Once upon a time back in 1986…
It is 1986. My dragon magazine is open and inside is a glossy advertisement for this book called Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. It features an ogre with a black and white mohawk getting skewered by a dwarf with an orange crested mohawk. My imagination was on fire! I had to buy this right then and there. I knew I would stand no chance of finding it in the small town of Nashville, Indiana. Queue the teen begging syndrome in which I try to convince my parents how this has got to be the best roleplaying game ever made. It was so completely something out of an Iron Maiden album. I even try to sell my mother, who is of British blood, just how awesome this clearly British game has got to be. Eventually, my begging pays off and I get my parents to take me around Bloomington Indiana searching for it.
I went through every Waldenbooks, B-Dalton bookstore. Nothing was to be found. I then begged them into taking me to 25th century Five and Dime, a store located in the basement near my favorite movie theater. 25th always smelled like 4 things, mildew, clove cigarettes, incense and a slightly skunky smell I now know to be a substance I shall not be discussing here. It was also a game/comic book store in a college town that was for the serious gamers. I had picked up my Runequest boxed set here and I was sure I would find Warhammer as well. Until I didn’t.
Sad and defeated I went home, Just to realize that the glossy advertisement I drooled over had instructions for ordering it by mail. I took the ad immediately to my mother, (again using the “hey its British pitch”) and convinced her to take my money and write a check to order this directly from Games Workshop. She sent it off, (imagine sending someone money without some form of receipt or acknowledgment these days!) and 14 weeks later the glossy paperback tome of my dreams arrived.
That was then this is now
Today in our busy world, we have multiple different avenues in which to get our favorite gaming products. Mail order is a thing of the past. The internet in combination with a much more robust shipping system can get a product from the company that makes it to our doorstep in days instead of weeks. With so many options out there, how does one choose the best method? What if you live in an area such as myself, where your closest gaming store is several miles away. Or what if like myself, you have health handicaps that prevent easy travel? I am going to weigh the advantages of both online purchases and visiting your friendly local gaming store (FLGS). Hopefully, I will give some talking points on both to help you decide where and how to spend those gift cards you got for the holidays!
Your local gaming store
Once upon a time, gaming stores were kind of like finding Unicorns. They often were multifunctional shops, with all sorts of hobbies colliding. One store in Columbus, Indiana, for instance, was a Vacuum, sewing machine repair shop, and a hobby store. Another variant was the comic book store with loose gaming tied in. In today’s world, the modern gaming store still comes in many flavors. The issue many gaming stores have to confront is inventory. Being able to compete price wise with online entities is often also an issue, Especially when nongaming entities such as Amazon can offer deep discounts due to the volume they sell worldwide. Still, here are some factors to consider about what your FLGS can offer that Amazon cannot!
Demo’s and Events
Most gaming stores offer sign up lists of games they host. This can be a great way to find fellow gamers in your area. Sure, websites like meetup can offer you a glimpse of gamers in your area. Those websites do not, however, allow you to see how those gamers play during a session. It does not let you assess their hygiene (let’s face it we all have met some gamers with offputting scents), demeanor, or just get an overall feel for their personality. Brick and mortar stores often offer demos of games and have staff that are also gamers themselves. It often helps to decide if a game will fit your table by actually watching or participating in a playthrough.
The ability to trade in your old gaming items
A review, no matter how well written, does not take into account your level of understanding. How many of us have bought a product we read a great review on just to get it home and find that it does not mesh well with your gaming style. Some gaming stores even offer used games, allowing customers to trade old unused stuff for things they have an interest in. In today’s trying financial times, that can be a huge boon. I know my local gaming store Black & Read often times has books or items I have been searching for since I was a kid. As they often say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure!
The pitfalls of the modern gaming store
Let’s face it. Inventory costs money. The owner of your local gaming store often times does not have the buying power of an online giant. This causes them in some cases to have to sell at a higher price point than their online competition. That being said, always consider the price of shipping and the wait in having it shipped versus the advantage of buying it right now. A lot of times I can find the item slightly cheaper online, but by the time I figure in shipping, it actually costs the same if not a little more in the end, and I have to wait. In our modern society that wants things RIGHT NOW, waiting is a dirty word.
