What Will Become of the FLGS?

Role-playing games have always had a curious space in distribution channels ranging from hobby stores to bookstores to toy stores. As geek culture and tabletop gaming increases in popularity, distribution channels are morphing in surprising ways to meet gamer demand.


[h=3]D&D as Toy?[/h]When Dungeons & Dragons was first sold, it was everywhere, including toy stores. Shannon Appelcline speaks to the game's popularity in Designers & Dragons -- The 80s:

...it’d been on an upward trend since TSR published those first thousand boxes of Dungeons & Dragons in January 1974. Whatever the reason, the result was really big. You could find roleplaying games in mainstream stores like Waldenbooks and Toys “R” Us.


One of the reasons D&D made it into toy stores was thanks to the release of the Basic D&D set. Appelcline clarifies in Designers & Dragons -- The 70s:

...J. Eric Holmes — a doctor and professor of neurology, and also the author of a Pellucidar pastiche called Mahars of Pellucidar (1976) — approached TSR with an offer to write an introductory version of D&D. The original game targeted the college-age crowd, while Holmes wanted to expand the game’s demographics to younger players — and possibly to get it into the mass market as well.


It worked. For a time, book stores and toy stores were major distributors for D&D, helped in no small part by the launch of Basic Dungeons & Dragons. The collapse of those chains cut off RPGs from wider audiences.
[h=3]Your FLGS to the Rescue[/h]Friendly Local Game Stores (FLGS) picked up the slack and were always a viable source for tabletop role-playing games. They were the original distributors of ancillary markets like tabletop wargames and miniature games, so it was a natural progression for FLGS to carry RPGs too. But then the D20 glut happened. SDLear provides a general outline of the bust cycle:

  • Phase 1: Store overbuys on fad product (usually D20)
  • Phase 2: Store owner finds that they have product they can't move.
  • Phase 3: Store owner cuts out "high risk" product only re-ording backstock occasionally (at our local store its D&D and nWOD almost exclusively).
  • Phase 4: Store owner does not realize that his stock is offered for 10% off at Barnes & Nobles.
  • Phase 5: Gamers turn to http://Amazon.com for selection, find that they can get a better price online.
  • Phase 6: Local gaming community crashes without vibrant local retailer.
  • Phase 7: FLGS goes out of business.
The glut hit game stores hard.

There was little review, be it professional or fan based, and purchasing agents for stores had a hard time sorting the good from the bad. This was neither sustainable nor terribly good for the core engine. By 2005, the market was collapsing from too many low quality supplements...The wide variety of low quality supplements resulted in many stores having surpluses of lousy supplements; for many, this was a major hit to their profits, and often, had the effect of damaging all but special orders for 3rd party supplements.


The final nail in the RPG surge took place in the build up to the Great Recession, effectively pushing game stores that were doing poorly out of business. Wizards of the Coast's experiment in distribution with its chain of Game Keeper stores ended in 2004 when all 85 stores closed. It hurt other distribution channels too: KB Toys closed in 2009; Waldenbooks stopped operating in 2011. But there were still alternative channels to purchase tabletop games.
[h=3]Bookstores Take Over[/h]Bookstores took a hit from the recession too. Barnes & Noble was one of the last bookstore chains still operating. How did it survive? By selling things other than books, including toys and board games. This tactic led to Barnes & Noble holding Casual Game Gatherings in March:

Barnes & Noble will host weekly Casual Game Gatherings, offering demos and space for play, in March, distributor Publisher Services Inc. announced. The events will be held on five Thursday evenings at 57 stores, about 9% of the chain’s 640 stores. Demos will be conducted by Barnes & Noble store employees.


The events were enough of a success that Barnes & Noble is considering expanding them. Tabletop role-playing games may well be on the horizon. What's behind B&N's sudden interest in gaming? Sales, of course:

Barnes & Noble continued its transition to geek central with continued growth in its Toys & Games and Gift businesses in the results from its third fiscal quarter, reported last week. Toys & Games was up 12.5% and Gifts was up 13.8%, CEO Ronald Boire said the conference call. Vinyl and adult coloring books were the only other categories in which Barnes & Noble reported growth.


