaming store here in Greece are thriving, but this could be because online purchases have not yet become mainstream here. Still, you can always find an event or two every week in some of them.

  6. Yax says:

    It’s great to see that it’s not all doom and gloom. Go FLGS!

  7. Steve V says:

    Gaming stores here are doing pretty well. (Rochester, NY) We have Millennium Games- which has just about everything you can imagine and hold various tourneys all the time. They have rooms and tables to rent out. I haven’t been there in years due to the fact that I do not agree with the business practices there.

    I get my games at a local comic shop, Comics Etc, where you get 30% off if you pay cash. He doesn’t have a lot in stock, but if you can wait a week he’ll order what ever you want.

    There is also Baldo’s Armory which sells mostly miniatures and heavily into Warhammer. I’ve never been there personally.

    Then there is Cray Egor’s. He does a lot of business in older games, but he does have a nice selection of new stuff too.

    There are a few other comic shops in the area and I think they sell gaming supplies, but I am not too sure.

    Of course since I want to get the most bang for my buck, I also check out the online sources to see what is available.

  8. Bakel says:

    The gaming store near me is full of stuff other than RPG’s. Their most popular stuff is Magic. They have an ongoing tournament thing (I dont play Magic so I dont know). It’s actually pretty annoying cuz everytime I go in there they happen to be setting up the play rotation. Friggin “Magic Nerds”! LOL. J/K. Anyways, they have dice and all the stuff for D&D and many more RPG’s. And I support a store like that so they always get my business over Barnes and Nobles for mini’s, dice, tiles, books, etc.

    He is trying to get more rpg players to participate in store activities so my party and I sometimes try to play in his store and stuff. Friggin “Magic Nerds” always in the way tho!

    They seem to do pretty well tho. Especially off their Magic stuff.

  9. Kurits says:

    The local game store in my area sell’s more then just RPG’s. However they also have 6 large tables set up in the front of the store so that DM’s can schedule the use of a table for gaming. This is great when you have a newcommer who needs a minature or if you run out of character sheets you can purchase them right there and then.

    As a parent and a DM I enjoy it as well.

  10. MaleAlphaThree says:

    Most of the stores in my area have closed down in the past ten years, as video games became so much more popular. Video games killed the RPG store, lol. Pretty much all the stores were Gamer’s Paradise (a franchise that just recently bit the dust for good).

    There was one in my town, and a couple in the nearby malls. The one in the much larger mall was able to stay open and just changed it’s name. Otherwise, I have a very hard time finding good stores. Hobby Lobby and other places just sell stupid toy trains and junk.

    Pretty sure those stores are having a hard time too. I blame video games.

  11. Megan says:

    I was very sad to see my favorite FLGS die out last year. There are a couple of other places that sell RPG books as a small section of their goods (Hastings, a local pharmacy, etc), but I liked buying at least some of my gaming goods from people who knew why I was excited about the latest source book for Eberron.

    That said, at least a portion of the blame can fall directly on the store. As a new gamer, I felt very nervous walking through the narrow opening between three tables full of VERY stereotypical gamer teens and, well, large men, to even enter the store. I felt like I was encroaching on their territory every time I walked by. I’m sure anyone who just wanted to buy a board game would have thought twice and headed to Walmart or Hastings, just a minute or two away. Prices were often not marked clearly, which is a pet peeve of mine but I’m sure most people also find it annoying.

    If RPG/hobby stores want to survive, they need to find their own niche and make sure they offer a welcoming environment to all kinds of gamers.

  12. Michelle says:

    its a goal of mine to open my own shop and plans are in effect as of right now to start it up. the closest game shop is nearly 40 minutes away from the town i live in, and every night when i drive the streets, i see literally a hundred kids hanging out in alleys of all places. these kids need somewhere to hang out, use their brains, and somewhere to keep them out of trouble. ill even have it backed up with online sales as well, if only to keep it competitive. its a shame in this economy that we are losing buisnesses that can be so crucial to young people’s development.

    Long live the Fighters!

  13. Nicholas says:

    It is good to hear that some places and some stores are still thriving, even new stores being opened. Sounds like some of these places do some neat things to stay competitive. The store I was writing about had Magic and Pirates events but I don’t know how well attended they were.

    I use the past tense because between my article this article and it going up, the store shut down.

  14. Tim says:

    I make a conscious choice to avoid buying anything from big chains. Whether buying your 4e set from Amazon, or buying socks from Wal Mart, you are, in effect, undermining the small business owner. The cool little shop in a weird corner of town, where you might hang out and drink a coffee with the owner and talk about important things, like some solid advice on how to be a good DM.

    People don’t just seem to get it (hasn’t anyone seen Wall-E)- that monopolization and centralization of our ‘capitalist’ economy is making some few people rich (Bozos, for one), while bankrupting the real and impassioned people who are trying to make a difference. People like Gaming or Comic Book Store owners! Creative and original people who take chances.

    All to get a discount. That is my rant, and I think, you know, we have it coming to us… yeesh.

