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General Forge Forums => Actual Play => Topic started by: Ron Edwards on November 15, 2002, 07:48:28 AM



Title: Actual play in the stores
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 15, 2002, 07:48:28 AM
Hello,

This thread can be considered a partner to my Mainstream: a revision (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=4223). Unlike that thread, though, here, I'm really talking about the game stores and what goes on in them.

Big news flash: not all members of the “hobby game industry” get along all the time.

Publishers (like me), retailers, and the interesting animal called the distributor tussle over all sorts of issues. In the last few years, some retailers have presented the claim that they are uniquely the hub of the hobby, in that they introduce people, especially young people, to the activity, to the products themselves, to the center of the social scene of gaming, and to the primary information about the industry and products. In-store play and commerce is apparently the heart's blood of the so-called industry.

All right, whether any of the claim is actually true is a good question. But I’m willing to faith-leap a bit and say, “All right, so stores can conceivably do this.” In that case, I want to invest in and promote this phenomenon, and I think the most constructive way to do that is to set the trappings of role-playing (the discussions, the preferences, the commerce) aside for a bit and concentrate on its core: real, enjoyable play.

Actual play at stores has some problems, based on my observations and reports from retailers. The culprits seem to include both economics and social organization. Economically, much in-store play suffers because discounts are offered as incentive to participate, both to customers from retailers and to retailers from publishers (including freebies). Both of these strike me as counter-productive, in that both the store owner and the company make less money through the sale of that particular unit. They also strike me as far too focused on the handful of people and sales represented by that isolated instance of play.

Socially, some role-players fear that wider social play will ruin or disrupt their carefully-maintained regular group play; also, regular in-store play tends to evolve into an insular group of its own. These perceptions, or the reality which reinforces them, need to be overcome for an in-store program to be successful.

As the faculty advisor for a campus role-playing club, I employed the following model that may work more consistently to promote successful gaming in stores.

1. Two modes of play are permitted: scheduled sessions with a designated GM or leader, as well as open-tables play. The scheduled sessions are advertised well in advance, including which game will be used, and the leaders are expected to show up as promised without fail. More than one scheduled session per meeting is acceptable.

2. Any game is permitted, regardless of whether it’s in the store or even regardless of its publishing medium (e.g. free internet download). Card games, wargames, and any other hobby games are permitted in addition to role-playing games. The only restriction is on content, as the store owner sees fit.

3. Absolutely all play is restricted to a single session, strictly enforced. To repeat: no “campaign” play is permitted. If a given session evolves into an ongoing thing, it must be taken elsewhere.

4. Players do not have to sign up to attend a session. Every time this activity is held, whoever shows up can play. If insufficient people are interested in playing a given game, then it’s canceled for that meeting.

5. (Optional): Group size, per game, is limited to a maximum set by the organizer, perhaps four players. This rule discourages competition for players among game-leaders.

6. The social atmosphere of the meetings is held to high standards, specifically the rules of comportment of the larger society around us. Do not permit the atmosphere that arises from the idea that “we’re gamers together so we can act badly.” This policy includes clear and consistent role-modeling from senior players, as well as plenty of patience. It also includes the point that no one should be excluded from play a priori, but given a chance to learn and improve their behavior if necessary.

7. Do not offer discounts regarding the game(s) being played at a given meeting. Whether the retail counter is kept open is a local judgment call.

8. Permit people to bring real food to the meeting and don’t sell candy. Don't permit smoking in the store.

I can’t guarantee anything, but here are the outcomes that I’d anticipate after a program like this has been in place for a minimum of three active months. They match what I've observed regarding our campus club and others like it.

1. Lots of games get sold over the long haul. Contrary to most hobbyists' perception, players who enjoy a particular game often buy their own copies - what drops this effect from the radar screen is the fact that such enjoyment requires weeks and months of play, not minutes or days.

2. Mentoring is ongoing, resulting in “ripples” of new games being proposed and played, and an increase in the overall proportion of people who can organize and run games.

3. People cycle into the club meetings continuously, and a certain percent cycle out and keep playing in long-term games of their own.

4. People internalize and reinforce courteous and fun play, breaking the stereotypes of “gamer” comportment. This social effect is itself reinforced by the short-term sessions, which place the priority on Fun Now rather than on "keep the group together even though we're miserable."

5. Overall, the game-store culture operates from a better widespread interest in and knowledge of the diversity of role-playing games.

My goal with this essay is a call to action for role-players to organize and sustain enjoyable role-playing in game stores. Be that person whose efforts make it happen. Some good means to this end include:

1. Discuss the proposal in detail with the game store guy, specifically the person who has yes-no authority over store policy as opposed to the opinionated fellow who doesn’t.

