Sunday, 20 March 2011

The Decline of the FLGS?

A thread started by GHQonline on the Miniature Page started me thinking about local games shops.

The "Friendly Local Games Shop" (FLGS) has long been seen as the hub of the gaming community. It is seen as a place where gamers can get together to talk about their hobby, share interests, promote new games and even play in the shops that provide gaming space. For that reason, they are looked on with much greater fondness than conventional shops.

The decline and even death of the FLGS has been a common discussion point in wargaming for some years now. In recent years, a good deal of the blame has been piled on heavy discounting online retailers. The argument being that these operations can afford to undercut FLGS because they don't have to cover the cost of running a "brick and mortar" shop. But such online operations are unable to provide the auxiliary services, game rooms and such, that a traditional FLGS does. The decline of the FLGS in favour of the online retailer is regarded as bad for the hobby as a whole.

It is fFor that reason that some companies provide incentives and support specifically for FLGS at the expense of online retailers. The recent spat between Battlefront and Maelstrom games was sparked by Battlefronts insistence that Malestrom could not offer the level of discount it did (a situation complicated by the fact that Malestrom runs a substantial brick and mortar operation).

However, the FLGS decline has been a theme in Wargaming since at least the 1990s (and possibly longer, my memory stretches back only so far), long before online retailing was any kind of issue. In UK this had a lot to do with Games Workshop who converted their general games stores into Games Workshop specific ones selling only Games Workshop products, before rapidly colonising the rest of the UK. As a consequence, almost every moderate sized town in the UK has a games shop, but the vast majority of these are Games Workshop, a sad development for those of us whose interests stretch a little wider.

The difficulty faced by the FLGS may have less to do with the challenge of online retailing and more to do with the difficulty making a profit of a niche industry in a competitive environment. A problem made all the more acute by the limited space most FLGS have to work with. It's all very well expecting gamers to support their FLGS, but that can be difficult if they don't offer the product you want. I buy almost all my Anima Tactics figures from one shop, but, for various reasons, they don't stock Malifaux, which means for those figures I have to go elsewhere. I can understand why they choose to prioritise those lines that sell best, but that doesn't help the customer wanting something else.

The thing is that there was a time when that would have been it. Either I find a FLGS that stocks the figures I want or I'm done and have to buy what's available. At least in the world of online retail, I can go elsewhere. Yes there are the shows and conventions which broaden out range of companies available, but strongly suspect these have grown in popularity since Internet made them so much easier to publicise.

It is now possible for small company, that can't sell to a FLGS, to go straight to the customer via the Internet. This is better for gamers who have a wider range of games and miniatures to choose from. Strangely, while the rise of the Internet has been bad for the small business when the small business is an FLGS, it has been a boon for small businesses that produce games and miniatures.

The FLGS still has a great deal to offer, and it would be a terrible shame to see them die out. But they have always struggled. I'm not convinced the Internet has been as harmful to them as is some times said, and if it has I still prefer the current state of the wargaming industry to the times before the Internet.

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