Pay Where You Play?

An oft quoted statement amongst gamers is “pay where you play.” It is meant to concisely remind gamers of how important it is to financially support your friendly local game store (FLGS). Proponents declare this to their fellow gamers by implying that the little mom and pop game shop will go the way of Main Street America when Walmart sets up shops next door if gamers continue to make gaming purchases online.

This is blatantly untrue. Gamers have been paying and playing at local game stores while also paying (and playing) elsewhere and they have been doing this for ages. Before the widespread adoption of e-commerce, gamers gladly used mail order to purchase mountains of lead figurines.

Although the internet does provide some cost benefits to companies that use it to do their business, gamers may forget that successful online vendors must carry a substantial stock of products to meet demand. It is costly, very costly, to purchase and house those items and then to hire the help to manually fill the orders. This is necessary because if Vendor A doesn’t do this then the customer will go to Vendor B who does have the items in stock, the staff to fill the orders and provide customer service.

Proponents of “pay where you play” treat the issue as one with inherent exclusivity. They imply, although some blatantly state, that gamers pay online or in their FLGS. Yet again this is untrue. Most gamers that I know who make purchases online also make purchases at their FLGS. Sometimes they spend money at one and sometimes at the other. I know a handful of individuals who buy boxes of CCGs online and then spend a pretty penny in store on singles. One gamer, in particular, price checks online and if the item is within a certain range of the FLGS’s price then they make the purchase at the store.

There are many reasons why gamers may purchase online. The number one, I hypothesize, is price. But, that is not the end all and be all of reasons. Value, Accessibility, and Customer Service are all influencing factors. Where does the gamer receive better customer service? Who treats them better? What place tends to have the item(s) they want? Who is most willing to special order the items and actually obtains the item(s)? How easy is it to get to the FLGS? Is the online vendor’s store offline more than it is on? Where does the gamer feel they receive a better value for their money?

This issue is similar to one at my day job. My work entails the borrowing and lending of materials amongst libraries. If every single library only borrowed and never lent anything then the system would break. That may seem worrisome but it needn’t be. There is an equitable distribution of lending and borrowing. Some places may borrow more and lend less while others lend more and borrow less.

Gamers pay online and at brick and mortar game stores. If every single gamer, everywhere, only spent their money online then brick and mortar game stores would go the way of the dodo. Is this a likely or even remotely probable situation? Certainly not! Some game stores may suffer but the good ones will succeed. Those with good locations, owners who have a solid business sense, well stocked shelves full of desirable merchandise, and treat the customer as king will, and do, thrive.

If you’d like to read a view opposite mine then I recommend checking out The Gate Stormers “Why To ‘Pay Where You Play'” written by my friend Drew. He is firmly entrenched in the “pay where you play” camp.

For those who are curious about my spending habits I’ll tell you this. I’ve spent over 4,000 dollars at Battleground Games & Hobbies over the years. I’ve spent several thousand dollars at the now defunct Danger Planet Games. The Whiz in Northborough has received hundreds and hundreds of my hard earned dollars. I’ve made purchases online. I support my FLGS (and other game stores) with my money, my time, this blog, and the podcast. I will continue to shop at brick and mortar game stores but I won’t give up shopping online either.

I know this is a volatile topic for the community. I look forward to receiving your civilized and mature feedback/comments.

7 Comments on “Pay Where You Play?”

  1. Derek Lloyd

    There are a few things that your article doesn’t touch on that I think require some additional consideration. Let’s use Magic as an example because it is the most rampantly discounted gaming related item on the internet. No other product is devalued quite so completely because of deep-discounting and no other product gives such headaches to the FLGS.

    What can the FLGS do when a person can buy a booster box of Magic online for a tiny percentage above the cost of the item? A game store cannot survive on the margins used by the internet vendors. This is a stone cold fact. Over the years, I have had customers walk in and ask me how much I sell a box for. I’ve explained to them that we sell booster boxes at a 10% discount, or 20% if they also have $100 in receipts. If this person has done any price shopping online they usually look at me like I am outrageously priced, or worse insult me or the store (which has happened). This type of online deep-discounting DOES damage the value of the product. Think about this:

    Store Owner: “I am offering you a 20% discount off of retail price.”