2. Set up a website for scheduling, feedback, and advertisement.

3. Fire up actual role-players to be involved, especially people in different groups. Make it clear to them that this activity doesn’t threaten their own existence as functional, ongoing groups.

4. Run games at each session and encourage players, especially those who “would never” run games, to do so themselves.

5. And finally, once it does get going, advertise it. Locally, plug it at the nearby campus, the music stores, the bookstores, and the local newspaper. Generally, brag it all over the internet gaming forums, and get the retailer to do the same on industry forums.

Can this work? Who knows? It made for a very successful campus club. I also see lots of goodness in the RPG.net Games Day events, which share many features with what I'm talking about.  I’d like to see people try it in the store environment and therefore promote and sustain those aspects of the retail tier that are commonly cited as its strongest contribution to the hobby.

Best,
Ron


Title: Actual play in the stores
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on November 15, 2002, 08:34:14 AM
Hi Ron,

I'm here with an unusually grumpy reply:

When I tried to set up a gaming session at my nearst WotC I was told they had sessions for their CCG games.

I said I wanted to do RPGs.

I got this weird blinkering of the eyes from Muffy and Biff, and they then realized what I was talking about.  They said I could put up a notice about such game or set up a table if I already had my players.

Now, I'm sure there's some sort of mandate that came down from the Elders generations ago that got mangled and these poor kids where just following a law that would make Joeseph Heller proud.  But this has happened three seperate times over the period of the last year.  I just gave up, realizing the people who run WotC stores really have no clue how to promote that odd selection of books they've shoved in a back corner behind the giant statue of the babe they're trying to sell off.

I will however try one more time, printing out your guidelines and bringing them to the manager.

Christopher


Title: Interestingly enough...
Post by: bluegargantua on November 15, 2002, 09:42:30 AM
The Sorcerer one-shot I'm setting up is for an in-store gaming demo.

The store is Pandemonium Books in Cambridge MA (right on Harvard Square).  It's mainly a bookstore specializing in Science Fiction, but it also has a rather well-stocked gaming bookstore as well.  Since they've recently remodeled, they've decided to hold regular gaming nights a couple times a week in the store.  

Their set-up is pretty interesting:  They've set up a series of rotating GMs called "Iron Gamers" who will be running one-shots and demos of their favorite games.  So there's an Iron Gamer D&D, an Iron Gamer D20, an Iron Gamer Nobilis, etc.  Each of them signs up for one game a month and they just run with whoever shows up.  It's not quite like the "Iron Chef" TV show in that there isn't a distinct challenge, theme component or something -- except when two people want to run the same thing.  In general, the concept encourages a wide range of stuff to come to the table.

I have been selected as Iron Gamer Obscure -- all the cool looking stuff that you've read but never played or just always wondered about.  I'm trying to see a return on my massive gaming investment by actually playing some of it.

So in that sense, I think they're trying to encourage people to sample a wide variety of games and gaming styles they might not otherwise get to try out.  My only real concern at the moment is that the play area may not be sizeable enough.  Their store space is pretty limited.

Still, I think it's a pretty cool idea and I'm curious to see how well it takes off for the store.

later
Tom


Title: Actual play in the stores
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 15, 2002, 09:44:59 AM
Hi Tom,

Yes! I love Pandemonium Books; they're one of the finest game stores that I know of. Tell'em I said so.

One thing I probably needed to emphasize about my post is that any particular store will have to customize my basic suggestion in any number of ways. The Iron Gamers rotating GM idea sounds like a good example.

Best,
Ron


Title: Actual play in the stores
Post by: jburneko on November 15, 2002, 09:46:02 AM
Christopher,

An equally grumpy reply...  Why does everyone keep bringing in WotC to these threads?  It happened in the original Publishing thread and it's happened here.  And both times, it's been along the lines of, "But it's already been DONE, and it failed" reasoning.  I don't think EITHER of these discussions even INCLUDES the WotC stores.  They're a whole other thing following the coporate clone model of management.

If you're serious about giving this a go then go talk to Gary over at Aero Hobbies.  See?  It's different already.  I KNOW the owner's name and I see him on a regular basis when I go into the store.  He could REALLY benefit from all this "Page45" talk.  That place is a CLOSET.  You don't know how much I've wanted to go up to Gary and say, "Hey, do mind if I come in this weekend and reorganize your shop?"

These ideas need to be taken to the smaller privately owned stores.  Not the huge coporate driven chain stores.

Jesse


Title: Actual play in the stores
Post by: Valamir on November 15, 2002, 09:51:36 AM
I'd put a slightly different spin to it.

