Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Competing Game Sources: FLGS vs. Online Retailers

Where do you buy your games? That’s one of the contentious questions that can easily fragment the broad gamer community. Do you buy exclusively from your Friendly Local Game Store (FLGS) or from online retailers; and do you back Kickstarter game products? In discussions we often veer toward extremes to make our point. Some folks loyally shop only at their FLGS while others assert online vendors offer better deals and a greater range of available product. Although Kickstarter provides some unique opportunities for new games across genres and styles, it certainly can’t cover all of a gamer’s needs, though it might siphon off money otherwise destined for the other two sources. What’s best for gamers and what’s best for the game sources?

We Want YouIt’s a challenging balancing act between three sources and the diverse interests of gamers. On one hand you have retailers (and creators/publishers in the case of Kickstarter) trying to survive and succeed financially. On the other you have consumers trying to satisfy their gaming needs for the best price…or at any price to loyally support their sources. All considerations have their merits.

FLGS: Local establishments offer great incentives for gamers, including in-store gaming space, a face-to-face gamer community, a chance to physically examine games (sometimes even offering demo copies to try), the opportunity to purchase and possess an item without delay, and discounts for frequent customers. While they might not stock every item gamers want, most seem willing to make an effort to special order particular items for customers. They can’t always offer the deep discounts some online retailers provide, but they make the most of their physical location as a community hub for gamers -- game space, copies for review, special events, friendly staff and customers -- all of which contribute to the overall play experience of the games customers buy.

Online Retailers: Ordering merchandise online offers more convenience and discounts to many modern shoppers, and gamers are no exception. The internet helps expedite finding products, comparing prices, and ordering, though this alternative often includes additional shipping charges and a wait time for delivery. But not everyone has a FLGS within reasonable travel distance, nor is the local game store always the supportive, friendly place gamers expect. Some material -- particularly PDF gaming product -- is only available through online venues like DriveThruRPG.com. Online retailers are part of the free market competition inherent in our economy, though some claim a sale online takes money away from the FLGS.

Kickstarter: This model throws an odd wrench into the debate between online and FLGS sales. Individuals pledge to back projects in development, paying only after the campaign has raised the requisite funds (and not paying if it doesn’t reach its goal). Stretch goals and add-ons offer more goodies should a project exceed its funding expectations. While management claims customers are backing projects and not “purchasing” items, per se, project developers are essentially marketing product directly to consumers. In some cases Kickstarter-funded games remain exclusive and unavailable through the general retail stream (online or FLGS); but most use Kickstarter to fund an initial run of a game (including set-up costs), offering backers an early copy of the game before general distribution to the public. Kickstarter projects cater to a very narrow spectrum of gamers; matching gamer interest with affordable backer levels keeps these games from breaking too far into the mainstream…but they still siphon off money gamers might otherwise spend on either online or FLGS purchases.

I sometimes see some pretty intense animosity between advocates of one particular game source. Understandably the FLGS, being a brick-and-mortar entity, might see online retailers and Kickstarter games as taking money from customers who might otherwise support their store with those dollars. Gamers buying through online vendors might argue such websites offer deeper discounts than they might find at the FLGS. Proponents of Kickstarter projects enjoy many benefits from backing projects they like, including purchasing the newest and shiniest games before they’re available elsewhere (if at all) and supporting creators and publishers directly, with all the interactive experience Kickstarter offers.

As a gamer I spread my dollars primarily between my FLGS (two stores, since one just opened within 10 minutes of my home) and interesting Kickstarter game projects. I sometimes save up to purchase from vendors at conventions I attend, though I consider this an extension of the FLGS model. I rarely use online retailers; although I maintain a wish list on Amazon.com, I do so more for the benefit of friends and family members looking for gifts and to remind myself of games I’d like to acquire. I back game-related Kickstarter projects that combine interesting subjects, engaging gameplay suitable to my style, and an affordable price point to acquire a physical copy of the game. This isn’t a detailed financial analysis of my game spending habits, but I’d ballpark my game spending at about 80% FLGS and 20% Kickstarter.

Where do you stand? Head over to Google+ and start a discussion: share a link to this blog entry on Google+ and tag me (+Peter Schweighofer) to comment, or look for my post promoting this blog entry.