Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Worst. Post. Evar.

The Magic Cards are over there, kid...

So, I had this awesome dream last night. No, not the one where I'm standing on a pyramid dressed as a sun god while naked women pelt me with little pickles. The other one. Right, the one where I buy an awesome old two-story brick corner store with a pressed-tin ceiling in Detroit and renovate it into a kick-ass game store. See, for the longest time, The Wife and I have dreamed of opening our own game store. Someplace cool with brick walls, book shelves that go on forever, plank wood floors, open gaming areas, and maybe an espresso machine in the corner. We have this dream because every time we can be bothered to go into an actual game store our reaction on leaving is always the same; Shit, we can do better than that...

Now, I've been hearing for years that the brick and mortar game store is dead. People, and when I say people I mean distributors and proprietors of failed game stores, have been saying that the end is nigh pretty much since I was in high school, like, a hundred years ago. Whatever the current industry bugaboo is, be it vidya games or MMOs or CCGs or Amazon or any other dozen things, they are quick to lay the blame for the failure of the B&M store squarely at its feet then make with the wailing and the gnashing of teeth and the beating of breasts. Thing is, there's a lot of truth in what they say, you know why? E-commerce and World of Warcraft (and an admittedly shitty economy) have certainly contributed to the shuttering of more than one game store, but those aren't the biggest problems. The biggest problem with really real brick and mortar stores is that the majority of them suck. Hard.

Nearly every single game store I've spent my money in has been, to greater or lesser degrees, the goddamned Android's Dungeon. Dingy, poorly lit, badly stocked little shit holes staffed by a murderers' row of mouthbreathers, neckbeards, bespectacled shut-ins, and nerdlords. The atmosphere can be charitably called "thick", customer service is nearly non-existent, there's no community, and, well, you'd be hard-pressed to find a gamer girl on the premises. Aside from their atrocious customer service and creepy employees, many of these stores are run by gamers who see it more as a hobby or a way to get discounted books rather than a business. Now tell me, why would I want to spend my money in a place where an arrogant, supercilious nerd with suspect hygiene will treat me like shit and ogle my wife in exchange for my business? This is why, honestly, I get the majority of my game books online. I'm part of the problem, apparently.

Let me give you an example of everything I hate in a game store. So, there's this place near me with the hilariously stereotypical name of Guild of Blades. Well, that's the store's official name, though you wouldn't know it from his signage. The sign over his door reads G.o.B. Retail - printing and copies. Apparently he also runs a print on demand service and makes his own small-press card games. That's right Gentle Readers, his sign gives no indication from the street that he is, in fact, a game store. So we go inside and meet the owner. He's a lumpish, middle-aged nerd in a wrinkled polo and cargo shorts who is, admittedly, living every nerd's dream with his own game store and publishing company and a lovely wife from the Far East. He is also, of course, an incredibly socially awkward individual with almost no concept of customer service. I prefer to deal with his pleasant and ever smiling wife, even though I have to repeat myself since her grasp of English is a little tenuous.

As for his stock, well, he doesn't sell just RPGs, board games, and CCG/NCCGs though, oh no. He also sells used and new video games, used video game consoles and peripherals, used movies (both DVD and VHS) and all manner of used novels. Seriously, it's more like a third-world bazaar than a first-world game store. He probably wouldn't scruple to sell car parts or cookware in there if someone offered them for a trade. Add to this confusion of stock the fact that there is no apparent organization going on. Things are spread pell-mell throughout the entire store? For example, there is no one section for the board games. They're in the front mixed in with the RPGs, then by the window along with some old Nintendo cartridges, then way in the back alcove with the used Dragonlance novels and copies of Chronicles of Riddick.  

Want some public gaming space and a chance to meet other gamers for some quality gaming or a quick game of Pandemic? Hope you like being shoehorned into a harshly lit mechanical space at the back of the store on rickety chairs with little room for your stuff! The gaming space could only be worse if it were, in fact, behind the bar next door next to the grease dumpster. The whole place is just, well, shabby and combined with the poor customer service I've received there, I sure as hell won't be going back, and I've warned all my friends away from it as well. This is why game stores fail, kids. Not through some kind of malicious exterior force as mentioned earlier, but through poor business practices, bad customer service, and plain alienating or pissing off your customer base.

Now, I know this has quickly turned into another ranty Shit that Jason Hates post, so let's look at what I think a game store should have. Honestly, a good game store should have what any other successful business has: A clean, well-lit, well stocked store with friendly and knowledgeable staff and an owner with a strong business plan and a solid idea of who his clientèle is. It should also have a respectable amount of open gaming tables either free or for rent, a good location, good atmosphere (this includes the music played in the store), and a welcoming presence that caters to both the general unwashed masses as well as the hard-core, dice-throwing gamer. A good game store should be like a community center, a safe place for kids, and adults frankly, to gather, socialize, bond over common interests and build a community that will perpetuate our rapidly shrinking hobby. On-site snacks and beverages are also choice, but not a deal breaker. You know who does this kind of thing well? Places like Critical Effect and The Source and Tower Games and The 4th Wall and The Gamers Realm and Vault of Midnight and The Game Loft. These places are exactly what I look for in a game store. They represent everything that is good and fun in our hobby, and will survive long after places like Guild of Blades fail.

Will The Wife and I ever open our own store? Maybe someday. Until then, the places above will certainly do. If you're near, please stop in and give them some money.


Sam said...

I think you hit it, there. Too many game stores are run by proprietors who are gamers first, and business owners a distant second. They need to at least be both equally, which is an unfortunately rare combination.

A.L. said...

Posts like this remind me of how lucky I am where I live. There are a couple game stores in our area, two of them are crap and one is pretty good. The pretty good one just recently got bought by someone from one of our gaming groups, and he is slowly taking over the area with the exact methods you're talking about.

He gives good deals, if you're into magic you won't find them cheaper in the area than at his store. He cuts into his own profit to help the customer, and while he is a bit picky on what he buys back he gives a whole hell of a lot more than the other stores around here.

He's primarily a table top gamer, and he is trying to push it so he is giving discounts on his RPG books. If he doesn't have a book you want, he'll order it for you and give you a discount on it.

He caters to all sorts of geekdom, minis, magic, table top, board games. Clean, well lit, organized store. It's an awesome place, and it is doing well because of it.

Some people, and sadly they're usually the ones with game stores, just have no sense. It is almost like they want to fail.

If you do ever open your store, it sounds like you have a good idea of what you want, and what you want to do. It also sounds like you'd be leagues better than the competition, so good luck when you go for it.

Zachary The First said...

If we have time when you're in town, we'll check out our game store, Saltire Games. Super-nice.

Doug Wall said...

You know, I was considering using their POD service to print my game, but after reading this, I'm not sure I want to support them.