I format the game play as "Game Days", one or two days a week.  Every week or 1 week a month or what ever works to get it off the ground.

I'd strive to eliminate the sense of insular play as you noted by framing it like a convention.  Most gamers are far more willing to try new games and try new games with new players in a convention setting and they're not likely to expect the games to be anything more than 1 shots.

This was used to a great deal of success at The Game Place (formerly the best game store in the Greater DC Metro area until the proprietors wife decided he needed a job with regular hours).  

Once or twice a week time from 4-close was set aside as as a Game Day.  Loitering regulars were informed to start playing a game that involved at least 1 non regular or clear off the table for someone else to play.  Joe used these days to pop open a copy of whatever new games had come into the store to demo them and buff sales that way, and also to pull out older titles whose sales had slowed but which were long time favorites.  There was almost always a game of chess and a family game of some kind going on in the front tables.  Geek games were pushed to the back.

Then once a month was a Late Night Gaming day from close to 4AM.  This was a little more formal.  No actual sign ups but people pretty much new what table was going to be featureing an epic game of Advanced Civ or 12 player Lot5R CCG.  These had the further advantage of being limited to the over 18 crowd.

There were also come in and learn to paint minis days.  Come in and play the latest AH game with the AH designer days (back when AH still existed...them being only 45 minutes away in Baltimore), come in and watch epic Napoleonic minis battles days, take command of a battalion and learn why regular historical mini gamers always kick the snot out of you in your WH40K games.

These were advertised mostly by word of mouth and flyers around the strip mall.  The chinese place especially loved to send people over the store because gamers probably accounted for 3/4 of their traffic.

Joe wasn't completely Draconian at enforceing the social niceties, but several regulars would get the boot during the events for loitering, language, or reasons of hygene.

The store was in a strip mall with a really good location, immaculate, organized, clean, brightly lit and of the standard strip mall deeper than wide format.  The emplyees were all highschool gamers, yet not of the social misfit variety (more of the early 90s skate culture).  They knew games, they enjoyed the people who came in the store, and their biggest faults was probably that they spent too much time actually gaming and not enough counting inventory.

Stock was all on side and back walls with tables in the middle throughout.  Towards the front were chess sets, puzzles, those little metal puzzle things, and other "of interest to gamer moms and non geeks" type things.  The middle left wall was front faced RPG books from mid hieght up.  Core rules and latest supplement only.  Older supplements were stocked spine out on the lower shelves.  The back left wall was board games, german style mid level up and AH wargames and the like bookshelfed on the lower shelfs.  Back wall was fantasy minis.  Back right wall was historical minis and mini modeling supplies and paints.  Mid right wall was the register and glass case of CCGs and other theivable properties.   The orgainization was clear.  The geekier your hobby the farther back in the store you were shoved.  Normal guys playing chess got to stay in the front.

All in all the single greatest game store environment I've ever seen.  Non gamer parents would actually come into the store and shop for Christmas presents.


Title: Actual play in the stores
Post by: jrients on November 15, 2002, 09:58:56 AM
Hey, supergreat thread!  I've been trying to develop a plan to increase actual play at a public forum here in Urbana, Illinois now that our long standing campus club seems to have fragmented.

Has anyone tried approach a mainstream chain bookstore about using their facility?  Locally Barnes & Noble and Borders stock some game stuff. I'm wondering if the pitch couldn't be along the lines of "It's like a book group, but with dice."


Title: Actual play in the stores
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on November 15, 2002, 10:02:40 AM
Hi Jesse,

Nice to hear from you again.

Hmm... Let's see.  I know Gary.  I like Gary.  And his place is a closet, on a busy L.A. blvd with almost no street traffic, drawing mostly people who buy AD&D, Gurps and Warhammer.

I'm not sure I see the advantage here.

I'm thinking of WotC at the Beverly center precisely because it's not a closet, because it has the ability to reach a lot of people who are new to gaming.  

Each of them has plusses and minuses, but I'm not sure how either is better than the other as an option.

But Aero certainly is an option and not one I meant to dismiss.

Please keep in mind, I happen to live near the WotC at the Beverly Center (as you live near Aero).

Best,
Christopher


Title: Re: Actual play in the stores
Post by: b_bankhead on November 15, 2002, 10:48:37 AM
Quote from: Ron Edwards
Hello,


Big news flash: not all members of the “hobby game industry” get along all the time.


Actual play at stores has some problems, based on my observations and reports from retailers. The culprits seem to include both economics and social organization. Economically, much in-store play suffers because discounts are offered as incentive to participate, both to customers from retailers and to retailers from publishers (including freebies). Both of these strike me as counter-productive, in that both the store owner and the company make less money through the sale of that particular unit. They also strike me as far too focused on the handful of people and sales represented by that isolated instance of play.

