Monday, 17 May 2010

Why do local gaming stores seem to want the RPG hobby to fail?

I went into my 'friendly' local gaming store recently. It's off the beaten track and is a pain in the arse to get to, more than an hour's worth of travel by bus and train, but it has lots of RPG stuff in there. It serves an entire major city area and the surrounding towns. You'd think, with the popularity of RPGs being nowhere near what it used to be which probably results in sales being low, that they'd be a bit more welcoming.

The shop felt dirty, the lighting was harsh and sterile, RPGs were stacked on a table in dirty torn boxes in the middle of the room and everything seemed haphazardly dumped randomly around. There was a gaming table in there manned by friends and acquaintances talking about random stuff and there was not one single 'Hi! Welcome! Do you need any help with anything? Well, if you do just ask!' In fact, what I did get was a baleful stare from the guy behind the counter and brief glance of suspicion from everyone else. I felt so unwelcome it made me feel uncomfortable, like I'd walked in on a private club meeting and I was intruding. And the smell... oh, God, the smell. Salt and vinegar mixed with sweat and nicoteen, in a shop with virtually no ventilation. In fact, I was barely in there five minutes - I just had to get out. I won't be going back.

I was pretty annoyed. Why do some gaming shops present themselves in such a way? I once had an idea for a gaming store that I put into practice and almost got funding for. I was going to advertise in local papers, set up clubs for younger kids, have late opening for war, card and roleplay gaming - basically do what I could to get new blood into the hobby and spread the gaming word. Make the shop welcoming, actually want people to come in and hassle me with questions. This is what they should be doing - don't set up clubs and get-togethers for existing gamers (ie your mates), advertise for new players, get new people involved. Take the piss out of Games Workshop all you want, at least they have the right idea when it comes to attracting customers. Bright, airy, open to the public with great big display windows and places for people to game and paint, and staff who are friendly and knowledgable.

Don't hide your gaming shop away from view. Open the windows for displays, advertise in local papers, sponsor or create your own events. Get people involved - stop being so insular about it all.

Stop hiding yourself away and acting like you're embarressed about your hobby. You're not sex shops.


  1. That's terrible. Pity the economy is like it is or you could blow them away. The local Reading FLGS, Eclectic Games, is tucked out of the way but is very friendly and well lit. My favourite all time FLGS is Leisure Games in Finchley, London. Not only the place that introduced me to gaming in the first place and a place that I worked for a summer but also a light and friendly shop.

    Testimony to Leisure Games's friendly atmosphere was that my mother always enjoyed going in there before Christmas to buy books like 'Paranoia' or the 'Space Marine' boxed game. A FLGS should be a shop you'd be happy to send your mum into.

  2. There's a tiny wargaming shop very near me who are the just as bad - I went to a 'wargaming club' meeting last week. It was just a get-together of a few mates in a tiny smelly room where they could make sexual innuendos all night. I stuck it out but when i asked a couple of questions (I was looking into getting back into the wargaming scene) I had the same feeling that I was intruding on their fun.

    There are a couple of good shops within an hour and a half journey of me and I could spend a couple of hours in them - they're just a pain in the bum to get to. The existing ones need to be more welcoming! I shouldn't have to travel to another county to get good service.

  3. Back in the Hogshead days I had a system for appraising games shops: I'd go in, browse and see how long it took for someone to ask me if I needed any help. If it was more than two minutes they got taken off our publicity list. The record was a now-defunct shop in the Midlands, where after thirty minutes (I was killing time) the store guy looked up from his Magic game and grunted, "You all right there?"

  4. Perhaps a letter to the owner explaining your distaste of the place, and a list of possible improvements? It's possible the owner doesn't even realize how disgusting that is. I'd be willing to bet it's owned by someone who does not play anything at all.

  5. @ Matt - I've tried the letter writing thing before (sans improvement suggestions) and nothing ever came of it, not even a response. The guy who owns the shop is very much into his games, and that's probably part of the problem - it appears he's treating the shop like a private collection than a place where he's supposed to make money, and his 'regulars' treat it like a private clubhouse. I'm amazed it's still going.

    @ James - There's a lovely shop an hour and a half from me where the guy in charge welcomes you, and of you're in there for a while he'll checks up to make sure you're okay, just in case you can't find what it is you're looking for. They're all friendly and I can't remember the last time I went in there and didn't hear the vacuum cleaner going - the polar opposite to your experience.

    These days, my measuring stick is based on hair. If the guy behind the counter has long, lank greasy, unkempt hair I'm almost certain I'm in for a bad experience.

  6. I remember going into 'said' shop with you once and they leered at me as though i was the first woman with breasts they had ever seen. Needless to say i left and havent gone back. The nicest shop for rpg's i have been to is possibly the Two Fat Goblins in Stafford. Its so very tiny but the lads who own it are open and friendly and will do what they can to get you the bargain or support for your gaming club...thumbs up.