Books-a-Million has also jumped into the geeky fray, dedicating entire sections to themes that encompass all forms of gaming. Geek & Sundry teamed up with Books-a-Million for International Tabletop Day:

They are holding events at many of their stores throughout the nation. They will have free play, plus giveaways, discounts, and the coveted ITTD premium and promo kit items available on-site. So go visit them to score these exclusive items! After International TableTop Day, BAM and Geek & Sundry will continue the partnership to display a whole bunch of recommended games all summer long! Many of which have been featured on TableTop.


Bookstore aren't the only chain distributing tabletop games however.
[h=3]What About FLVGS?[/h]There's another kind of store that is expanding to include all things geeky, the Friendly Local Video Game Store (FLVGS). These stores began distributing primarily video games but have since branched out to all sorts of geeky gadgets, including collectibles, wearables, and toys. This makes it appealing as a possible distribution channel for tabletop games:

There are many reasons people come to a FLGS, such as meeting new people, play games they can’t play at home, learn about new products through demos, friendly competition, etc. Many also go to their FLGS to see if they like a game, and then buy it on Amazon at a discounted price. They will now have a new alternative for Cryptozoic games: Game Stop.


Some consolidation has happened:

What do you do when your primary physical sales channel is drying up? You sell something that your audience loves, preferably online, and if that doesn’t work you buy someone that does. To that end, GameStop, the beleaguered game sales company, has bought ThinkGeek, a beleaguered geek toy company, for $140 million at $20 a share.


ThinkGeek's brand is particularly friendly to tabletop gamers and even began experimenting with brick-and-mortar stores of its own. GameStop's growth in the game distribution market has turned it into a viable channel for tabletop games, so much so that Cryptozoic Entertainment decided to sell its games through GameStop. Cryptozoic is known for a wide variety of licensed card and board games, including Adventure Time, Batman, DC Comics, and several television and movie franchise brands -- the most recent being the successfully Kickstarted Ghostbusters board game. ICv2 explained:

Cryptozoic has made a number of distribution changes in recent months, expanding its merch relationship with Diamond and its game relationship with PSI, ending its exclusive hobby distribution relationship with Diamond/Alliance for games, and ending direct consumer sales of trading cards on its website (see "Cryptozoic Expands Merch Relationship with Diamond"). Adding a 6,600-store chain brings an important new channel to Cryptozoic’s distribution options.

[h=3]FLGS Live![/h]There may still be hope for your friendly local game store. A BoardGameGeek poll of 130 voters indicated that 75% still thought there was a role for them in the marketplace. The top three most important attributes for game stores to be successful, beyond being merely the least expensive (and therefore losing out to online competition like Amazon), were knowledgeable staff (54%), playing tables (34%) and gaming sessions/tournaments (34%). Game stores fared well in 2015:

Over 80% of game retailers are experiencing increased sales in 2015, according to the results of a new survey conducted by ICv2 in the run-up to the holiday season. Asked about the 2015 trend for their business, over 30% said sales were up over 10%, and over 50% said sales were up from 1-10%. Only a little over 10% of game retailers reported flat sales, with single digit percentages down 1-10% and none down over 10%.


In some ways the collapse of the other distribution channels has made FLGS more important than ever. With tabletop board games surging in popularity, larger chains like Target have begun carrying board games too -- and this occasionally causes some fiction when a popular board game like Pandemic gets released in Target before it reaches hobby stores. Scott Thorne, PhD, owner of Castle Perilous Games & Books in Carbondale, Illinois and instructor in marketing at Southeast Missouri State University, expressed his concern about the early release in his Roll for Initiative column:

BTW, I would be remiss if I failed to mention last week's release of Pandemic 2nd Edition by either Z-Man Games or their mass market distributor to the Target chain a week before the official release date, (according to Alliance Distribution's Website), of February 6th. Given that the game has been out of stock since the holidays, finding it on Target's shelves a week before the hobby gets it is annoying to say the least. I would certainly like to see some repercussions, but given that Target will sell more Pandemic in a week than I will in a year, I sincerely doubt it. However, the game store channel is the primary outlet for the rest of Z-Man's catalog and causing them to sell a hot product at more of a disadvantage than usual is not good for the long term channel relationship.