Socially, some role-players fear that wider social play will ruin or disrupt their carefully-maintained regular group play; also, regular in-store play tends to evolve into an insular group of its own. These perceptions, or the reality which reinforces them, need to be overcome for an in-store program to be successful.

Ron



  That has been my experience with the local hobby shops.  I have tried off and on for YEARS to try to introduce the hobby shop crowd to something new, I have wasted many a weekend hanging about at them trying to see what would happen.

1. Finding ANYONE who is interested in anything other that hit-the-orc-over-the-head in the shops is like getting an autographed picture of the Loch Ness monster.  The D&D dominance is maintained by a very powerful selection pressure that has nothing to do with the games ability to evangalize to the outside world (in FACT that ability is virtually nil).

2. You see the same faces over and over and over again. There is not much point in trying to introduce something new if all you see is the same people who nixed it the last four weekends in a row.

3.  Trying to convert people by covertly entering their D&D games or trying to bait and switch (starting a D&D campaign and hoping you can switch them to something else) CAN work but usually doesn't and can waste an ENOURMOUS amount of time that frankly I don't have.  The shops select for people who are satisfied with the status quo.

4.  The shops are dependent on what is occuring in the shops for information about gaming which again is self selected.  For example the nearest shop to me stocked Little Fears and sold it!  They also stocked Sorcerer and sold that!  Anybody actuallly in the shop playing it? NO! Does the guy who runs the shop have any idea who bought it and what they are doing with it? NO! Do people in the local crowd answer contact sheets. Unless its D&D the answer is NO! and they really don't pay attention to those much either. Unless you are devoting your entire social life to the hobby shops they are useless for making and meeting gamers  

5. CCGS and miniatures are a minimal factor in introducing people to the hobby.  I have heard over and over for 10 years that just get them into the shops and they'll move over to rpgs.  After 10 years of watching I hve concluded that anyone who still believes this should simply be read out of the discussion.  These media are meerly cannibalizing the hobby shop base to the disadvantage of RPGs. That 10-20 feet from the card racks to the rpg racks is the longest 10-20 feet in the world. Part of the problem is that store owners push CCGs and mini's at the expense of RPG's because  THEY ARE SUCH A MONEY PIT!  I have come to believe that IT ISN'T IN THE INTEREST OF THE SHOPS TO PUSH RPG'S.

So again I come to the conclusion RPG GAMING NEEDS TO MOVE OUT OF THE HOBBY SHOPS !


Title: And another thing......
Post by: b_bankhead on November 15, 2002, 06:37:22 PM
6. The D&D style of bad fantasy has little appeal to the mainstream, but for the mainstreamer venturing into most shops it's the ONLY form of rpg experience they will ever be exposed to. If they aren't automatically fascinated by it they will likely give the whole field a miss, and never encounter anything else.  So by and large the shops are the LAST place to preach to the mainstream.  Anyway the rpg status quo has no idea how to do that anyway.


Title: Actual play in the stores
Post by: wyrdlyng on November 15, 2002, 08:40:25 PM
I've often considered trying such things at local gaming stores but we kept running into the same problem over and over again. Most of these stores suffer from "too much clutter" syndrome. There's just no space in them for a gaming table. Any empty tables are covered in either old minis, old comics or action figures, any and all crap that the store can't sell.

Most of the stores seem to suffer from "expansion of hobby" rather than "a business" model and aren't well-maintained. Some carry things other than role-playing games (either comics or anime) and shove role-playing into the back corner.

The first key to getting a good in-store game program going is a store with the space to host it.


Title: Actual play in the stores
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on November 16, 2002, 09:41:21 AM
Hi.

Just wanted to clarify something:

I wasn't being grumpy about Ron's suggestion.  I was being grumpy about the WotC stores.  An easy target, perhaps, but one that's bugged me for a while and just wanted to get it off my chest.

To be honest, human beings do fucking amazing things every day.  If any one of us wanted to walk into an store and charm the owner/manager into letting us clean up / set up / promote / redesign his store, we really could.  Really.  It's a matter of need, because this one's not that high on the "Jezus, human beings can do that!" list of accomplishments.

Now I've got to decide for me where I stand on this matter of need.

Christopher


Title: Actual play in the stores
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 17, 2002, 05:56:52 PM
Hello,

Alex, I think it's not difficult to see that certain baseline requirements are necessary before choosing a store to try these ideas in.

1) The store must be large enough and have the facilities to host play.

