Yes, this image is relevant.
So this is going to be another article sparked by a Reddit post, specifically this one where they talk about things that game stores do and don’t do to improve the player experience. While I think Reddit is a great website, I always feel like writing long, well thought-out posts there is generally worthless as a comment reply, especially when I could just as easily write at whatever length I want here.
I’ve been hanging out at game stores since I was about 12, so I’ve got a lot of time spent in them, and there have been varying degrees of love for each of them, ranging from “This place is somewhere that I will likely shop at every day” to “Wow I can’t believe people play there…” I used to work as a tournament organizer in a comic book shop, and while we weren’t specifically inclined towards games, I spent a lot of time dealing with the behind the scenes stuff and feel like I have a decent grasp on what players want from both sides. I feel pretty qualified to speak confidently on this subject.
There is a laundry list of things that both turn me onto and off of game stores, and lately I’ve actually watched my own LGS make a lot of changes that have made me strongly consider going elsewhere after playing there for the better part of three years. It’s weird because at one point I was playing with their branded playmat at events I went to, trying to pimp them at large events, etc. A lot of people blame the owner and say that he’s making scummy moves, but I honestly don’t think that’s true, I think he is just doing what he truly believes is best for his business, even if that does drive away the competitive crowd. And hell, it may not even be right, but that’s not for me to decide, it’s his business.
Either way, let me start in with the actual points that don’t pertain specifically to my situation, because I’m not trying to write a personal diatribe about why I’m sad to see my LGS head in a different direction.
Please start your events on time.
I really hate that events never start at their intended times. When I ran tournaments I had two things in place to make sure that our events started on time. On every social media outlet, on our website, and on our in-store signs I had the “registration closure” very clearly marked at 7:50 PM. This gave me time to get everyone into Event Reporter so that I could promptly start the rounds at 8. If anybody showed up or decided to register after this point, their entry fee was increased by $3. If you showed up after 8PM and still wanted to play, you would simply start round one with a match loss but wouldn’t have to pay the extra fee.
This did two things: It encouraged players to show up on time and register on time so that we could start events in a timely manner, and helped make up for any lost revenue we would have had for having such a harsh cutoff time. Whenever it came up, I made sure to explain very thoroughly why these things were set in place, and pretty much all players understood that it was reasonable. (At the time I was working at the store running events part-time, on top of working full-time at my regular job, so I really didn’t want to be there until 1am because of slow people showing up late…) I can think of only one occasion where it caused an actual issue, and that player was already on their last legs in our store anyway.
Some people will argue that this type of harsh cutoff isn’t fair to players who work late and can barely make the cutoff, and my response to this is “Sorry, but too bad.” If your shop is in desperate need of that extra income, they may be inclined to wait, but where I worked we were only doing Magic as a side-thing, so the profit wasn’t important enough to hold up the time of 20+ other people. A lot of the people who came to our events were there after work, so they wanted to start on time so they could go home and go to bed just like me. If you can’t make it to a shop to play FNM without cutting it close or being late every time, maybe just try and get off of work earlier or play at a store with a later start time. That’s on you, not on the store.
Let your customers spend their credit however they want to.
This is going to stem from my disappointment with my own game store. Originally they decided that credit couldn’t be used for tournament entry, which I suppose is fine with me because I can see how they might not like a certain set of people free rolling every tournament they play in. Recently, however, they decided that any credit that you won from events had to be used on-the-spot and could not be banked. I can sort of see the rationale behind this in that they don’t want someone to bank a bunch of credit and then buy them out of all of their staples as soon as a new set comes out, but my retort to this is why not? If your Monopoly money can’t be used for what I want, why would I even want it to begin with? You already got that money for $.50 on the $1, and now you’re going to tack on stipulations to how I can spend your Scroogebucks?
This has been a huge deterrent for me in regards to going to their non-cash events. Right now there are not many cards that I would want in the two formats that I play, yet I can’t just hang on to that “money” for when something I DO want comes around, so why wouldn’t I just bank the $10 a week I spend at your FNM and buy the cards with cash when they come out? And at this point I’m probably going to buy them online instead of in your store since I’m already not going to your store to play in events. I’m now playing FNM at a store closer to my house, and even though I don’t like playing there nearly as much, I can at least get things I actually want when I want them with the invisible money.
