In my late teens and early twenties I used to work for EB Games, before they got bought out by GameStop. At the time EB Games was a competitor of the local GameStop, and our district manager wanted us to stand out from being “just another video game store” to attract a loyal customer base.
We came up with the idea of starting a local gamers club, and that gamers club would meet after hours at EB Games (with the district manager’s approval, of course) and we’d have tournaments and meetups. We had a “fight club” where we’d play 1v1 fighting games such as Street Fighter, Soulcalibur, Tekken, and Dead or Alive. We had a “FPS night” where we’d play Halo and Goldeneye. We had a party game night where we’d mostly play Super Smash Brothers.
Sadly, this small community didn’t last long. Increasing corporatization of EB Games, leading up to the buy out by GameStop, eventually shut us down.
This was my first introduction to the idea of a “friendly local game store” or FLGS. Usually, FLGS is more used in the board and card game community, but I wouldn’t get into that for a few years.
Not long later, I started getting heavy into Yugioh and Magic the Gathering. I’d go into my local Toys R Us to play Yugioh, and eventually found out there was a local store that sold Magic the Gathering and had tournaments and a community for that. This was the first “true” FLGS experience that I had. Then, a friend of mine opened his own FLGS that was a combined video game, LAN party, and tabletop game store. I got heavily into D&D and roleplaying, and it was at this particular FLGS that I was first introduced to the board game hobby.
At the time, the internet was a fraction of what it is today. The only place to find hobby games were at small local shops like this. My small board game collection started with the likes of Munchkin and Fluxx, simple games that would bridge the gap between arriving at the game store and waiting for everyone to show up to start playing our D&D sessions. The first “big” board games I bought were the Game of Thrones board game, followed by StarCraft the Board Game. I wouldn’t have found these games, if it wasn’t for my FLGS.
Today, the FLGS is in danger. Online Game Stores (OLGS) are cheaper, more convenient, and especially in a post-COVID world where meeting up with friends is in jeopardy, our FLGS are struggling.
I write this, because an article has been spread around the board game community this past week, and I wanted to provide an alternate perspective. I recommend reading that article before continuing, because it makes a lot of great points despite some of the vitriol the article has gotten from the board game community at large. The author of the article in question is completely correct. If you view the board game hobby purely from a consumerist perspective the FLGS is as good as dead, but I have a different viewpoint.
As a transgender woman, community means everything to me, and the FLGS isn’t about a shopping experience, or finding the best deal. The FLGS is about community.
My favorite FLGS are those that make me feel like I’m a part of something. I want to feel welcomed when I come in. I want the store clerk to know who I am, and recommend games that they get in based on my interests. Sure, an algorithm can do the same thing, but there’s something to be said for the service being given. Beyond that, a good FLGS always has someone around to play games with.
As a game designer, I’d often go to my FLGS and set up my latest prototype, hoping to find fresh playtesters. As a player and board game enthusiast, I’d often go to my FLGS to find new people to play games with and experience games before I buy them. It’s no surprise to me that my first board game design was signed by a publisher that owns their own FLGS and is looking to get into the publishing industry as well.
This is what the FLGS means to me. It’s about community. It’s about people. I write this post while wearing a shirt that says “people make the playtest” and that phrase means a lot to me. My game designs wouldn’t exist without people to playtest them, and I wouldn’t have found those people if it weren’t for a FLGS.
COVID changed all that though. Your FLGS is in danger, because no longer is the service of providing a community able to be provided by a FLGS. Social distancing makes playing board games in person outside of your personal quarantine bubble near impossible. Meanwhile, as I’ve already stated, OLGS are cheaper, more convenient, and the algorithms provide all the recommendations that I could ever hope for. In a post-COVID world? Yeah, as a purely consumerist endeavor the FLGS is as good as dead.
Once COVID is over, and the world begins to heal and communities begin to meet in person again, the FLGS is going to be as important as ever. I’d argue even more important. We’ve all discovered what it is like to live without those communities we thrive on, and while online communities such as Geek.gay will always be home to me, my FLGS is something that will never be replaced completely.
My prediction is that rather than dying off, the FLGS as we know it will change with the times. They have to. Communities will continue to exist and need places to meet, and the services provided by FLGS beyond that of the consumer will still be valuable. We’re going to see more cafes and restaurants that cater to gamers, such as Sapphire City Game Parlor and Pieces Board Game Bar and Cafe, and less stores that are purely for retail transactions.
The FLGS and OLGS can coexist, and I truly believe that.