Friday, August 24, 2012

Q&A: Game Space and Events

Scott Bonner asks:

Not counting things like magic tournaments, which I assume are money makers, is it more financially beneficial to have gaming tables taking up space in the store all the time for various gaming uses (ie 4 tables always set up in the store), or to have racks of product in that spot? In other words, do gaming tables pay for the space they take by bringing in sales, or are they out there to help the community despite loss of revenue?

Game space, when properly managed, is a profit center. Our game space takes up a third of our store space. Going from no permanent game space to a dedicated game space, our sales increased 60%. So that's a third of our space raising our sales 60%. That's far above the average of what that area could do as retail space.

This increased revenue is not from event fees, it's from increased sales from event participants and people who appreciate that we're fostering a community. Only about 20% of our customers use our space, but many more who don't use the space support us because we have it.

All of the events eventually result in increased sales for that game. Card events have the most direct correlation, but customers tend to shop where they play. There are exceptions, of course, but we generally can't support certain product lines without organized play.

For example, a miniature game without a regular event is dead to me. Our inventory performance for a game with organized play is about 50% higher than without. Miniature games without OP will fall below my inventory performance threshold. Malifaux was quickly doomed when we couldn't organize an event for it. I saw its end coming a year out. Dropzone Commander will only succeed in our store if we can manage an event for it. If not, it will be doomed for us in 18 months.

Which brings me to:

Mike asks:

What steps do you take to bring in a new (to the location) table-top game? Where would you start with table-top minis if you have no in-store play currently?

Prime the pump. Tabletop minis demand organized play or they will languish. If you have product champions in the form of customers, see if you can help them create a regular event for the game. It needs to be at the same time every week. It can't move around. It can't be every other week, it must be weekly and it must last for a good amount of time, preferably 4-6 weeks. It takes time and your support promoting it.

In the case of a brand new game, you may need to champion the game yourself or have employees do it. I have two employees I'm paying to run Dropzone Commander events for a month, with the goal of teaching the game and transitioning it to volunteer coordinators.

Laura Asks:
We have several large groups that regularly meet & play at our store (d&d 1e, pf, malifaux). Each group has one maybe two members who are buying/supporting us. The rest just stream in use the space and leave after playing 1.5+ hours past closing. What can we do to monitize these folks so we can continue to provide a place they seem to enjoy? Thx!

We have a voucher system that I know has worked for a number of other game stores. We charge $5 for each event and in exchange the customer gets a $5 gift certificate. So, the event is essentially free, but it's a guarantee that participants will eventually buy something in the store.

This requires there not be a free play alternative at the same time. So all of our evenings are paid events with zero open play. Open play happens during times we can't monetize an event, during the day or on weekends with no scheduled activity. Monetization won't work with open play in the same room, as the people paying will feel they're being taken advantage of and the people not paying will find it an easy way to avoid the fee. We've actually tried this hybrid system and there were a lot of hurt feelings. It has to be enforced and those not paying are not allowed in our game center at all.

Also, I'm not very sympathetic to those who can't come up with $20/month to play their game for essentially $1/hour. Where else do you get that kind of value? Would a bowling alley or movie theater charge you $1/hour? In any case, those that can't afford the price of such an event are simply not customers and good riddance. Don't fall into the trap that warm bodies add value to paying customers. That's what they'll try to tell you. They really don't. It's not like airlines give free tickets to balance out the plane.

Also, if an event fails because the voucher system removed the customers, it wasn't a valid event. I also think it's entirely possible that an impoverished community can't support any of this, in which case, it sounds harsh, but I would consider whether the store is viable in that location. Do they deserve a store? Can they support it? In a lot of cases, I think not. We've got a local Bay Area exurb community that sees store after store pop up and disappear. That community won't support their store for whatever reason. They don't deserve one.

So... with those vouchers, some customers consider them inconsequential and use them to buy drinks and snacks. Definitely have a good variety of drinks and snacks for your game center. This is not a big profit center, as some would suggest, but it helps. Others really do see the $5 as a financial hit and they save up their vouchers to buy the latest Pathfinder book or 40K release.You might not be able to justify to your significant other a $45 RPG book, but you should be able to justify a night out to explore your hobby for $5 (which gets you that book in a couple months).

Finally, the very best way to run events is to have employees run them and charge an actual fee to cover costs. This is rarely done, but if you find a way to supercharge the experience with a trained staff member, I've seen it work wonders. That said, I've also lost a lot of money trying to make it work. We have a paid Yugioh coordinator so far, but all other events are run by volunteers.

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