Friday, March 30, 2012

Will Digital Publishing Destroy The Local Game Store?

by SandWyrm

As Privateer Press gears up to release War Room for the iPad this April, with it's integrated rules and army builder; should we be scared of it's effect on the profit margins of the local game store? Digital 3D printing is an obvious future threat (or opportunity) to anyone selling model kits, but are gaming books actually more important to their bottom line?

As the owner of an iPad, I've had great fun being able to haul around a huge library of PDFs and whatnot with me in a small device that can also access the web. It's particularly convenient over at Games 2D4, which has WiFi available (shame on you Game Preserve).  Easy Army is just a few clicks away.

But while I eagerly await the day that all rules are sold/distributed online, others are not so happy with the prospect. Jerry, the owner/manager of Games 2D4, spelled it out for me very simply. Without the books, carrying the rest of a company's product range isn't very attractive to him. Sure, he told me, you do make some money off of the models. But the books provide the steadiest income because they take up less retail space and provide the highest margins.

Hmmnnn... I hadn't considered that before.

He told me that Battlefront had tried going digital some years ago before 2nd Edition Flames of War came out. The result was that stores stopped buying ALL of their products and they found themselves dropped by all of the major game distributors. He says it took them almost 10 years to recover from that fiasco. Hence, while BF will now distribute teaser PDFs online, they make sure to release plenty of books that the stores will want to stock. Because the retail business model depends on them.

If true, this is problematic. Digital distribution of rules is obviously the future. But if it robs the stores of needed income, then we won't (at least in the USA) have many public places left to play. Unless the game store as we know it embraces other revenue opportunities. I'm thinking of 'club' memberships for using their tables/terrain, or having the facilities to print 3D models on-site for a fee.

Comments? Ideas? I know that our readership includes more than a few game store owners. It this a concern for you?


  1. In the US I think we need to move away from playing at game stores and create something more like country clubs for nerds.

    There could be some distinct advantages to doing this. The clubs could focus on gaming area instead of retail space. Use membership dues to pay the rent. Have a "pro-shop" with limited stock, but allow members to order direct from the distributors at cost.

    How cool would that be? Never going to happen, but I can dream.

    1. Funny. I've been having the same dream. :)

    2. If I ever win the lottery I'm going to make it happen. Unfortunately I understand probability, and, as such, don't play the lottery.

    3. This is pretty much how gaming works in the UK. Few local FLGS are big enough to hot most than one or two tables at most. So for the most part we rent out town halls, church halls, hotel rooms and the like. I'm a member of the unfortunately named G3 (Glasgow Gaming Group). We've got upwards of a hundred members and usualy have anywhere between 40 and sixty attendee's a night, playing 40K, Warhammer, Dystopian Wars, Saga, Impetus, Infinity, In the Emperor's Name, Warmahoards, Blood Bowl, Heavy Gear, WWII, Weird War II, Fields of Glory. Just about anything and everything in fact.

      And we're just one of three equally large groups in a 15 mile radius. Heck, Pheonix wargames club rents the Polish Working Men's club right next door to our Council Hall on the very same night of the week. When I fell like testing my chops in a historical game against someone different, I just pop next door and see who has what. Likewise for the (mostly historical) Pheonix gamers, who pop by when they fancy a game of something a little more fantastic.

      Not the mention the very busy GW store which runs Game Nights three nights a week to keep up with the demand.

      Support your local gaming store by all means, but seriously, if you're local gaming store stops running tournaments, it's not the end of the world.

    4. By the way, on the other side of the coin, I dream of one day being able to open up a gaming store large enough for a games hall, coffee shop, painting area and attatched pub. There's a lot to be said for having a local store big enough to game in.

  2. Never really occurred to me that books and "other" would have different margins, but that's why I'm not in that line of work I guess :-)... Have to admit I REALLY like having PDF/whatever copies of everything on my laptop, and the Gopher has excellent WiFi so "Where my laptop is, so there is my Office" with e-mail, IM, VoIP phone, etc... Means I have a huge library of gaming material at home that I can access/carry on my motorcycle with me wherever I go... WAY more convenient...

    Having had the bachelor house of gaming at a few points in my past, with one or more of the lads with the business license, etc. to order models from distributors... Worked out fairly well for us, mind this was quite a while ago before big crackdowns on this sort of thing and at these various times we had no local game stores we would go into... Honestly, a group of us considered this before a few of the local places opened and finally stabilized with the Gopher... Just REALLY glad to have a local place to play :-)

    I do kind of wonder what this does for some of the games like Infinity which have their rules free online, etc... Probably not a big enough game in terms of players to get a good idea, but..

  3. The best route is to provide the books to the retailers in the same fashion as current, with each book having a code for redeeming a digital copy. This allows the retail stores to keep their proper margins and game visibility in the store while giving the players the best of both worlds.

