RPGs and Gaming Stores

There’s an open call by Sami Koponen to write about the Finnish RPG scene. I don’t really consider myself a part of it, or at best I’m on the fringes, but that might just be good, since that means my perspective will be different and that’s important for discussion. So, here’s my take on something for the long run I’ve been thinking about lately.

I frequent two gaming stores regularly. They are both within a few blocks of my workplace, and I play MtG in each every once in a while. Between rounds I like to browse (and sometimes buy). I like to support these places, because I like their existence. I like there to be two, because that produces competition and competition produces (hopefully) better service and more options.

However, even though I do play more MtG and at times more PC games or board games (although that’s unusual), I like to think of myself as a roleplaying gamer at heart. What do these two LGSs do for me in that regard? Not much.

Each store has a very limited room dedicated to RPGs. Basically one shelf. The contents of that shelf is in both cases mostly mainstream products a little on the older side, or very old in some cases. You’ll find WoD (even oWoD, still), WarHammer, PathFinder, some Finnish stuff from through the ages, Call of Chtulhu, and so forth. Sometimes you’ll find gems like Dungeon World.

Actually, even though I do spend money regularly in both stores, Dungeon World is the only RPG product I’ve bought from either since I moved here more than five years ago. That’s 25 euros out of thousands of euros I’ve spent in these stores over the last five years.

So, why the disparity?

The reasons are probably varied. Their stock is uninteresting and the distribution network is probably way too conservative to bring in something better, I’d generally rather buy e-books (since that’s usually easier for me to use) and I probably wouldn’t get any support from the staff if I needed it. I can find people in those stores who are knowledgeable in comics or board games, but I doubt I’d get any answers if I asked about Trails of Cthulhu. I don’t actually even know. It just never comes up. RPGs just aren’t high on their priorities. I believe there have been some attempts at PathFinder Society games, but they aren’t part of the regular activities as of now.

Why is that important?

Think of it this way: Lets say you there’s a kid, who’s the linchpin of his group of friends. They’re a bit nerdy and like this kind of stuff. They walk into the store to look for something to do. Its probably a wonderful experience. There’s interesting stuff everywhere. Flashy boardgames, cool miniatures, maybe someone playing MtG at the tables, comics fully visible, all sorts of collectibles, and all that. Then there’s a dusty shelf of RPGs hidden somewhere in the corner.

Now, what are they going to be drawn to? Sure RPGs would probably be best with their budgets, as most young people don’t have a lot of money and RPGs as a hobby doesn’t require a continuous support of buying new stuff (although we have a tendency to do so). That probably doesn’t matter though. Everything else just seems so much cooler as they are presented better within the store. I see these kids all the time. They generally gravitate towards MtG simply because they can get a cheap fix by buying a booster pack or two. Perhaps even one from an older set in a language different from English.

So, as far as I can see, gaming groups seem to be becoming more insular, and the stores are not bringing new players in, where does the new generation of players come from? Sure current players will bring some new players in, but I don’t believe that is sustainable in the long run. Based on my gaming groups, we don’t even breed enough to bring a new generation into RPGing.

I have been thinking about running games in-store, but I don’t really know where I would find the time, or how I would approach this to get enough interest. Also, I’m not going to run mainstream games, since they require actual rules knowledge, which live in the part of my brain that has been totally taken over by other games.

If they’d let me run Fiasco, than maybe, but that might not be in their best interest.

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