Thursday, February 19, 2009

Back of the Napkin

I was waiting around for Michael to get back from Costco yesterday while the card players were filing in. There was a week long debate about requiring CCG players to buy a booster pack or some sort of gift certificate to play in the back. As it turns out, we are over capacity for the game center, meaning we would like to expand certain events but we're out room. This got me looking at events that weren't doing anything, events that took up half the game center and are virtually invisible. When I say virtually, it's because I login from home the next morning and according to the books, nothing happened. Nobody was there. Yet I'm told it was packed. Huh.

So while I was waiting, I grabbed a piece of paper and a calculator and started crunching numbers. Rent, divided by the square footage of the game area, using only the hours of peak operation (6-10pm), and then divided by our capacity, around 50 seats. There we had it: $3.50, roughly the cost of a booster pack for a card game. This morning when I added in electricity, it got us to around $4.00, which is the cost of a booster pack.

As I see it, it is up to me to fill those 50 seats. That's my job. It's up to the customer to decide if they think it's worth $4.00. $4.00 is a starting point of course, but it at least justifies the basic expenses of the space. If I considered the game space as a percentage of our overall operations, I would be expecting an $18 commitment from each player, which isn't realistic. That happens but three times a year, and we call it Magic.

With the game center frequently filled to capacity, we risk the Yogi Berra saying: "Nobody goes there anymore; it's too crowded." Increasingly, we have little room available for free play. This mostly happens during our peak hours with scheduled events. I think it means players need to consider getting on board our schedule. In stores without free play, you show up on the scheduled night to play your game, or you don't play there, ever. We may become one of those stores, if only because of space limitations. Sure, come play Warhammer 40K anytime you like, but the only guaranteed spot is Mondays and league days. This was never my intention, but I also don't consider it an especially bad thing.


  1. I'm playing devil's advocate here (I have to work hard to not exhibit a prejudice against people who play CCGs exclusively), but one possible downside to requiring even a minor buy-in, like a booster pack, is the increased sense of entitlement it gives.

    The "hey, I bought my booster, I can do what I want" syndrome.

  2. Except that's the general attitude *before* they had to buy a booster.

  3. Yeah, I figured that. Is it just my imagination, or is that tendency worse in CCGers than in other gamers?

  4. With CCG players I feel like I must forcibly extract cash from them to use the facilities or they'll never spend a dime. This is because their cards are commodity items, available for around cost online. They feel they're doing you a great favor by spending money in your store, and when things are tight, they'll stop spending, but still use the facilities.

    Really, when I talked with one group recently, they had done the cost benefit of finding ANYPLACE other than our store to play, restaurants, community centers, etc., and realized we were the cheapest venue. There is zero loyalty, so you have to treat them like muggles. I can also be more candid about them because they don't read the blog. There's no interest in the store or it's success and there's little cross-over.

  5. I say charge them to play. If they like the store, they will pony up. Otherwise, good riddance.

  6. I think I already mentioned that the FLGS here recently kicked out the Yu-Gi-Oh players when the new owner discovered that most of his shrinkage was coming from their members, and that they were behaving poorly towards the paying customers.

    I don't think I mentioned that their 30-something 'leader' complained that they'd already been kicked out of a bunch of other locations they'd already tried.

    From a customer's perspective, I don't see the Magic crowd there as being much better. They're loud and obnoxious, and also very crude. Some of them talk like they're in a frat house instead of a public place of business. I guess the main difference is that they're a very visible minority of the Magic players, whereas they were apparently the majority of the Yu-Gi-Oh players.

    In either case, I've never seen the same level of behavior in other gaming sub-cultures, at least not when playing in a public space.

  7. We have a responsible Magic crowd with their own local sub-culture. I've hung out with them while playing 40K and they're a nice group of guys. They're still mercenary when it comes to store attitudes, however.

    I know that if I was hit by a truck, the majority of card players would show up at the door, shake it to make sure it really was closed, shrug their shoulders and look for the next place to play. That's what happened when we kicked out the YGO crowd. They're were over harassing Burger King customers within 20 minutes.

  8. So do I need to sign-up for the occasional Monday late afternoon/evening FOW game I have scheduled.



  9. It's not on the calendar, so yes.

  10. Yes, PM joedog on the forum to get it on the calendar.
    This not only reserves a spot/time for you, but also lets other players know when (and where) to find you - giving the game a chance to grow.

  11. I've played magic off and on since 1994, the year I graduated high school.

    I've come to BDG to play 3 times for pay-to-play events posted on the calendar.

    I bought ~2-3 drinks each time.

    I realize that your talking about free-play more than the pay events, but don't they buy drinks and snacks too?

    I've only been drawn into playing regularly at two stores.

