Sunday, March 6, 2016

What went wrong: Denouement

So, we've come again to the unfortunate discussion of AQ having to close. Currently at the start/end of April I'm going to have to close up shop.

At the end of last year people came out to help AQ with my GoFundMe campaign, which was honestly the nicest thing I've ever had a group of people do for me. I was a day away from suicide when I made that GoFundMe page and instead I went ahead with the campaign and people came forward giving me hope and a better perspective. I didn't expect support, but it came, so I went out of my way to find investors, buyers, or anyone who could get the store to progress forward. Unfortunately after many offers, people backing out, and lackluster investor opportunities I ultimately saw that I was on my own here trying to make it work.

There are too many back bills to be paid and since I haven't paid myself since May of 2015, I feel it is ultimately the right decision to walk away and let someone else try instead. Stores come and go so quickly in Colorado, but hopefully someone out there can make it work where I have failed. My first partner backed out in under 9 months, my second spent about the same doing his best to help, so I'm glad I have decided to try anyway for 30+ months to do what most people would not. I've given my life to this store and met some great people over the years, but what was once a dream must ultimately be put to bed. I feel like it wasn't really my dream anyway, but I'm glad I got to meet as many great gamers as I did.

Advice to Others
If you've ever looked at starting your own business or wanted to get into game-stores, I feel like I should let you know: What did I do wrong?

If you have a great idea like a game-store bar: Do it. Don't start halfway, waste your initial capital on stock and expect it to work. You have to stock whatever your community wants, so you won't know what they want until at least 6 months of being open in the first place. So start with a secondary revenue stream. Like a bar, cafe, etc.

If you expect to have an online presence with Magic cards: List early, list often. Keep your prices competitive and sell and buy as many cards as you can. It will keep the lights on in between releases of other major products.

If you can get NET terms with a distributor: Do it early. This ruined many sales and preorders the first couple of months having to have money up front. In retrospect though, once you get used to paying bills 30 days out, don't overextend. Start shoring up your bills earlier and earlier so that you don't have to rely on everything you order selling in under 30 days.

Don't waste your time with RPGs if you want to stay in business. Books will sell, drinks might sell, but ultimately the space required and the people that choose to play at a game store don't make a store survive.

Run tournaments for Magic, miniatures, even board games and promos and prize support will always make a night worth your time compared to half the room laughing and rolling dice without a fee. Same with Board Games. Sell them: Don't provide nights to play them. There is nothing more maddening than to hear every week about where the board game group got their great deal online or at Barnes and Noble. Results my vary, but investing in sellable space is always better than playable space.

Thanks so much to people like Jon Conley for keeping my X-Wing and Imperial Assault tournaments running smoothly and the community laughing. Chris swung over from DMG to bring a community into a fun environment to AQ and I can't thank him enough for making X-Wing a super fun game to play at the store. 

Thanks to Nate Burg for making Infinity a hit both at my store and others with guys like Shane, Devin and Dexter. If you guys hadn't stepped up and made me support a great game like Infinity I'd have died off much sooner. Hopefully I'll join you at a bar tourney sometime soon.

A crisp high five goes out to the Arvada High School crowd for choosing AQ for a more friendly community that appreciated all their Magic needs and decks. I wish I could've given you folks more to make your Magic experiences even better. Same with the entire Magic crowd really; we had some good EDH nights and some amazing Prereleases. 

And to everyone who went out of their way to support AQ at Prereleases, or who preordered product they could've got online, or who decided to keep coming back and shoot the shit with me to keep me sane on slow days: I can't thank you enough. Helping families find board games to play, getting in those weird orders whenever I could to be reliable, or just plain having the right thing in at the right time has been a great experience for me to have every day I was open. Those of you who constantly bought from Adventurer's Quarter, you know who you are, and just know because of you I lasted as long as I did. 

Where do I go now?
If you play Magic: Go to Advantage Games up North or Black Gold down South. If you're in the middle: Try Atomic Games West.

If you're playing Infinity, you know where to go: Funtastic Games is the next best thing in the area and I wish  them the best of luck as a new business since they're super excited about miniature gaming. 

If you're playing anything else, try Funtastic or go to Black and Read like the rest of the Denver area. They've always had 5x the amount of product I could ever hope to have, but without any of the playspace. And surprisingly they have sent a great deal of customers to my store over the years.

