Wednesday, December 27, 2006

It's official; Gambit Games is closing on Jan. 1, 2007. I've known this was coming for awhile, but because I could be considered a competitor of Gambit, I didn't feel like I could comment.

It was an interesting syncronicity that the same page in the Bulletin that talked about my blog contained the article about Gambit.

We were never direct competitors; but there was some crossover. I carry the card games, like Pokemon and Yugi-oh and, the original, Magic the Gathering. I carry Role-Playing games, with the extra's like dice. And I carry the pre-packaged miniature games like Star Wars.

I don't carry board games, or traditional games like chess and monopoly, and the biggest difference is that I don't carry the Games Workshop material.

Most of the article about Gambit was referring to games they carry from a company called Games Workshop. Let me say this; GW produces some great figures, and I suspect the game is alot of fun. I don't blame Brad for carrying the game or the players for playing the game. I was tempted myself.

But I actively dislike just about everything else about the Games Workshop. I hate that the game seems to depend on how much money you spend; that the company demands you keep in a huge inventory; that GW will make that product obsolete requiring that you completely rebuild your armies; that you have to constantly promote and demo; that you have to have a large space in the store to play the game. Games Workshop itself is very pushy. "You need more product." "No, I'm fine." "What's wrong with you, everyone else is selling way more...." (This is my actual last conversation with a GW rep. I pulled the plug immediately after.) Games Workshop has also tried to eliminate the middle-man distributers, who are necessary to the strength of the hobby, and they have a very nasty habit of opening company stores exactly in the places where independent games stores were doing well. With friends like this.....

A couple of subtexts to the Bulletin article are worth commenting on. First, I got the impression that Brad was saying that his move to a bigger location in downtown Bend had been costly. I've said before, it is rare for comic shops or game stores to be in high end locations because our customer base is pretty small and our merchandise is pretty specialized.

Brad is one of the 'smart' competitors I talked about a few days ago. But I think that games have had a good run and are now in a more difficult place. I can't speak for Brad, but it looks to me like he is having a lot more fun doing his poker thing. As I've always said, if you have a viable alternative, owning a downtown store becomes even more problematic.

Another subtext to the article was that all these players were being orphaned; that there wasn't going to be a place to gather or play tournaments, etc.

Time for Pegasus to step into the breach? Well, no. I've thought long and hard about it. I'm skeptical of any business model that requires a space that isn't being used to sell merchandise. Brad has been pretty good about maintaining his customers' loyalty, but even he no doubt had customers who would use his free space but buy elsewhere.

Games Workshop requires an enormous investment; not just of money, but also time, space and energy.

The very loyalty of Brad's customers is the other problem. I'm skeptical that his customers would transfer to my store. They had already chosen Brad's store over mine, and for whatever reason, are unlikely to change their minds. It isn't necessary to chose sides, but customers seem to feel the need.

More likely, one of the customers will attempt to open a spot in a cheaper location where the gamers can hang out. There is a figure that floats around on some of the comic and game boards I visit; 15%. At most, you will gain 15% of a competitors' customers when he closes. What happens to the other 85%? It's a mystery. They sink without a trace into the sand.

I'm going to try to carry more of the games I already carry, and I'm looking into buying more board games like 'Ticket to Ride' and 'Settlers of Cataan.' I have an active account with a game distributer, and will be happy to special order.

I may even miss Gambit games because it did a good job of promoting and supporting the games. Not sure if customers will keep their interest in the games without them around. The internet is a very poor substitute to a good, full-service shop. We'll see.

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