By now, the internet is an easy one-stop destination to buy virtually anything. In gaming, this effect is even more pronounced, with sourcebooks being released as PDFs, and smaller authors using sites like Lulu for self-publishing. The brick-and-mortar “friendly local gaming store” soldiers on, like many retail establishments, but in catering to such a niche market, they run an even higher risk of losing significant sales and therefore money to internet retailers.
The local gaming store is more than just a place to buy games however, and that’s perhaps why they persist, but also why losing them is so significant. Take for example, this story of a store in Waltham, Massachusetts, called Danger Planet. Danger Planet was well-known in the Boston area because of their wargaming events, and had a sizable community built around it. Even I, who went to school at least half an hour away and didn’t even play any miniatures wargames, knew about that store because I had other gaming friends who did. I checked their online forums this past week when I was at home to see if I could find information about their hours, but instead I found that they had closed down almost a year ago. But what makes the community aspect of this store so striking to me was the fact that their online forum was still active, and there were still people as part of that community, even though there was no store to go to.
Interested in this, I took a day to go to all my old stores from high school and middle school when I was in the Boston area this past week. It was an interesting trip, and served as a good reminder that our hobby is very much a niche. For one thing, not a single store I visited sold role playing games or even hobby games exclusively. A couple shops sold puzzles and model kits, one sold sports memorabilia, another one was half used book store and half game shop. Out of their total stock, the amount of actual gaming products varied wildly, from half the store, to a single display with only a dozen or so D&D supplements. And it was clear in some cases that gaming wasn’t an active part of their business: I saw a lot of older D&D and World of Darkness supplements, and in many cases I’m guessing it was more leftover stock that never turned over than used or traded books.
The one thing that was very different from most retailers I know is that every store, regardless of size, had a play area. This was a big landscape for minis gaming in some cases, or just tables for a game of Magic or for your role playing group to meet. And the shops had event calendars, running demos, tournaments, what have you. The community aspect is not just my observation, it’s an important part of the business model, and business owners have reflected that in the way they use space. And the one part I noticed and most appreciated was the bulletin board. For someone who’s looking for gaming events and new gamers, a local bulletin board is invaluable, and it pains me that the one at my current local gaming store isn’t more active.
My experience going through places that I hadn’t really been in the past five years was interesting. Back when I was 14 it was great to leaf through a D&D supplement at the same place I bought Magic cards, partially because I didn’t really know what was out there. Now, with my favorite games being more obscure, seeing a new supplement I even kind of want on a shelf at a store will cause me to swoop it up, as much out of surprise as anything else. I admit I’m more on the internet side of the gaming community, which may explain that why I met my last group in college and am still playing with them instead of even trying to find new people to play with. A good gaming store is hard to find, and the best ones are places not only to buy games, but also to play them and meet people with which to play them. Stay tuned, I’ll be giving impressions of my favorite gaming stores later this week.
[tags]role playing games, rpg, geek, Board and Card Games[/tags]