Saturday, April 25, 2020

The Future of In-Store Gaming

Without in-store gaming, the hobby game store business model is broken. Let's not pretend it's not. If we survive the year, it will be because of charitable customers. A store with game space has a Useful Value Proposition. It's not unique, not special, but it's expected and it's critically important.

Social gaming is something you can't get online. You can't get the breadth of social gaming at home with your friends or family. It's a critical loss leader of a service that defines the hobby game trade. Our stores are designed around it and our staff and hours reflect it. A straight retail store is not a long term viable business, at least not for anyone who has space and staff set up for such a store. It wouldn't surprise me if upwards of 40% of our sales are tied to in store gaming.

Customers ask, when will you have in-store gaming again? I don't know. I can tell you we may have closed our in-store gaming a little late, carefully following bare minimum CDC and county guidelines, but we won't be opening it too early. There's no amount of pressure or economic injury too great to risk what we know is a killer. There are stores planning to open with customers wearing masks, playing in pods. Umm, no. I guarantee you, there will be stores doing this, but it's grossly irresponsible and you shouldn't engage. One of the things I dislike about this community is the inability to hold bad actors accountable.

The key term is social distancing
. As long as there is social distancing, meaning you stay six feet from each other in public spaces, there is no in-store gaming. Let's not pretend the 40K crowd can play their game while carefully abiding by the six foot social distancing rule. It's a fantasy. Let it go. As long as social distancing is recommended, there will be no responsible in store gaming.

What happens next?  There are half a dozen studies suggesting we'll have some sort of reverse social gathering recommendations. We'll start with curbside delivery, then no more than five customers in the store, no more than five people gathered for an event, then 50, then 100, then maybe it will be normal again. This could take a year or longer. Some customers will never in-store game again, just as some people will never go to a movie theater again.

What I would like my customers to understand is:
  1. I have a strong financial motive to get in-store gaming back up and running as quickly as possible. Don't think I'm dragging my feet. Peoples livelihoods depend on it eventually happening.
  2. I know you're young and invulnerable and aren't overly concerned with dying of a virus that mostly harms the old and infirm, but we need to work together to keep our community safe.
  3. I won't compromise the health of my staff or my customers, even if staff or customers are willing to take risks. Please don't come to me with justifications or reasonings as to why your event is different. 
  4. Likewise, there will be those who think we are reckless for following new opening guidelines. If you can't abide by our painfully difficult decisions, please leave. There were angry people on both sides before and that won't change.

I need to ask customers to support small business during this critical transition period with their money. New games are being released. Buy that friend you haven't seen in a month a gift certificate. Store owners know our value proposition, what we offer, is compromised. We need customers to vote for our survival with their wallets. Please continue buying from us, even though it's scary and we aren't offering your regular event.

Right now, stores doing home or curbside delivery will tell you they're only doing 20% or so of their previous sales. That means 80% of previous customers are not helping. If you want to see your local store continue to exist, we need you to actively spend your money to make this happen, even though we aren't offering the same experience you've grown to love. We'll get through this together.

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