Maybe this is my selfish competitive player attitude showing through a little bit, but I just can’t imagine a world where this is a better system for anybody. More choices is always better than less choices. I’ve run tabs and credit as a tournament organizer, it is not that much extra effort, it’s a simple Excel spreadsheet.
“No outside food and drink” is really tacky.
I’m starting to see this less and less, and I’m glad because it just makes your store seem really sad. I think Kevin from Derium’s did a great job talking about it in his Q&A videos, where he basically says “If people want to bring in a 2liter, I don’t care. If your store is going to be made or broken by somebody bringing in a Big Gulp from a gas station, you’ve got bigger problems.” People who are bringing food into your store are going to be far outweighed by the people who will simply buy stuff from you. A lot of the times I see this at stores that don’t even offer actual food, so if I wanted to order a pizza for FNM and share it with my friends, are you really even losing out on anything? Obviously this doesn’t apply to cafes that have Magic tournaments (which is apparently a thing on the West coast according to Kevin?) but for your average brick and mortar LGS, they usually don’t have a fully stocked menu, just chips and stuff.
I’ve heard LGS owners argue that it’s because they don’t want people making a mess with food and accidentally destroying other people’s belongings, but I haven’t actually seen any first-hand situations where that happens, and even if it does, I guess it’s fine as long as they do it with food they bought in the store? Most people are already bad about picking up after themselves and leave trash at tables anyway, it isn’t exclusive to people who bring food to your store. I used to spend the last 10 minutes of my shift picking up empty bottles and candy wrappers around the play area pretty consistently. If you’re actually that worried about food destroying product, designate a certain table for people to eat at and don’t allow uncapped drinks to leave that area.
Seeing this sign on your door doesn’t actually deter me from walking in with my bottle of water or my Starbucks, (maybe because I’m an asshole?) and if you’re going to ask me to leave over it then chances are I don’t want to be there anyway. It isn’t me trying to be rude, I’m simply not going to throw away something I’ve already spent money on, especially if it’s something that you don’t even offer in your store.
Actually do something about “problem” players.
I’m going to use another personal experience as a tournament organizer. We had a player who was a notorious hothead, and she played at the store a lot. Any time she lost, she would make sure to make the other player feel as bad as possible about beating her, going as far as to attack them personally or telling them that they played like garbage. After warning her a bunch of times not to do that, she eventually snapped at me directly one day when I informed her that since she was late she would be receiving a round 1 match loss. This turned into her calling me a “piece of shit TO” among a few other choice words, to which I simply, and calmly responded “It’s unfortunate you feel that way, but at this point you’re not welcomed to play in my tournaments, so go grab your stuff and leave.”
While I had to take the brunt of a verbal assault, it was worth it because after this a LOT of our players thanked me for finally pulling the plug. Before I had experienced this situation I was of the opinion that unless something had escalated to physical violence, or somebody was caught stealing, that there was no reason to ever ban someone from tournament play. But the atmosphere once she was gone changed for the better, and people all felt more welcomed in the store’s tournaments because they didn’t have someone verbally abusing them for playing the game.
My opinion on the topic is a lot different now. I think if you catch wind of people doing uncouth things in general, as a tournament organizer or a store owner, it is your responsibility to do something about the problem. This doesn’t necessarily mean banning them or whatever, but you should at least have a talk with the person in question and let them know that their behavior isn’t acceptable in your store and that there will be consequences if they continue. This person could be costing you money without you (or them) even realizing it. While they may be spending money, you have to take into consideration the fact that if you allow their actions to go on in your store, they are, by proxy, representing your shop. There are shops in the Charlotte area that I simply will not go play at because of how notoriously toxic their playerbases are. (Including the one literally across the street from my house.) If I were interested in dealing with that type of behavior I could stay home and play League of Legends for free.
