Uneasy Partnerships
  • Uneasy Partnerships


    The gaming industry is generally a very helpful and friendly place. But sometimes relationships can be strained between the very people whose partnership is the heart of the industry: producers and retailers. In the age of digital publishing and internet ordering, it has become harder and harder to do well as a games retailer. In this article I hope to offer some insight into where the difficulties in the industry lie to help customers support both retailers and games producers.



    The Problem with PDFs

    Digital products are brilliant and have actually saved me from serious injury. I used to carry a full set of 7th Sea books to my gaming sessions and now I just bring a core book and an iPad. My back has thanked me ever since. Bookmarking has made them really quick to use and they a much cheaper than a hard copy. But the problem is retailers can’t sell them very easily. I’ve noticed a lot of my purchases these days are digital and that doesn’t help my local game store.

    Sadly, short of banning PDFs there isn’t much to be done, and you can’t put the genie back in the bottle even if you want to. Luckily most gamers want a hard copy book to actually play the game with, and PDFs have yet to make a dent in board game sales. But one thing that can make a difference is ‘Bits and Mortar’. This site carries a collection of PDFs and allows stores to duplicate the offer a lot of games companies make of ‘free PDF with the book’. If your local store doesn’t know about it, get them to check it out. If your favorite games company doesn’t use it, ask them to give it a try.

    The Giants

    Games can be very expensive, and it can be tough for many gamers to afford the books they want. It’s not surprising that Amazon does very well by offering the lowest price. But if there is only a couple of bucks difference, I encourage you to make your purchase from a games retailer or producer. Amazon isn’t offering lower prices out of the goodness of their heart, or because games retailers are mean and greedy. They can simply afford to cut their profit margin in a way retailers can’t. It has also been alleged that Amazon has also used its weight to push suppliers to offer lower prices too.

    This is good for the customer, but not for the retailers and producers. If you want them to survive, they need your business, and cutting prices to match is often just a quicker way to see them fail. I’m reminded of a customer who asked a retailer I know at a convention about a game. The retailer spent quite some time explaining the game and detailing how it worked. To which the customer responded joyfully with ‘wow, you’ve really sold me on this. I’m going straight back to my hotel room to order it on Amazon’. It was like he thought the retailer got a cut. They don’t, they just spend less time helping customers who might buy stuff from them.

    Direct Sales

    What has been a godsend to producers is a problem for retailers. The internet means that most companies can offer their products to the customer directly. This might mean special deals although most do keep to retailer prices. While it helps producers make more money by cutting a layer out of the supply chain, it makes the supply chain a lot shorter.

    There isn’t really a simple answer to this, as producers are in just as much need of your hard-earned dollars as retailers are. But if you can try and spread your purchases, it will benefit the industry as a whole. Retailers will always have the advantage of being able to talk to you about the games, so use that and get more value for money from your purchase. If you back Kickstarters, remind the creators to add retailer levels to get the books out in stores. Plenty of successful Kickstarters essentially hoover up all the potential sales. Retailer levels are a vital lifeline.

    Games Diversity

    There are a lot of games out there, and the best sellers are not always the best games. If people don’t talk to retailers about what they are playing, they won’t know to order it. This is one of the advantages retailers have over producers, and it’s the smaller producers getting hurt with fewer retail orders. While some large retailers can collect almost everything, many smaller ones have a very limited shelf space. If they are only stocking Pathfinder, it’s probably because that’s popular. If retailers aren’t stocking a game, it should be no surprise that people aren’t buying it very much. If you tell them you are playing Blue Rose, they may make a point of ordering a few copies. In this way, not only can you get the games you want locally, but someone else might see a new game on the shelf and try it out.

    Introduce New People

    Finally, the best way we can help the industry in every way is to find more gamers. Introduce more people to the hobby and help them get started. Then, like the rest of us, they will be looking to spend their money on more dice and books, and that’s good for everyone.

    This article was contributed by Andrew Peregrine (Corone) as part of EN World's Columnist (ENWC) program. If you enjoy the daily news and articles from EN World, please consider contributing to our Patreon!
    Comments 37 Comments
    1. Hussar's Avatar
      Hussar -
      Retail obviously is having all sorts of issues, and it's hardly limited to game retailers.

      I guess my question is, is this a bad thing? That might be cold and cruel, but, at the end of the day, isn't that how capitalism works? Sure, I could talk to a retailer about a new game, or, I could do a google search and see a thousand different opinions about the game, probably watch a youtube video or ten of people actually playing the game (particularly board games) and then make a decision.

