Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Why We Do What We Do

Despite spending an awful lot of my adulthood trying to come up with the meaning of life, I haven't spent all that much time analyzing my fellow hobbyists. Instead, I've relied mostly on my own passion for gaming and assumed other felt as I did. Still, you would think the desire to understand other gamers would be a natural pursuit for a game store owner, but the day to day activity is enough to keep me busy with questions of the big unknown. Will they buy it? What exactly do they want? How on Earth will I pay the rent and the employees in the same week? Nuts and bolts questions can bog you down to where you stop thinking about the psychology of gaming. I can't even call it the "big picture," because the big picture nowadays is mostly a strategy to keep the doors open. I leave the whys and wherefores to game designers, although I've always known that kind of insight could be invaluable.

So when I saw this months issue of White Dwarf's Standard Bearer column with "hobby pies," I had one of those "ah-ha" moments. Someone gave the why question some thought. The concept is simple. Each of us engages in the hobby for a variety of reasons, with priority given to some elements over others. Everyone is different. Everyone has valid reasons. For the miniature gamer, the hobby pie in the article included: gaming, painting & modeling, collecting, background and camaraderie. Jervis Johnson and Mark Lathum, well known GW developers, both had very different pies, meaning they looked for different things in their hobby experience. There's even a Dakka Dakka poll modeled after this article.

In a way, I felt this article gave me permission to engage at whatever level I wished to in the areas that interested me. For example, I do little actual playing (more lately), but very much enjoy the painting & modeling, as well as background through reading the novels. I felt a little guilty for my lack of interest in playing, but this analysis is saying that's just fine. I probably have 3,500 points of Imperial Guard painted up, but I've only played around 15 games, and never over 1,500 points. I play Dungeons & Dragons primarily for camaraderie, and as my friends have drifted away from that game, I've found the game less of a focus. I hadn't realized why until I read the article.

As a store owner, I now see that my contribution to my hobbyist crowd is often providing that opportunity for camaraderie as well as the opportunity to game. It's not the only focus though. Our email service tracks who opens store email broadcasts, and half the recipients on our mailing list never even open event emails. That's perfectly fine. It's not what interests them; it's not what they want from us. Yet, events are a very large percentage of our time and resources; store owners need to remember it's not everyone's focus when they plan their time. It's not all about events and game center schedules. For clearly half our customer base, what we provide is what they clearly engage in as customers, what we claim to be our core competency: the stuff. The stuff, available now, in a clean, well lit, safe store, with helpful staff.

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