Local Game Stores

A couple things recently have gotten me thinking about local game stores and I decided I just wanted to post a quick little ramble about them. I would, as always, love to hear some comments about this topic so please stick around and leave a few words.

Since I was in high school I have had a dream of owning a game store. I actually have a degree in business (finance specifically) and had interest in the degree originally in part because I wanted to own such a store. Partly because of this I have often felt some amount of loyalty to one of the local game shops in my area. (The other having ticked me off for reasons I won’t get into here.)

Essentially, in part due to these feelings of loyalty, I feel as though I should purchase my games from the local store rather than ordering them online. I will admit the other reason is that I tend not to want to wait for things to come in the mail… but that’s a whole different issue.

This kind of drives my wife nuts. Lately I have been able to see her point a bit more clearly as some games really do have a very different price tag at the local shop compared to online. When a game can be purchased via Amazon for two thirds of the price even I have to take notice. I suspect that the fact that I have been buying more expensive games lately (combined with the fact that more games are expensive lately) has also aided me in my observations.

Still, part of me loves going to the local shop and browsing the boxes, being able to touch them and read the backs and feel the weight of the pieces etc. I tend to be a fairly tactile person (screw Kindle! – course I actually listen to a lot of my books recently since I spend two hours a day in the car…) which I am sure modifies my perceptions as well. But really, how can these shops survive and are they really necessary?

Some people like to hang out at these places and play games, I’m not one of those people. I tend to feel overwhelmed in large groups and prefer to play games at my own house. On the other hand I am willing to acknowledge that game stores do offer this and more than likely it is important for the hobby as a whole. Amazon is not likely to be assisting with the formation of game groups anytime soon but shops do help people to come together.

What else do these places provide? I guess that some people still like making face-to-face purchases, seeing as most items can be purchased more cheaply online and yet all stores have not gone completely digital. Of course, you don’t have to “try on” a board game but at some stores you can try it out.

A few weeks back I was at the library near where Scott and I grew up. I noticed a sign that said they had “games” you could borrow for playing at the library but the games were mostly non-gamer games. I wondered if anyone ever brought more gamer-like games to the library and then saw a sign that had several games on it including Last Night on Earth and Heroscape. This sign talked about a monthly game night for high school students.

It made me smile when I saw that the game night was run by John Michalko (not sure if I’m spelling his name right) who was a teacher at our old school as well as being our old game master. He was a great guy, though I haven’t seen him in years I still remember a lot of games he use to run more clearly than anything else I did back in school.

I doubt I will start purchasing exclusively online any time soon. Heck, some games are only mildly less expensive at the online stores anyway. However, I really am beginning to feel that I need to check online before making purchases and if the difference is significant I need to shy away from the local store and wait my week or so for delivery.

I feel kind of bad about this but sometimes… well Galaxy Trucker is $75 at the local shop but only $50 on Amazon. Of course Agricola is nearly the same (and if you end up paying for shipping probably will be the same) and Dominion is actually more expensive through Amazon.

What do you think of local stores? Will they soon be disappearing or do they provide an essential function? Is there another option for meeting and playing games? The library perhaps? I would love to hear what other people think about this, thanks for listening to me ramble!

  1.  

    Having managed a game store for five years, I’m a little biased. We spent a lot of energy building our community. We taught people how to play games, we hosted tournaments, we ran open RPG sessions, we had a community bulletin board, we introduced people who we’d figured out had similar tastes in games, we had tables available for people whose families or living situation prevented them from running a game at their place, we did outreach to the local schools and youth clubs, we organized collectible minis swap meets once a month, we shared GMing advice and personal reviews of the games, etc.

    All that work comes at a cost, as does just keeping the lights on and the floor staffed for long hours. The time most people want to game (evenings) is not the same as peak buying hours (lunchbreak and just after school), but a gamestore that provides gaming space has to be open for both. So it’s only natural that your local game store often gets undercut on price by the online retailer or auction seller, who quite often does it as a second job for a couple hours a night, and has no employees or overhead.

    At this point in the explanation, the most common response was “So? I don’t need that crap you do. I’ve already got a gaming group, and we play at my place. I’m not interested in tournaments, I just play for fun.” Arguing against that is tough.
    At best, I could just ask them to remember what it was like back when they were the geeky teenager that had just discovered D&D and didn’t really have anyone to play with yet. Or had a group to play with, but those people cheated or powergamed, and you desperately wanted to play with a different group, but you didn’t know anyone else that gamed. People in those positions, teenagers and folks who just moved to town, are the ones who get the most benefit from gamestores.