      Not to be a jerk here, but, what do I need a game retailer for?
    1. coz's Avatar
      coz -
      Quote Originally Posted by Hussar View Post
      Retail obviously is having all sorts of issues, and it's hardly limited to game retailers.

      I guess my question is, is this a bad thing? That might be cold and cruel, but, at the end of the day, isn't that how capitalism works? Sure, I could talk to a retailer about a new game, or, I could do a google search and see a thousand different opinions about the game, probably watch a youtube video or ten of people actually playing the game (particularly board games) and then make a decision.

      Not to be a jerk here, but, what do I need a game retailer for?
      Yes it's a bad thing. Amazon doesn't create community. Amazon and Walmart and B&N and Target and... all might sell the books, but none of them offer space to play the games, none of them offer a meeting place in meat-space for gamers to gather and talk and play games. If you're into magic, sure you can buy draft packs at Wally-world, but when was the last time you ever saw them offer a draft (never)? If you have an FLGS and you choose to shop at Amazon then you are the problem! Frankly, you should only shop at your FLGS, the publisher directly and DTRPG. Anywhere else is doing much more harm than good. Where will we go to meet and play when the last FLGSes close? Who will support our (especially local) cons when there's no FLGSes. Where would we go for FreeRPGDay, Tabletop Day or GM's day? I would pay a premium over MSRP at my FLGS if it helped them stay open. I game four nights a week at my FLGS, I would never have that much gaming at my age (40) if not for the space offered by my FLGS - it's the most (and best) gaming I've had since graduating college (where we could and did play 6-7 nights a week).

      Despite new people being introduced to gaming via Critical role and other streams and casts, the FLGS is still an important part of making new gamers - sure they can go to Amazon once they get hooked on CR - but where will they go to play?

      tldr: stop killing the FLGS, buy local, play local!
    1. AriochQ's Avatar
      AriochQ -
      I imagine game stores are going to expand their income streams if they want to stay afloat. Essentially, they need to monetize play space/community. We have a local game store that seems to have a good model to monetize play space. Every $20 spent gets a play token. You could also just buy the token for $2.50, but it isn't that hard to find $20 worth of stuff to buy at a game store lol. When someone runs an RPG, each player gives the GM their token. The GM then turns them into the store for store credit, 6 tokens are worth $15 in store credit. Not bad compensation for running a game.

      I know some people balk at paying for play space, but this seems an entirely reasonable model to me. Essentially, if you are already buying product, you get the token for free. But, if you never buy anything, you can pony up $2.50 for a seat.
    1. BrewinDruid's Avatar
      BrewinDruid -
      I have ordered from Amazon for most of my 5e books. To be honest, I feel bad about it and haven't done it in months, but here in Canada the prices are WAY lower. Retail for the books are usually around $60, but I can get them on Amazon for $35-40. It seems to be like that only with 5e, however, as I have gotten all of my CoC and PF from local places for cheaper than Amazon. Another reason I order online is that neither of FLGSs (there are two) carry any RPG beyond 5e, PF and Star Wars as they both focus of trading cards. I suppose, being an RPG player I can complain about that, but that's what brings the money in, and unfortunately, RPGs tend to get left by the wayside.
    1. MaskedGuy's Avatar
      MaskedGuy -
      I might be wrong, but I kinda feel like "Friendly Local Game Shop" is more of American thing? I mean, at least I don't have emotional connection to local game shops or ever have met new friends there or played roleplaying games there(they mostly play trading card games there or warhammer or mech warrior type of tactics games). I think they are nice for avoiding expensive shipping costs though. Anyway, pdfs can't replace boardgames, but I definitely don't need more heavy books because I'm already running out of space because of them.
    1. BnaaUK's Avatar
      BnaaUK -
      Yeah, in my experience gaming shops weren't exactly friendly.

      The one I used to go to never seemed to host games, once or twice it hard tiny cards for people looking for players or GMs.

      But largely, my biggest memory was of a sales assistant telling me why the thing I wanted to buy sucked and that nothing was as good as his homebrew system. Friendly indeed.
    1. EthanSental's Avatar
      EthanSental -
      Well, Dr Nos in Marietta Ga. is awesome - comics, cards, games of all types (rpg and board games) and game space....then the staff is amazing....if you are in the area visiting, check them out!
    1. jib916's Avatar
      jib916 -
      Quote Originally Posted by coz View Post
      Who will support our (especially local) cons when there's no FLGSes.
      Do Conventions really rely on FLGS like you think? Are you talking about sponsorship's? (Or Perhaps Exhibit Hall rental spaces?)

