Last weekend I had the pleasure of moderating some panels at VirtuaCon. For those that are not aware, VirtuaCon is a three-day online virtual RPG-centric convention hosted by RPGGeek.com. One of the panels is of particular interest to me directly. The panel topic I am referring to is about building and fostering a local RPG community. This series of blog posts will be my analysis of the 50-minute panel and what my personal takeaways were. I hope you will find my analysis useful and something you can use yourself. I do encourage everyone to watched the linked panel as well.
Working with your local game store(s), are they truly accessible and do they want your play group there? This was the first issue raised in the panel and one that deserves some attention and further exploration. Game stores by nature need gamers playing in the store for multiple reasons. First, they are a direct source of income (via product, snacks and table fees) and second, they are a source of product advertising for the store. Many stores, by no means all stores, are rather unwelcome locations game. This can come in many forms; from dirty and dingy conditions, sexist advertisement, all the way to very subtle and even overt exclusion of certain groups of gamers. During the panel, Strix brought up a real life experience she had about trying to gauge whether the local store was a safe and inviting place for her. Stores need to cater to all audiences and by doing so they will have created safe and inclusive places for gamers to connect and play games.
As Strix pointed out in her example, the store in question was perceived to be a place for men by way of the sexist advertising they had in the front window. My intention here is not to beat up on game store owners, but collectively they need to understand the demographics in their area so as not to present themselves as an unfriendly or unsafe location for a particular segment of their local demographic. Therefore, if the store is found to be a safe place for all demographic groups it can then become a rich source for building and cultivating an RPG community.
All of my panelists believed that the local game store was their least likely resource to be used when creating a new RPG community. Namely because of all of the dynamic factors involved with stores. This is not to say that they were anti-game store, but rather they felt that other resources were more valuable and provided better results time and again. Game stores also present another challenge that was eloquently addressed in the panel and that is they must have the product to promote and be willing to promote what it is you’re trying to do–generate interest in RPGs.
Take for example the scenario that Jason Pitre explained where it’s in the best interest of the store to sell products that appeal to different, and in our case, specific segments of the customer base. If you’re trying to run a series of, let’s say, Fiasco at your local store and they do not carry Fiasco, it’s going to be hard to generate interest in what you’re trying to do. Jason Pitre’s second point is that local stores are invaluable for game discovery. To that end, the local game store is an invaluable resource, but I would add that if the store makes no effort to promote a product or educate themselves on a particular product, then there is little value there. Time and again I have found myself in game stores all over the country and the employees had no idea what made the products tick that they were selling.
Coming full circle, the local game store, if they are cognizant of their demographic audience and fully aware and educated about the products they sell can be a good resource. If the previous statement is true, you will be able to find interested people who may want to be part of your new group. Lastly, they are also there to provide a stable place for your fledgling group to meet and grow.
In the next installment, I will explore the social media avenues that the panelists thought were important enough to warrant consideration. In the meantime, please have a look at the full recording posted above and feel free to comment here if you have a differing opinion or have a game store specific tip to share.