Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Pay To Play?

As you know, I am the host of a regular Wednesday game night. It started out in my apartment, and, within a few years, had outgrown the apartment in several ways (not the least of which was parking). With the permission of Brian - the owner of Phoenix Games - we moved Game Night to the store.

A few years ago - after several years of discussion with me and with others - Brian made the difficult decision to start charging for table space at Game Night.  As I'm sure you can imagine, it was initially a very unpopular decision. Attendance initially plummeted.

Pay-to-play is not an unusual model for game stores to take - there are several local stores which rent out their table space for events. When I was new to the area, I went to every game store I could find, looking for a game group to join. The pay-to-play model scared me away in many cases, as the stores tended to be small, or attendance was pathetic. I'm just not willing to pay money to join a game group of four people who all like games I can't stand. Or who aren't willing to try new games.

Far too often, these small groups have a set pattern of play in those preferred games, too. When I was looking for a group, I had a real problem with getting ganged up on or otherwise targeted by the majority of the other players. This is a non-issue for some games, but it can really kill the fun of other games.

Brian seems to have dodged the biggest landmines you usually encounter with a pay-to-play model in a game store.  In fact, it seems to be working really well for the store (and for Game Night).  We are regularly pulling 30+ people, even at $5 each. And the group is very diverse, which means that everyone can usually find one or two people who are interested in the same game(s) (I even saw Monopoly being played not long ago ...).

Brian's model is a different from the other stores I dealt with, which I think has been the key to this success.

First of all, he doesn't pocket all of the money. When you buy in, Brian puts your name in a drawing to win a gift certificate. The value of that certificate varies based on the number of people present. And, when there are enough people present, he'll sometimes give away two gift certificates. In addition, a portion of the money goes to, which publicizes the group and brings more folks in. It's certainly increased our visibility.

Despite the initial drop, the group has really grown since he started charging. Grown significantly, in fact. We have been averaging 30 or more people every week, which is nice. It means I have a nearly unlimited number of new opponents to face on a regular basis.

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