So long, and thanks for all the dice.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Tabletop Vs. Video Games

I'm a Millenial. My first experience with games was my friend's NES, my first console was a SEGA Genesis, my life has been consumed by PC games since I was 13. I was an only child, so board games didn't really come to fruition for me until college. Video games are great, to some extent, but they have their limitations especially in the online world we live in.

My favorite online games don't exist anymore. Tribes 2, an FPS with jetpacks was my favorite as a teenager. Star Wars: Galaxies was my all time favorite MMO before I hit college. The worst thing about these games for me? I can't play them anymore. All the friends I made are playing other games and the games have no servers supporting them. When a great video game dies off, it's gone forever. When a great board game comes out: You can always break it out and play it again.

There isn't one big patch that breaks the game or a new expansion that you have to buy to continue having fun with your friends. There's a word that defines board games that isn't used often enough: Timeless. Sure some games go out of print, but if you own it: it's yours forever. The fun experience you had with that game can constantly be brought out of the closet and made anew. There's something magical about that.

Families come in all the time saying: Board games, great, a way to get my kids away from their video games. Adults my age don't say that. They see tabletop games as what they are: a stable platform to have fun with your friends. One that isn't going to disappear when the servers die. There's a reason tabletop games are having a revolution and it has a lot to do with people growing up with video games. We've had our fun with video games and still do, but sometimes you want to invest in fun your friends can have at any hour, in any place, without the need for software or everyone having a computer, controller, etc.

My regular Magic crowd nowadays constantly reminds me why I do what I do how I do it. They play through a tournament with the regulars and say aloud: I love coming here, seeing the same people, having rivalries with some and not being afraid to try out a new deck. There's something great about existing in a community that understands games like you do and finding people who want to do more than just play a game. The X-Wing miniatures crowd constantly seems to be finding new formats to play that aren't official, either to spice things up in between tournaments or just to find a way to make it fun to meet up with new players to the scene and keep the game fresh.

They've taken a mechanically simple game and given it new ways to be experienced simply because they love the game enough to change it. It's very reminiscent of the modding community of video games; wherein they love the original game so much that they've gone ahead and become developers for a community that is so into the game that they want to look on it with fresh eyes every time they boot it up.

There's always new video games out there where you can find some friends and play through a match, or co-op into a game, or group up in an MMO. Sometimes it's just more rewarding to sit down at my table, wait for my friends to arrive one by one; catching up on their week, then diving into an imaginary world of my own design that they get to experience as different every time. The breadth of experiences you can yield from a single night of gaming is pretty diverse compared to the types of experiences you can have in a video game. Typically a cool kill, a weird story interaction, or the teamwork your friends have in a video game is all that really comes up. When your character is the main character in an RPG, the story is the whole evening and the experience only tells the tale of all the hijinks you had to have to get there. At the end of the day, having someone sitting across the table rolling dice at you and seeing their face every week with new ideas is going to leave a lasting mark on your memory of what it means to play tabletop games versus simply the avatar that represents them on a screen.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Daily Revenue: The Transparent Bloggening

It's been awhile. I started this blog with an err towards transparency in game store ownership, namely because "How to run a game store" isn't a book that's readily available like "How to run a business." As most of you know, the store has had trouble maintaining these past few months. I'm close to securing investors to afix the future of the store's sustainability, but beyond "How are things?" most of you probably don't know what a month looks like or what a good month is within the world of AQ. I think the overall point of this post will be to clarify the facts: what the store makes versus how the store operates.

For reference, I'm going to focus on two 30 day periods that are incredibly different and give you an idea as to what's going on in terms of daily activity. The first month starts 2 days before the Battle for Zendikar Prerelease.

I ordered 54 Prerelease packs and spent about $700-$1000 just for Magic product for the weekend, with another $500~ for board games and such expecting a busier than average time of people being in the store. The 3rd big green bar on that graph is the day of Prerelease, where I basically made back the entirety of the order plus a little extra as people were preordering product that was to release the next week. After the weekend, I ordered in my booster boxes and spent another $2400 just on product for release day. Mind you about a quarter of my product was already preordered from the past month. The day of release is the other big mustard yellow bar, which as you can see about made what I ordered's money back before the end of the weekend.

