Sunday, September 7, 2008
General Gaming Rant - Brick and Moron
I used to be an active member on a forum dedicated to the business of gaming. Retailers, manufacturers and distributors all hung out on the forum and mostly complained about how hard things were for them. Manufacturers bemoaned uncooperative retailers, retailers bitched about distributor problems, and everyone was angry with online retailers. In fact, internet retailers were blamed for everything from failed publishers to rising gas prices and war in Iraq. I even heard from retailers who banned customers - paying customers! - who suggested to other customers that they could save money by buying particular products online.
All that pissing and moaning led me to an unpleasant conclusion. Namely, people who open brick-and-mortar games stores are by-and-large misanthropic assholes. Not all of them - the really successful ones seem to be decent guys - but a huge proportion of these hobby entrepreneurs are clod-hopping assbags who think somebody owes them a sale. They can find lots of reasons to blame other people for their failures, and while a few actually do have valid excuses, traditional game stores should spend a little longer looking at themselves. A pissy attitude is actually counter-productive, because by staring daggers at the competition and blaming someone else for their own shortcomings, they miss any chance for fixing their problems.
Let's start with high prices. These whiners throw a hissy about having to compete with Thoughthammer, and then charge over MSRP. Now, I know these guys have to cover overhead, but if I could go up the street and get a game for less bank, why would I get it from them? Would it be so I can have the priviledge of having them sneer at me and tell me that their game is better than my game? Would it be so that I could be berated for having bought a starter set at Target? Because honestly, those things do not make me want to shop in your store. Those things make me want to beat you with a tire iron, steal the games from you and then sell them on eBay.
And there's the second thing - attitude. You should be nice to your customers. I'll be the first to tell you that I'm not fit to run a retail store, because I'm a dick. But so are a lot of game store managers, which makes me wonder why on Earth they thought interacting with the public for a living was a good idea. One of the only advantages the brick-and-mortar store has is the personal interaction you can provide. If people would rather avoid you, how do you think that's going to help sales? Here's a hint, jackass - it's not.
Another thing that will drive away business is if your store reminds me of your mother's basement. Just because you call your store The Troll Cave is no excuse for it to smell like trolls actually live there. Turn on some lights, for God's sake. Take a bath, shave, and maybe hit the treadmill now and then. I'm not saying you have to look like Adonis, but it would help if you and your store didn't both smell like sweat socks and stale potato chips. If you look like you're hiding a sandwich under your sagging man-boobs, maybe you should get someone who can talk without wheezing to run the register.
For some reason I can't fathom, however, manufacturers and publishers seem to think that without these mom-and-pop turd-hole game stores, they'll fail completely. They think nobody will buy the games if they can't find them at Magic Bunghole Game and Comic Emporium. They think they need to cater to these cave-dwellers whose poorly-lit stores have more in common with Buffalo Bill's kidnapping lair than with Barnes & Noble. They'll offer incentives for preorders, and then say you can only get them at the store, and then the store will drop the ball and you'll wind up paying too much and still not getting your promo figures. Offer the same bonuses to online retailers, and preorders will be off the charts.
Here's some news your average retailer is going to hate to hear - I'll buy the games I want, and I don't need to get them from you. Funagain can offer me discounts and good deals on shipping. When I come into your store and say, 'Do you have The Boring Game?', don't tell me, 'No, but we can order it.' Guess what? I can order it! And then it'll come to my house! If you tell me, 'No, it's tough to keep that one stocked. I would try Thoughthammer,' I'll know that you're secure. You know what you can do, and you know what you can't, and reality doesn't make you want to roll up another half-orc necromancer and spend every Friday night hiding from people who wash their armpits.
No, retailers need to concentrate on what they can provide and Troll and Toad can't. Somehow, places like Borders and Barnes & Noble manage to keep growing, even with Amazon drawing off book sales. And they do it by being honest about what they can do and what they can't.
First off, you can't carry everything Noble Knight Games can carry, so don't try. You don't need a huge selection of games. You don't need every new expansion to every new game. You don't need everything ever made. You don't even need to try and keep up, because gamers who know what they want are not going to make a special trip - spending time, gas and more money - to buy from a store. Your product selection should tempt me, and provide me with what I can't get online. Sure, I could buy miniatures online, but if I'm in the store, I can take my time perusing blister packs to find that one figure that I can paint to look just like Smash Crowbar, my extra-dimensional half-elven dual-class rogue/cleric.
And you have to make me want to hang out in your store. You can sell me expensive stuff if you show it to me and make me want it now. My local game store, Lone Star Comics and Games, has one of the nicest stores you could imagine, and the staff knows their games. I like to go in and chat with the guys there, and they can recommend products I wouldn't have considered. I don't know how often I've bought something from them just because it was there and they knew about it. Their board game section is a little anemic, but that's fine - anything I really want, I'm going to order online, so they only need to cater to the soccer mom trying to find something for her gamer husband's birthday present. Instead, they carry lots of D&D books, lots of Warhammer figures, lots of gift items and not much else. They carry boosters of the most recent releases for the most popular card games, so that the social retards who show up to play YuGiOh every weekend have a quick way to pick up a few extra cards, hoping they'll find that super-rare foil-plated uber-monster they read about in a pedophile's chat room.
Clean up your store, and put stuff where I can see it. A crowded, dirty, smelly store with all the lights turned off makes me wonder if the clerk is going to try to fondle my children in the back room. If you have a gaming area, don't put it in the storage shed out back, where kids can pick up new words for 'vagina' that they didn't know when he went in. If there's a single thing that keeps me from visiting Big World Comics & Games, it's the fact that I'm worried I'll catch an African disease if I spend more than ten minutes inside.
My favorite game store ever was in Orlando, Florida. It was called Enterprise 151 (or something, I don't remember the numbers, but I'm sure some Star Trek nerd can probably figure them out) and, like most game stores, had comics in about half the store. It also boasted dozens of racks of games, none higher than my head, all of which were easy to flip through and explore. But the real reason I visited that store on a very regular basis was the old games section, where I could find games and books that had been out of print for decades. I spent hours flipping through old-school D&D modules and plastic-bagged board games. If Lone Star Comics had a section like that, I would be there every weekend.
But the single greatest thing that I think is missing from nearly every game store is food. My family absolutely loves to visit Barnes & Noble because there's a Starbucks in the store. You can go in, buy a magazine or paperback, and then sit in the little cafe and sip a cup of coffee and eat a scone. That's not my bag - I prefer beer and pizza, and my mind rebels at the thought of paying $6 for a cup of coffee - but there's no denying that it brings people to the store. And I'm not accepting a candy machine and a mini-fridge with Mountain Dew - that's not food, that's ingestable garbage. If I could order a sandwich and a milkshake and then sit at a table in a clean, well-lit room while I played a game of Colosseum with a couple friends, I would spend most of my waking hours in that establishment.
So if you own a retail store and you read this column, please don't send me an anthrax letter. Instead, own up to the fact that internet retailers are not destroying the hobby. Understand that a campaign to 'support your FLGS' is stupid if you can't give me a reason to do it. This hobby can survive without you; you, on the other hand, can't survive without us. There will always be good game stores, and sadly, there will always be filthy stores where rat bites are just behind that stack of old Magic cards. Quit pretending to be the victim, buy an air-freshener and a mop, and make me want to come to your store. I'll even thank you for the opportunity to pay 20% more.