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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.



[h=3]The Problem with PDFs[/h]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.
[h=3]The Giants[/h]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.
[h=3]Direct Sales[/h] 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.
[h=3]Games Diversity[/h]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.
[h=3]Introduce New People[/h]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!
 
Andrew Peregrine

Comments

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
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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Hussar

Legend
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!
But, you said it yourself. Things like Twitch streams and whatnot DO build communities. Very, very large communities by the looks of it. Or places like En World where you have very large communities to rely on. Heck, I don&t even know what Tabletop Day is. I haven't set foot in an actual gaming store in decades. Building players? Well, I put on online add on and poof, instant group.

I've almost never actually played in an FLGS.

Yet, I've never had any problems meeting gamers or getting a group together, across two continents and multiple countries.

Now, gaming 4 nights a week? Sure, ok, I can see why you would be pretty invested in an FLGS. But, frankly, there simply isn't enough of you to keep the business model alive. Again, I'm not trying to be a douche here. I'm really not. I hope that the FLGS is around forever. But, brick and mortar retail businesses are ALL hurting. It's not like this is a special thing for the FLGS. And, I'm not really sure that the FLGS offers enough to keep it alive. I hope that it does.

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.
Must be nice. I never had a "game hub". Maybe other folks are right. It's a regional thing.
 

JeffB

Legend
My local stores do not offer me any extra value (edit- that is useful to me- I don't need a local "hub" or play at their establishment) And charge full prices.

2 kids, one in college, mortgage, car payments. Sorry, I'm not willing to pay full price for game books. Amazon, PDFs or direct from companies like Palladium or TLG who offer frequent sales on their print and PDF products.
 
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Inferno!

Explorer
I've been gaming since the early 80s. In that time I've spent tens of thousands of dollars on game products - I've done my part. In that time, I can count on one hand how many times I've participated in-store events. When I started gaming, the LGS was the only way to obtain products. Now I can obtain everything I want and need from other sources, often at reduced prices. I don’t NEED the LGS. If the LGS can adapt and offer added service and benefit that customers are willing to spend their limited resources on, then long live the LGS. However, if the LGS no longer provides added service or benefit, its continued existence is of no concern to me. It's not my responsibility to sacrifice my financial well-being on behalf of the game store simply because they exist.
 

practicalm

Explorer
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.
People say that and then do something different. Every game store has to deal with a different business model for their location (rent and traffic vary). The Los Angeles area rent is too high to allow for a large part of your space to be free play space.

Kickstarter is hurting the retail stores as well. Too many of my game purchases have been through Kickstarter compared to my retail purchases.
 

Dire Bare

Legend
Supporter
People say that and then do something different.
They do, huh? Certainly different folks value different things in a retail store. But I'm not alone in finding a free, clean, well-lit, well-ventilated, friendly play space to be a huge draw. There are folks who use those spaces and then go shopping online . . . those people suck, but it's part of the business environment gaming stores have to navigate. In my area, all of the local stores have free gaming areas, but only one fits my description above. It's the most successful store in the area, although they don't rely solely on their awesome play area . . . they also have a significant online retail presence as well, they are well-stocked in a variety of games, and their employees aren't gamer troglodytes. It's tough to run a successful gaming store today, much tougher than it was back when I was a kid. But some stores manage to thrive nonetheless.

Every game store has to deal with a different business model for their location (rent and traffic vary). The Los Angeles area rent is too high to allow for a large part of your space to be free play space.
Sure. I imagine things are much tougher in high-rent cities, I don't have a lot of experience in those types of environments. But the basic premise is the same, the local retail store has to offer me something more than just "buy local, because" to pull my business away from online retailers and high discounts. If I moved to LA, and none of my nearby stores had nice, free play areas, I would probably check out the stores with nice, not-free play areas and start weighing my options. If the fee to play was reasonable and the play area a great environment, I might patronize that store. But if I wasn't impressed, even a small play fee would send me back online.