    Online Buyer: “You are screwing your customers over.”

    What other venue answers a discount offer with this sort of derison? This mentality persists strictly because the online shopper values the product lower than the company that sells it by a HUGE percentage. This is very, very bad for the FLGS.

    Games Workshop’s much maligned refusal to distribute product to anyone who tries to sell any of their intellectual property online was a great thing for them AND for brick and mortar stores. I wish Wizards of the Coast would do the same thing with their properties.

    If ONE customer splits their purchases between online and their FLGS it doesn’t have much of an effect. One hundred customers that split their purchases between online and their FLGS can have a devastating effect.

    I am deeply appreciative of the customer who can see what the FLGS offers and chooses to funnel their dollars into the place that provides them with a place to play the games they love. Think about how much space Battleground gives to play space. Over the years we have completely cleared our entire floor over to our customers, from front to back. That’s an enormous amount of money that we pay every month specifically for our customers to have as much room as possible. This mentality is in sharp contrast to pretty much every other type of retail business model where every square inch is best used for its retail viability. All of my business-minded friends who advised me at the time I opened the store were very argumentative about offering space for free (and so much of it, at that).

    I don’t think less of anyone that chooses to seek the online discount to save some money. However, I do find admirable the person who understands that they are receiving a great value at no cost to them and choose to support the place that provides it at no greater cost than paying the suggested retail price for an item.

    The store that has the full support of its community will thrive.

    That is good for everyone.

    Derek Lloyd
    Battleground Games & Hobbies

  2. Jonathan J. Reinhart Post author


    I am really appreciative that you took the time to respond. Getting the store owner’s point of view is helpful for a comprehensive view. I believe there is a middle ground that can accommodate FLGS and non-FLGS purchasing and hope that gamers will seek and adhere to that middle ground.


  3. Adrian

    Jonathan, good post, and by and large I agree. I’m kind of a proponent of PWYP but there are exceptions and for me that’s mostly due to availability.

    I don’t think savings is a great reason to go on the ‘net because shipping costs eat into any online discount you might be receiving. But there are some things the FLGS just can’t obtain for me, at least not without a lot of effort. Two recent examples are the Trafalgar rules set from Warhammer Historical and the associated ship models from Langton. Neither was available to the store I frequent via their supplier, so I went the internet route. The store could probably have managed to get the items I wanted, but would it have been worth their while in terms of profit vs. effort expended? I have no idea; plus how long would it have taken?

    In situations like that I will always prefer the web to the local store. But for other items, Flames of War minis for example, I’ll never go to the web for that because anything I want the store can get for me in about a week. Anything new I’m looking to get into I always check with the store to see what their supply situation for the items is. For out of the ordinary stuff, like Trafalgar, I think the web will always be your best bet. But for 40k, Fantasy, FoW or whatever I can’t see preferring the web over the place where I spend most of my gaming time.

    And fwiw I don’t think you’re a tool. At least not totally. ;)

  4. Dave Goss

    To those who oppose “pay where you play”,

    These are indeed very difficult economic times for all, even the rich have to cut back as much as the poor do. The advantages of shopping online and “smart-shopping” become increasingly attractive, they offer a very low price, with little additional costs; often these prices are much lower than a FLGS can afford to sell for. eBay is a perfect example of this, where a space marine army can be bought for (exaggerating) $1.50. No gamer can deny these facts. Wargames, TCGs, and even popular board games are very expensive and some gamers can barely afford them at retail pricing.

    The problem with buying online and not supporting your favorite FLGS is that eventually the store cannot compete with the online suppliers and other competition. By buying online and comparing prices you are completely neglecting the store that you come in and play for free at with no problems and a smile. The fact of the matter is, every $100 spent on ebay, or another such discounted store is $100 that your little hole-in-the-wall gamestore loses toward paying rent, bills, and other essentials for continuing their business.

    Another fact that I might bring up is the prices these companies establish are not because the people at wizards, games workshop, fantasy flight, and others are rich, selfish, cash mongers; but because that is the value they feel is reasonable for the contents of the product and its usage. If the player cannot afford the retail pricing of the rulebooks and models/cards/games then they simply cannot afford to play in general. An example is people who use pirating sites to get free pdfs of rulebooks, or ebay/thewarstore, which give 20% or more of hobby supplies. These people cannot possibly afford the game they are playing, because if they could, they would have bought them at their local store with no problem.

