23 May 2014

The Gaming Store is DOOOMED!!!

I think I've lost count of the "OMG the FLGS ‡ is DOOOOOOMED!!" forum threads I've seen over the years. I saw them in amateur press compilations in the late-80s. Most of the rants stem from the writers’ favorite local outlet closing shop, and the rest base theirs on their FLGS undergoing one or more of the following trends which – in their sole and exclusive opinion – disqualifies the FLGS from being a "G":

* Those Damned Kids And Their Card Games;

* The clientele is full of people younger (or older) than the poster likes ... too many (or not enough) piercings, tats or black clothing? Lowlifes or fuddy-duddys, the lot of them;

* It doesn't stock a high enough percentage of the Right Games: too many of those stupid small-press games that waste space (if the poster doesn't play those), too much of that "corporate" swill (= any game that gamers outside of Internet forums have heard of, if the poster doesn't play those). None of that Warhammer crap (if the poster doesn't like the 40K crowd) ... etc etc. Nothing too old (if the poster only wants the Latest Edition of Everything) ... or with lots of bins of dusty – and heavily discounted – antiques (if the poster is a treasure hunter);

* It doesn’t have a large gaming space, for which the owner will never harass the players to buy things or put themselves out in any way, such as explaining to curious customers what we're doing or which game we're playing. The priority, of course, should be for the Right Games; or

* The counter help doesn’t have encyclopedic knowledge of the pros and cons of every item in the store / the owner doesn’t seem to be all that interested in RPGs, as opposed to Those Damned Card Games.

Toss in a healthy dollop of “OMG the Internet/Amazon is eating everything,” and there you go.

I'll throw an anecdote out there: of the five FLGSes I knew of in Metro Boston in 1978, each and every one is still in business. Have they changed over the years? Well, for one thing, they weren't 100% tabletop RPG outlets in 1978 either any more than they are today. The Games People Play in Cambridge was principally a traditional "game" store, then as now: fancy chess sets, cribbage, backgammon, card games, puzzles. Strategy and Fantasy World in Boston (the current Compleat Strategist) was heavily into board wargames: SPI and Avalon Hill games, that sort of thing. Hobby Bunker in Malden was (then as now) heavily invested in miniature wargaming. And so on.

Come to that, I've never seen a store that was a tabletop RPG outlet and nothing but. They've always had some other serious focus: SF/fantasy books, hobby modeling, wargames, comics books, miniatures, Eurogames, board games, computer games, CCGs, something.

And gaming stores went out of business in the 70s, and in the 80s, and in the 90s as well. The RPGs/bookstore I first bought Fantasy Trip?  Spike McPhee's iconic Science Fantasy Bookstore, and it was priced out of the Harvard Square market by 1988. The FLGS in the town I went to college in 1982? Out of business two years later. Its replacement? Gone by 1989. The two FLGSs I first patronized when I moved to Springfield MA in the late 80s?  The Tin Soldier in Court Square was out of business by 1990, Dragon's Lair in East Longmeadow was out of business by '95.  The big box bookstores like Borders and Media Play that had large RPG sections?  Well, we know what happened to the big box bookstores.  This has always been a volatile business.

The first two trends?  I’m bemused, remembering some history.  If you’re younger than fifty you wouldn't remember, but turn the clock back, and all the FLGSs we've known and loved were Friendly Local WARGaming Shops. The cutting edge companies filling their shelves were SPI and Avalon Hill, the games people talked about were Diplomacy, Kingmaker, Napoleon At Waterloo and Tactics II, the bookracks held dozens of illustration books so as to accurately paint your military minis in proper period fashion, and the featured magazines were Moves, Strategy & Tactics and The General.

And man, were those wargamers pissed at us. Their cozy little world, and their FLWSs, were invaded by a horde of geeky kids blathering on about elves and alignments and orcs and dungeons and lawful good clerics with +3 holy maces of defenestration.  Those Damned Kids weren't the least bit interested in the oldbies' encyclopedic knowledge of the Peninsular Campaign or the order of battle at Gettysburg, they couldn't care less who Charles Roberts or Jim Dunnigan were, and within a short period of time, the wargamers were driven away. The owners of the shops saw there were heaps of money to be made off the backs of the RPGers and converted to suit.

That's the bottom line: these brick-and-mortar stores are no more our permanent, exclusive clubhouses than they were of the wargamers we supplanted.

Now, sure: there are plenty of reasons not to patronize a FLGS.  I actually happen to agree with most of them.  I can get a far larger selection, significantly cheaper, purchasing online.  I game out of my comfortable, quiet apartment, set up the way I like, playing the hours I want, rather than at rickety game store tables, subject to the store noise and wanderers interrupting us, dependent on the store hours and the goodwill of the owner, and with (understandable) pressure to Buy Stuff.  I can find players, on the rare occasions I solicit them, from online bulletin boards and game finders, without the dogeared notices on FLGS corkboards that never actually have worked.

But that’s just me.

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‡ - "Friendly Local Gaming Store," a widely-used acronym standard to such discussions, for those of you scoring at home.

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