      These things charge admission and also attract a large crowd that does not visit their local FLGS. (Including myself mainly a Roll20 player)

      I do suggest supporting your FLGS, but think conventions would be fine without them.
    1. Doctor Futurity -
      I think this is a regional issue....during my years in Seattle, for example ('95-'05), I remember very few game stores had play spaces or encouraged gamers to come in and play. But when I moved to Albuquerque, NM I migrated my group from home to the immense store space for gaming (the FLGS has a giant area for hosting games and tournaments) and never looked back; today we only play at a home location out of desperation, and I have met most of my gaming social circle thanks to the game stores....I would pretty much be dead in the water today if I was forced to rely on the internet to construct a gaming group and would hate to have to go back to hosting from home (I do not have the space to entertain a table full of gamers).
    1. Doctor Futurity -
      Quote Originally Posted by AriochQ View Post
      I imagine game stores are going to expand their income streams if they want to stay afloat. Essentially, they need to monetize play space/community. We have a local game store that seems to have a good model to monetize play space. Every $20 spent gets a play token. You could also just buy the token for $2.50, but it isn't that hard to find $20 worth of stuff to buy at a game store lol. When someone runs an RPG, each player gives the GM their token. The GM then turns them into the store for store credit, 6 tokens are worth $15 in store credit. Not bad compensation for running a game.

      I know some people balk at paying for play space, but this seems an entirely reasonable model to me. Essentially, if you are already buying product, you get the token for free. But, if you never buy anything, you can pony up $2.50 for a seat.
      The only local game store around here that charged for space went out of business after a year. The other two have free models for this: one has a no questions/expectations policy but offers a sliding scale discount based on how much you buy each year (I tend to have a 10 or 20% discount) and the other just asks that you buy your drinks and snacks from them. Both seem to thrive, and the one which asked money for game space is dead.
    1. Doctor Futurity -
      Quote Originally Posted by BnaaUK View Post
      But largely, my biggest memory was of a sales assistant telling me why the thing I wanted to buy sucked and that nothing was as good as his homebrew system. Friendly indeed.
      LOL to contrast one of the local FLGSes seems to only employ the five or so millennials who neither game nor have an opinion on games (unless maybe MTG). The other FLGS seems to be savvy to this trope and has instructed the staff to only promote and be positive to the games in the store, but the owner himself has often expressed interesting biases to me about games....but in his defense he knows he and I can talk more earnestly about this stuff and we're talking as friends, not a salesman/consumer relationship.
    1. Dire Bare's Avatar
      Dire Bare -
      Quote Originally Posted by Hussar View Post
      Retail obviously is having all sorts of issues, and it's hardly limited to game retailers.

      I guess my question is, is this a bad thing? That might be cold and cruel, but, at the end of the day, isn't that how capitalism works? Sure, I could talk to a retailer about a new game, or, I could do a google search and see a thousand different opinions about the game, probably watch a youtube video or ten of people actually playing the game (particularly board games) and then make a decision.

      Not to be a jerk here, but, what do I need a game retailer for?
      I'm with you on this one. I'm not going to patronize a local game store just because "buy local, they need your support". IF I'm going to spend money at my LGS, they have to offer me a greater value than I can get through Amazon. My FLGS discounts most of their products, not as much as Amazon does, but I appreciate it. They have a large, well-ventilated, and clean play area that is free to use. The staff is helpful, although not always knowledgeable. I give them quite a bit of my gaming dollars, and usually purchase an overpriced drink from the vending machine when gaming there. I support them because they offer value Amazon does not. I do get irritated at gamers who also use the free play area, but then go make most of their purchases online and also bring in food/drink from outside, rather than from the LGS

      There's another LGS in my area that also has a gaming area, but it's cramped, smelly, and the "regulars" curse like sailors. No discounts, and the employees are often too busy playing games to help me out . . . . they don't get a lot of my gaming dollars.

      Sure, I could talk to a retailer about a new game, or, I could do a google search and see a thousand different opinions about the game, probably watch a youtube video or ten of people actually playing the game (particularly board games) and then make a decision.
      I don't trust the employees at ANY of my LGS's, I've gotten so much bad information from each store. I always do my research online. Seems like most of them, if they don't know, make it up rather than simply saying, "I don't know". Grrrrrr.
    1. Dire Bare's Avatar
      Dire Bare -
      Quote Originally Posted by coz View Post
      If you have an FLGS and you choose to shop at Amazon then you are the problem!
      Screw that.