What to take away from all of that? I basically broke even every week, ordering product and selling it immediately. The only way I was even able to order in the release day product is because I have 30 days to pay the prerelease off. And you can see the middling back and forth bar graphs of day to day sales never exceeding $600 for the rest of the month. But enough days in a row and hey, bills got paid more or less.

Something I'll be pointing to more directly in the next month analysis is all those days where it looks like <$100 was made. What's going on there?
Here's November as my next best example of a "Non-Magic Month." Off the bat you can see where the "Magic-effect" exists. I made $4,000 less simply because there wasn't a  release. Every week I order around $400-$600 in restock, new product and such. Unless there's new Infinity/X-Wing releases, the orders are relatively small. The benefit of this month was three-fold: The first spike in the graph was actually a minor release of the Magic: Commander decks. The second spike was literally just someone getting into Infinity with a few friends and a pile of Magic singles. The last cascading spike was Black Friday weekend.

I ordered around $1700 in non Magic product this month. Probably $800 in Magic. Rent is $1600. Utilities around $300. Taxes of an $8,000 month are about $1000. That's about $5400 in bills on a month that made $8000. Where'd the other $2600~ go? Typically it goes to the previous month's bills, to pay off an invoice before it is due instead of waiting till the last minute. Or because of how sporadic sales are, I immediately pay rent the second there's enough money to do so, which takes' a considerable amount off the top. And because some of the monthly income is from Magic online, those payments don't post into the account for 2 weeks, so they appear under this month but aren't there until the next.

The point I think I'm getting at here is that it's week-to-week when it comes to staying open this past year. You can see 6 days in November where next-to-zero dollars were made. 4-5 days in the Zendikar month above that. Some of those days I was closed, but not all. Sometimes the door's open and I just flat out don't see anyone all day. And 80% of the days in the month are sub-$200 totals. The average purchase in store is about $25, which means at minimum of 8 people came in to make that day close to average. Naturally not everyone that comes in buys something, but there's enough preorders coming in and regulars that continue to choose AQ that 95% of the people I see are people I know by name.

For a more broad reference, the above is a category breakdown since June. Far right is Magic sealed product, followed closely by Board Games, followed sharply by Magic singles. The 4th bar from the right is in-store items like drinks and line-items, which are mostly preorders and Infinity. That little red bar near the middle is RPGs. The things I order are obvious from that graph. But what isn't as obvious is when those sales occur. If you refer to the other charts, you'll see most Tuesdays (Board Game Night at AQ) make almost nothing related to board gaming. Nor does D&D night typically make anything because new D&D books come out on Fridays. So if you were me and attempted to work 7 days a week since July you'd probably decide that the slowest days are the days you'll be closed and that is the main reason I've been closed the past few months at least 1-2 Tuesdays/Wednesdays a month. Circumstances being what they are: It's more effective to not open and give people a place to play for free than it is to sell the same amount of games on the weekend when it's busier.

I'm just following my own line of thought here, but if I met more people I didn't know, or had the stock levels to appease every new person who comes in looking for "X" game, then my average daily sales would increase; in theory. And that's why I'm finding investors: More product diversity so that I'm not just ordering one week to appeal to the next. Because in all these day-to-day uncertainties of sales, I err on the side of "I need to get in X-amount of preorders for soandso with X-amount of best selling games if next week is to average X-amount of money." I can't err on ordering too much, just enough to know that 30 days from now I'll be able to handle paying for the order that I got in to sell. Turn around on product in ridiculously difficult to track in game stores unless you know the game is great, which is why Magic with the most volume and most consistent releases, tends to save game store's from losing their minds trying to keep up with what to order. "How much Zendikar do I order? As much as I can afford. When will it sell? Within the first 3 days of release, to its' entirety." You can't make that assumption with Munchkin or Settlers of Catan; they're different beasts.

