Published on January 26th, 2015 | by Luke Turpeinen2
In Favor Of The Board Game Cafe
Over the last couple of weeks I have been hearing a lot of groaning again about the death of the tabletop game industry. Much like Facebook quizzes, these moans of despair never truly die down, they just make the constant rounds of the industry/community bloggers and forum posters and their loudness comes in waves.
Most recently I’ve been seeing a lot more talk on forums and on Twitter about how much you owe it to buy at your friendly local game store (FLGS) as opposed to an online retailer (ie: Amazon in most cases). The people who know say that the economy is up again, but mostly for those who were already wealthy, and many in the working class are still tightening their belts. People want to support local business, but those Amazon 30% discounts and Super Saver shipping start to look pretty good pretty quickly.
So what is a consumer supposed to do? You can support a niche but growing hobby by buying that $50 game at MSRP from your locally owned retailer, who might need to take 2-3 weeks to order it for you if they don’t have it in stock. Or you could go to the Walmart of online retailers, getting the game quicker and cheaper but hurting your local game store’s business.
That’s problem number one. The second problem comes from the way that the store space is used from a customer perspective. Apart from pricing, the biggest complaint I hear about FLGS is that the owner “plays favorites” with the different game groups, and lets certain groups have the best nights. Usually, I hear this coming from RPG players complaining about CCG players, and it’s true, it very much does happen. But why?
Well, from a business perspective, it makes sense. If a group of five people playing an RPG come in, they take up a whole table of play space, maybe buy books there (unless they get them on Amazon), complain about the prices in physical stores and then leave without having paid for anything. I’ve seen this happen. Of course the owner of the store is going to give the Magic the Gathering play group whichever night of the week they want, if that’s what’s bringing cash and faces into the store. How could you blame them?
The third problem is retaining your own business. The more experienced a person gets with the selection of board games on the market, the more specific and rarefied their tastes run. They also start to learn about more distribution paths for their games, including online retailers and digital versions of games. If the customer likes indy games they could find Kickstarter and fund all of their favorite game companies directly, cutting the middle man.
This means that stores help people understand the hobby more, but generally can’t keep up with such a wide variety of inventory to keep people interested as they get more invested. This causes a loop where stores tend to sell things that cater to people who are new to the hobby, as that product is the product that reliably sells well.
It seems to me that the current business model for game stores is broken. It invests a lot of effort in getting people into a hobby but has a hard time keeping them coming into the store unless they can tap into a community fan base (CCGs, war gaming, comics, etc) that will continuously buy product from them. But then that inventory inevitably comes to dominate the shelf space.
That means that game stores need to focus on adding value to their business. Adding value essentially means to find out the things that customers think of as a benefit of coming to your business (in this case, as opposed to Amazon) and then cater your services to provide for those benefits. The user Kreider204 on RPG.net gave the benefits they would like to get from going to a game store:
- The ability to browse items before buying.
- Opportunities for gaming.
- A cool place to hang out and maybe even meet some new gaming friends.
This is a wonderful example of exactly the kind of responses to this question I’ve seen over the years, yet we’re just now seeing a drastic change to the business model used in game stores: the cafe.
It doesn’t surprise me that it seems to have started in Seattle. It was our neighborhood e-sports fans that coined the term “Barcraft” to describe watching Starcraft II matches at local bars instead of football. Our local pubs and cafes have also traditionally stocked games like chess, Scrabble or a pack of cards at least since the 90s. When nerds started setting up more modern games in cafes and bars, it didn’t raise eyebrows around here.
Then a couple local game companies decided to shift their retail spaces into areas that had expanded seating and included food and beverage service, that really made waves. Instead of hosting their Friday Night Magic events at the neighboring bar because they lacked space, stores like Gamma Ray Games could run them out of their own WSLCB licensed establishment.
Raygun Lounge (the cafe/bar portion of the Gamma Ray Games entity) certainly meets the three requirements that are listed above. There is a large stable of popular games that people are able to play for free at one of the many large tables, which are available for purchase new just a couple feet away. Local community movers and shakers host Sunday board game day or UnPub events, where you can try new games. Raygun also hosts non-board game events like Geek Out! Trivia Night, which helps to bring in new people and establishes a sense of community for the store.
While the community greatly benefits here, the game store also becomes more successful. Instead of feeling like the RPG players we mentioned earlier have to compete for space in the store, they can use the space without buying game products but still support the store by purchasing drinks or food. This takes a lot of the guilt off of the players as well, who probably don’t feel great about using the space without giving back something as well.
Check back next week when I look at the strengths and weaknesses of Seattle area game cafes.
Do you have a game cafe in your area? What did you think of it? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter!
(The images used in this article are of Raygun Lounge and Card Kingdom/Cafe Mox, in Capitol Hill and Ballard, Seattle, respectively.