    One had free play + pay snacks/drinks and had a 'live' store collection. The store would collect singles and give store credit...that I would use for snacks and packs and other singles.

    The second had a nice owner + free play and FNM and pay snacks/drinks.

    She complained about the electricity bill in the summer, so we all gave an extra $1, turned off the AC, and played through the night buying drinks and snacks the whole time while drafting her packs at retail and taking prizes in a post-draft rare re-draft.

    I think she made more money from those nights than she realized.

    I can remember being a poor college student and making most of my spending money from singles sales. Stores would allow you to sell singles provided the store had no means of providing what you were selling and that some of that money was spent in the store.

    I think it worked well for everyone. Drafts really upped the sales of packs and drew in more people than would normally come.

    I can see paying to enter the gaming area being reasonable. At $1, nobody could complain. At $4, I think you might be driving a bunch of people away. (If they're just people and not customers, that might be a desirable outcome.)

    You could make pay to play events yield an access stamp (think alcohol bar entry stamp) and otherwise, entry to the gaming area costs $x and gives you a stamp mark on the hand showing you have access for the night.

    If you only did this to one group of players (ccg or otherwise), I think it might make for some bad feelings.

    You could also have monthly rates like gym 'save' 50%, but since you only attend 30% of the time, the store nets money selling an empty seat:)

    Sounds like there would be additional hassle with enforcement, but it could work. (Says the guy with no retail management experience.)

  12. I remember when other events were scheduled on Fridays at the same time as Magic. I had scheduled some CMG games and tourneys on the BDG calendar. Of course, not a single player RSVPed for Magic, but when I would get to the shop, there would be dozens of Magic players there. Then they would inform me that there was no room for me, get lost, c'ya.

    On another note, in terms of free play, I don't really bother coming by BDG for that. As you noted, it's usually a situation where you are scheduled for an event, or you don't come in at all. I suppose that can be a good thing (for the business at least) as long as the store is packed and people at the scheduled events are actually buying stuff.

    Charging a fee for gaming may be a solution, but it can get out of hand. One of my "fondest" gaming memories is from a game shop called "A Sense of Wonder" 15 years ago. I had just gotten into CCGs. I bought a bunch of boosters from the store and was sorting them on a table. The owner ran up to me, told me to pay the $$$ table fee, and then proceeded to ring me up for the fee. I had spent all my money on the boosters, though. So he told me to beat it! A Sense of Wonder indeed!

  13. I would dearly love to know what you do about this.

    I would pay a fee to play at my flgs. I have no idea how much is good.

    $18 or $20 is probably to much for me to pay to play there, but buying something at that cost? Maybe.

    Should I just ask the owner how much my seat costs him an hour?

  14. Hmmm, OK. So the space is $4 per seat per night, roughly.

    So an $18 or $20 sale might cover that? What about any profit on top of that?

    Is that in drinks/snacks? Or a single product? Am I even correct?

  15. I knew this might become a problem. The power and other costs are not the only expense incurred by the users of the gaming area.

    Store staffing, wear and tear on everything, garbage service, Vacuums and other cleaning materials add to costs: Face it, gamers are not the cleanest sorts.

    I think a premium charge might be appropriate. When the store is busiest Saturday and Sunday all day, weeknights starting at x time. Start it at a dollar and see what the market will bear.

    The Griffin

  16. The Hobby Town about a half hour North of here charges you $10 to play. In return you get a coupon for $10 off any purchase of $20 or more. I don't know how it's working out for them so far, but I know some people are already driving the half hour to the store down here instead.

  17. The way the game center pays for itself is indirect sales. For example, you play a game of 40K and realize you need more models. You buy more models at the store. This is generally how it works, except for the exception of many CCG players.

    Many CCG players think it's fine to buy their cards online and play at the store. CCG sales and CCG players are fairly easy to track and correlate. We konw who plays in the store and if and when they buy, while many people buy other types of games and play at home.

    So you start noticing that a CCG group is full every week, yet your sales aren't budging. It becomes obvious where the problem lies. The game center is a finite resource and there are events that could use that spot with a proven track record of at least paying for themselves.

    That said, I think we've resolved this problem and most importantly created a model for future CCG events.

  18. There are some people who think we should close the game center and make it membership only. I know this is how the store in Vacaville does it, and it's because the local gamers of that fine town can't get their head around supporting their store. They will literally park themselves in the game center and not spend a dime, so the owners have had to make it member only, and apparently it's pretty successful.

    As long as I can attain the indirect or direct sales to pay for the game center, we'll keep it open and free to use. The process might be a little messy though, and leave it to me to share it. ;)

  19. Nik,

    Sorry about the issues with your event getting hosed by the Magic crowd. Things were a bit chaotic when we first started, but I think we've got it down a lot better now.

