Wednesday, August 24, 2016

On the Role of the FLGS Part 2: What Separates a Good Game Store from an Online Game Store

I mentioned last week that there was a difference between a good game store and just another game store, and here is the key to that difference:

A good game store works hard to be part of the local gaming community.

If your local game store just sells you games and that's the end of it, then they're probably not a good game store. They're just a game store, and you (honestly) might as well just buy online.

I'd rather buy online than support a bad game store.

You can usually tell a game store is good by looking for one key component:  Tables.

Game stores that don't have tables for demos (and other events) are very rarely good game stores.

You see, tables are used for demos and events (including both open play and tournaments). And a game store that wants to be part of the community needs to host events.

Phoenix Games has a schedule of events.
Fantasium has a schedule of events.
Card Kingdom has a schedule of events.
Uncle's Games has a schedule of events.
Gamma Ray Games has a schedule of events.
Blue Highway Games has a schedule of events.
The Game Matrix has a schedule of events.

These, by the way, are all game stores where I have spent money in the last year. And they are all good game stores that are surprisingly close.

So why are events and tournaments important?

Magic: the Gathering (just to choose one common example) is still (to a large extent) driven by the tournament scene. The vast majority of those tournaments are hosted at local game stores. Because "I'm going to have a tournament in my basement, please send me prize support" doesn't really fly with most publishers. Or parents.

If there was no tournament scene, then Magic: the Gathering would be a much smaller game than it is. Organized play (which includes tournaments) also increases the visibility of a successful game and encourages consumers to spend more money so they can get better at it. This helps manufacturers. Because if you happen to see people enjoying a game in public, you're more likely to pick that game up.

I love Amazon. I love Funagain, but neither of them have ever hosted a tournament that I've been a part of.

(It is worth noting that Funagain is an FLGS. They just also have a significant online presence.)

I suspect that organized play and tournaments (with the bonuses mentioned above) are the primary reason for manufacturers to love game stores.

So a good FLGS hosts tournaments and events.  What else sets an FLGS apart from an internet retailer?

Knowledgeable staff. When I go to a good game store, I know that I can ask someone, "Is this game any good?" or "Can you tell me a bit about this one?" - and usually, I can get an answer.  There are exceptions. The Game Matrix, for example, doesn't have a ton of board game-knowledgeable staff on hand, but their miniatures knowledge is fantastic.

The best game stores have demo copies of many of their games, too. So when I ask, "Is this any good?" I can get an answer of "Let me show you!" This benefits manufacturers who make good games (and can punish manufacturers who make bad ones ... ). And it makes me more likely to return to that particular store.

I love Amazon, but they've never taught me to play a game. I can ask Funagain a question, but I'm unlikely to get an instant answer.

Instant gratification. When I see that game on the shelf that I want, I can take it home right now. I don't have to wait two days (or three days or a week) for the UPS truck to decide it's time to deliver my package to me.

Local money. Some people pay close attention to where their money goes. "Buy local!" is a rallying cry for a lot of people. For me, Amazon is local, but I appreciate the sentiment. When you spend your money locally, it improves your local economy. When I spend money at Funagain, it boosts Oregon's economy.

For the record: I have nothing against Oregon, but it's not Washington.

Game stores are also the best way to find local gamers.  Every time I have moved, the very first thing I did was scout the local game stores and check out their schedules. Because I want to be part of the local gaming community, too. I love my wife, but there are games that aren't very good with two players. And I'm not a solitaire gamer.

These days, I can use BoardGameGeek or or any number of other hobby sites (or social media sites) to find local gamers. But people online are often quite different than they are in person, and a good game store is a safe neutral place to meet (and sometimes get to know) people.

Which reminds me: A good game store is a safe public place.  If I had a child, I wouldn't want them going to game events in a stranger's home. Game stores as safe places expand the potential audience for a game - even if publishers were comfortable with events like Magic Tournament In Someone's Basement, parents (rightly) wouldn't be. By being a public place, game stores expand the possible audience for their tournaments.

This is, by the way, not an exhaustive list of things that your FLGS does better than the online retailers. I'm sure there are others - but I don't want to force you to read a novel.

... and, here we are, a week and a half before you'll see this post (three weeks after I wrote it), and Phoenix Games has just announced that they're closing. Not because of competition from other game store (or the internet), but because Brian (rightfully) wants to be with his wife in California and can't find someone to take the store over.

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