Hopefully this whole thing doesn't feel whiny or ranty, but I legitimately appreciate folks that have gone the extra mile to order things from me when I don't have them in stock. You understand I lack stock levels and now you should ideally know a bit more about why, but at the end of the day you accept that I am trustworthy enough to get it in for you quickly so that you can return and continue to use the space for your gaming needs. The silent agreement between a game store and it's gamer clientele survives only on that trust: We both know you can get it cheaper, but you willingly pay for my overhead and I try to deliver you the best service I can to justify that cost. Hopefully with more cooks coming into the kitchen I will be able to find that extra money in the months to come and reward your trust with a better store than either of us could ever imagine.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Origins and Progress

Origins prerelease was this weekend and I thought I should go into a little biography of myself, as an origin story so to speak. What brought this on? I'm the sole owner of Adventurer's Quarter again, as Justin has moved onto greener pastures with his Cardboard Clothing Kickstarter.

For most of this year I've worked a second job in addition to AQ and will probably continue to do so until I can get the store to a place where I'm comfortable with its' success. I don't tell people I'm working a second job out of pity, just more as a "What I'm doing with my time" concession. Growing up in Maryland & North Carolina, my parents always worked 2-3 jobs a piece. So it feels normal to do so because I was raised to work hard to get what I want. It's tiring, naturally, but work is necessary to accomplish great things.

I spent years playing video games with friends online because there weren't game stores to go to where I grew up. When I moved to Washington for college the first thing I found was people looking to play RPGs around campus. I found in Seattle more game stores that I could shake a stick at and discovered board and card games. In this way I learned to be liberal with my gaming attachments. Whereas some people only play euro-games, or Magic, or D&D; I learned how to play them all and enjoy them for what they were: Social engagements.

It is through this desire to meet people in a tabletop setting that I started AQ, I think, and this openness to try all types of games that allows me to succeed where other stores might fail. I don't focus on one thing, instead I carry what the community wants me to carry because they are both my customers and the people I engage with on a daily basis. Seeing old faces come out of the woodworks every Magic prerelease makes me smile knowing that they only play during these types of events and when they do, they come to my store because it's a friendly environment where you can win some fun prizes and have a good time.

I'm working to progress the store towards a stable place where there aren't bills piling up because of past mistakes and soon I'll be able to do that. The idea next month is to go the extra mile and launch a Kickstarter myself to transition the store into a true destination location, where there's beer and food and a reason to hang out beyond just gaming. If I don't launch a Kickstarter it's because I've found other avenues to fund the beer license and we'll simply move forward and get shit done. I want the store to be a place to chill and meet new people more than I want it to be a store you go to expecting to play a certain type of game. We'll continue to have the same growing library of games and carry the next best thing from Fantasy Flight, Magic, and more, but ultimately if there's nothing coming out that strikes your particular tabletop desire this month we'll still be a fun place to visit and grab a pint.

Making Adventurer's Quarter truly a place where adventurer's gather to socialize has been the goal of all my encounters with board gaming. Whereas I might appear rather stoic and calculating in my conversations at the shoppe, my passion within the shoppe is truly to meet new people and hear about what they love to play. Most of our Odyssey beernights once a month result in the group hanging out and talking more than playing games because that connection through gaming is more important than the games themselves. As the future of AQ approaches and the its' survival depends entirely on my decision making and your willingness to participate in it, I hope you'll join me on this adventure soon.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Blood Red: Or why Branding matters.

The store is covered in blood. Well, red paint. Justin, my partner, started a board game clothing company and produced some new AQ shirts that have a red line with our key symbols of meeples, dice and board game paraphernalia. From there we're changing the window to be a red line with our name on it instead of the busy green bits and posters that is now. We'll be covering the walls with board game art. Why are we doing all this?

The ambiance of the store is that of a playspace for most of our regulars. People come to play games that they enjoy and find others that do as well. The shoppe portion of the store is being revitalized so that we carry a diverse selection, ideally one of every type of game out there. Statistically speaking, the more games we have in stock, the better odds that someone coming off the street or playing games can find the one they're looking for at the time. Going with a more modern look should attract more adult gamers, which are 98% of our clientele. In this way we hope to get our beer license out of the way this summer sometime so that they do adult activities like drinking with their favorite hobby as well.