You’re the only one in a position to do anything about these types of situations. Players can talk to these people and try and give them the cold shoulder, but that only goes so far and sometimes even causes the situation to escalate. Be mindful of this type of behavior and nip it in the bud, your players will thank you for it. (And not silently, either. They will literally verbally thank you.)
Keep having rewards systems in place!
I’ve seen this become more popular as technology advances in game stores, and I’m glad because I think it’s a REALLY great loyalty system. I’ve actually seen some pretty cool incantations of it, too. I was recently at a store in Columbia, SC called Ready2Play, and they had a very neat system for their drinks. Instead of just paying cash each time you want to buy a drink, instead they will sell you a “drink card” which is good for ten drinks, and is only $10. Those 10 drinks without that card would have cost you $12.50. So you save a few bucks but it keeps you coming back. I’ve also seen a lot of stores pick up loyalty card systems like FiveStars, Square, etc. These are all great, they keep people invested in coming back to your store.
The store I play at uses FiveStars, and the nice thing about FiveStars is that you get a little dashboard online that shows your prize structure and your return on points per purchase. (Be There’s is a little bare but whatever.) This is neat and also helps a little with Google optimization since the more places your store’s URL is linked, the better. FiveStars also has an app that helps you search for places to eat, play games, buy stuff, etc, although I’ve never used it and don’t know a lot of people who do. Your points are also transferable between FiveStar registered businesses, so if you get points at a FiveStar registered restaurant, for example, you can then take those points to Be There and use them for boosters if you want. It’s a pretty neat system, and if you can make use of it I would highly suggest it.
When I ran tournaments our store also had a stamp card system which was pretty simple and low-tech. Play in 10 FNMs or booster drafts, or spend $100 since it applied to non-MTG customers too, and get $10 store credit. You got a stamp for every $10 you spent, and at ten stamps you’re full. Period. Very simple and clean, but it was an extra incentive for people who played at the store a lot. Most of our customers used it on drinks and snacks, which was great for us since our margins on those were huge anyway and we only “really” lost a few dollars on those. We bought in our snacks and drinks at like $.40 a piece, sold for a $1. We also sold a lot of Funko Pops off of that promotion because they’re MSRP’d at $9.99, so that was nice. We didn’t like to have them on the shelf for too long because they always release new ones and it helped us rotate that stock. It was a win/win as far as the store was concerned, and the customers really liked it.
If you can do it, please have charging stations available.
This was another thing I saw at Ready2Play which really impressed me. They had a “box” on one of the walls, and coming out of that box was a whole bunch of different chargers. iPhone, Android MicroUSB, and I think I even saw chargers for PSP Vita and 3DS, haha. When I asked the store owner about it, he said that every charger in that station was abandoned by people who went to the store, and if nobody ever came back to look for them, they simply plugged them in and added them to the charger collection.
He popped it open and showed it to me, and it looks like it cost him maybe $15 to fashion, and it wasn’t exactly high tech. It’s an aluminum lockbox with the back cut out. He had it affixed over the power outlet, and plugged into the outlet were two power bars with a bunch of different chargers plugged into them. The chargers were then run out of holes he had drilled out on the sides of the box. It looked a little tacky, but the idea was so freaking good that I could get past that. I can’t count the number of times that my phone has died at the shop and I was just SOL because I didn’t have a charger with me, especially since I’m usually the DJ/GPS when we roadtrip to tourneys, so by the time we get to the store my phone is already at half battery.
I had never seen anything like that before. It blows my mind because thinking back, every store I’ve been to where my phone died, they never seemed to have a single person in the whole damned place that had a MicroUSB charger. (A very common thing to have in this day and age, I thought?) I eventually started carrying one around in my bag with my Magic stuff because of how much of a problem it had become, but if my store had that I would free up an entire pocket of my bag which would be super nice. It’s obviously a very small gesture, but I don’t think store owners truly grasp just how grateful a lot of people would be if something like that were available.
Apparently I had more to say on this topic than I originally realized.
This is getting a little wordy, but I do have more things I want to talk about, so perhaps I’ll expand this into two parts and do the rest next week. Thanks for reading if you’ve made it this far, and thank you /r/MagicTCG for giving me yet another excellent topic!