  15. Bakel says:

    @ Tim

    I too try my hardest to give the little man a chance! I buy all my dice, minis, tiles, books, etc. From “Imagine”, my local gaming store. Sure, I may be able to get the stuff cheaper off the internet or using my discount at Barnes & Nobles, but I believe in the gaming store. I believe there needs to be a centralized place for “nerds” where gamers can feel safe to shop for their minis, dice, magic cards, heroclix, whatever your gaming needs. I believe in the “little guy” that actually says “Hey that (insert item here) sucks. Dont buy that.”

    And i havent seen Wall-E but I do know what you mean. I try my hardest to stay away from Wal Mart and such. And as for Comic Books I go to the little guy known as Kapow Comics, instead of Books a Million or Barnes. We all need to spend those extra few bucks to keep 90% of the worlds money out of 10% of the world’s population!

    Just my 2cp.

  16. Megan says:

    Hmm, had to jump in and comment again. A few comments have suggested that people always have a choice to spend a few extra bucks to buy from a local store. Not always so. Usually for me it’s a choice between being buying a book from a cheap online retailer or not having it. Period. For example, I drove an hour to go to closest F(not so-)LGS because I heard they had a lot of used books. True, but they were NOT cheap. In fact, the used books were pretty much the same price as they would be new. In contrast, I bought Sharn:City of Towers for $6 used at Hastings, and bought Heroes of Horror online for $3 (including shipping). I can skip lunch for a day to buy a book. I can’t spend 25-30% of my family’s monthly grocery budget.

  17. Bakel says:

    @ Megan

    Yeah. Ur right. Sometimes u dont have much of choice. I guess I’m just lucky to have an awesome “nerd store,” as my friends and i call it, close by. Sounds like that store had a deal going on like when I had bought textbooks for college. Used books were still like 60 bucks. Then when you go to sell them back, you get like 5 bucks in return. So, yeah… that sux.

  18. Dire Hamster! says:

    Yeah…I hear ya, man! It sucks. The better of the two hobby/game stores in my area shut down last year out of the blue. It was a real bummer. It’s hard buying a book online when you can’t physically pick up the book and flip through it first. I haven’t been buying much lately anyhow, since 4th edition D&D SUCKS! In addition to continuing on with v3.5, I’m in the market for a new d20 game. Kinda hard to find something new online when you don’t know what you’re getting. All you get shopping online is a picture of the cover and a brief description that may or may not be accurate.
    Lastly, I agree with your other point: I’d rather pay an extra couple bucks and support a small “mom n’ pop” business than give my money to some giant, corporate conglomerate.

  19. GroovyTaxi says:

    Some new game store opened in my area last year and I don’t know how well it’s doing. I never bought anything there, since all they have for RPGs is 4TH edition stuff and non-D&D games I’ve never heard about. Not really interested to invest in another set of books, especially if they’re about vampires and werewolves (the two most overrated fantasy creatures since Twilight, and I’m so tired of hearing about them). Still, we played a few games of D&D with the community there. Even if it was 4TH Edition, which we hate, we still had fun meeting people (and less fun meeting some other people) and sharing ideas. That kind of community can’t exist on the internet, I’ll give them that. Still, I’d love to find a game store that gives 3 and 3.5 Ed the respect they deserve…

  20. Bakel says:

    Yeah I hear. All retailers had to make way for 4th Edtion and me and my group still play 3.5. Dont really have the money to buy all new books. But we still go the the gaming store every Friday nite to get a couple dice, minis, etc. Spend 5 mins shopping and like 2 hours talking to other people. But yeah it would be nice if the stores still sold 3.5 stuff. By the way, my party is taking a dip into Castles & Crusades. The guy at the gaming store has finally talked us into it. He said that some guys around town (i live in Little Rock, AR) wrote it or helped write it or something. So I think we will be checking that out.

  21. MageMirin says:

    I should pay attention to who is writing the articles here, I thought this one was from Yax and that he was saying the *ONLY* game store on the entire island was going out of business… had me scared for a moment.
    I moved here from central California, home of PolyCon one of the best Indie fan-run gaming conventions (It’s 4th of July weekend this year! polycon.org ) and there is an active community there. We actually had a sort of gamer-gang war that killed the better of the two game stores in town a few years ago… very sad… But there’s still KJG games down in santa maria that is going strong. That store hosts mini-convention game days on a regular basis. I miss them so much.
    The store here on Kauai is TINY… They cram a lot in there, but it’s still tiny. They have regular tournaments, mostly ccgs, as I understand it, but since on the weekends it frequently takes over an hour to get there due to traffic, my wife and I don’t make it down there very often. We’ll be going this weekend though. Might get her the 4th ed phb… Shhh, don’t tell her, it’s a surprise. :) Although personally, I torrented the pdfs and have been reading the phb and it is *REALLY* badly arranged. The book could be half the size it is without loosing any of the content. But that is a discussion for a different article… :)

