Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The FLGS Part 2 - The Future

GenerationX - My FLGS of choice

I talked about my personal experience with game stores in an earlier post - but what does the future hold? What will be the ultimate fate of the FLGS?

Let me take a side step and bring in a semi-related topic: computer games. I used to buy computer games in dedicated computer stores, in more general electronics stores, and even in used book stores. Today they are like almost all of my music and some of my movies: mostly purchased online and downloaded from Steam or GOG. Remember when people were afraid to download things from the internet? When it seemed very impermanent? I think the last computer game I bought in a store was Starcraft II a few years back when Target had a really good deal. I used to enjoy browsing the PC game section at Half Price Books because you could find older games there, but now GOG (and Steam too) handles that, in addition to making sure they work on modern systems and removing all worries of a scratched or broken disk. Sure, I miss the big box with a real printed manual, a map, and maybe some extra doodad in it, but nobody does that anymore. Time, technology, and changing tastes can shatter any business and warp any hobby.

The FLGS is in a slightly better position because they're not selling a digital product - they're selling physical, tactile games:

  • Card games tend to be the bread and butter and I don't see that changing any time soon. I don't think printing your own cards at home will become a thing anytime soon as there are too many ways to cheat and it destroys the whole concept of collectibility. 
  • I think the boardgame revival of say the last 5-10 years came along at a great time as it extends the life of the FLGS both as a place to buy a boardgame and a place to play them. One of the elements of that revival has been "nicer" games with fancier components and miniature-like pieces and I don't see that being a homemade option for years either.
  • Miniature games are less of a sure thing for me. There's a lot of cool stuff out there now but home 3D printers are rapidly getting better and cheaper. There was a time when we had to go find a copy machine to print sheets for Battletech, Star Fleet Battles, and D&D. I haven't done that in maybe two decades. If you don't believe me take a look at this - it's #5 on DTRPG's hot sellers list as I write this. If you're going to have to paint them at home, why not make them at home - legally! Once the miniatures are all about the pattern and not the physical item, all that's left are the rulebooks and  - well, see below.
  • RPG's are also an uncertain commodity for me. They're mainly sold in book form, and there are two problems there: Drive-Thru RPG and Amazon. In my experience gamers tend to be cheap as money is tight when you're young and have the time to play all of those games that are out there. Older gamers tend to stick to games they already know (in general - not everyone all the time) and while they will lay out $150 for the leather-covered-gilt-edged hardback version of  Runequest 1979 edition on a Kickstarter that's not really helping the FLGS keep the lights on. I'm just not sure RPG's are all that much a part of the future.

I'm not sure that just selling games is enough to have a bright future. Space to play is a common feature today and a lot of stores sell snacks and drinks to take advantage of that - more power to them I say, especially if that really adds to the bottom line. I've seen some opinions online that a future FLGS could charge to play, either by time or by space and maybe that's an option but I don't really see it as viable. This is probably where I should talk about my personal experience again:

I've never played an RPG in a store, gaming or otherwise. In junior high and high school we played at someone's house. In college we played in someone's house, dorm, or apartment or in a common area in the student center. Once I was past the school years we again played in someone's house or apartment. I know my experience is not universal, and I am probably not the primary target anymore,  but I don't think I am that unusual of a case. A game store is a terrible environment to try and run a game in my opinion. It's noisy and it's as full of distractions for gamers as any place on earth. Add in some passerby conversation and it's never going to look as good to me as almost anywhere else. With local RPG groups on social media and more and more ways to play online there will be an ever-shrinking need to go to the store to find a game.

In contrast I have played card games, I have played boardgames, and I've played quite a few miniature games in stores and they work fine. Why? Well, most of the time it's a two-player game, it's competitive (there's a winner and a loser), and they are shorter than a typical RPG session. All of these things mitigate the downsides (to me) of playing in a store. In addition the individual components of card games and games like X-Wing tend to be far less expensive and have far less of a discount online - 20% off a $50 book is a lot more noticeable than 20% off of a $14 Tie Fighter or a $10 pack of cards.  Also, RPG's tend to be played with a group of people you know to build a campaign over time while the more competitive games can be enjoyed with total strangers as a one-off experience. Sure, there are one-shot convention type modules but I would argue that those are unusual ways to play an RPG whereas they are the standard way to play a lot of the other types of games.

Now that I've given my experiences you can understand why I think trying to charge RPG players for space to play will never be a great source of revenue - because there is always somewhere else you can play for free, and it's probably a better environment anyway. try charging people to play and you lose the potential for impulse buys of games and of snacks and drinks and the cross-pollination effect of having games in action in the store getting noticed by other people.

The local Cinemark - my movie viewing establishment of choice
I've seen some suggestions to take this concept to the extreme and open a "gaming cafe" establishment that mainly sells space, food, and drinks. I think that's a terrible idea as I don't think there are enough gamers out there willing to spend enough time and money at that kind of place to keep the doors open. Plus, calling it a "gamer cafe" or a "gamer tavern" pretty much tells the other 90% of the population to walk on by. I can see it maybe working in a college town, close to the college, but even then I think you'd have to have a pretty solid business plan. In some way it has to be "better" than playing at home for it to work and that's a tall order. I've seen it compared to movies out versus movies at home and that's not a great example - sure, I have a nice TV, a fast internet connection, movie channels, and a pile of DVD's and Blu-Ray's, but I don't have a building-sized screen and the newest movies - if I want those I have to go out! What's the comparable "gotta have" thing that a game store/gaming cafe has over my game room at home? I've yet to hear a strong answer to this.

I know a lot of British gaming clubs have dues and use the money to keep a playing space - that makes more sense to me than trying to turn it into a business but that doesn't help the FLGS.

RPGs aside stores do charge people to play in card and mini tournaments and they seem to do just fine and I wouldn't expect that to change anytime soon - they're competitive events so the cost to enter is offset by both the experience and the chance that you will win! It's a totally different type of experience than a typical RPG and that's why it works.

These things drive my prognostications directly. I think that Magic and other card games and their associated events will continue to be a major factor in keeping the FLGS alive. There are two generations who see this as a "normal" thing when it comes to playing  these kinds of games. Miniatures games, especially pre-painted simpler ones like X-Wing, will be the next biggest factor. Traditional miniature games will decline but not die off completely for another 5-10 years and the events associated with them will still play a role as well. Boardgames will be a player too but I don't see them jumping to the top of the heap in most places. RPGs will continue to decline to where the RPG section in the game store looks like the PC game section at Best Buy these days.

A new type of RPGer will become increasingly common, one who meets people online, buys their books online, and meets up to play at a school or house or apartment or dorm without ever setting foot in a game store. I'm sure they will eventually go to one, maybe to play with an existing group or in some organized play event, but they won't be going to buy games as their primary purpose.

That's about as far as I can see. If anything ever happened to Magic I could see stores crashing all over but as long as it's there, or if something even bigger comes along (something like X-wing) then they have a chance.

1 comment:

thekelvingreen said...

Draughts in London is a combination shop and cafe and it is doing stupidly well; it is almost always packed and even if you go early in the morning there's a fair crowd. They charge for space and refreshment and it's working for them, but -- and this is significant -- Draughts is in one of the trendy areas of the city, and attracts that trendy audience.

It's also not a FLGS as such. You can buy games in there but it's not their focus.

My local gaming shop -- Dice Saloon -- is a shop first and foremost but they also sell refreshments and table space -- and will soon be getting a licence to sell alcohol -- but I haven't investigated in great depth to see how they're doing. I should probably change that.