With tabletop games surging in popularity, distribution woes will likely be an ongoing problem as publishers navigate between the hobby stores dedicated to gaming as a brand and mass market stores that offer access to a broader customer base.
[h=3]The Future[/h]As geek culture thrives, game stores will need to evolve with them, adjusting to multiple gaming formats that help them survive the boom and bust cycle. Geeks and their children have a lot of buying power, but in the highly competitive world of online stores, distributors are still figuring out the best way to reach them. The friendly local game store of tomorrow may well offer a mix of electronic and tabletop games.

Mike "Talien" Tresca is a freelance game columnist, author, and communicator. You can follow him at Patreon.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca

Zaran

Adventurer
Is Nan's Games and Hobby still in business? I grew up going there in the 80s and 90s. That was the Mecca of gaming for me. I remember them always having a big supply of games, even though they always sold other stuff too.

Yes it is. I think because the owner lives in the back or behind ancient board games on the shelves.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Pobman

Explorer
There's definitely a growing number of boardgames cafes, though. They seem to be popping up everywhere.

Yeah, two in Nottingham in the past two weeks! We actually had a D&D tweetup at one of them (The Dice Cup) on the 12th March.

I think gaming stores really need to monetize people coming in and playing, whether it be charging them for table space, or selling food and drinks to them. Obviously the store needs space for that, but in this day and age when you are competing against internet retailers, you need to offer people a reason to come through the door.
 

darjr

I crit!
Ours here, Speilbound, seems to be always busy and often packed to the gills. They are also more of a bar than a cafe.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
As a 40-something gamer getting back into the hobby that has more money for TTRP, but less time and a less flexible schedule, I like the idea of "gaming cafes" but really don't have the opportunity to take advantage of them at this point in my life. We have an excellent "gaming bar/cafe" run by Fantasy Flight Games very close to where I live and I've never been there.

I bought the 5e books at The Source mainly because they get them early and I want to support what, to me, is a local gaming institution. Now, the main draw for me, is to look at board games, browse material from older additions that may be useful for my 5e campaign, and to browse miniatures--especially those in the bargain bin.

Some things that I would like to see at my FLGS:

AFFORDABLE 3D PRINTING SERVICES for MINIATURES & DUNGEON TILES ON DEMAND
Right now at least 3D printing requires an investment in equipment and material and most people are going to buy lower-end models that take a long time to print with mediocre quality. Most printing services, on the other hand, are geared for designers and engineers looking to print prototypes and are too pricey to print out lots of dungeon tiles. I would love it if I could go into the store and physically handle and look at bunch of miniatures and dungeon tiles, write down their part numbers, and pick them up in the next day or two. Or go to a website, place the order and pick up at the FLGS (though I still like to physically inspect miniatures).

CRAFTING & SKILL CLASSES
An old classmate of mine opened a butcher shop that sells "grass-fed, humanely-handled, and hormone and antibiotic-free meats" source from his local area. His product is more expensive than your average butcher and MUCH more expensive than a chain grocery store or wholesale club. One of the reasons he is doing so well, is not just because folks want to feel better about themselves for buying ethically source meats, but because so many people in their 20s-40s have grown up with pre-prepared foods that few people know how to prepare meats beyond the most popular cuts. So his butcher shop has a pleasant, friendly, welcoming atmosphere with both the sales people and butchers having a deep knowledge of the product that can help with cut selections and make preparation suggestions.

They also offer classes on cooking, butchering, and other meat preparation classes (how to make bacon, etc.), see: http://conscious-carnivore.com/classes-1/

Given the popularity of crafting channels on You Tube, I think that there would be a good market for crafting classes. I would love to attend a miniature painting class or terrain creation class. I would also love to take a voice-acting class for role players.

