Why the Little Guy is Actually a Lion

Just a typical Friday night at Imaginary Wars.
Of Calgary and My Spoiled Gamer Nature

Lately I've seen a pretty disturbing trend in my local gaming community that I'd like to talk about. I've had a lot of discussions about the importance of the local gaming store (LGS) in the overall health of a gaming community and what I've observed is a bit alarming.

I live in a unique area that has a profound amount of gaming stores, including one of North America's largest, Sentry Box, and also one of my favourite stores because of the community support and great atmosphere, Imaginary Wars. I am a patron to these two stores and, having worked in the gaming industry, tend to have fairly interesting discussions regarding the industry with the stores owners.

These stores, and others in town are central points of interaction for various gaming communities in the city. Some tend to specialise in card games, or collectible miniatures, while others focus on tabletop wargames or others take on all comers. Each store has it's own unique culture. An LGS with gaming space becomes a focal area where community supporters such as myself can demo the latest game of our obsession, it's an opportunity for people to discuss and see games being played. Games that may otherwise never be played.

The First One is Always Free

I can't tell you the amount of times I've seen something cool being played, or been playing something cool and had a small crowd of people come together to see what the game looks like, ooh and aww over the models and then pull the trigger and dive right into a game and thus, a community.

Off the top of my head, I can think of the following tabletop wargames whose campaigns and leagues I was organizing took off because of the support of my LGS:

Flames of War
Heavy Gear
Epic: Armageddon
Battlefleet Gothic
Dystopian Wars
Firestorm Armada

These are what I would consider fairly specialised gaming systems, not your usual Warhammer 40k or Fantasy and in some instances, because of the ability to demostrate the game in my LGS I was able to build communities of sometimes as many as 50+ regular gamers (Epic: Armageddon in Ottawa comes to top of my mind).

Why was this more successful because of my LGS?

  • I had a venue to demonstrate and play my games. The visual drew people in.
  • I had a central place where I could post notices and organize campaign or tournament play for a league.
  • The LGS stocked the game I loved which allowed me to demonstrate the game and, when someone was really jazzed about the game, let me show them the models and armies... Impulse buying is a HUGE factor folks, HUGE!
So What's The Problem?

Lately I've been hearing strange rumblings in my beloved LGS. I've seen two things starting to happen:

  1. I've noticed a disturbing trend where gaming companies have made their newest releases available for online purchase through their own stores first and then allowed local gaming stores to stock that product on their shelves 2 or 3 weeks or even a month later.
  2. I've heard people, some of them close gaming buddies go into our LGS and say "I can get this boxed set for such and such a price on Amazon" can you meet that price?
Why is This a Really Bad Thing?

Issue number one is terrible because it means that the initial boost in sales for a local gaming store associated with a new release isn't prevalent anymore. Imagine with the latest edition of Warhammer 40k books were only available online through order for the first 3 weeks to a month and THEN available to LGSs? How many people just LOVE their 40k and HAVE to have the latest book? I know I'm that way with my gaming systems. By doing this the gaming supplier sends out the following messages:
  • You are only going to get the latest stuff if you order directly through us, not your LGS.
  • We're going to penalise you if you support your LGS.
  • Your LGS isn't a very important business partner to us.
That's a really fucking horrible message to send to gamers, who are already known to be a pretty fickle bunch. It basically implies that if the LGS isn't important to the game developers than they shouldn't be important to the gamer... Which is dead wrong.

The second issue, in my opinion is born in part out of the first. I was appalled when I heard that people had been saying while in one of my favourite gaming stores to other gamers that they shouldn't buy such and such a product here, they should order it online through Amazon or another deep discount online mini store where they can get it much cheaper.

Why is this really poor form?
  • You've basically taken business away from the LGS owner, a store you frequent and, if not patronize, you certainly take up their table space during gaming nights... How do you think the lights stay on while you play your favourite game of Space Marine Death Bowl? You may as well sit in the LGS owner's living room and insult his taste in furniture. That's how insulting that is.
  • You've encouraged other people to take the same action. In this day in age, third party advocacy, especially from a peer, is king. Why do you think things like Google Reviews and Yelp are so popular these days? Or unboxing reviews on YouTube, etc? Because we want to hear about what our peers experiences were like when we are getting into our games! By taking this action you've basically told people that the very LGS you are standing in isn't worth your money.
Why is This Terribly Myopic?

The problem with these two trends lately is that they are making it harder and harder to support the Local Gaming Store, the very place that is a central point to make a gaming community healthy. You see the relationship between the gamer, the local gaming store and the gaming company is a symbiotic one. The gaming store provides increased sales for the gaming company through impulse purchases, regular stock of our favourite games and a place to grow and play that company's games. Time and time again I've seen the power of peer persuasion when it comes to getting into a new game and if the local gaming store is able to get in a regular stock of said game the odds of someone pulling the trigger and impulsively buying a brand new army goes up exponentially. However, the reverse is true with ordering the exact same thing online. The odds of them doing that go down quite a bit more. By having the gaming companies move to models where their releases are only available online intially hurts both the local gaming stores and also themselves because it totally kills impulse buying trends and the opportunity for peer advocacy.

The other thing this disturbing trend does is it kills the opportunity to grow communities for games. Or at least it makes it a lot more difficult. You are either growing or you are dying as the old adage goes and without new gamers to fill the ranks of the old and crusty ones (self diagnosed) a gaming community and system will inevitably atrophy and die off. Local gaming stores allow for the opportunity to bring in new blood, re-invigorate the veterans of the game through the enthusiasm of the newbs, and provide an atmosphere in which the newbs can learn the tricks of the trade with that specific game.

It also provides a space to create events like tournaments, slow grow leagues, campaigns and the like. Sure you can do that in your basement, but the opportunity for a healthy big league grows so much more when you open it up to your local gaming store. By supporting discount online game suppliers you are hurting yourself. The local gaming store doesn't run off of love and sunshine folks. There are bills to pay, utilities to keep running and, in the immortal words of Firefly's Malcolm Reynolds "A powerful need to eat sometime in the next week."

The Point

Anyhow, the point of this novel is I've lived in areas where there isn't a local gaming store and it's a lot tougher to run and bring together a gaming community. That is something that people with local gaming stores close by seem to take for granted. Next time you consider that deep discount store online, think about what the price of those savings are, not to your LGS but to yourself and your fellow gamers.

The little guy, the local gaming store, is actually a champion for the games that you love so much. It's the LGS that can sustain the health of your game and gaming community. It's them who is the lion.

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