Is your “friendly neighborhood game store” really all that friendly?

     As a kid, my heart would leap when my folks would be headed anywhere near our local gaming store.  Whether I had any allowance saved up or not, I would ask to tag along, in hopes that we could stop for a quick visit. 

     In the early 1980s, if I wanted any new gaming accessory, there was only one place to find it.  A trip to the gaming store was not only a chance for me to buy something, but also my main source of information about the hobby.  Sure, every once in a while I might be able to get a copy of Dragon Magazine at the local news-stand but they were hard to come by.  If I wanted any real “game related news”, it would require actually setting foot in my local gaming store.

     Obviously that’s not the case these days.  With the Internet we often know about products relatively early in the developmental stages.  Want some out-of-print item?  Chances are that eBay or Amazon will be your best bet, and often be cheaper than if you found it in a store.  Hell, often even brand new items can be purchased at favorable prices online (and that’s assuming that you’re even going to buy a hard copy as opposed to a .pdf)

     With these changes, I would have to think that the brick & mortar gaming stores are feeling the heat.  They’re not alone, as video rental stores are increasingly hard to come by and even traditional bookstores are facing an uncertain future.

     With this kind of outlook, I would expect retailers to be doing everything in their power to tie themselves to their customers.  Unfortunately, in the few months since I’ve dipped myself back into the hobby, I’ve seen no signs of this. 

     As I was poking around and deciding whether I wanted to create a blog for myself, I spent a lot of time reading the blogs of other gamers.  This happened to be right around the time of Free RPG Day 2011.  In reading the pre-event buzz, I thought that this sounded like a fantastic idea.  This type of event could clearly be good for retailers.

     Unfortunately, in the weeks following, I must have read at least 20 blogs or forum reports  with negative impressions from the event.  Many complained that they had made the trip to a retailer (who had been using advertising materials for the event), only to find that the employees on hand knew nothing about the event.

     My biggest issue with the 5 stores which I’ve visited in recent months is customer service.  Perhaps I don’t look like a “typical” gamer, but when I walk into a store, I feel like I’m wearing a cloak of invisibility.  Not a single employee has greeted me or even looked up from whatever they were reading.  In and of itself, that’s not a huge problem.  I usually know what I’m looking for and enjoy browsing.  However, I AM a gamer.  I have to wonder about the scores of parents or significant others who have no idea what they’re looking for. 

     Take a moment and consider the parent of a young gamer, who comes in seeking birthday or Christmas presents.  Unless they’re into the hobby themselves, they’d likely be totally lost in a gaming store.  If confronted with a friendly and helpful employee, they’ll likely walk out of there with some heavy purchases (it’s not like there’s a rival gaming store on every corner).  On the other hand, if they’re treated rudely or ignored all together, “little Johnny” is likely to end up with an iTunes gift card for a present.

     Obviously, customer service issues can be common in any retail venue.  However, it seems to me that gaming stores and other “geek related” retailers (comic book stores & video game stores) are particularly challenged in this area.  Sadly, I’m afraid that this is directly because of the stigma which if often attached to these hobbies.

     By in large, it seems that folks who work in gaming stores are gamers themselves.  This should be a great asset.  However, it often seems that I encounter one of the three following stereotypes.

  • The Outcast:  This fellow never fit into any social group while he was growing up and he’s got a MASSIVE chip on his shoulders.  Having finally found a place where he is accepted, he views any customers who aren’t like him as “outsiders”.  Ironically, he’s doing exactly what was done to him for his whole life.  The sooner you’re out of his store, the better.
  • The Elitist:  This guy takes his job very seriously.  Oh he’ll talk to you, but he’ll only tell you what he wants to spout off at the moment.  He’s quite certain that he knows everything about everything (after all, he does work in a gaming store).  Interested in a product that he doesn’t like?  You’re in for a 10 minute soliloquy about why your game sucks.  In the meantime, he will make certain that you’re aware of his “gaming credentials”.
  • The Nerd-Rager:  This poor soul has his mind made up about everything (Star Wars vs. Star Trek, DC vs. Marvel, 3.5e vs. 4.0e).  He can actually be quite charming, as long as your views align with his.  However, should you be interested in a product outside of his particular likes, he will immediately become condescending.