Kickstarter is hurting the retail stores as well. Too many of my game purchases have been through Kickstarter compared to my retail purchases.
Meh. Kickstarter is definitely part of the environment now, but I doubt it has as large of an impact as many folks assume. Many of the games kickstarted on the site would not exist otherwise, and many of the kickstarters have retailer pledge levels to get those games onto retailer shelves. If I were a retailer, I wouldn't worry about Kickstarter (or other crowdfunding sites) because it's simply not possible to compete with them in any meaningful way. I would also watch the tabletop games section of Kickstarter to see if I want to risk a pledge to get some of those games on my store shelves.
 

Rygar

Explorer
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!
Retailers exist because prior to the early 00's it was prohibitively difficult for a consumer to purchase things directly from producers, given the number of things any given consumer owns and the number of producers. This created large complex supply chains to get products to consumers, often with several hops in between the producer and the consumer, each adding to the cost of the item. The 00's changed that such that there's now at most one hop between the producer and the consumer, reducing prices, and making local stores less cost-effective due to their markups.

Eliminating archaic middle men is not a bad thing. It makes the production chain more efficient and results in no tangible job loss since the retail jobs shift to the production jobs as people have more free cash.

As far as "Community" goes, first, let's be honest. There's no community of sufficient size to make it possible for a store to stay solvent in anything but Magic the Gathering. A half dozen people at most for one or two nights a week for an RPG game, and maybe the same number other nights for Pokemon and boardgames isn't enough to keep a store solvent. RPG's and other games are what stores do with their space to make a few dollars on nights when they aren't running Magic.

But hypothetically speaking, if there were enough players, then when local stores go under playspaces would open to meet demand.

The harsh truth is that we're watching the death of the game stores. Their business model is outdated, and outside of a single product line, they don't have anything that can generate significant revenue. If Magic the Gathering falters, and it will eventually fail, gamestores are gone immediately.

But honestly, it doesn't matter. If RPG's remain relevant technology will advance sufficiently for virtual tabletops and remote gaming to become a reality. Honestly, it's really already there, screensharing and free tech like Google Hangouts make it trivial to run.
 

Fandabidozi

Explorer
My local shop is an hours drive away but if I’m near I usually pop in and buy something. What helps is they have great customer service and don’t patronise or speak down when you ask them something.

I’ve been to plenty of game stores in the past however, that if your not one of the in crowd you’re treated with complete contempt.
 

Flexor the Mighty!

18/100 Strength!
I have a few local games shops but I'm not into RPG with randoms but my wargaming group does meet at one. Game Nite in STL is a good store. A lot of product for RPG, mini gaming, and board games! We play 28mm WW2 for the most part, Bolt Action and Chain of Command. However I don't think anyone I play with buys anything there other than copies of Wargames Illustrated each month. Part of the problem is the bought a decent amount of Warlord Bolt Action stuff but its nothing anyone in the group needs, for some reason they ordered a bunch of blisters of Winter geared troops. So it doesn't move, and they don't refresh their stock. And if you want to have them order that's fine, but its quicker and cheaper to go across town to Miniature Market and get it off the shelf at 20% off retail. there is usually a decent amount of tables of role players on Tuesday nights but I'm guessing like all stores its Magic keeping them afloat.

They are a good store though, they have sale days for people to bring up stuff they are trying to get rid of. I just got 50 AWI Colonials for 40 bucks painted and based! I do try to buy stuff there if I can. I've bought rule sets and miniatures for RPG games, but I'm not sure my group really helps the store stay open.

Is the place a central hub for a gaming community? I suppose but if I wasn't playing there I wouldn't feel any need to throw money at them. And for my RPG spending they don't carry Swords and Wizardry, though outside the main book and one monster book its not like there is a buttload of product in any event.
 
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MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Cut out the FLGS middleman and Amazon and buy directly from the game companies on their web sites or the creators through Kickstarter.

Well...I'll still often buy from Amazon because it is convenient, competitively priced, and has great customer service.

I have spent a lot of money at one of my local game stores over the years, mostly because they offer good food and beer on tap, have a huge play area, and free game library (to which I've donated many games). This makes it a good location for gaming groups to meet, especially if you are are finding new players online and are not comfortable inviting strangers into your house.

Yet, even this is changing. I am organizing a gaming group on Meetup.com and called the game store to ask if I could reserve a table. Not on weekends they say.