They also may not have every single item you are looking for. Again, Inventory costs money. Products that sit on the shelf for long stretches of time do not help. An unsold product is profit loss, and most game store owners have to be very cautious about how they choose to stock their shelves. It is the rare exception that offers a broad spectrum of goods beyond the more established brands. I have seen many local gaming stores close their doors, and inventory overload was pretty much always the reason. It is a slippery slope if they do not carry enough people turn around and exit as quick as they enter. Have too much, and risk never being able to produce a profit.
The present threat to local gaming stores
Couple economic woes of inventory with game companies that REQUIRE a store carry so much stock in order to get their products on shelves and it is a perilous slope game stores must climb. I must admit, I am guilty of walking into my favorite gaming store to look for an item just to hear the owner say “I don’t have it but I can order it in for you!”. My first thought is always “Well, I can order it too and get it sent directly to my house”. I have come to realize, however, that if I continue down that train of thought, there will no longer be a gaming store to come to.
To sum it all up here are the advantages to buying local and staying local:
- Get the thing you want now without the wait
- The ability to demo or try out a game before buying
- Expert advice from folks who live in your area and understand your cultural or economic circumstances a little better
- Ease of networking with new gamers allows you a better chance of picking up the right gamer for your table
- Supporting your local community and someone that lives and works within it
- The possible capability of trading in old products you do not use for ones you will
- A possible spot to game away from your home; this can be critical if meeting a new group but being unsure of bringing strangers into your home
- Special Events and game release parties
At the present time, there are multiple different online retailers. A few, such as Noble Knights, offer both a brick and mortar store and an online presence. Of course, Amazon looms over everything these days online, and its always an option. There are risks however in convenience as well as benefits. I intend to clearly outline both. You also have to consider companies such as eBay, which while they do not specialize in any one product, offer auctions in which you can pick up that rare or hard to find item.
Convenience at a price
The advantage of online shopping first has to be looked at in terms of convenience. I can literally shop in my underwear for anything at any time of the day. (No I will not be including photos of this) Barring an internet outage, I can do it on my computer, tablet or even my phone with a few button presses or clicks. This can also allow for me to catch bargains or sales I might not be able to get at my local gaming store for. Often times online prices will be lower as the competition between websites is immediate and constant. This can both be in the buyer’s favor and their detriment depending on several factors.
Here is a case in point example. Let us examine the module The Temple of Existential Evil by Kenzerco for Hackmaster 4th edition. A low production run and the fact this spoofs the original Temple of Elemental Evil has left this a popular collectors (a term I will examine in another article) item. The original retail cost was $24.99. You can find it used for $150.00 on one site, new for $180.00 dollars. Popular auctions sites have it as low as $139.99 with bidding and other sites sell it in mint at $250.00. Sadly all these prices are far beyond what you can pick up the original Temple of Elemental Evil for. Collectors set the price based on scarcity, which in no way dictates that it is actually WORTH the price.
As you can see from this one example, the price is truly fluid. And boy oh boy do online retailers love the play the markup game. So again, understand you CAN get it, but the real question is, is it worth the price they are asking to you?
Tons of options
When discussing online shopping I would be remiss in not mentioning sites like DrivethruRPG or Onebookshelf. Online PDF sites are very popular these days, as many of us seek to keep the clutter on our shelves down to a dull minimum. Newer generations of gamers favor portability over having a tangible product in their hands, and you can hold 1000’s of gaming related PDF’s on phone or tablet these days. Some gamers have even taken to printing out copies of purchased pdf’s via print on demand or companies such as Lulu. While DRM and copyright laws are sort of vague on the legitimacy of this (you own the rights to the digital media to use as you see fit, but make sure you are printing it out ONLY for your use or you’re breaking copyright law…and do not think about trying to sell it as that is not an option)
The digital age has allowed us to find out of print items and enjoy them all over again. It has also allowed us to have both a play copy that we can take with us while keeping those collectibles nice and safe behind layers of plastic and cardboard on our shelves. Couple that with services such as Bundle of Holding and Humble Bundle and not only can you get a ton of PDF’s cheap and DRM free, but you can give to a good cause as well. DRM free means you can use the same PDF across multiple devices. My only concern with this method is fear that folks pass these off on bootleg websites which rob profits from the already niche community of game developers.
