The Future of Game Stores

A few years ago, I wrote a blog entry called “The Future of Bookstores,” in which I talked about how one key to the future success of bookstores is that they should become the best places to read books. Today I’m going to expand upon that comment in reference to a slightly different (but not all that different) type of struggling store: board game stores.

Despite the similarities to bookstores in that you can buy games cheaper online than at any game store, there is one big advantage to board games as the primary product: People often want to play a game before buying it, and you can’t do that online. You can read reviews, but you can’t get the tactile look, feel, and play experience online.

So there’s that. Also, game stores tend to be hubs for gamers, which is great–again, you’re giving people an excuse to show up at your door and maybe buy something.

Therein is the challenge. If people can show up at your store and play games at any time, what incentive do they have to buy games from you? Ideally people will understand that the game store will cease to exist if they don’t buy games there, but people mooch all the time. You probably have. I know I have.

I’m writing this entry today because I just read about a brilliant solution that a Toronto game cafe called Snakes and Lattes has implemented for quite some time: They have a $5 cover charge to get into the gaming area of the cafe.

My first reaction to reading this was: How can that possibly work? Who would pay to get into a store? But then I poked around their website a bit, looked at the photos…and seriously, this place looks amazing. This is no slum of a game store. This is a chic gaming cafe stocked with every board game imaginable, huge tables, friendly staff who will teach you how to play games, and delicious drinks and pastries. I want to go to there.

The store has done so well with their $5 cover charge that they recently renovated and expanded the space. That’s right. A tiny, independent store with a niche market is wildly successful.

Now, as much as I respect that business strategy, I have a twist on it, and I’d like your opinions. The $5 cover has been proven to work for this store, but a part of me worries that it’s a barrier to entry to people who might just want to stop in for a few minutes, take the lid off a game, and buy it. So my solution is this: Instead of charging a $5 cover, charge a $5 cover and give people a credit for a free drink or $5 off any game they buy from the store. That way you avoid any freeloaders–everyone who comes in the store will pay for something–but there isn’t a penalty for visiting the store for a short period of time.

So what do you think? And this is about more than game stores. It’s about any store or cafe where people freeload. Do you think a $5 cover/credit would still attract people and ensure the survival of the store?