LOCAL-ARTIST TABLES/DAYS

I know some will have days for artists to sell and sign their work, mainly comic-book artist. But I would love to have a venue to meet those who paint miniatures or make terrains. I'm hesitant to buy pre-painted miniatures and terrains on-line, because it feels like I'm taking an expensive risk and paying a premium for shipping.

GAME-TERRAIN RENTALS

Okay, at this point, I'm sure I need a reality check. Maybe there is no business model here, but their are folks who rent paintings, furniture...so why not games and terrains.

With games, it would likely need a merger of FLGS with video-game stores. Not sure if renting board games makes any sense. Especially since the FLGS have libraries of games you can play in-store for free.

But what I REALLY WOULD LOVE is to be able to rent terrains. It is hard for me to find time to create even printed battle mats. When I have made some 3D (actually 2.5D--shout out to DM Scotty) terrain, I make easily re-usable items. I would happily rent a cool 3D-tile set for a single session. Someone recently posted on another thread who he created the entire Tomb of Horror in dungeon tiles. I don't have the time to make that and would want to spend the money to buy it, but how cool would it be to rent it.
 

ddaley

Explorer
I started gaming in the early 80s and played into the mid-90s... then quit for a long time. When I was playing, I bought most of my gaming supplies from Toys R Us and various book stores. The local gaming store had very little aimed at D&D fans. It was mostly aimed at war gamers. They did carry Dragon magazine, and I bought a number of issues from them.

Last year, I started getting back into gaming (mainly because of 5e). There are a few things keeping me out of the "local" game stores:
* Living in a semi-rural area, the nearest gaming store is about 30 miles away.
* Given WoTC's handling of the 5e licensing, I wouldn't expect to find much 5e related material at the local game store. So, making the 60 mile round trip to look at the WoTC material isn't worth it.
* Kickstarter has been a great source of 5e and other RPG related projects.
* I am all for supporting local shops. But, when I can purchase Curse of Strahd from Amazon for $29.99 when the list price is $49.99... making a 60 mile trip to pay an extra $20 isn't too appealing.

Since WoTC has opened up the 5e licensing a bit, maybe we'll begin to see more 5e related products in the local gaming stores.
 

fjw70

Explorer
I still frequent game stores occasionally. I will buy some dice or minis (or some other small item). The bigger purchases are mostly either PDFs or bought online (where the discount is more significant).

I have played at game stores but I prefer not to. Too noisy and distracting for me. There was a nice period for a few years that I did play at this game store when no one else did so that was nice. Since then they moved and consolidated their playing space so we are back to being noisy and distracting.

As a kid my favorite place to play was a room at the local library. That doesn't work these days since the libraries close too early for us to play.
 

TerraDave

5ever, or until 2024
Yes, but if it *started* in 80-82, that means they had probably only become really common-to-ubiquitous by late in the decade.



I'm going to guess that, overall, Warhammer was a bigger moneymaker, with some regional variation. The 80s were big for D&D, but there just weren't *that* many products you needed to play.

No Warhammer 80-82. As I think you noted. They are later, and have their own stores!

Waves, we are talking waves. Later 80s you have many more RPGs, and new styles of hobby and mini games like the Milton Bradley ones or Battletech.

By that point many of the first stores would have closed or be under new ownership.
 

Patrick McGill

First Post
Really the only asset an FLGS has that online doesn't is a communal space, and if you try monetizing that people get pissed off (in my experience). People have an expectation already set of what an FLGS should be and provide, and that expectation is simply not sustainable for the FLGS nine times out of ten.
 

AriochQ

Adventurer
SNIP

AFFORDABLE 3D PRINTING SERVICES for MINIATURES & DUNGEON TILES ON DEMAND
Right now at least 3D printing requires an investment in equipment and material and most people are going to buy lower-end models that take a long time to print with mediocre quality. Most printing services, on the other hand, are geared for designers and engineers looking to print prototypes and are too pricey to print out lots of dungeon tiles. I would love it if I could go into the store and physically handle and look at bunch of miniatures and dungeon tiles, write down their part numbers, and pick them up in the next day or two. Or go to a website, place the order and pick up at the FLGS (though I still like to physically inspect miniatures).