2) The store ownership and management must be willing to back your play. They might not understand it or be confident that this will be anything special, but they have to give you authority and stand by that.

Best,
Ron


Title: Actual play in the stores
Post by: UnSub on November 17, 2002, 08:08:16 PM
In my (comparatively meager to others on this forum) experience, the biggest problem rpgs face is space. Rpg gaming takes up a lot of space - the closest comparison I can think of is having dinner at a table that lasts for several hours (at least).

You need room in front of you for writing / rolling, there's social convention about how close you can get to someone before it's offensive to them, you might use miniatures for fighting purposes, you might want rule books placed in an easily accessible location... in a store where space = rent and rpg gamers sitting at the table outside may only buy one or two books between them a month, it doesn't make a lot of economic sense. Admittedly the rpg industry isn't all about the economics, but it still becomes a factor. As such I don't think hobby shops are the best places for rpging.

Social issues also come into play. I've seen "public" games interrupted by the geek equivalent of the town drunk - That's not how you play that rule!; Here's what you should do...; Why don't you just...; etc. If a game is out in the open it can become a spectator sport, and sometimes the spectators can become rowdy. This isn't a problem if you are running a club and can get people thrown out, but if you are in a public place and only gaming by the grace of the owner, you lose a lot of control over "outside" factors. I'm not saying that all gamers should lock out the world when they play, but if the GM is trying to build a story and there are constant distractions from the game then quality / immersion suffers.

I think one of the best ideas mentioned for running an rpg club has to be the "no campaigns" rule. In the past I've had a look at joining a group or two, and (ignoring for the moment the horrors of full-time gamer hygiene) the biggest impediment to joining was trying to squeeze into the 300 scenario epic that every other player was part of - even if not much had happened, it still feels like a huge gap to overcome and has stopped me from joining clubs in the past.


Title: Actual play in the stores
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 18, 2002, 07:50:08 AM
Hi Uns,

You and Alex, as well as b_bankhead, are providing some points that I think are very serious - they boil down to this point (which I admit I'd hoped would arise from discussion):

Many gaming stores are profoundly unequipped to provide the service which gaming stores are commonly cited as providing, uniquely and essentially, to the hobby.

Which is to say, the claim that "We are important because we do A," is in many cases instantly refuted by observing that A is neither occurring nor likely to occur.


Now I must speak up in support of wonderful places like Pandemonium Books (see above) and others, in which the practices that it seems I'm giddily dreaming of are already happening. As Christopher rightly points out, these aren't utter fantasy; a game store club like I'm describing can actually occur.

But there are several presupposing factors (some of which I listed in my recent post, above) and those factors only rarely coincide, when we talk about real stores in real venues across the real United States - and based on reports, across the world.

That bolded statement is the money shot for this thread. I want to support stores like Pandemonium Books and to encourage stores that have dipped their toes in the water with events like the RPG.net Games Day, or like Titan Games in Michigan with its recent awesome policies at the opening of their second store. But aside from those, the prospect is grim. I am perceiving, frankly, that many game stores are serving the hobby quite badly, specifically because the policies I'm suggesting (or ones like them) literally cannot occur there.

I'd like to see some action, some of which I and others (aforementioned RPG.net Games Day) are contributing already, toward bringing more stores, the ones that are already 75% of the way there, say, into practices that really do facilitate actual play and commitment to the hobby.

As for the ones who seem incapable of doing anything of the sort ...? I shall emulate Thumper and say nothing at all.

Best,
Ron


Title: Actual play in the stores
Post by: wyrdlyng on November 18, 2002, 08:33:02 AM
Quote from: Ron
I am perceiving, frankly, that many game stores are serving the hobby quite badly, specifically because the policies I'm suggesting (or ones like them) literally cannot occur there.


Well, there's the real core of the problem. It's the same thing that's been discussed in several other current threads: many gaming stores often do more to harm than help gaming as an overall hobby. Only comic book stores have a presentation level as poor as most gaming stores (and the fact that many are hybrids of the two doesn't help).

Sadly, I've seen Adult "Bookstores" which were cleaner, better lit and more spacious than most of the gaming stores I've been in. Gaming stores are really the first point of influence for new gamers. Even if brought in by another gamer, casual or non-gamers are often put off by most gaming stores.

I really wish that those folks that open these stores would remember two simple things: 1) I am opening this store as a business, not a place for my gaming buddies to hang out; 2) my store will help bring people into the hobby or put them off of it.

Sorry if I came across as rant-ish.


Title: Actual play in the stores
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 18, 2002, 08:50:12 AM
Hi Alex,

Now we're getting somewhere! And now I want to bring up A Point that I think most people (and I'm basing this off of six years of intensive listening to what "industry folks" have to say) miss by a country mile.

