Gaming Clubs Are the Future
by , 02-23-2012 at 05:42 AM (8512 Views)
Retail gaming stores are a dying breed. Amazom.com, et al. are killing them for reasons too numerous to list, but most (or all) of which you’re well-aware. At this point, some metropolitan areas don’t have retail gaming stores serving them (“unserved areas”), while areas with gaming stores (“served areas”) see them going out of business. The DC area is fortunate to have six stores servings the area, though even we have seen some attrition with the closing of the Woodbridge Game Parlor. (The stores are Dream Wizards, Game Parlor, Labyrinth Game Shop, the Family Game Store, Curio Cavern, and the Game Vault.)
Gamers in unserved areas are clamoring for the same support given to served areas, but WotC is unwilling to do so because they need a “brick and mortar” location to which to send the materials. Otherwise, they’re just sending adventures to their customers at home without charging them. That’s not a good business model for a company that makes money by selling those products to their customers.
Unfortunately, there’s a reason areas are unserved. Opening a retail gaming store is tough. Even Borders went bankrupt, and they had a broader product line, which in turn leads to a broader customer base, and as a result they had the advantage of being able to sell in bulk due to a larger inventory. If you plan to opening a more focused shop that serves only a small segment of the overall population, and your metropolitan area is small, you should file for bankruptcy the next day. It just can’t work in the digital age.
Gaming Clubs Are the Future
Unlike retail stores, the existence of gaming clubs is in no way dependent on retail sales. Gaming clubs aren’t usually profit-bearing operations, and meeting their rent can be as simple as charging modest dues or establishing a pay-per-play system. Some might be lucky enough to find free space to organize their games at a church, community center, etc. In short, they can survive the move into the digital age despite a smaller “client” base and focused set of products and services.
Show Me the Money
When I brought up the issue with a couple of WotC folk at DDXP, they both asked the same question: “What do you want from us?” The real question, is what do they want from us, but if their answer is, “Nothing; we’re good,” then they’re dropping the ball in a serious way. Gaming clubs aren’t just an opportunity to grow the hobby in small areas; they’re bound to be the only opportunity to grow the hobby in any areas. If WotC feels that D&D Encounters and Living Forgotten Realms are effective marketing tools – and they must considering how much money they’ve invested in them in the past and present – then they’re going to need a vehicle to support it long after the retail stores close.Originally Posted by WotC
Nevertheless, I answered the question, admittedly in a crude, simplistic way, just to keep the conversation going. I suggested that, without spending one more dime then they’re already spending on their website, WotC could put a link to the Gamers’ Syndicate on their homepage as the "gaming club of the month." Imagine the publicity that would provide us. We’d have more members, and a new influx of GMs qualified to run both D&D and other games. We’d get bigger, and people would buy more product. Moreover, it would inspire other gamers to start their own gaming clubs, knowing that doing so might get them front-page exposure. This would have a snowball effect on the national scale, and in a way that isn’t impacted negatively by the move to the digital age.
As a side note, for areas like Washington, DC, a gaming club program shouldn’t encourage gamers to operate out of non-retail space. Supporting retail gaming stores is still the best way to serve the community and surest way to assure the programs accomplish their goals, so as long as an area is a served area, the programs should still operate through those stores. I’ll leave it to the game publishers to determine the details.
Clearly, I’m placing this burden on WotC, because, regardless of how you feel about them, they’re the industry leader, both financially and in terms of vision. They’ve supported multiple living campaigns over the years, they’ve provided a program for new players (i.e., D&D Encounters) with top-notch production values, and they’ve provided a suite of digital tools that, despite criticism, is like nothing else provided by any other company in the industry. If this idea is to take off, it will do so because WotC proves it works. Considering my ideas don’t have the costs associated with D&D Encounters and DDI, I’d expect that proof would inspire other companies to follow suit. Remember, this idea isn’t designed to get us free stuff – we’re the paying customers. Instead, it’s (ultimately) designed to improve game publishers’ sales, which in turn provides us with the gaming opportunities to which we’ve grown accustomed and for which we’re more than willing to pay.
Exactly who loses in that situation?
Robert E. Bodine, Esq. practices real estate and intellectual property law in Virginia. He is one of the founding members of the Gamers’ Syndicate, a Washington, DC-based gaming club, and part owner of synDCon, a table-top gaming convention. He authors the article series on Loremaster.org, Protection from Chaos, dealing with intellectual property law matters as they relate to the gaming industry. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertEBodine for legal matters, @GSLLC for gaming matters, and if you’re a sports fan, @MMADork.