The best of both worlds
I would be remiss in discussing online retailers if I did not mention one aspect of brick and mortar stores that has made its way to online purchasing. Companies such as Noble Knights and Coolstuff Inc, offer trade-in programs, similar to what you would find at local stores. Once again the difference being, your local store will generally offer you more in a trade that an online presence will. However, the online presence will often have far more selection than a local store can offer. This a trade-off for sure. I have never done trade business with Coolstuff but I have done several trades with Noble Knights and consider them to be above reproach. I have never had one single issue with a trade and always felt fairly treated.
Online entities will be more likely to take more obscure titles as well, having a much bigger demographic to sell to. This can take things like your copy of the Temple of Existential Evil and give you a fair shake at getting a decent return on your initial purchase. (For example, I was offered 10 bucks locally whereas NBK offered me $75.00 when the ToEE was selling for upwards of $250.00. Being my initial investment was $25.00, I took that deal right away!)
Another option for online shopping are the numerous Facebook groups that have come about in recent years. Sites like RPG Auctions, offer many many decent deals on buying used game products in really decent condition. I have lost count of how many early edition white box D&D sets I have seen sell there for instance. One of the really cool aspects of these groups are, a lot of times the original content creators such as Robert Kuntz, or Jolly Blackburn etc will comment as to the legitimacy of the product or in some cases even show up to sell some of their own stuff. Rare items not often seen or in some cases even known about.
It goes without saying there are fewer layers of protection when buying online from an individual so be VERY careful and make sure you check out the individual’s reputation before buying. You also have to watch out for speculators, or folks that really only try to make a fast buck at other’s expense. As a Golden and Silver Age comic book collector, these folks are the bane of my existence. They do not give one wit about the product itself, only the profit they can turn, and while I realize I am being far too altruistic, I would prefer if I sell you a copy of a product you are buying it for memories or usage not to turn a profit at my expense.
Ultimately of course, if you choose to sell, the buyer can do whatever they like. If you are someone with certain beliefs be warned buying and selling on facebook groups can be a double-edged sword. You always run the risk of scammers and folks who try to pass off something as better than it is. Make sure you use a third party like PayPal with some kind of fraud and buyer protection.
To sum it all up!
It is an interesting time to be a gamer these days. With so many options, and so many ways to buy it can be a bit overwhelming. Were I to tell you how to shop I would recommend the following:
- Try to buy locally first. Your local gaming store offers much in terms of social opportunities, gamer networking, and great advice. Call ahead and see if your FLGS is carrying what you are looking for or better yet, pre-order what you want with the store so that on release day you have zero waits. A little bit of planning goes a long way and may even save you a dollar!
- Look for stores that offer a trade in on old items. If you have been gaming for the last few decades you probably have a lot of stuff on your shelf that will never see use. Trade it in so you can get something you will use and perhaps give someone else a chance to find something they will use or have been looking for and was just collecting dust.
- If you are going to buy online also consider buying it directly from the developer. This can be especially important for small indie companies who make low print runs of product. You can often pick them up far cheaper that way than waiting 6 months and looking where often times the price may have tripled or quadrupled due to demand
- Online entities may appear to have the product you want but especially when buying from sites like Amazon take the time to make sure you check out the stated condition, the location of the actual seller and to verify the product is what you think it is. I picked up some maps from a company on Amazon that was basically illegible and unusable for game purposes. When I went to seek a refund the company refused to honor the return policy stating they made no assertion as to legibility of the product simply that it was “a map”.
Until next time
I hope I have given you some things to consider when deciding between hunting online versus locally. The holidays may be over but with tax season coming on, and gift cards in our pockets the game buying season has just begun!
Keep rolling them Bones,