This Point: the dichotomy between "run it as a business" and "run it as a hobby" is false.

As best as I can tell, quite a few game stores are run as neither.

1. If the store were run "as a business," then we'd see more profit involved, most especially since owners would not then deep-order the New Hot Thing like obedient pod-people based on distributor and publisher blandishments. Instead, they'd pay attention to what their customers played and had fun with, and learn to recognize when customers are doing the pod-people thing too.

2. If the store were run "as a hobby," then we'd see more actual play and programs to promote fun and enjoyment of the hobby, with less emphasis (again) on feverishly unloading the deep-ordered Oh-Shit-Not-as-Hot-as-They-Said game, which is being sold at a discount in Waldenbooks anyway.

In other words, I think some or many stores are run neither as a hobby nor a business, and I think that a few (the good ones) are run as both.

Now this thread is getting somewhere. Comments, anyone?

Best,
Ron


Title: Actual play in the stores
Post by: Maurice Forrester on November 18, 2002, 09:58:14 AM
Is there data to suggest that the problems with gaming stores are different from those of stores catering to other hobbies?  Or different from small businesses in general?  We know that a high percentages of new businesses fail in the first year, so I'm wondering if we aren't chasing a red herring here.


Title: Actual play in the stores
Post by: hyphz on November 18, 2002, 10:11:31 AM
Quote from: Ron Edwards
Hi Alex,
1. If the store were run "as a business," then we'd see more profit involved, most especially since owners would not then deep-order the New Hot Thing like obedient pod-people based on distributor and publisher blandishments. Instead, they'd pay attention to what their customers played and had fun with, and learn to recognize when customers are doing the pod-people thing too.


Sadly I think this might be a tad optimistic...  I think it was best summed up by a quote from a Sony employee:  "It's always cheaper to make people want the stuff we have, than to give them what they want."


Title: Actual play in the stores
Post by: xiombarg on November 18, 2002, 10:24:01 AM
Quote from: Ron Edwards
In other words, I think some or many stores are run neither as a hobby nor a business, and I think that a few (the good ones) are run as both.

Um, if these stores aren't being run as a hobby or as a business, what are they being run as?

Frankly, I think "bad" stores are run as a hobby. Ron, you tend to make the optimistic assumption that people who run a store as a hobby want to bring more people into the hobby and help the hobby in general. This ain't true. When someone says a store is run as a hobby, they mean the store is run selfishly to support the hobby as the owner wants it. That is, to support the owner's play style and preferences, which often coincides strongly with standard D&D fantasy.

Case in point: The owner of my local LGS does promote actual play -- of games he's interested in. Anything else gets little-to-no support at all, except for "Next Big Thing" titles which he's really selling to support the stuff he actually likes. This selfishly supports his hobbist play -- he's guaranteed a venue for him and his friends to play the games they want to play, and to hell with the rest.

In any pleasure activity, RPGs included, there are going to be selfish hobbists. And that's what people are referring to. The needs of the owner are being met; he has a reasonable circle of people who game with him and play the games he wants because he's "in charge", and that's all he cares about. This is treating the business as a hobby, just very selfishly so.


Title: Actual play in the stores
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 18, 2002, 11:04:58 AM
Hi Kirt,

That might be the interpretation of "run it as a hobby" that we'd have to fall back on, but in that sense "run it as a hobby" simply means "run it as a business, but badly." In which case, the term "hobby" is serving as an empty place-holder rather than as a descriptive term, and we're looking at an even more false dichotomy.

Also, a related issue crops up here: my puzzled observation that the vast majority of game store proprietors do not like role-playing at all, D&D or not D&D. Their loyalties tend toward old-school wargaming, and many of them don't play anything.

Best,
Ron


Title: Actual play in the stores
Post by: xiombarg on November 18, 2002, 11:22:05 AM
Quote from: Ron Edwards
That might be the interpretation of "run it as a hobby" that we'd have to fall back on, but in that sense "run it as a hobby" simply means "run it as a business, but badly." In which case, the term "hobby" is serving as an empty place-holder rather than as a descriptive term, and we're looking at an even more false dichotomy.
Okay, so, if we're looking at an even more false dichotomy, what should we be looking at, then? Perhaps I'm missing the point of this thread.

Quote
Also, a related issue crops up here: my puzzled observation that the vast majority of game store proprietors do not like role-playing at all, D&D or not D&D. Their loyalties tend toward old-school wargaming, and many of them don't play anything.
Hmmm, this hasn't been my experience... I wish there was some way we could do a study on this. Most of the game store owners I knew (and know) play both wargames and RPGs, largely old-school D&D and GURPS.