Through Meetup.com I can get a free WeWork conference room. Coffee, Tea, and Water is included. Sure having to bring your own snacks or order in a pizza is a little less convenient, but it is a lot less money on food, AND we get a private space where we can easily hear each other and where we KNOW we'll have a table waiting for us.

I would *like* to support the FLGS in this situation, but they make it difficult. Have an option to reserve a table, I'd happily pay a few bucks.

With online ordering, You Tube video reviews, Twitch live plays, meetup.com, virtual tabletops, digital books, the increase of coffee shops and bars offering play spaces, and the fact that I'm a home owner who can always play at home, I'm finding it increasingly less attractive to spend time or money at the FLGS.

Perhaps the biggest turn-off for me is having to drive to the FLGS and there not being any available tables. I don't have a schedule that allows me to get there early and camp out. I don't even go to movies any more unless there is reserved seating. I'd happily pay for that, especially if there was table rent + meal deal.

For now I'll continue playing at home with my regular group and for my Meetup.com one-off games with strangers, I'll be trying out WeWork.

About the only thing that will get me into a game store now will be special events. Classes would as well. But I never see classes being offered. Most geek-friendly classes are held at libraries, community centers, or geek centers.

Why should I feel any guilt about not patronizing businesses that are more expensive and less convenient? To support "the community?" It seems that FLGS support only a small sliver of the gaming community and their support is often poor. The hobby is thriving and I don't see the FLGS playing a big role in that and I don't think I'd miss their loss.
 


Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
I've never really had an FLGS, so that aspect of RPG culture doesn't have that nostalgia for me. I suspect it's why I ended up being so involved with the online community as soon as that became possible. The closest thing is the Forbidden Planet branch in town, but they're not so much the "F" part of FLGS! They do stock a more RPGs now than they have historically, though (a couple of years ago it was one small shelf with just some D&D books and maybe a Pathfinder book?)
 

pogre

Hero
It's all been largely said, but there is a couple of situations that keep me from buying much from LFGS.

They don't carry what I want and frankly, they are smart not to. I love miniatures, skirmish games, and things of that nature, but not GW much these days. I spend most of my hobby money on paints, models, and dwarven forge.

Some of the products a game store cannot get cheaper than me - Dwarven Forge for example. The rest just does not sell well enough for the stores to justify carrying it. So, I buy it all online.

Stores around here need to sell Magic cards and board games to survive. Things I do not buy very often.

I do make almost all of my D&D purchases at a local store. In part, because they have a decent discount program that while not as good as Amazon prices - allows me to not feel like I'm giving a charitable donation.
 

practicalm

Explorer
Meh. Kickstarter is definitely part of the environment now, but I doubt it has as large of an impact as many folks assume. Many of the games kickstarted on the site would not exist otherwise, and many of the kickstarters have retailer pledge levels to get those games onto retailer shelves. If I were a retailer, I wouldn't worry about Kickstarter (or other crowdfunding sites) because it's simply not possible to compete with them in any meaningful way. I would also watch the tabletop games section of Kickstarter to see if I want to risk a pledge to get some of those games on my store shelves.
There is a lot of money going through the Kickstarter ecosystem and the two stores that I've talked to say business has seen a decrease. This may mostly be board games but when profit margins are thin, the reduced revenue has a large impact to the bottom line.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Meh. Kickstarter is definitely part of the environment now, but I doubt it has as large of an impact as many folks assume.
You'd be surprised. Kickstarter is a noticeable percentage of the entire industry outside D&D.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
Well now you kids way back in 1879 1880 during the Carter years, we had a local gaming store. (Jasper reaches for his Crown Royal bag) Which of you kids swapped my real Crown Royal bag for my dice bag? (Eyes porge and pulls out his hip flask). The LGS had some RPG stuff, needlework, yarn work, flower arrangement stuff. Or you could hit the two local book stores for some RPG and those baby blue dice what had the white crayon in them. But none had tables to play.
***
In 1982 while in Army at Ft Devens we had a FLGS. It was crowded. Some you kids on the overweight program would not be able fit down the aisles. The owner had 7 or 8 big size books you could order from. You know those 25 pound Bible size books Bishop Morrus carries with him. But no tables.
***
Back in 1784 while station Calli For A Eye we had the store on CANNERY ROW it was about the size of a deuce and a half. But no Tables. Or we could go to Carmel. It was at least 30 feet by 20 squares long. I once saw Dirty Harry shoot a guy for double parking his VW bug. But no tables.
***
Back here in town. We have Visions. THANK YOU MAGIC GAMERS. BLESS ARE YOU. AND PRAISE THE CROWN royal. Them there Magic folk buy enough stuff that are tables are free. But I do encourage you to buy some of your supplies there.
We also have GT South a gaming bar. Bring your own light sources, they kind keep dark.
****
Yes if you can you should support the Local Gaming Store. I have not problems if stores charge for table space because the margin is thin.
Now you kids SNORE!........
 