      An LGS has to earn the "F" to become an FLGS in my view, and they have to keep working hard for that status and my gaming dollars. As soon as my perception of an LGS value drops below the discounts I can get on Amazon, that's when I stop patronizing that store.
    1. Dire Bare's Avatar
      Dire Bare -
      Quote Originally Posted by AriochQ View Post
      I imagine game stores are going to expand their income streams if they want to stay afloat. Essentially, they need to monetize play space/community. We have a local game store that seems to have a good model to monetize play space. Every $20 spent gets a play token. You could also just buy the token for $2.50, but it isn't that hard to find $20 worth of stuff to buy at a game store lol. When someone runs an RPG, each player gives the GM their token. The GM then turns them into the store for store credit, 6 tokens are worth $15 in store credit. Not bad compensation for running a game.

      I know some people balk at paying for play space, but this seems an entirely reasonable model to me. Essentially, if you are already buying product, you get the token for free. But, if you never buy anything, you can pony up $2.50 for a seat.
      If my FLGS started to charge for using the play area, that would probably cause me to stop patronizing them and shift to purchasing games online.

      Smart LGS's offer FREE, clean, well-ventilated play areas, and also run lots of community events in those spaces (the events don't have to be free). This is what they can offer that online retailers cannot, this is what gets me as a customer.
    1. Myrdin Potter's Avatar
      Myrdin Potter -
      There are plenty of new players that start playing in school or a friend's place. Game stores help, but their play space is usually Adventurers League or Magic the Gathering, especially on weekends when most people are free. Some stores are run by people that really give back to their local community (like my local store), but others do not. I tend to buy my books on Amazon.com, but buy supplies and miniatures at the local store.

      Distribution into the more mainstream channels is great. Exposes many more people to the game and makes it easier to buy. It has been quite a while since that was true (I started over 40 years ago and there was a while that this was happening).
    1. Dire Bare's Avatar
      Dire Bare -
      Quote Originally Posted by BnaaUK View Post
      Yeah, in my experience gaming shops weren't exactly friendly.

      The one I used to go to never seemed to host games, once or twice it hard tiny cards for people looking for players or GMs.

      But largely, my biggest memory was of a sales assistant telling me why the thing I wanted to buy sucked and that nothing was as good as his homebrew system. Friendly indeed.
      Anecdotally, this was the norm in the 80's and 90's in my experience. Most game stores I discovered in the US were run very poorly, and I only shopped there because shopping online wasn't really an option yet.

      Today, most game stores I visit have free play areas with vending machines, and are (usually) better run than the game stores of decades past. They have to be, otherwise they can't compete with online sales.

      Still, I'm making predictions on the life expectancy of some of my local stores. There are a few that have been around for quite some time and are well run with great, free play areas. I expect them to continue to do well. There are a few other, newer stores, that have lousy play areas (still free) where there is a lot of cursing, smelly play areas, dark, cramped conditions, and sometimes a "clubhouse" mentality where the regulars treat the play area like it's their nasty, smelly, dank living room. Ugh.
    1. Xaelvaen's Avatar
      Xaelvaen -
      My local FLGS stays afloat despite the digital era by selling things that mostly suck as digital sales. Lots of miniatures, physical terrain and feature products, paints, glues and the like - and the business in warhammer/40k gaming minis is apparently huge. The book-oriented things, they still sell (for points mentioned in the article), but it is far from the cash cow that maintains their profit margins.

      They have a massive play space that is, and likely will remain free. They are friendly, caring, and love getting into discussions with old and new players alike, about new games, new ideas, even house rules - it really does put the friendly in flgs. I do imagine though, this is becoming more and more of an isolated situation. From many of my online friends, I hear their game stores are floundering, charging for gameplay periods, or flat-out rude. This all very much saddens me.

      I do hope that the community of local retail finds a way to stay relative (and a way to be polite, courteous, and attract repeat customers) to the growing digital empire.
    1. Inferno!'s Avatar
      Inferno! -
      Quote Originally Posted by coz View Post
      tldr: stop killing the FLGS, buy local, play local!
      Just curious, do you happen to own/operate a LGS?
    1. Doctor Futurity -
      Quote Originally Posted by Inferno! View Post
      Just curious, do you happen to own/operate a LGS?
      Nothing coz said wouldn't make sense coming from a gamer who's invested in the local live gaming community. I feel exactly the same way he does, and would hate the idea of going back to the Bad Old Days of not having a decent FLGS as a game hub.
    1. dragoner's Avatar
      dragoner -
      The business environment is always changing, successful businesses find a way to manage that change. Of the three game stores near me, two have transformed into gaming centers, still selling product, with incentives for GM's (such as buying a table copy of the rules), one went out of business, and another place, a gaming cafe that serves beer and food, has opened downtown. There are a quite a few cons around, including the big daddy just south of here in indy, where one can see enough gaming product to make the eyes bleed. There are some strange omissions there at GenCon, such as no Mythras for sale.
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