Whither the FLGS?

My attention was caught by the following exchange on Twitter tonight, in the context of the new D&D Miniatures being available at GenCon prior to their being available at your local FLGS:

(On a technical note, this is the first time I’ve ever embedded a Tweet in the blog, so I’m sure I’ve unlocked some new level now.)

The thing is, I can see both sides of the argument.

To @Hahnarama’s point, a lot of us have a certain loyalty to our FLGS, and are willing to pay full retail prices simply to help sustain them, because of the added value they provide, beyond simply being a place to buy games. Often, this takes the form of providing a place to play games, which is increasingly more valuable as venues become harder to come by.

I remember back in the early-mid 80’s, my local FLGS, Fat Moose Comics and Games, had access to an empty storefront in the mall on Friday and Saturday nights, and at times there were literally hundreds of kids playing D&D there every weekend, myself included, just sitting on the floor in an otherwise-empty mall store (it used to be a clothing store, and it was quite huge). The pizzeria, McDonald’s, Chinese restaurant, and video arcade were all more than happy for the extra custom, I’m sure.

The point being that having a place to play the games is just as important as having a place to buy the games, especially when more and more gamers are turning to things like Meetup.com to find players, so inviting complete strangers into your home isn’t quite an optimal solution.

On the other hand, I can see Trevor Kidd’s point. Conventions like GenCon and Origins are events. People look forward to, and plan for, them for an entire year, and it’s nice to be able to provide something special for them to be able to take home as a reward for going to all the trouble and expense of attending. I remember I bought the first-ever-sold copy of Temple of Elemental Evil at GenCon, and it never occurred to me that I was taking money out of Fat Moose’s till in doing so.

And to complicate matters are online retailers like Amazon, who regularly discount gaming materials (books and miniatures) by absurd amounts, to the point where the extra money paid to the FLGS for play space might just not seem worth it…

It’s a conundrum, and it’s not one I pretend to have an answer for. I welcome your thoughts on the subject in the comments.

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

7 thoughts on “Whither the FLGS?

  1. The concept of the FLGS is over rated. There are three in my town and all of them are on the opposite side of town from me, they never have what I want in stock, special orders take much longer than if I just ordered something online, and all of them run Free RPG Day poorly or not at all. I've met more gamers and forged better relationships with people at a handful of conventions than I have by going to my FLGS for years.

  2. In a normal industry, this isn’t a problem. It happens all the time in computers, or at least it did a few years ago when I still went to conferences. Comic books used to be that way, too.

    It’s only a problem if a significant portion of your local clientele also attends the national conference. Normally, only the tiniest fraction of the total consumer base for a product goes to conventions. If a product’s good, they come back and their friends go pick it up at the local stores, and then their friends, and so on.

  3. Having worked in the industry, one of the reasons that game companies "pre-release" products at major gaming conventions is to offset the costs of being a vendor at the show. It's a reality: setting up a booth is (very) expensive. You have to buy the space from the host, pay for having union and convention hall staff hang trade show banners, pay for shipping for your trade booth and product, fly staff out, pay for hotels, food costs, etc.

    All this adds up quickly. Without selling some show-release exclusives, your profitability for several of your products simply evaporates. Making up the difference for a 6-digit trade show bill is a too much for gaming products to overcome. So, release at a show.

    That's why, historically, most publishers will release something at the show. You have an interested consumer, it creates hype, and you can offset the costs. Ever notice how many major vendors pulled out of attending Origins over the years? Not enough customers to justify the costs. So they simply don't go anymore. And when they do, they typically staff the booth with volunteers (who work in trade for product) and buy the smallest sized booth they can.

    Additionally, only a small fraction of FLGS customers make it out to a major show any given year (and most years, a product release will not impact FLGS sales). If a store is hoping to sell, say, 25 copies of the D&D 5E Player's Handbook, it is likely that only 2-3 of their regular customers will actually make the trek to GenCon. Of course, the closer you are to Indianapolis, the more of your customers might actually go to the show, but there's not much that can be done about show-site proximity.

    When it comes down to it, customers want show-site pre-releases as well. It's something to look forward to. It helps to make the con worth attending (heck, it's an investment on the customer's part these days as well, especially if they are traveling a long way to get there). Without value-adds, the impact of cons fade.

    Lastly, as much as a comment like this will draw controversy: FLGS simply aren't impacted enough for this to be a serious issue. Most offer a discount to their regular customers (in order to compete with online sales), so the only thing that con-release products offer is the "gotta have it now" factor. Vendor prices at shows tend to be MSRP (to maximize products and not poach from the sales of other con-attending vendors who might be carrying their product; like Troll & Toad). The greater competition comes from Amazon.com, where 30% off MSRP is a more serious challenge.

    Anyway, that's the long and short of it. Cons are too expensive for vendors to show up empty handed. That's why they (typically) release product there before it shows up on store shelves.

  4. The impact of Gencon sales on FLGS sales has got to be minuscule. Despite the number of people who go to Gencon, it is still a tiny fraction of the market. I don’t think any of the gamers I’ve known—other than some of those I’ve met via NTRPGCon or online—have ever been to Gencon. Myself included. If you really want to be an activist for the FLGS, there have got to be infinitely more effective routes than this.

    And if these people are worried about hurting their FLGS on an individual level, they have the power to wait and not buy the pre-release at Gencon.

  5. In a sense, shouldn't GenCon be devastating to the local FLGS market?

    But the Game Preserve still has two stores here (and a third up north in Lafayette), and there's Saltire on the east side, with Games2die4 on the west.

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