Must be nice. I never had a "game hub". Maybe other folks are right. It's a regional thing.
It really is, and once you've experienced a good game hub situation it's hard to imagine going back to the dark ages of not having one. I mean, I lived in Seattle from 1996-2005, arguably the gaming heyday of the region, and I found it so much harder to find and meet other gamers in that city even though it had something like 10 game stores, but only one of them had any real space for gaming, albeit no hours to support when I actually could game.

Once I came to Albuquerque, where I had essentially 1 game store (2 now) but it was designed ground up to provide maximum gaming space with no questions asked and stays open until midnight every day; this was a game changer for me. I've managed two weekly groups now since 2007 and no longer have to worry about hosting at home, or the equally divisive issue of another gamer hosting (which is a whole separate bag of cats). Neutral spaces for gaming are, as I see it, just like regular sports: you could in theory play soccer or baseball in your back yard, but it's not ideal and finding an actual public spot to play is far preferable. To me RPGs are no different. Plus, by gaming in public venues I've gotten to meet so many more gamers in person that way (though in the last few years less so; the younger generation is by default less social and engaging in the public, which does of course mean that all my feelings on this will one day be moot, as Gen Xers slowly wither away).

These days having meetup.com and other resources is great, but being able to play and run games without having to turn my house into a entertainment zone twice a week? Priceless. Obviously people with the space and a desire to host will feel differently, but for me....yeah, I do not want to go back to the old days which felt like, "water everywhere and not a drop to drink," so to speak.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
[MENTION=10738]Doctor Futurity[/MENTION] I agree, to a point. I loved the Fantasy Flight Game Center here in the Twin Cities area. Huge space, large tables, clean; good food and beer on tap; knowledgeable, professional, and friendly staff. But, increasingly, I'm finding it too limiting.

Two things would win me back and make it my preferred venue:

1. Easy to reach outlets from all tables (under the tables so you down have to worry about tripping).

2. The ability to reserve tables.

Give me 1 & 2 for an hourly price that include, say a free drink an hour.

In Taiwan, I used to go to these lounges where you pay by the hour. You get one free drink up to a certain value each hour. There is a call button at each table to call wait staff to order snacks, more drinks, etc. Many had large libraries of comics. People go to these to hangout and read comics, meet with friends, or have business meetings, or study. They would be great for gaming.

I think businesses like WeWork are moving in this direction. They are going beyond offering space for business meetings and are not focusing on social events and hobby groups. I'm seeing more and more of these kinds of by-hour and daily rental office spaces going up around the country. In the Twin Cities it seems there is a new one opening every couple of months. The rates are dropping to the point where Meetup.com is including free WeWork conference room rentals and drinks in their subscription. The subscription rate for Meetup.com is $25 per month. Less if you commit to six months. $25 a month is about a half or a third of what I would pay for a one-hour rental of a conference room, or a day rate for a small office or table at a co-working space as recent as last year.

I've been using turn-key suites and co-working sites around the world for years. It floors me how much the price has dropped.

It would be interesting to so if there would be enough demand that WeWork or some similar company would offer space and deals geared for gamers.

Say you could get a large table, with loads of outlet, a projector, in a space conference room that is only for your group, and it includes free coffee, water, and tea. Maybe beer. Maybe they throw in a pizza. How much would you pay?

I still think it would be a bit high for many people, I think gaming stores stores with large play spaces could easily compete with a low table rent that included vouchers for soda, etc.
 

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