I think the appeal of AQ has long since been that we provide a clean, well-lit, and non-gamer-smelling shoppe compared to a lot of stores people are used to. We want to be a retail store first, a community second, and a resource to players of all ages third. People are always remarking how much they like the look or feel of the store, so our intentions in changing its' color and interior design is only to exemplify that fact going forward. If we can make the store ultimately appealing to every single person who enters because we're different from what they expect then it has the potential to provide long term retention and dividends. Our Five Stars rewards program concept is paramount to that, as it namely rewards regulars with persistent discounts and deals and helps brand new people remember what we're about with reminders that we are running events and here to support their gaming choices.

The warm glow of red in the store should also psychologically encourage more eating when we have better food options and make the store more homey during the gray winter months as well. Stores like Haunted Game Cafe and shoppes in Oregon we've researched have similar color schemes as well as a few bars around the Denver area. Red jumps out at you, says "Hey, we're here. We know exactly what we're about and we want to better serve you because of it." It's not a passive color and I think that reflects our personality as AQ strives to succeed into our second year of being in business.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Random Chance: When is a game just luck?

Randomness is a big part of gaming, but it is often overlooked as how much it can influence overall gameplay. Whether from a dice roll or a deck of cards, there's always a level of randomness to be expected from a game and how it affects the game can be as seamless as transitioning between turns or as jarring as needing to yell at the dice for not going your way.

Last year's Spiel de Jahrs award went to Camel Up, a racing game where you bet on camels as they make their way around a track. Every turn you pop out a dice from a tower to see how fast one particular camel moves or you bet on a color. Ultimately the game concept is very unique looking and the stacking of camels that are on the same space is an innovative way to demonstrate a tie, as well as how you break the ties by keeping camels above others in the same position as they race along. For my money, it feels like Camel Up is a literal "bet on a race" game, simply because you bet on them and either win or don't. There doesn't feel like much strategy to be had because it's all down to dice as to what camels end up winning. It's more an odds game and statistically you might be able to predict a winner eventually, but ultimately your decisions are more about what's happening beside the game than what's happening in the game. It's a flawed game, but won the game of the year award for design and play. Its' randomness is critical to the game working, but ultimately the game plays itself and you just bet and hope you win.

There's a certain degree of player involvement that is necessary to keep a game interesting. King of Tokyo manages to be a dice rolling game with decisions to be made on "what you keep" by rolling the dice 3 times and deciding what your turn will be about. You might not always get the rolls you need, but you'll get 80% of what you want, making for a feeling of importance as to what you're doing in the game versus what the dice are just randomly doing to you. If the game is simply random, then it loses replay-ability, as you know next time you play it'll be down to luck whether you win or not. So long as the game has inherent strategy that governs when things are random and when you get to make decisions, it'll benefit the longevity of whether or not you keep playing.

Deck builders tend to have a good handle on when to deal with randomness by having shuffling increase the odds of randomness, while the cards you add to the deck are up to you. Magic: The Gathering does this very well, given that you craft your entire deck and when cards come up is the only luck available to you. Although the game gives you options for statistical improvement with scry effects (looking ahead at the top of your deck), fetch effects (thinning out your deck by fetching a card and reshuffling the remainder, thereby improving the odds of finding anything else) as well as the ability to play from your discard pile (graveyard) or your opponents deck. The elements of randomness are handled as an inherent probability that is within your power to control. This makes most games of Magic varied and about decision making. The choices you make to interact with your deck determines how random you want your game to be, which is why it remains a popular game that has infinity replay-ability.

Finally, when it comes to randomness, there is the King of Random to consider: RPGs. You roll a dice, add your associated skill to improve the odds of success, and get a result. When I play RPGs at low levels I have very few skills, so how I interact with the world is erring on the side of more decisions versus hoping randomness works in my favor once. If I constantly roll dice to make decisions I should have no possible ability to succeed at then eventually I will succeed and build my character's arc. For instance, as a low level Wizard I snuck onto a boat with low level spells and simply because I knew people were of similar level to me, I became invisible and went below deck to set a trap on their powder kegs. I have no inherent ability to do this trap, but because I rolled well my experience and decision making was rewarded. Even if I had failed, my decision would feel like my own so the randomness of the dice would feel like more of a character flaw than a game system flaw.