    For those of us who have established friends, have figured out what we like in games, and don’t plan to move across the country any time soon, it can seem like there’s no benefit to us if we shop local over online. But that’s exactly the point: it’s just like shopping at the local mom & pop over wal-mart. You’re putting your money where it helps not just the local economy (important now that we seem to be on the cusp of Great Depression II), but also helps build the community. To me, that’s what it was all about. I wanted to help the next generation of gamers, enable them to connect and learn in ways I never had the opportunity at their age, making them feel a part of something, and not just a freak on the sidelines of society.

    But that’s not to say all game stores are about that. Some are just a hole-in-the-wall, where some guy realized he could finance his hobby and avoid getting “a real job”. The only significant difference between that and the online part-time store is rent.

    So the trick, I think, is to figure out what (if anything) the local store is doing for the local gaming community. If it’s trying to grow or support that community, it’s probably worth a little extra money in the long run as a form of geek charity. If, on the other hand, it’s just another business, then price is a more important factor in whether or not its worth shopping there.

  2.  

    Another point I wanted to make, but didn’t flow organically into that monologue:

    If you’re gonna price shop, actually check your prices locally, don’t just trust some online store’s claims of what the manufacturer’s price is, and how much of a discount they’re offering. I have a specific recurring anecdote that provokes this statement.

    While I was managing the game store, the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price on Settlers of Catan was $38. During nearly that entire time, one of the major online sellers (Funagain, if I remember correctly, but I could be mistaken) was selling it for $38, the same as we were. However, that site would mark it as being “on sale” at $38, with written to the side “originally $45” and some meaningless text about how much you were saving. They were selling at MSRP, just like the brick and mortar stores, but claiming it was a savings of $7 off. For nearly 5 years they did that, and it worked. I know, because it (and similar items) would come up when customers complained about our prices (which were never above MSRP unless the item was out-of-print and very collectible). People would say “I saw this cheaper at *blank*” and I’d go look it up. Admittedly, often they were right, but it was also very common for online places to mark things up, then discount them to create the illusion of greater savings.

    It was also pretty common for someone to just misremember a price – I’d show them the site they’d mentioned, and discover the item in question was $29.95, not $20 like they’d said it was. Sometimes this would work in our favor as well – someone would buy a game, saying “I haven’t seen that this cheap before” to something that had an MSRP printed on the cover.

  3.  

    Thanks for the input!

    I did mention that some of the games I was looking at were the same or perhaps even more expensive through Amazon, Galaxy Trucker being the only majorly discounted game I noticed on quick inspection. Interestingly (or perhaps not…) the expansion for GT was more expensive on Amazon than in the local store.

    The kind of things you described your store doing are exactly what I imagined my own store doing which is cool but I am uncertain how good I would be at any of it.

    Heh, one major thing for me to consider is my wife. She is very understanding of my game craziness but she is also a very frugal person.

    Again thanks for stopping by, I certainly can’t disagree with your points.

  4.  

    Cheers to John Michalko, wherever he is, great to know he’s still running [excellent, I’m sure] games!

  5.  

    It’s strange. For a lot of the purchases I make these days (movies, books, music, computer software and hardware) online is where I do virtually all of my shopping.

    Yet games, even video games (in part for different reasons), I still seek out in local stores most of the time. I guess I really like to browse the boxes, feel their weight, and get into the tactile side of it. The fantastic packaging that some games have received in recent years makes a much bigger impact in person.

    I often choose games for two reasons: one, I remember having played a game in the past when I tried it out with Josh or others. Reason two? Basically on a whim… and those decisions are made much more readily while I’m browsing physical shelves of games than any site I’ve come across.

    In short, local game stores still provide me a better shopping experience, and as long as that’s the case I’ll continue to visit them.

  6.  

    I use to almost exclusively purchase games on a whim. I had a theory that all game purchases were a bit of a crap shoot as to whether or not they would be appreciated by my group of players. More recently I have delved into reading extensive reviews and comments about a game before I purchase it (well… before I have someone else purchase it at any rate… heh) and I have to say that the results have been rather impressive. While not every game that has come highly recommended has been a knock out and not every game that with a mediocre rating has been terrible reading the reviews has certainly helped me decide if a game would be good for our group or not.

  7.  

    I suspect I’d be in a similar situation regarding strategic planning of game purchases if:

    1. I played more games than I do now, or spent more time playing them
    2. I purchased more games per year

    As it is now, I have far more games in the ol’ game closet (it is cool to have them in their own closet now!) than our group seems to ever be able to play. Thus adding new games is something of a luxury and if one bombs we still have tons of backups to try, not to mention tried-and-tested successes to fall back on.

    But there’s also that little element of emotion in my games shopping; normally I’m a highly rational person, but shopping for games is one of those rare situations where I let my emotional weighting processes take front-seat in my decisions.

    Overall, probably not something I’m likely to change all that soon, even if I can see the point and respect the notion of researching games before a purchase.