I guess the question becomes: Dichotomy or no dichotomy, why does the RPG industry seem to attract bad small business owners? And what can be done about this?

I think we all intuitively recognize the problem, however we want to define it. But why does it happen? And how can we change that?

Personally, I think one of the reasons this happens is "bad" store owners aren't driven out of business is a sort of "local monopoly" problem, caused by the fact that RPGs are such a niche market. Excepting mail order, if I want RPGs, there's only one place locally I can get them. It's the only place for miles around -- we're talking a three-hour drive to find a different store... I know, I looked. So they stay in business despite the fact they're sub-optimal.

To me, it's almost a chicken-and-egg problem -- a better store would probably result if there were competition, broadening the market, but the market is unlikely to broaden unless the stores get better, which is what is needed to cause the competition required to improve that situation. (Does that make sense?)


Title: Actual play in the stores
Post by: ADGConscience on November 18, 2002, 12:02:18 PM
I have to disagree here with Loki (here, rather than just getting up and walking a block to bang on his door and argue peacefully about the FLGS--which, true, is the OLGS [only local games store]--though that actually sounds like rather more effort, and really, hasn't this parenthetical note gone on long enough?) and say that Ron's excellent ideas earlier in the thread could work to introduce the folks hereabouts to things other than the RPGA Living Oligarchy of games.

Maybe one themed Games Day, run at Illusions, could broaden the horizons of the hobbyists and broaden the exposure of the hobby. We have two more "mainstream" audiences right in the mall.

A moment to tell the rest of the Forge how surreal we have it in Salisbury. The FLGS is in the "old mall", formerly known as "The Most Beautiful Mall in America", now almost completely deserted. It in fact looks like the mall from that Romero zombie movie.

Prominent among the four other residents of the mall are a martial arts school and a pro wrestling school. Repeat: a pro wrestling school.

Do some cross-promotion and cross-pollination, and we could do a micro-con with a wrasslin' theme. Kayfabe, anyone? And with the martial arts school, it'd be a no-brainer.


Title: Actual play in the stores
Post by: wyrdlyng on November 18, 2002, 12:06:20 PM
Quote from: xiombarg
I guess the question becomes: Dichotomy or no dichotomy, why does the RPG industry seem to attract bad small business owners? And what can be done about this?

I think we all intuitively recognize the problem, however we want to define it. But why does it happen? And how can we change that?


To paraphrase a comic whose name I can't recall (I think it was Larry Miller), "Guys, if we owned our own bar we could drink and hang out whenever we wanted to!"

Change it to apply to gaming and I think this tends to be the main reason many people try and get into the business of running a gaming store. These stores are the ones where it's always the same people just hanging out, talking to the person behind the counter, and which are never seen actually buying anything.


Quote from: xiombarg
Personally, I think one of the reasons this happens is "bad" store owners aren't driven out of business is a sort of "local monopoly" problem, caused by the fact that RPGs are such a niche market.


Sadly, this is exactly the reason these stores stay open. If there's no good competition then they become the sole source of product.


Quote from: xiombarg
To me, it's almost a chicken-and-egg problem -- a better store would probably result if there were competition, broadening the market, but the market is unlikely to broaden unless the stores get better, which is what is needed to cause the competition required to improve that situation. (Does that make sense?)


It makes perfect sense to me. What it needed in these areas is someone with the planning, resources and love of the hobby to "get it right." However, that said, it's hard to nail all three elements.


Title: Actual play in the stores
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on November 18, 2002, 12:10:12 PM
Quote from: xiombarg
I guess the question becomes: Dichotomy or no dichotomy, why does the RPG industry seem to attract bad small business owners? And what can be done about this?


I don't think it has to do with the RPG being bad business owners so much as:

  • most business owners are bad businessmen (or businesswomen, just to make sure the ladies don't feel left out) I don't have hard numbers, but isn't it that 80% of all businesses fail within the first year or something like that?
  • RPGs are very marninalized, mostly due to content, which is what the Mainstream and sister threads are all talking about. Therefore there are just fewer people interested in, and might see business opportunities in, roleplaying.
  • [/list:u]

    These two are kind of self-perpetuating. Few people are going to sink their money into a fringe interest like roleplaying and so the 80% failure rate may actually be higher just because roleplaying does not attract people with good business sense. People with good business sense, even if they do like roleplaying, probably don't open game stores.