     That’s not to say that there aren’t some awesome gaming stores out there with really sharp employees.  More than anything, it’s just to wish that I had one nearby.  I love this hobby and I love browsing through a good brick & mortar gaming store.  I just hope that they’re always around for us to enjoy.

     What’s it like in your neighborhood?  Do you still frequent an actual gaming store or do you make all of your purchases online?  Have you had any really positive (or negative) experiences?  I would love to hear your stories.

     Thank you for reading.  Good Gaming!

 

 

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14 Comments

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14 responses to “Is your “friendly neighborhood game store” really all that friendly?

  1. I still get excited if I’m out running errands and I just happen to pass by a gaming store. The convenience of online outlets aside, there’s just something about being in a place surrounded by the things you enjoy. It’s the same reason I love book stores…being surrounded by the smell of paper, leather, and coffee….ahhhhh…

    My experience at retailers, such as gaming or comic book stores, is a bit different than the one that you described, and I attribute that mostly due to my gender. No matter that number of female gamers has steadily increased over the years, and the fact that I’ve been gaming longer than most of these tots have been alive, it seems as though every time I set foot within these temples of gaming goodness, I get met with overly helpful gawkers. Usually, they try to steer me towards the bubble-gum-sugar-pop games until they realize that I actually prefer a little substance to my game palette. 🙂

    • I totally agree. I could spend all day in a bookstore. For that matter, even video game & comic book stores can be entertaining to me (even though I’ve never been too deeply immersed in either).

      I’m glad that you commented as I was wondering about the experience of female gamers while I wrote this. My guess was that they would be met with either “OMG, a girl!!!” or largely ignored.

      In your opinion, would you say that female gamers are given more respect now, as opposed to years ago?

      I can’t speak for the tabletop RPG scene because I’ve only just returned to it. Hovever, in WoW it seems like most of the good guilds are comprised of decent numbers of female players. Rightly so, they seem to be held in high regard.

      Thanks for stopping by.

      • There definitely is that whole “OMG! Girl!” mentality from our male counterparts. And I would say that female gamers definitely garner more respect nowadays, even though that sense of novelty still prevails over women gaming in general.

        It’s funny you mention WoW, as it was a girl who got me involved with playing in the first place…and I know many an accomplished lady who can hold their own in a raid or battleground.

        I was also an avid tabletop RPG’er, mostly Forgotten Realms. There was one other girl that played in our group, and for the most part (at least with the people I played with) there was never the impression that females lacked playing ability.

        I’m glad you wrote the post with a thought of what experiences female gamers have…our worlds aren’t so different!

  2. I never realy frequented gaming venues. I too have a problem with customer service over the years. A LONG time ago, I got into ordering stuff through catalogs and then online. Never had to deal with a snotty sales person after that. Every now and then, I like to walk into a store when I don’t want to wait for shipping & handling.
    My personality, however, has changed since those days! Now, if I’m even close to being ignored, I step right up and clearly engage said clerk with animated conversation. (being 6’2″ and 240 lbs helps a bit too) I generally end up getting what I want unless they are hankering for a vicious (as my wife would say) verbal lashing with would include questioning of their parental lineage. 😉

  3. Ha! I love it. Good for you.

    Speaking of customer service, I see that you’re a WoW player. While it’s slightly different from what I was talking about, I would have to give Blizzard very high marks for their customer service. Every interaction I’ve had with them has been very positive.

    Thank you for your comment.

  4. I’m fortunate enough to be going to college near Bookery Fantasy, the largest gaming store in the world (it’s actually on two sides of the street!). I’ve always had very good experiences there and the staff are very friendly.

    But my hometown has a gaming store as well, if you could call it that. They focus almost exclusively on Magic and Yu-gi-oh trading cards and have only a paltry selection of board games and role-playing games. When I first walked in, I said I was just browsing and the store clerk gave a loud sigh, as though he was miffed that I didn’t know if I wanted anything. I saw a D&D 4e book on the shelf and asked him if people in the area played. He quickly turned it to a rant about how 3.5 was better than 4e.

    I walked out of the store empty handed and have never looked back. One customer lost from bad service.

