It seems that every couple of weeks, there’s a conversation on some retailer forum or another discussing in-store play for RPGs and whether or not it’s even worth it.
Obviously the recent changes to what was the D&D Encounters program has a lot of people rethinking the value of such things. I know a lot of people approach this puzzle in different ways, ranging from table fees (which can sometimes later be credited towards a purchase) to creating RPG-centric Facebook groups for their store communities, and all manner of things in between.
I do think, that if you want to be a store that sells RPGs in any meaningful way, you must provide some variety of in-store play experience. Even if it’s just an open play night, something has to be there. Players for these games are seem to always be looking for new players or groups. I wish I could collect a dollar for every time I’ve heard a customer ask some variation of “Do you guys know of any local groups looking for players for Game X”? I hear it multiple times every week. We need an answer for them that involves more than just pointing them to a bulletin board.
Maybe it’s directing them to our RPG Open Play night. Maybe it’s toward our structured Shadowrun Missions games, or maybe it’s the regularly scheduled introductory D&D events. But without an easy point of entry we might as well tell these customers that we’re not interested in selling them any of our RPG books. I do think that we need to talk about RPGs in a new way, as distinct and contained experiences as opposed to the idea of some overwhelming thing that a person needs to get into. But that’s another article.
Today I want to discuss one of the ways that we’ve devised at Games and Stuff to create more play in the store, and in turn create more sales. And, in my continuing efforts to drive home the idea that it’s the “Other RPG” category that does a lot of the heavy lifting for our RPG department’s bottom line, it’s almost entirely focused on games that are not D&D, Pathfinder, Shadowrun, or Star Wars.
It’s something we call RPG Lab.
It basically works like this:
Every month we feature one game, to be run by my Assistant Manager George, who is the other half of my RPG brain trust. The game runs every Tuesday night from 6-9pm. So typically about four or five sessions, creating a short campaign. The first session is always character creation and discussion of the rules.
We advertise the game in advance, and we request emails from customers wishing to be a part of a given month. They are committing to playing for the entire month. Ultimate selection of participants is left to George’s discretion.
Now, RPG Lab is not for everyone. It is not for completely novice roleplayers, nor for people just wishing to be spoon-fed RPG entertainment. The expectation is that participants will be familiar with at least a couple RPG systems, will bring an active and engaging personality to the table, and be willing to discuss their opinions of the game after the campaign ends. Indeed, all of our marketing efforts include some version of the following text:
*This program is not for beginners. While obviously, no experience with the specific game is required, it is assumed that anyone participating in this program is familiar with more than a couple RPGs, understands intermediate RPG terminology, and is comfortable role-playing with an engaged group. Games & Stuff offers a number of opportunities for brand new and otherwise inexperienced players to get involved in the RPG hobby. RPG Lab is not that program.*
So what happens?
Well, for the length of the month, we’ve got a group of customers who are engaged with an active roleplaying experience, at an intermediate level no less. and typically with a title that doesn’t often get a lot of attention. There’s buzz about the game around the store and around our Open RPG Play night. People are talking about the current RPG Lab game. We typically do not charge a fee of any sort, but we have discovered that it’s not uncommon for 50-100% of the players to buy the core rulebook for the featured game, and often more. At the end of the session, George leads an open discussion of the campaign both in person and via a Q&A sent out via email. We then turn that conversation into web content for the store’s website, like this one for Dungeon Crawl Classics.
It’s also not completely uncommon to see some of those players then go on to start campaigns of their own (in the store no less) which results in further book sales. Hell, one time when we had one of our Alpha RPGamers running the Lab for the month, the group continued the campaign on into the following weeks. This edition of RPG Lab was directly responsible for Hollow Earth Expedition ranking at #16 for the fourth quarter of 2015 as reported earlier.
Sometimes we even break our own rules, like this past January and February when we charged $80 a head for players to be involved in an eight week long Yggdrasill campaign. The price included a copy of the core book, and I even stepped in as a player. Which reminds me: sometimes. space permitting, we’ll let employees fill one of the slots, which only serves to generate excitement on the staff about a new RPG title they might not have otherwise been a champion for.
Anyway, that’s RPG Lab. We’ve been running it for almost two years, and I don’t see us stopping anytime soon. It generates excitement about games, it contributes to the bottom line of our RPG department, and perhaps most importantly, it helps create a community that is playing and buying new games, that is in turn, spreading the love for those games to their home groups.
Retailers, feel free to steal any part of this program if it interests you.
Until next time.