  20. RPGA on Thursdays packs the game center. They are a "pay to play" event - with the participants receiving a store credit slip for their "dues" (which can be purchased monthly, or night by night).
    Some members of the group use their credit to purchase snacks and drinks on game night, others cash them in for a book or game later in the month.
    The average amount each RPGA player spend each Thursday is greater than the minimum amount of the subscription - so there are several players who are buying more snacks, drinks, or game products to help support the venue.

    Quite different from a night when all the tables but one are taken up by one event, and the last table is used for a second event, and the second event players spend more money than the people taking up the majority of the game center.
    Mike and Gary are able to easily track the income produced by this group, and it certainly hits the minimum to "pay" for the game center.

  21. We offer "Games Days" and "Minicons" on selected weekends, but interest turnout has been very light (nonexistent in many cases).

    These are "free" events, and are times when we allow open gaming. This is a great time to play games that aren't normally on the schedule.

    If interested in having a table or two (or more) at such an event, pm joedog in the forum.

  22. Should be in this order:
    RPGA on Thursdays packs the game center. They are a "pay to play" event - with the participants receiving a store credit slip for their "dues" (which can be purchased monthly, or night by night).
    Some members of the group use their credit to purchase snacks and drinks on game night, others cash them in for a book or game later in the month.
    The average amount each RPGA player spend each Thursday is greater than the minimum amount of the subscription - so there are several players who are buying more snacks, drinks, or game products to help support the venue.

    Mike and Gary are able to easily track the income produced by this group, and it certainly hits the minimum to "pay" for the game center.

    Quite different from a night when all the tables but one are taken up by one event, and the last table is used for a second event, and the second event players spend more money than the people taking up the majority of the game center.

  23. I'm afraid I'm not understanding (fully, at least) this animosity towards CCGers.

    Let me address a few issues I'm having:

    "They feel they're doing you a great favor by spending money in your store"
    They are. If they don't spend money you don't make money. (Of course you know this already.)

    "and when things are tight, they'll stop spending"
    That's how the economy of the world works. If you have less money to spend you spend less money. (Of course you knew that, too. I read your blog.)

    "I can also be more candid about them because they don't read the blog."
    My son plays in the Pokemon League on Wednesday nights. He doesn't read your blog.

    I do.

    I understand your frustration from a business point of view. But do you think saying things like "that's the general attitude *before* they had to buy a booster" you'd be appealling to their sense of loyalty? To risk alienting a group of customers like this doesn't sound right to me.

    I want your business to continue to flourish, I just don't think talking bad about your customers is the way to accomplish this.

    One of the first things you learn about customer service is a happy customer tells one person; an unhappy customer tells ten.

  24. Actually, Gary does the local gaming community a huge favor by providing a play space.
    Stores do not have to do this - certainly not for free.
    Since it is a marketing tool, it needs to be directed at a target market that will bring in enough revenue to justify it. After all, what is the point of making an ongoing $5x or $10x per month investment to attract a customer group that will only spend $x per month?

    While there are some very nice and polite people in the Pokemon group (kids that come with their parents tend to be kids that behave well, for instance), the group - as a whole - has not always done a good job of ensuring a warm welcome.
    Despite the fact that CCGs should be able to put 4-6 players at each table (one of the things that makes them so popular is that "they can be played just about anywhere"), there have been numerous evenings when as few as ten or eleven players managed to take up almost every table in the store (piles of belongings on some tables, and one game per table at others). This has caused other customers - customers who regularly spend money when they are in the store - to not come in as often.
    Every game group has people who can't/don't/won't spend money in the store. In order to justify scheduling events for the group, other group members have to step up to the plate and either correct them, or make up for any "freeloaders". This is the model by which some of the smaller RPGs justify their spot on the schedule. The GM purchases some costly books, and the group purchases snacks and drinks while playing.
    It's probably worth noting that RPG groups have also been among the first to get bumped for other events, or go to a pay-to-play basis.

  25. The simplest solution is to have draft tournaments every week.

    No boosters - no play. A bit draconian, but effective.

  26. I do have to admire the chutzpa (sp?) of the blackmail threat, which boils down to:
    "Allow us to run rampant over your game space no matter how much it costs you, or we'll say bad things about you and ruin your business."

  27. Alienating customers is not my goal. However, when I feel people are taking advantage of me, I no longer consider those people customers. They become an operational nuisance. Telling me you buy all your games online and then asking special favors of me (which is how this started), is highly annoying and started this new pay to play system.

    I've clearly given up trying to instill loyalty in CCG players, and it's not just Pokemon players. They generally have no loyalty to me and my offerings, mostly due to the disastrous market of collectible cards. Pricing of these products is the key to these problems.