    Part of the reason why there is not much money in roleplaying is because of how fringe, which is the purpose of these mainstream and related threads. To try to make roleplaying more mainstream, really mainstream to the public at large (not making RPG mainstream so much as to put out RPG that would appeal to a more mainstream audience, I guess) which will hopefully attract more people to it and then maybe attract more people to it as a business on the retail end. People with the sense to run it in the black. TO do all the stuff ROn is talking about and not just order a whole mess of Pokemon cards because it's hot & kewl.


Title: Actual play in the stores
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 18, 2002, 12:37:33 PM
Hi there,

I think my take on the matter needs to be articulated a little more clearly, with the following points in mind.

1) None of these five threads are oriented toward expanding the number of people in the hobby, in terms of absolute numbers. That may or may not happen, but it's not the point as such.

2) Some stores do have policies and presentations which encourage the kind of enjoyable play and community that I'd like to promote. But most do not. I don't even think we have to ask "why," although it's interesting, as long as we can observationally agree that the typical store environment is not providing the primary service that game stores are (self-)cited as doing.

So now for the point: what alternate venues exist (in addition to the Good Stores) for people (anyone) to encounter the facts that (a) role-playing might be nifty in their already-existing terms, (b) its accoutrements (i.e. games themselves) might be found "here," and (c) it goes on "here."

Hint: a part of the answer is the technology you're utilizing right now. But just as game rules are a means for formalizing Social Contracts, the internet is only one means of formalizing Social Context.

Best,
Ron


Title: Actual play in the stores
Post by: UnSub on November 18, 2002, 06:22:35 PM
Where can rpgs be shown to people as interesting?

Rpgs need time. Any attempt to get people accustomed to rpging requires at least an hour of their time to show them what goes on.

Thinking about how ideas disseminate through society, you really have to rely on social aspects. I remember a story about Sketchers shoes - they watched large groups of their target demographic and gave free pairs of shoes to the apparent "group leaders". The others in the social group picked up on this lead and went out and bought Sketchers.

This is not suggesting that gaming companies should duplicate this, or hire demographically chosen spokepeople to push product (eg "Britney sez D&D iz kewl!"). But how do people get into rpg gaming? I did because some friends got into it. How could gaming companies angle off the most common introduction to playing rpgs? Offer free samples? Run demos?

Book stores have started to carry gaming books, which does add some mainstream legitimacy to them, but it is arguable that the books they carry aren't neccessarily the best rpg materials.

Maybe this is the problem - the rpg publisher makes only money by selling multiple products to to store owner, who then ends up with shelves clogged with product he hopes to sell to customers. Book stores aren't going to buy every White Wolf supplement but gaming stores are expected to and to have copies of everything available at all times.

Perhaps rpgs would be more successful if they are simplified - How To Host A Murder games are / were popular enough and were really very simple. Instead of trying to get people to buy 4 x 300 page books to actually play the game, a single short and very adaptable book would be more successful if aimed at non-gamers.

I've rambled enough!


Title: Actual play in the stores
Post by: James Holloway on November 19, 2002, 04:33:59 AM
Quote from: Ron Edwards


So now for the point: what alternate venues exist (in addition to the Good Stores) for people (anyone) to encounter the facts that (a) role-playing might be nifty in their already-existing terms, (b) its accoutrements (i.e. games themselves) might be found "here," and (c) it goes on "here."

Hint: a part of the answer is the technology you're utilizing right now. But just as game rules are a means for formalizing Social Contracts, the internet is only one means of formalizing Social Context.

Best,
Ron


Well, OK, there's online games. They don't particularly ring my bell.

There are school and university gaming societies -- although my one seems strongly focused toward serving the needs of existing gamers, they usually have the resources at their disposal to run demos or attract non-gamers. We do get some people who are only into board/card/minis games, and they sometimes start into RPGs, but they're presumably already exposed to the concept. Now, in our case there is no "here" to get your RPG supplies closer than Newcastle... but that's neither here nor there.

LARPs I've been in or run have picked up players just off the street (well, one anyway, and I'm sure there have been others) who saw what we were doing and "thought it looked like fun." That was an interesting case -- a player with very little exposure to traditional RPGs. Led to some odd assumptions about "what gaming is like." You could say, in fact, that LARPs, particularly good-looking ones, can be their own billboards. A clear explanation of what the game is like and why it is fun can be rattled off in a few minutes (though people always seem to want to say "we're an interactive theater group," which always seemed to me to be a shame reaction. I say "it's a game.")

I'm sure there are others, but those are the two I can think of. Both seem to me to be well-suited in theory to expose people to gaming, but in my experience neither do a real bang-up job of it. This usually has something to do with the players/members seeming off-putting, which I attribute (natural jerks always excluded) to a fear of being mocked.

Anyone else?

- James