Let me please preface this with stating that this was not what I wanted my first article back, or of 2016, to be about. I had planned a year in review, as well as a challenge article, well in advance of this. However, recent conversations, market trends and general befuddlement has led to this being both of those things.
For the better part of the last decade, I have been a proud hobby gamer. Prior to 2005, I was a hobby gamer to lesser degree as I was in high school and on a budget. My games at the time were mostly trading card games like Poke’mon and Yu-Gi-Oh! but miniatures squeaked in with the launch of HeroClix. As time went on, work and life kept me from really doing much with it. Then on Free Comic Book Day 2012, I found myself being slowly pulled back into HeroClix.
Since then, I was head first back into hobby gaming. I took over as event cordinator for my local comic shop for all WizKids’ events. I began branching out to other game types, moving from just strictly card games. I’ve even made it out to GenCon for the last two years in a row, with plans for the 2016 trip already in the works.
In that time, I’ve seen quiet a few things catch my eye about what there is to love about this hobby. There have also been a few things to dislike, and possibly even hate, about it as well. One of the worst has been this war raging not so silently in the background: local retail vs online retail, namely the average player’s role in this war.
Brick and mortar stores have always had a special place in many fans’ hearts. Not only are they the place to buy their games, they are also the home of memories that are cherished just as much as the games themselves. I know I have personally met some of my closest friends through my local store. We’ve bonded over many a games, both casual and competitive. The stores are also were we might demo a game and fall in love with it, thus equating the two for many years to come. It is in those memories and love that we do our utmost best to support those stores. However, in the last few years, a new player has entered the field: online shopping.
Gone are the days were a player would have to go into a store, order it through a third party and patiently await it’s arrival. Gone, too, are the days of having to pay full retail for a title. Now a player merely has to log onto their smart phone, go to one of a dozen various sites (out of hundreds) and order their game of choice. It will be delivered directly to your doorstep, usually with free shipping and at a fraction of the cost. The player never even had to go to their favorite store to get the game.
It becomes even more of a savage wasteland for our stores when a game is launched via KickStarter. With so many publishers using the crowdfunding platform to finance their games, it has become a glorified preordering system with the magnitude of stretch goal and exclusive content. This ties up a sale for the game months, or even years, before the game hits retail shelves. A game initially launches the traditional way and a store sells x-copies of the title, but then it’s sequel/expansion launches and they order an equal amount (or more depending on popularity) but the majority of their customers get the KickStarter version in favor of all the extra content for the same cost. Now they are sitting on product they may or may not sell through.
What are our favorite brick and mortar stores supposed to do to combat this?
Well, judging by a lot of message boards, KickStarter rants and online commentary, they are combatting it by blaming the customer.
Instead of focusing on ways to combat this rise in online shopping, many shop owners have taken to passing the buck off on the customer. They rant and rave about customer loyalty and feeling betrayed whenever one of their regulars come in with a game that wasn’t bought at their store. They cite that the store space is offered to the customers as a curtsey and as such we should support them, regardless of how much they charge. I’ve seen some retailers go as far as to publicly shame their client base to the extent of claiming that every lost sale to an online retailer or KickStarter is money out of one of their employees’ pockets, less food for their family, and so on. My personal favorite is when they claim it is a personal attack against them because we should support them regardless since they are local or privately owned.
First, lets put all their ranting to the side and look at it for what it is. Brick and mortar stores have much more overhead (employee costs, utility bills, rent, ect) than most online stores, forcing them to sell at MSRP. Most online stores operate from a warehouse that may or may not be privately owned with fewer overhead costs, which in turn allows them to buy many things in bulk at a discounted cost from the manufacture/publisher. That allows most online stores to sell product at a fraction of the cost. That is just business basics. However, caught in the middle is the average gamer with two finite resources that affects every purchase decision they make: time and money.
The fact of the matter is that, regardless of found memories or the love of a game, consumers have to do what is best for them and their resources just the same as a shop owner must do with theirs. We work hard for our money and have to spend it wisely in the hopes of getting the biggest return on investment. And that’s what a lot of these games are: an investment. With some titles getting up in the hundreds of dollars, you want to make sure that the first thing you feel when you open up that game box for the first time is joy, not buyer’s remorse. The problem is that some retailers don’t realize this, even though they are consumers themselves.
Lets use Star Wars: Imperial Assault from Fantasy Flight Games as an example. It is a lovely game, a must have for anyone’s collection. The base game is MSRP $100, though.
Out of the box, you have just enough stuff to do a 4-5 player scenario game or a 2 player skirmish game. Great options, but will get old after several playthroughs. And given the cost of this game, it is a multiple playthrough title and not one you’d play once and place on the shelf. Luckily Fantasy Flight has us covered and released two expansions so far in Twin Shadows and Return to Hoth.
Both are fantastic expansions players a considerable amount of contents. Both, however, will set you back another $100 combined. And if you want to play with the famous characters from the movies, like Han Solo, Boba Fett or Princess Leia? Those are all stand alone add-ons ranging from $9.95-$19.95. Just sticking with the base game and it’s two expansions, we’re at $199.85 before taxes. And if you’re an average gamer, $200 can be a month’s (or several months’) gaming budget if you bought at a retailer that offered no discount or loyalty program. Online, however? Amazon has all three for $151.34 with free shipping. That is nearly $50 in savings that you could save for another game or purchase the named heroes to flesh out your Imperial Assault gaming experience.
Now, if it were me, I know what I would do. Would I love to support my local store with 100% of my gaming purchases? Absolutely! They deserve it just as much as anyone. The problem is that I work a dead end retail job that only allows me so much I can spend on different hobbies. As such I am forced to do what is best for the value of my money. In the case of Imperial Assault, I’d have to buy the core game and expansions online and probably take the $50 I saved to my LCS to buy the named character packs.
In the end, however, there is a lot of blame to be had but there is no right place to put it. Retailers shouldn’t be blamed for trying to run a business. They do have families and employees to think of. On the opposite end though, customers shouldn’t be blamed for trying to do what is best for them and theirs either. With bills, families and other responsibilities, a gamer only has so many resources to spare and spend.
After all, regardless of our individual gaming background, we’re all playing the game of Life.