    My problem is not with people trying to save money during these hard times, but that they so openly admit they do not use the local gamestore to buy said items and do so within the communities of the store mentioned. There is no reason why you need to advertise to dedicated members of the communitty. If they wanted things cheap they would have done it.

    If pay where you play did not exsist, and people only bought online, or wherever is cheapest, then the gamestores would become extinct and there would be nowhere to play the games we all love. I personally have taken up the position of refusing play with anyone who admits to using products bought offsite of my favorite local gamestore, not because I am some elitist, but because I love playing games, and I also love my store, and that passion would be ruined if the store went under due to these people spreading the word of these discount shopping stores and I do not want the store/community to disappear with so much time, effort, love, and hard-earned money invested in it.

    In a nut shell: think before you speak; pay where you pay, or play where you play.

  5. Jonathan J. Reinhart Post author

    Dave, you hit a lot of strong points. I’m glad you brought up the issue. I also really like your policy, is it ok to call it a policy, of not playing with anyone who says they bought their items online. I know of one person who used to go to Battleground Games & Hobbies who purchased an entire 40k army online and then talked, ad naseum, about that fact in the store. Not only is that inappropriate but it is rude, hurtful, and immature.

    I’m delighted to see that gamers are passionate about this issue and have a deep love for their FLGS. That is very important.

  6. Michael

    Lets see if I can intelligently comment on this subject.

    Having experienced the service in 8 different game stores around the North East, some still in existance and some having closed, I say that there is a valid arguement to be had for both sides of the fence in the PWYP Conflict. To those of you whom frequent either of the Battleground establishments have always been warmly welcomed and treated more as a person or friend rather than simply a customer when walking through the door. That is Derek’s business approach, and with the addition of a second store, it seems to be working very well for him. My expirience in at least two other stores. X9 in Hadley, Ma and Mark’s Comics in Valley Stream, NY was wildly different. Upon entrance into the store I was greeted with a stern look or outright hostile look and something along the words of “what do YOU want.” It immediately gave the impression that my patronage was neither wanted or in this case warranted. I was simply a wallet to be emptied and turned out as quickly and effortlessly as possible as the clerk could. I state this to provide an example of just how radically salesmanship affects ones experience in a game store.

    Using that example, if the store owner was a jerk and actively encouraged hostility towards YOU the customer, wouldnt you simply order from online sources and have done with him or her? I feel a great deal of the hostility toward Jonathan and the online system stems from that loyalty to Your personal store owner. If he is a nice guy and treats all of you with a great deal of welcome and friendship of course you want his store to grow and prosper. Supporting him with all of your money is a great idea, without stores Battleground or the late Danger Planet we as gamers would be forced to deal with cold basements, hostile game stores or worse, A house full of toys and no where to use them.

    Allow me to ask you the reader this, Suppose you have a fancy new army idea that requires the use of Forgeworld units or books to complete. Is it right to order from that site? If you said yes, then under the extremes of pay where you play, your breaking your own stance? Does your Gamestore stock Forgeworld reguarly? Well then you sir or madam are a lucky player indeed. For I have never heard of a store doing so.
    Going deeper, with the release of the Space Wolf Codex from Games Workshop, there in the last few months have sprung up quite a few Thunderwolf Mounts on E-Bay. Once again, should you forfeit those models because your local owner doesnt have them?

    I say this to you all. Support your game store as much as you can. Some of our community knows what its like to loose theirs, and thats whats most telling in the negative reaction here. The games that these stores promote are there for you all to have fun. Same thing with the store. It takes a particular brand of crazy to open a retail location in this genre. Its location and clients are entirely a game of roulette in some cases. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesnt. Saying that you need to buy everything from the LGS or it will die is like saying if everyone stopped buying Hundai, Mitzubushi and Toyota that Detroit wouldnt have suffered like it did. There are simply things they simply cannot carry or change, trying to keep everyone happy and supplied with what they want is nigh impossible with the kind of capital these games generate. Or did you forget all your Badab War Rules came from an online site.

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