The other day I jumped into the second half of a D&D adventure being streamed on Twitch by Wizards of the Coast staffers. While waiting for the event to actually start, folks were chatting up the new starter set and discussing where to buy it when someone suggested to just buy it online because it was cheaper.
I swear to you, I heard a needle scratching against a record as the jukebox came to a stop.
At that point, it didn’t matter if there was D&D, the World Cup, or naked volleyball being played in the livestream – all chatroom attention was immediately diverted from the stream and completely to the argument at hand. And, as so many other nerdy arguments go – Star Trek vs. Star Wars (old Wars, new Trek), who is the best captain (Malcolm Reynolds, and if you say otherwise, I swear by my pretty floral bonnet, I will end you), and pirates vs ninjas (ninjas, unless it’s…no, ninjas) – there is no one-size-fits-all answer.
The thing is, this isn’t just a nerdy argument – it’s real life economics and survival for our game store proprietors, and it’s becoming more and more of a hot button issue as direct distribution models increase in prevalence, be it through print-and-play, Kickstarter direct sales, or other similar mechanisms. When I was a fledgling hobby gamer back in 2002 I greatly struggled with the issue of where to buy. I knew – or at least was told – that the “right” thing to do was to buy from the local game store, but as a first year teacher money wasn’t exactly flowing, and those online booster box prices were often too tempting to resist. It wasn’t too long after that when I started volunteering for Decipher and promoting the .hack//ENEMY CCG, and staunchly proclaimed that every box bought online was another nail in the coffin of their LGS (that’s Local Game Store for the uninitiated). A decade later, I now fall somewhere in the middle.
After many years of being around stores, manufacturers, and the industry at large, I finally settled on a position I can live with. A personal prime directive of purchasing, if you will, and it goes like this…
If I enter a game store, without exception, I will buy something.
It’s that simple. Store owners may as well get dollar signs in their eyes when they see me coming, because I’m literally a guaranteed sale. If nothing else, I figure its my way of paying for the air conditioning (and I’m a big fan of air conditioning…big, big fan). In theory, this could lead to an empty wallet and a maxed-out credit card VERY quickly. In reality, though, its much cheaper than that. As an avid fan of deck-building games and card-based games, I almost always need sleeves. That’s only $4-$8. Maybe I could use some counters? That’s only a few dollars. If there’s nothing I particularly need at the time, I’ll buy a pack of Magic, Yu-Gi-Oh, or something of the sort and donate it to the next tournament that the store runs. Or, if all else fails, this is Arizona – you know I need a bottle of water!
Now none of those items are games unto themselves, so let me proactively quash your complaints by saying that I absolutely buy some games from my LGS as well. I am very judicious and intentional with my in-store game purchases, though. Sometimes I’ll buy at a brick and mortar due to strict supply and demand reasons. Sometimes its to build up rapport with a store or its owners. Other times its simply as a way to say thanks for having a place I can come to buy and play games. If a game purchase doesn’t fall into one of those categories, though, chances are high that I’ll buy it online, and I’m okay with that.
So what should you do – buy at your brick and mortars and save the store, or buy online and save your cash? I don’t know, and I won’t tell you. I’m at a point in my life where I hesitate to be so bold as to tell someone where and how they should spend their hard-earned money. I can only share my experience, my perspective, and my personal prime directive. I will say, however, that what the store owners say is true – if people don’t buy there, they can’t sell there and you can’t play there. If there’s a local store that supports you with tables, chairs, air conditioning, and tournament organizers, I highly encourage you to support them with your dollars as much as you can. Beyond that, there isn’t a simple, single right answer.
Except for Captain Mal and the crew of Serenity, of course, and anyone that says otherwise can just turn their super star destroyers around and fly back through the wormhole they crawled out of.
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