The point of randomness is definitely one of making the game feel tense, but it doesn't have to mean the game is pitted against you either. I try to play all games with an RPG mindset so that so long as I can make decisions that allow me to give the game personality from my own decisions I can enjoy it. It isn't down to just the pages of text and dice in the game because ultimately a game is something we share as a group in our imagination and if it's all numbers and chance, there's no imagination or influence we grow the game as a valuable experience for players.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

AQ Against Humanity

Cards Against Humanity is the best selling game of the past decade, bar none. It's Apples to Apples meetings offensive phrasing. Unfortunately for us it's an Amazon exclusive, rather than through distribution, so we, like every game store around, must order it and mark it up. What is the phenomena of this game and why is it so popular?

Ultimately it is popular because it's the easiest game in the world to play. It requires zero imagination to play with anyone off the street. The answers the judge must choose are as verbose and graphic as possible so that no one has to read between the lines to discover your intentions at winning the round. In Apples to Apples it's a lot more vague and requires foresight into why you might have chosen a particular answer. Something similar to this game style comes across in Snake Oil, where you have 30 seconds to pitch your answer of non-sequiters to become the winner for the round. In CAH it's simply: What is funniest? The cards are what are funny, not your choice. You simply get to be funnier than any other card in the round, but it requires no effort on your part generally. Playing one person randomly into the pot has just as much chance of winning as you debating your answers.

The reason CAH uses Amazon is pretty clear. Amazon is a big-box store of the internet. It only cares about what sells and tries to sell everything at rock-bottom prices because its volume makes up for the margins. People voluntarily choose not to shop at Wal-Mart because they don't want to support bad hiring habits or price gouging that ruins local businesses, but because Amazon is online it's easier to just hit the button and forget about your choice. To buy something cheap online requires no imagination or moral commitment, much like CAH.

Ultimately the reason for this blog is discovering less about why CAH is popular and more who chooses to play the game. I can honestly say 95% of the people asking for CAH in store off the street come in specifically looking for it hoping it's here. When I pitch Apples to Apples, Snake Oil or even Cash n Guns they want nothing to do with my knowledge. They don't respect that there might be better games out there: they want the one offensive and easy game they came looking for today. I don't disagree that the customer deserves to get what they're looking for, and that many gamers play CAH as well, but generally speaking the people who play or want CAH are not gamers. They want nothing to do with the gaming community, they simply want to be the cool-kid with the offensive game about cocks to be a laugh riot with their family or friends. Nothing wrong with that.

As a game store with a community though, CAH brings with it a toxic problem that it attracts gamers who are not interested in finding new gamer friends. They aren't seeking to expand into the hobby of gaming at large. They want a game that has all the answers, no hard rules, no real challenge; just cards full of dirty words that are interesting to their group. To support these gamers in their hobby of playing CAH I have to support a big-box store like Amazon to get them the games they seek. 90% of my regulars tell me they'd rather spend a little more to keep me open; that they'd rather me order in CAH and mark it up than they buy it from a place like Amazon. Ultimately I'm still ordering it from Amazon, keeping them in business, and all it's doing for me is making a new distributor that is also basically my biggest competition for pricing on every other game I sell.

Cards Against Humanity is a big-box, bottom of the barrel, option for gaming. There are great entry-level games for all ages out there that are just as accessible that I'd rather a person off the street try honestly. Takenoko does resource management and modular board building really well, just as 7 Wonders introduces people to civilization-style card management in a quick-to-learn setting. Even something like Munchkin does wonders at teaching you how to add gear to a character to screw over your friends with a hand of cards. There are games out there built for new gamers but most CAH buyers want only to play CAH, not to grow the hobby or meet new gamers. They'd have just as much fun with a different game if the willingness to try to use their imagination existed within the world of gaming, but instead it is trapped in a vacuum of offensive jokes that require no effort.

I suppose the point of board gaming is three-fold: 1 To learn how to play a system with your friends, 2. To experience the world and setting a game designer has made, and 3. To enjoy conquering the rules system to win the game for yourself or the group in a competitive environment. If we are to be gamers, yes we can play CAH with a drink and friends, but we can also try new things and game within the world of table-top gaming in all aspects to better understand what it means to be a gamer.

In the spirit of CAH, after criticizing it for several paragraphs, I'd like to note that AQ will be carrying the game more frequently come February, so swing by and grab a copy if you're looking to add it to your collection. While you're in, might I suggest playing a game of Splendor with us and seeing what beautiful game design looks like as well.

Good gaming,