Friday, November 1, 2013

The NQULGS (Not-Quite-Unfriendly-Local-Game-Store)

One of my favorite pastimes when I was younger (and had more time and disposable income) was visiting lots of different game stores. I've talked to employees and owners of all stripes, and pretty much seen it all (like the store in Burbank that had a nasty microwave on a shelf alongside products for sale).


I think this one is actually cleaner
I've also done some self-motivated promotional work of the, "Hey, are you carrying these products? They're really good", or distributing flyers for night clubs. As a result, I've interacted with a wide variety of clerks and business owners, and while I'm not what one would call a salesman (I'm really bad at selling things, actually) I'm not a complete slouch when it comes to chatting someone up.

Which is why I'm puzzled by the outcome from yesterday when I stopped by the local game store to ask them to put up a flyer from the Evil Hat Street Team challenge. This particular one is a local comics/game store in Lake Forest - people local to me will know which one it is. I've been in this game store maybe every few months and went there on one of the National Free Whatever Game Days last year.  Last time I was in there I found Ancient Echoes for Blue Planet and the time before that I bought Fudge Dice. I also dropped some sizable cash on some D&D 4e materials for my sons a couple years ago. Needless to say I'm not a regular customer in that I'm not a super consumer of roleplaying products, card games, comics, etc.

So I go in and ask ponytail guy behind the counter if he wouldn't mind putting up the flyer, telling him that I'm doing it for the Evil Hat street team. He says he needs to check with the owner. I've spoken with pony-tail guy before, but I've never seen the owner that I know of. The owner comes out and asks me if I work for Evil Hat. I tell him no, I'm doing it as part of of a Street Team event challenge to promote the Fate rpg. He says he normally doesn't put this kind of thing up, but it can go in the gaming room. All of that is pretty okay at face value.

"He is NOT Mr. Sensitive Ponytail Man"

I may not have worded my request or explanation very well - but the owner came off with an attitude of "You're not in here to buy anything, you're just checking things off on your checklist" toward me. His response to my mentioning I had backed the Kickstarter was, "That doesn't help your case."  The exchange made me feel rather uncomfortable. While I know I was asking something of him and don't feel like I was doing him a favor by putting the flyer up, it felt like a not-so-subtle guilting that I wasn't spending money and thus wasn't worth the time. In the end, the flyer wound up on the top of a case in their game room, and I left without taking a picture of it.

At that point I was actually disinclined to buy anything before I left. Out of politeness I did take a look around. I considered picking up Zombie Dice, but we're on a really tight budget this month so I decided better of it. After I left I thought about why he would react the way he did, and why I would feel somewhat slighted by it. I understand that owning a brick-and-mortar store in this day and age is very challenging. There's a lot of bitterness and cynicism driven by consumer behaviors like people coming in just to check out books so they can turn around and buy them online.

Yet, it's not my fault as the customer (or potential customer) that online retailers often make it much more convenient to buy the product I want, when I want it (though to be fair, I have always - with the exception of Kickstarters - purchased game books through stores). It's not my fault that Kickstarter is an appealing platform to fund games that I want to see published. Where I spend my money is my choice. If a store owner is losing money to competing business models they need to figure out how they can differentiate themselves. To me that means providing atmosphere, meatspace interactions with other gamers and hands-on customer service. Channelling the Comic Book Guy and being snarky about the customer's other buying choices is not a differentiation I'm particularly looking for. I've walked out of game stores before because the owner couldn't get up from whatever he was doing to ring me up. I've done the same when the clerk decides he wants to badmouth my purchase while I'm reaching for my wallet. Being made to feel that backing a Kickstarter was something negative is going to elicit the same reaction from me.

I'd like to think that I just kind of bungled things and it might not have been the brightest move to show up randomly with a flyer when the store doesn't know me. For certain I've had much worse interactions with store owners and employees. So I'm definitely not putting them in the NSFLGS category. But my goal is to move toward more regular gaming activities after the start of the year, and I'd like to engage with the store more as I do so. Yesterday just made me rethink whether or not that's something I want to do a little bit.