What purpose does the gamestore have in our hobby now, and furthermore, what can we learn while visiting our hobby shrine?
Friends, fanatics! Lend me your ears! Today we are paying homage to the providers of our hobby, the local gamestore! There aren’t many left out there, as many games are sold online or in venues like bookstores or official franchise stores. My friendly neighborhood gamestore is Playoteket.
I remember the first time I actually ventured into a gamestore, to buy my first box of Space Marines. Being talked into it by my friends the battleforce was a clear choice. At this time I was playing a lot of RPG’s and picked up three tubes of d10 dice (Vampire: The masquerade!!). So began my plastic obsession. Over the years, many different stores and websites have provided me the fuel for my passion, but today my waterhole is Playoteket in Skåne, Southern Sweden. It is a two store company, in all essence a classical gamestore, with areas for gaming and of course shelves upon shelves with minis, dice, paints, games and more. Being the local hangaround I sat down with the people working there and asked them about their business and their part in the hobby world. We seem to forget that these people providing us with goods are there for a reason. But we fanatics rarely stop and ask, what their professional view is and what they love about the hobby.
Playoteket was founded 2004 by people really passionate about MTG. This is before the times of X-wing and boardgams, Living rulebook for Blood Bowl was still live and both 40k and Fantasy were dominating the miniature game scene. The company went from one to four stores, and later came back down to two. The stores are not even half an hour appart, and yet both stores a crucial to cover the nerdy needs of this part of our cold and long country.
Greetings adventurer – sitting down with the CEO
Sitting down with CEO Benny Thorstensson for an interview became a very pleasant and surrealistic affair of memory lane jumping, talking about damp cellars where epic battles took place, obscure roleplaying games and pile upon pile of finely crafted picture cards, wielding the power of the elements (MTG explained poetically). Benny tells the story of going from working extra hours to actually diving head first into the company, ending up as CEO. Benny’s mission, together with his staff is simple; to be the best gamestore around. As a regular client and acquiantance I am inclined to say they succeed, but it is much more complex than just pleasing us fanatics. A good gamestore courts to everyone, especially the walk-in that has never rolled a die in anger ever before. This is the place where they come to learn.
Describe the fanatic and their needs
Samuel, employee since 2009 (he actually counted MTG expansions to give me an exact timeframe), describes the fanatic in a far more different light than some of us might see us. The general idea I think we all have of the classic hobby nerd is non-athletic, stripy or otherwise untidy hair, BO (not required), detached from reality (as we all know the emperor is the only truth we actually need) and tends to go into unending debates on some mechanical detail of a game. This apparently isn’t the truth anymore. Mattias, another employee agrees with Samuel that the new regular client is more often fashion aware, more “hipster” and usually upper middle class with a bigger boy-budget. Now saying boy-budget is to indicate that the majority of fanatics are still male, although girls are coming in more and more into the hobby. Samuel even tells about a freak guide that Wizards of the Coast made about bodycare and hygiene for men, since they noticed an increase in female participants. This is not a joke, unfortunatelly.
Cooties! – This is a good thing.
Girls are coming into the world of hobbies through boardgames. Fantasy Flight among other companies have done wonders to enrich the stale Civilisation and Axis & Allies market. Even on a general note, boardgames are the new thing. All of the Playoteket staff chime in and say that boardgames are winning sales and increased sales by a landslide. Women come in both alone and with their partners, many times looking for fast pased games or “party games”, and by that the staff points out that this doesn’t mean a set for beer-pong, but games that often fall into the beer and pretzles category, and that do well in a more relaxed environment. Another victory factor for boardgames are the different franchise licences. Sure GW had LotR but was it the right franchise and right format? Fantasy Flight are rocking the market with both Star Wars and Warhammer licences in a way never seen before. The electronical world of apps has also been a huge success factor for bringing in women, and the before non-nerdy type of client into the general public of a gamestore.
MTG and 40k are solid ballers on the field, but there is a saturation in the market. According to Benny, even with a big fish as Games Workhop, there is at best a status quo. 40k is the only item from GW actually selling at a reasonable pace. Seeing the overfilled Fantasy/AoS shelves I understand where he is coming from. Even with the bright news of Specialist games returning, the guys at Playoteket are being reserved from any overly optimistic answer. “Problem is GW is shrinking itself by cutting out the middle hand, namely the independent gamestore, outsourcing everything to one-man stores and their online service”. This makes the game threshold so much bigger.
Speaketh thee Nerdish?
One of the biggest challenges in a gamestore according to Benny is to meet the right client in the right way. This is something the company has put a lot of thought into, and the recipe being “the nerdiness in an easy-access package”. The stereotypical fanatic that flourishes in detailed discussions are a must and a backbone if you will, Benny argues, and our store and playarea has to be there for these clients. But first and foremost we are a business, we need sales and we want to provide good service for everyone. The gamestore therefore has a name that chimes of a collection of games rather than a dungeon or keep. That was the old concept, you even had a dark dungeon feel to the stores, this was the store for players who already played games.
One factor that we identified in our discussion is that the community (yes you guys hold the biggest blame) is in need of more openess and invite new generations. Benny explains that the playarea at Playoteket is used by players, and all events are organized by players. But the organizers never organize warhammer or miniature games for beginners. Samuel and Mattias both agree in this notion, and I do too. In a world of League of Legends and World of Warcraft, we need to, as a community show ourselves more to the world.
It is a matter of starting threshold, one that boardgames seem to have managed very well, whilst miniature wargames struggle with. We have even been given the tools by GW to do so! (AoS starterset, Space Hulk, Betrayal of Calth, Execution Force….) Plus we all have one or two blood bowl teams laying around, at least us veterans of yore. How come we don’t do this? Most of us play at venues such as this! Is it too much to ask to forfit one gamenight in order to benefit the growth of the community? I think not. Here is my challenge to all you organizing fanatics out there! In 2016, organize a beginners event. Trust me, it will be worth your while.
Another interesting fact is that the most devout have become even more fanatical, or at least more professional according to the staff. People give more care to their minis, painting skills across the board are higher than ever (this is true but there are still many plastic grey armies out there!). So why not share this awesome knowledge as well? Paint workshops. Inner child, nurture that shit!
So there you have it fanatics. GW and Fantasy Flight are providing us with a world of awesome stuff,, but we need to take our part of the responsability in this equation and make sure once again to engange new blood into our ranks.
If you visit Lund or Malmö in southern Sweden make sure to give these guys a visit. They are friendly, speak nerdish and provide stellar service no matter your level of engagement. Especially now during christmas, when you want to buy your nerdy sibbling or cousin something special. These guys will help you find the right thing in the jungle of awesome products.
Thank you Playoteket for being awesome.
Thank you fanatics for being awesome.
Writers note: The store is located in Malmö and Lund, Sweden, so answers and analysis is made on the Swedish market. Some of the information may not translate onto the trends of an international market.
-a refuge for all?Episode 100 - E'xtending The Ph'antom Inch