Friday, December 7, 2012

Gamerspaces - The Future of the FLGS?

There's been much to do about the Death of the Friendly Local Game Store.  The usual culprits are a reduction in purchases since the economy's bad, pdfs being cheaper, easier, and available in greater variety, and the recent edition wars (if you stock just one edition, you lose potential customers, but if you stock multiple editions and bet wrong, then you end up with extra stock that you can't move).  A lot of stores seem to have basically just turned into outlets for Magic the Gathering or Warhammer.  The trouble is that the other function of the FLGS, as a center for the local gaming community, is still useful.  Sometimes it's nice to be able to meet a player in person and get a good read before inviting them to a game, or to watch a game being played before deciding to join it, or just to have a place other than your own home to run a game with CheetoBreath McBurritoFarts (nothing against him, he's a great player and all, but after the last time you had him over and the smell lingered for days, your wife gave you an ultimatum and none of your other players are willing to let him into their houses either).  It's a good place to poster for home games, organize events, learn to paint minis, and a host of other things ancillary to the playing of the game itself, too.  The loss of FLGSs is all the more lamentable for the loss of these elements...  but I think it may also suggest a path by which they might continue.

The parallel which this immediately suggests to me is the hackerspace.  These are essentially groups of technical folks who pool cash for rent and equipment to build a place where they can get together and play with hardware and code while hanging out with like-minded individuals.  They run mainly on memberships and donations, rather than on retail sale of stuff.  This, I think, might be a viable route for the FLGS - abandon retail, and become a membership-based 'gamerspace'.  Get some warehouse space, throw down some cheap tables and power strips, add a wireless router or two and a concessions stand, and then get some groups willing to pay for 24/7 access, or rent out tables for shorter time slots to non-members.  And sure, maybe you also stock dice and Magic cards, but selling those need not be the focus.  Selling stuff starts to get complicated when you're looking at opening the space up 24/7 to members, anyways (MtG vending machine, anyone?).  The natural question is "is there sufficient demand for this sort of thing, in the internet age, where I can game with strangers without either leaving my house or letting them in?  Are people willing to shell out enough for membership to sustain something like this?"  And that seems like something which can only be determined empirically.  On the other hand, dues could probably be a lot lower than those of a hackerspace, since you're not shelling out for soldering gear, oscilloscopes, and 3d printers...

Upon reflection, the Airlock is kind of a construction of this type, but built around videogames rather than tabletops, and with set hours.  They may not be thriving, but they're still kicking, which is promising for the model.  On the other hand, both the Airlock and hackerspaces have the advantage of requiring specialty hardware which is a bit expensive for individuals to buy for themselves.  A gamerspace does not have such a requirement, which will cut costs but also reduces the impetus to membership.  It might be possible to maintain a community library of gaming books, though, and that might provide a financial incentive, in that each participant gains access to books without having to own them.  On the third hand, I know that if there was a dedicated gaming space, it sure would reduce the consternation we college students have when it's sunday afternoon and we can't find anywhere to game on campus...  but college students are cheap.  In any case, the viability of this model will depend in part on the cost of space in an area, as well as the gamer density.  It remains to be seen if there are places where it could be sustained.

1 comment:

  1. Here in the Seattle area, we have three 'gamer spaces' which have food and drink as a primary or secondary funding source.

    In Everett, there is the AFK tavern, which is a bar/tavern first and does not sell games but has them (and video games) as a theme/draw.

    In Seattle, Card Kingdom and Moxi are a combined game store (with plenty of table space) and restaurant. Very nice place.

    The newest is Gamma Ray Games and Raygun Lounge.

    There's also a club house (which I shamefully have never been to), Metro Seattle Gamers.

    And that's besides our FLGSs that have tables and tournaments. Wow, gaming in Seattle. :)