THIS would get me to a FLGS! I like the idea so much, I may stop by my FLGS this week and suggest it to them.

I was just thinking last night about how I sometimes design an adventure but don't have a specific mini. I don't really need it, but it would add to the session. Since I tend to plan about a week out, I never have time to order one online and still get some paint on it. If I could run down to my FLGS and get one printed out that day, I would use that service at least once a month, maybe more.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
No Warhammer 80-82. As I think you noted.

Warhammer Fantasy Battle was first released in 1983, and I presume that it would have taken a couple of years to become a big deal. This also suggests the rise of the FLGS would have been mid-to-late 80s, rather than early.

Waves, we are talking waves. Later 80s you have many more RPGs, and new styles of hobby and mini games like the Milton Bradley ones or Battletech.

Battletech was released 1984, only a year after Warhammer. It wasn't a 1990s thing, as you seem to suggest here.

And Magic: The Gathering came along in 1993, just so we all share the same chronology.
 

TerraDave

5ever, or until 2024
Warhammer Fantasy Battle was first released in 1983, and I presume that it would have taken a couple of years to become a big deal. This also suggests the rise of the FLGS would have been mid-to-late 80s, rather than early.



Battletech was released 1984, only a year after Warhammer. It wasn't a 1990s thing, as you seem to suggest here.

Uh no. Not really. There was an early wave. It was very real. And I don't say 90s. That as you imply was something else.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Uh no. Not really. There was an early wave. It was very real.

I can't speak to what you had in your area, of course. But it isn't like I'm a young whippersnapper, either, I was gaming back in those days too. Nobody has data. We have anecdotes, and we have some supporting logic. Our anecdotes don't seem to match.
 

ShinHakkaider

Adventurer
I have almost no need for a game store. What I'd LIKE is a place to play that was easy to get to, well kept, clean and professional. The product I can get pretty much anywhere (including directly from the publishers these days) but a service? Good Service? THAT'S hard to find.

Somewhere with good play space I wouldnt mind renting out once or twice a month for a game. I run my Pathfinder game out of my apt now but only recently and because after 5 years of gaming with the same group I trust them not to be a**holes in my space. They are a great group of people that I'm honored to know but they've been the exception and not the rule. The leeway I give them doesnt extend to the typical gamer AT ALL so a public space for playing is a great idea. But the old idea of the FLGS? And as for camaraderie with my fellow gamer? I LITERALLY RAN out of the Compleat Strategist a few weeks ago when some guy tried to tell me about his RIFTS character after I pretty much said "no that's okay you don't need to go into any detail." and he was like 'No but my character..." and I was like "NOPE!" and out the door.
 

ShinHakkaider

Adventurer
Besides, these days as much as I love RPG's the overhead for them is just too much. I'm leaning more toward board games and miniature games to intro them to my son and his friends as well as my brother in law and his friends.

Overall I find them easier to learn and setup and you can play with available people (if they're willing to learn of course) and you're usually one and done. Right now the only RPG that I actively support with my money is Pathfinder and that's getting less and less of my money these days. Meanwhile between kickstarters and Amazon I have boardgames coming out of my ears. Also looking into starting to play FFG X-wing.
Expensive? YES. But there's more of a chance that I'll be able to get my son and his friends to play an impromptu game of Zombicide, Settlers or X-Wing than Pathfinder, Dungeon World or Mutants and Masterminds.
 

Dorian_Grey

First Post
Here in the Boston area, we are not so well served. It isn't like the geek community here is small, or anything, but I expect the retail space is *really expensive*, making viable stores rare.

When I was at Northeastern University, there was a gaming store over on Commonwealth. It looked fairly large. Also, there is the Wizard's Tower in Nashua NH and Myriad Games in Manchester NH. I used Wizards Tower to primarily support my BattleTech addiction, but they used to have a huge AD&D 2nd Ed wall, as well as a "used" section full of 1e and basic stuff (this was back in the 90s).