    • I wasn’t familiar with Bookery Fantasy. It’s a bit of a hike from me but I get over that way every once in a while. I’ll have to check it out.

      As for your hometown story, that sounds like exactly the type of thing I was talking about. I just don’t understand people like that.

      Thanks for popping in.

  5. I have to agree that the halcyon days of gaming stores is over. I’m sure there are exceptions, but it’s nothing like it was in the 80’s. In my opinion, much of the focus today seems directed towards collectible card and collectible miniatures games (like Journeyman GM said). There’s nothing wrong with Pokemon, Magic the Gathering, HeroClix and the like, but good old fashioned role playing games seem to be a fleeting afterthought in the stores in my area (one store in particular even stopped selling miniatures and dice altogether). When I was a kid, shop owners hosted D&D games and even arranged bus trips to Gen Con. Man, I miss the good old days!

    • I fully agree. There’s plenty of room for the card games and such. I’m always open to new things, even if they’re not my cup of tea. This doesn’t just go for games but also source material.

      Take Twilight for example. You see a lot of hate out there (and again, I’m not personally drawn to it). However, the material clearly overlaps into areas of the hobby at large, and that can only be a good thing.

      I guess I’m getting old and miss the good old days as well.

  6. My local comic book store is pretty similar to what you described here but I stopped going for a while because it was small, usually two clerks working behind the counter and I take a long time choosing my books and always felt they were becoming impatient with my long browsing. Probably just my perception. I would say that the saddest thing is to see Borders and other major bookstore chains go under. I still go to my local chain bookstore to pick up a monthly gaming magazine. Sure I could just subscribe to it, but I find that it’s more fun to browse other gaming magazines while sipping on some latte from the starbucks next to it while getting lost in the glossy pages. I am going to do this for as long as I can and hopefully they won’t shut it down anytime soon and force me to subscribe. Sadly, technology and tablets seem to be phasing out the printed word.

    • Yeah, Borders was an eye-opener. Truly, I always preferred Barnes & Noble. Still, the loss of Borders is a bad sign.

      It would seem that there would always have to be printed books out there but you never know.

  7. Ah, back in the day when I was younger there where several shops and even one that was really cool. The owner knew his stuff and could really help you if you had questions. You where always treated friendly, there was always a game running and pretty much every day there was a gm hanging out in the store for the most popular gaming systems. I left what was a fortune back then in that store. Sadly that store has been closed for years and there was no good replacement. It is near impossible to find a nice store around here.

    The biggest issue for me are the Fans working in the store. They are fixed on their single system, whatever that might be and trash and talk shit about every other system and even the players of other system. I would call them the Elitist-Nerd-Rager. It is OK if you share the interest, but be wary if you do not. As a store employee one should realize that telling the guy who just asked you for the new DnD 3.5 Horror Book that DnD players are douches and Vampire rules all is not the way to a sold book.

  8. I’ve had a love hate relationship with many of the stores in my area, often depending on their employees or the owner of the store. One shop was owned and run by the old man who owned the pool hall next door, he bought the shop already intact because it was always busy with people and I assume the financial made sense. But he had absolutely no love for the hobby and within short order everything that took up shelf space, but didn’t turn over fast and turn a quick buck was phased out until he pretty much just sold Magic and other CCGs (usually Pokemon and whatever attracted 12 year olds and their parents with money). Soon the place was a ghost town and worst of all he charged to use his tables, even if you just bout cards from him. The local gaming community saw that place go under within about 2 years (those cards must have sold very well). The best shops I’ve been to usually have nerd employees and sometimes they can be hard to deal with, but I’ve seen some do well. However, the most successful ones in my area are all far more then retailers, they’re are the center of gamer community in the area. There’s always someone sitting down for a game of Magic. They have organized RPGA events and other RPG game nights. They have a community forum for people to organize on and they encourage people to come and sit down to play, often bringing in vending machines and they allow (even encourage) their customers to order pizza and what not. All because while we’re there we’re 100 times more likely to spend our gaming dollars with them instead of Amazon even if it would be cheaper to go online.

  9. I agree. As a customer, I’d gladly go the extra mile for a retailer who gave me a really good experience.

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