  22. Simon Moore says:

    Well, back in the 80’s there was a game & comix store in every shopping centre. Now only 1 survives. They do it my having a huge range of products & by having their own clubs where they run games. They actually run their own campaign. They have 3 age groups & a place for people wanting to get new players in leave info blogs (forms provided) They would work 14hr days

  23. Glass LaJora says:

    i just want to point out that just because a game store is open and has a great selection does not mean it’s thriving or doing well. From having worked in one, I can say that from the business end, breaking even is considered a triumph, even in a store that’s been open for near on 25 years like mine was. Most stores barely make a profit, and many barely break even- and that was before the downturn. In the words of my boss who opened the store, that’s pretty much how its always been, to varying degrees. A game store that reports a profit substantial enough to do something with is like a unicorn of the business world, seen only by virgins in SCA garb. That’s just the business. You don’t go and open a gaming store for a profit- you open one for the love of the game. And you try to hold on. And you have to keep variety, otherwise you don’t get customers to purchase the books they flip through. But that very variety means you’re likely to run out, which is why most every store will be more than happy to order anything for you and not charge extra for it. So maybe the worker’s will take a lower wage for more hours, or all be part time because the store can’t afford benefits, or move cross town for better rent because the gamers will always return, but running a game store is a precarious precipice, and they need all the help they can get to keep breaking even.

  24. Josh says:

    A new gaming store just opened up here in Philadelphia a couple months ago. The place is pretty small, so their selection is limited just by virtue of shelf space, but they’ve got some D&D, Warhammer, random board games, and the usual CCG set to keep the money flowing. I went to their opening party and had a great time, and I would love to go back and give them more of my money but I just don’t have any to spend on gaming supplies right now. Hopefully I can manage something soon.

  25. Page says:

    It’s a sad thing, but there are no FLGS in the city I recently moved to. Back ‘home’ we were a small community but near enough to bigger towns that you could hop a bus or ferry if you needed to go pick something up. Now I have to transfer two bus routes just to find the nearest store, and it’s really not reasonable. Especially odd since it’s a college town, you’d expect plenty of gamers, even if they’re broke.

  26. Jason says:

    This article hits home for me. My fiance and I closed our FLGS at the end of November. We just finished packing up and moving everything out. We hope that it’s a temporary closing, but we just don’t know.

    When I was a kid, the closest hobby shop was 60 miles away. I had to save up, and get rides once every other month or so, to support my gaming habit. When I was 22, I went to work for a comic shop that had opened a year or two prior to that. They had already started carrying Magic: The Gathering, but I helped guide them into a true tabletop RPG market. Over time, I came to own that shop, which had gone from comics to games and comics, and then to games exclusively.

    We’ve had to close a number of times over the years, and have found a way to come back each time. 4th Edition has been a great boon to the hobby locally, as we’ve been bring in a lot of new players. But while activity and attendance has been greater than ever, sales were not enough to keep our doors open.

    Page: We are in a small college town (20-30k people) and hate that we have to take our shop away from our players. But sadly, it takes more than active players to keep a game shop open.

  27. operations says:

    @Jason

    You wouldn’t happen to live in Mount Pleasant would you?

  28. Jason says:

    No, Southern Indiana. I assume something similar has been happening in Mt. Pleasant. I hate to hear that :(

  29. Our club actually gives awards to our local gaming stores to show our appreciation, and put a free ad for them in any promo material we put out.

    Our club as awards for members and chapters, but for gaming stores (or any business that helps the cause) we give awards like our Ambassadorial Award or NPC Accreditation. Just pieces of paper, but a way to show our support. They in turn give us a slight discount, and we keep getting more members and sending them that way.

  30. Argokirby says:

    I feel FLGS need to change their business model. As opposed to trying to compete with Amazon or trying to convince us that we should pay more for something we can get somewhere else for less; FLGS should change to a service model.

    Gamers often need a place to play D&D or any other game, but up till now the space has been subsidized by book sales. But why, well the truth is the space that most FLGS provide to play the game is crappy.

    But what if you FLGS had a few rooms with some of these ( http://www.geekchichq.com/Co_Store/The_Showroom/The_Sultan/The_Sultan.html ). And what if it had over head projectors that pointed down at the table so you could plug in a laptop and project your map. What if each room had a complete book library.

    No longer do gamers need to buy from amazon, they pay $100/month to get 4 hrs per week at the coolest gaming place.

    I have little sympathy for game stores, over the years they have proven to be a cannibalistic bunch, never working together to get better deals from the distributors, they get crappy pricing on gaming books then are surprised when they can’t make a successful business of it.

    Most game stores I have encountered are dirty, lack good customer service, cater to nerds but do not create and environment that non-gamer parents would feel comfortable letting their children hang out it.

    They focus to much on hobby games and can’t see the potential in working with the family market to make real money. Most store owners are gamers themselves who have little business or marketing sense so lack the agility to keep their company afloat when time are bad.

    Anyways I digress, but my point is gamers could use a service more than they need to pay extra for the same product they can buy elsewhere.

    I’m actually glad to see the FLGS go.

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