Just something to check out! :)
 

WackyAnne

First Post
3D printing, while it doesn't take much in materials, takes an _awful_ lot of time. That's why - at least for the short term - it's worthwhile doing at home, but not at a store. It would take a few days running non-stop to print out your average-sized dungeon, so not a moneymaker for a store.
 

"Local gaming community crashes without vibrant local retailer"

Local gaming communities will not necessarily crash without vibrant local retailers. Though having that sort of FLGS in a community can help a lot, it isn't the sole determinant of the popularity of local gaming.
 

There are a lot of things that FLGSs can do to make themselves more attractive to potential customers. More of them need to look towards ways of adding value that make paying more for a game (than Amazon prices) and having to drive to the store more attractive to the average customer. There are a lot of ways to do that, but most FLGS owners don't seem to be very imaginative when it comes to that.

A lot of FLGSs also suffer from inappropriate open hours (adults can't shop during the day) and staff with poor communication and customer service skills. You don't keep your store open when you want to work - you keep it open during the hours that most customers can shop there, and make sure that you provide a level of friendliness and customer service that is at least equal to B&N.
 

delericho

Legend
There are a lot of things that FLGSs can do to make themselves more attractive to potential customers. More of them need to look towards ways of adding value that make paying more for a game (than Amazon prices)

The problem is that it's not a small differential. I might pay a pound or two more for a product simply to support a local store - indeed, I used to make sure I did just that. But when it's a 30% saving on a $50 book, that's not a question - in the most recent cases, that's the difference between buying the book at all or not. (Plus, it doesn't help that the FLGS where I bought my BECMI Red Box finally closed last year. I have an alternate, but I just don't have the same long-standing relationship with the new guys that would persuade me to essentially donate money just to keep their business going.)

and having to drive to the store more attractive to the average customer. There are a lot of ways to do that, but most FLGS owners don't seem to be very imaginative when it comes to that.

As others have said, the big one is providing play-space for hire. But space is expensive, especially in anything approaching a convenient location. (That's what finally killed "The Dragon & George" - his let was up and the city council wanted to increase his rents significantly.)

(Another problem that some stores, and notably the Games Workshop stores in the UK, face is that parents see this available game space as cheap child-care - they drop the kids off for a few hours to play, and leave it to the staff to deal with the fallout. Which is a disaster waiting to happen, especially with GW moving towards lower staffing levels in general.)
 

The problem is that it's not a small differential. I might pay a pound or two more for a product simply to support a local store - indeed, I used to make sure I did just that. But when it's a 30% saving on a $50 book, that's not a question - in the most recent cases, that's the difference between buying the book at all or not.

That's a big difference for me, too, and one of many reasons I just buy online now.

BUT...there are still people out there who will drive to a store and pay 30% more for a product they could get more cheaply online. More than either of us probably realize. For example, I did some temporary work at a USED bookstore last year and was astounded at the number of people who would buy rpg materials that they could easily get for half that price with a simple Amazon search. I know a lot of people in my local rpg community who still buy their game materials from local game stores. I don't get it, but it's true.

As others have said, the big one is providing play-space for hire. But space is expensive, especially in anything approaching a convenient location. (That's what finally killed "The Dragon & George" - his let was up and the city council wanted to increase his rents significantly.)

A lot of that depends on where you live. Space is MUCH cheaper in Texas than in California, to use a U.S. example.

Beyond that, though, people always talk about play space because that's one of the few things that seems to keep many game stores going. My point is that there may be other things. I can't think of any off the top of my head, but that doesn't mean there aren't angles that haven't been explored. As a group, FLGS store owners (in my experience), don't seem to be particularly creative in coming up with other incentives for customers to shop with them. It may be that they need to sell products at more significant discounts and use them as loss leaders for other things.
 

Related Articles

Visit Our Sponsor

Latest threads

Dungeon Delver's Guide

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top