  4. Every 6 months or so, this comes out. I don't have a magic 8 ball, and I don't know what's in store for us, but I do know that for every POD company like WW, there's a Paizo or WoTC that churns out paper books like they grow trees faster than pubes. At least for now.

    Having a book on the shelf is both a plus and a negative. It offers the chance for the uninitiated and unfamiliar folks to LOOK at a product before buying it, and the option to compare it to something else. The negative of course is space, and shelf life, but every product has a time frame and books are infinitely longer than other products in most regards.

    Books are only part of the many products a local store can (and honestly SHOULD) carry. There are minis, paints, tools, foam, bags, etc- and then cards and board games. If a store has any sense at all, they will have more than just one line of product on the shelf, so they can appeal to a lot of nerdly types.

    As far as the "club" idea, at least in our area, it has been floated around before. Some small groups have been able to make it work (but it really takes a dedicated group of non-flakes), but most have fallen apart within 2 years. The real downside to clubs is most people do not want to pay - for space, for terrain, for league setup, etc. This is especially true on a LONG TERM basis. Most of my customers would gladly pony up once or twice. But asking them to foot a $10 bill every time they wanted to play with little plastic space mens does not have good results over longer periods of time, even among friends.

    The social concern of having a 'neutral' place available to play without worries such as babies, dogs, cats, wives (in most cases), kids (again, in most cases) and the ease of 'someone else has to pay the rent' is very appealing, and has kept us afloat for several years.

    There are companies that make the PDF route easy, especially in conjunction with a "bits and mortar" program, but there are far more that don't. The idea of giving away a product is anathema to so many in the business that it's very difficult to discuss real concerns like market saturation, reach, turnover and profit with them. They just see "all the dollars" they are "not earning" via a giveaway.

    It's not as simple as "will one thing kill another"- at least not YET. Again, I don't have a magic 8 ball, but I'm not seeing it- YET.

    1. I was under the impression, from chatting to a few shop owners, that CCGs tend to be the real bread and butter anyway; that RPG books in particular tend to sit for a while; and that wargames are somewhere in between, with spikes of interest around events (either big 'uns or in-store 'uns) and then sort of ticking along the rest of the time.

      The chap who runs Chimera (new store a few miles from me) is pretty open about this sort of thing, and has used it to demonstrate why Warmachine players have to pay for tables while Magic players don't - the Magic folks buy more stuff more often and generate less in the way of overheads (terrain, storage of larger products &c &c), so the cover charge compensates for that.

      Given that there's no free-to-play tables for anything that's not GW around our way, and that it's a very nice space in which to play games (converted pub), nobody seems to mind that much.

    2. It's fairly true that CCG's are a large portion of sales. Given that, OUR numbers (and this is specific JUST to us) show that miniatures are selling a double digit percentage of total sales. RPGs are very close behind the mini numbers, if not equivalent.

      Given the differences in club vs retail (or UK vs US), I can't really talk to the issue of charging for tables across the board. I can say that we have never done it, and we really don't want to start. We've seen stores do it, and those stores have failed; but who knows if it was due to charging for space or due to something different.

  5. Thought provoking post SW. One of my favorite pastimes is simply "browsing" - basking in the well of creativity, I'm sure similar to the feeling some get in a museum or art show. I loathe the thought of the day when the LGS has a few tables, a card counter, a couple paint and mini racks, and a few screens rotating still ads, and maybe a high end printer/binder. Honestly the last is the only potential value add, and the life on that is limited too. Another decade and tablets will be too ubiquitous. Then again - gaming can be an endurance sport, and batteries simply dont last long enough. Paper should last another decade easily. After that, we won't need roads where we're going.

    1. Think again. The iPad 2 has a 10 hour battery life. I can literally browse the web and watch movies all day and only get down to 30-40% remaining. The new IPad 3 more than doubles the battery life. Such that you can go days without worrying about running out of power.

  6. Even the iPad3's battery is having trouble with divided reviews on taking longer to charge, being less than the iPad2's and being 'double' the iPad2's. /shrug It's still $400+ if you get it a model or two behind the initial release. Vs. ~$60 for a hardback or ~$20 for a pdf you can print off. Give it a decade or less, flexible display e-ink, longer-life batteries, etc.. at similar price points to paper. I'll be a luddite I think; I dislike trying to flip back and forth on a reader/tablet, so I'll always want a paper version for something I'm focusing on. A consideration: the cheating potential could also goes up for digital copies. How do you have an "approved" version?

    1. What I'm saying is that the battery life is already there with the 2nd gen iPad, let alone the 3rd. Take it to NOVA, use it all day, and charge it up again that night.

      As for official PDFs, the ones I use consistently are the ones for which I already have the books. Battlefront also releases free PDFs all the time. Which are actually superior to a real book because I can search them.


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