Trask on the Future of Retail Game Stores

I have many fond memories of my “Friendly Local Game Store.” It is the place I burned many an hour playing board games or role-playing games.

I believe it is doomed.

As far as I can see, my local game store rely on three key revenue streams:

1. Collectible Games/Miniature Games
2. Board Games
3. Role-playing games

Each one of these streams is under threat from either technology or cultural shifts.

Collectible games have begun to move online. There is already an online version of Magic and WOTC is talking about an online version of the “Dungeons and Dragons” miniature combat game on I would argue that the online versions of these games are probably better, since the computer can parse rules issues and keep score for the players. Combine a better experience with an entire generation growing up with the concept of “owning” a virtual item and the card collectors of old will die out in a generation. “Magic:The Gathering” cards are just pieces of cardboard. Player demand give them value, makes them collectible. The moment that player-base accepts bytes on the internet have the same value, pieces of cardboard stop
having much meaning. No physical media means the FLGS loses a critical revenue stream.

Board games are ancient in origin. Chess and mancala trace their roots back centuries. Even modern board games like “Monopoly” and “Settlers of Catan” owe their inspiration to these venerable games. Take chess as an example. You can play chess with pieces on a real board, or you can play online. One has wooden pieces that look like a king and a player sitting across from you. The other has 3-D animated figures and a player pool as big as the internet. Add the fact that releasing a new, untested board game is an expensive proposition. For every winner, like “Settlers of Catan,” how many games disappeared in the mass of new releases? Each failure represents untold thousands in costs with no return. Produce the same game online and there is no manufacturing, only code development. Initial costs may be higher, but there is no inventory to gather dust on a shelf. Also, you cannot improve a “real” board game. Player demands can drive the shape of the game. This will certainly reduce the availability of games for the FLGS to sell.

Role-playing games. This pains me to say, but the age of printed books is ending. Sites like RPGnow and others make is abundantly clear that publishing online is a viable business option. Why risk the cost of a 500 book print run when you can publish the print-ready pdf for the price of the books development. Should someone want a paper copy, on-demand printing is a viable option and becomes cheaper every year. A small publisher, doing everything themselves and outsourcing the rest could easily provide quality game books, in a variety of formats for a reasonable price. No FLGS required.

I hope my local FLGS survives for many years to come. It probably will with “old-timers” like me to keep it going. Once we are gone, I have little hope. I just wonder in a generation or two if our collective hobby will have the same archaic charm as a knitting bee.

“In person? Granpa, you used to play games with other people in the same room?”

Trask, the Last Tyromancer



Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.