    For example, I sell a box of Magic for $99.99. You can buy it on eBay for $80. The full retail price is $144. Every dollar over $80 that I charge is regarded as "ripping off" the customer. Many buy from me reluctantly, even at the $99.99 price, even though they're saving $45 off the "full" retail price. For many players of CCGs, product they buy from me is filler, reluctantly purchased at some inflated price either out of a sense of loyalty, or as a requirement to use space.

    It's probably not prudent for me to air this publicly, but I can tell you it's what many other store owners think, and many simply discourage CCG playing in their store. I'm not trying to discourage, but I'm saying, "Hey, look at how screwed up this is. What can we do about it?"

  28. At the CCG parent: my attitude towards CCGers is from a customer's perspective with a bit of empathy towards the store owner thrown in.

    The CCGers I have the most problem with are not the kids. Kids will be kids and I'm generally happy to see them enjoying gaming. I don't mind them acting like kids as long as it doesn't get destructive.

    My problem is usually with the 'adult' CCGers who, around here at least, act worse than the kids. Foul mouthed, inconsiderate, and messy for the most part. When I see a bunch of them in the store I will often cut my visit short, which means I'm less likely to make a purchase.

    I also recognize that this description doesn't apply to all adult CCGers, but it's definitely a case of the bad apples standing out.

    I don't have anything against CCGs. I've played them in the past and will likely play them again in the future, but from my perspective the regular CCG-only gamers appear to be the most obnoxious gamer sub-group.

  29. Let me say first that it was not a blackmail threat. That's just how it is. Anyone who has had any amount of customer service training can tell you this. (All my years of retail have taught me this is true.)

    I can't think that the need arises every week for people to buy things. Do I need to buy a pack of cards every week? No.

    Do 40K players need to buy a new tank every week? No. (Forgive my ignorance. I really don't know what is used in 40K.)

    I don't like the "buy-in" aspect of gaming but I absolutely understand it. I agreed to do it because I DO understand why it happened: you're in business to make money. I understand that if you got a bunch of people taking up space and not spending money then that space is being virtually wasted.

    If you're not going to charge for the use of the space then it makes sense to have a "cover charge."

    My only complaint is the way CCGers are spoken of. My son will still be there on Wednesday.

  30. CCGers are spoken of in an appropriate way due to two very important factors, one of which is a market condition, the other of which is completely under their own personal or group control.

    #1 - Profitability.
    Due to internet discounting, and the desire by players to pick up their cards as cheaply as possible, there is not much profit in CCG sales for a brick and mortar retailer. Exceptions to this are prerelease and release tournaments, however the days of selling $10k or more (at full retail) of a new Magic set on the release day are long gone (and yes, those were the days when retailers began to open up store space for CCG play).

    #2 - Player behavior.
    I will preface this by saying that there are a few CCG players that are extremely polite and well behaved. Some of the best are younger kids who come in to play Pokemon with their parents (I'm a big fan of parental supervision and involvement).
    One of the selling points of one-on-one CCGs is that they require very little space, and can be played virtually anywhere (multi-player CCGs generally take up more space). This is different than board games, which require a medium to large table, or miniatures games which require large tables and terrain.
    Strangely, it is common to find CCG players taking up more space per individual than other gamers. This is particularly noticeable when there are a large group of players in the game room who are each taking up half of a table (or more).
    I could bring up the hygiene and courtesy issues (such as profanity or playing videos or other items so loudly on laptops that other gamers can't concentrate on their games) that seem to be more prevalent among certain groups of players, but that might cause someone to be offended.

  31. Every group is going to have their bad apples.

    Someone noted that if bad customer service is offered to a group of players, that service will receive 10x the word-of-mouth than the good service will.

    There is a similar thing that goes on in reverse.

    If a group of players has a subgroup of vulgar, smelly, mercenary 'customers' in it, the store is likely to take 10x the notice of the nasty subgroup's behavior as compared to the normal, polite, hygienic remainder of the majority group.

    Even though I believe most CCGers are not smelly and vulgar, the few that are are over-represented in our 'customer brand image' to the outside outside world or to the game store owners.

    It's become a stereotype of the MTG player as being an overweight, under-showered, single, cocky guy that wants to take advantage of everyone.

    One of the things that soured me quite a bit on MTG many years ago was the loss of wonder/excitement about the game that results when you realize that there are people in the group that are only involved in the game to take advantage of the other players financially via attaining all the dollar value without experiencing any of the play value.

    But don't let the fact that the bad apples exist make us blind to the fact that the majority of players are good folks that shower regularly and have normal lives and yes, even spend money in game stores:)