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Behind The Counter: Why we don’t run events for [insert TCG here].

There are a lot of trading card games out there, and that number is growing all the time. Some of these have been around for a long time, and you’ve likely at least heard of them, if not played them before – I’m talking about Magic: The Gathering, Pokemon, and Yu-Gi-Oh. Others have risen to popularity over the last few years, such as Final Fantasy, Dragonball Super, Digimon, and Flesh and Blood. Even more have just arrived on the scene or are due very soon, such as the My Hero Academia and One Piece card games.

Of course where there are TCGs, there are typically people who want to play them. Many of those players are interested in taking part in organised events and tournaments, particularly those that offer prize materials or advance access to new cards. It’s therefore not a surprise when we are occasionally asked if we will be running a particular event for a particular game. The problem is that in many cases, our answer is “no” or “not at this time”. So why is that?

The truth is that there are multiple reasons why we may not run a specific event, or any events for a specific game. Here are the most common ones we deal with.

** Even though it’s pretty much a given, I do need to stress that everything in this article is from our specific point of view. The information here may not apply to other stores, as every store deals with these things differently!

There aren’t enough local players who tell us they’re interested.

This accounts for most of the TCGs that have been offered to our store over the last three years. One of the things that a store needs to have a successful TCG audience is a community who wants to play in store. It requires a regular group of players who turn up consistently. Ideally there needs to be enough unique players that you can play someone different every time across the course of an event. Games that only have one to three players interested in taking part in events don’t tend to do very well, whereas games that have four to eight (or more) players regularly can often be successful.

This means that for every new TCG event that is offered to us, we need to be able to identify that core group of regular players. The absolute best way to identify those people is from them talking to us about the game. Sometimes this comes in the form of people asking to order items from that game, other times it’s specifically querying if we’re running any events. Occasionally we’re able to remember which customers have previously expressed an interest in a related theme, or a different but similar card game, and ask them if they’re interested in events for it. This is a rarer occurrence though, and in almost all circumstances, we rely on people telling us when they want to play something in store.

To put this in perspective, we get asked by one to five people on average per week if we run Magic or Pokemon events; we run Magic and Pokemon weekly in store. Comparatively, we have had just two people in total ask us about the One Piece TCG, and only one person ask us about the My Hero Academia TCG, over the last four months. There may very well be more people than this who are interested in the game and want to play in store – but because they haven’t told us, our impression is that there isn’t an audience for it, so we don’t put on an event for it.

The players aren’t supporting the store.

Having an in-store community for a TCG needs to go both ways. A store supports the players by running events and holding stock of the game, and the players support the store by attending those events and buying the game from that store. It’s important that all four parts of this equation happen, but the one we have had the most trouble with in the past is the last – buying the game in store.

The reason buying the game in store is so important is because, at the end of the day, your local game store is a business. On a personal level, they want very much to support the community, and especially a community that supports them back! But on a professional level, they have to be able to pay their bills to continue doing that. Running events that have low to no profit margin (something that’s frustratingly common in this industry) means we need the players to make purchases to justify those events. If a majority of the players are buying everything online and not coming within two meters of the counter, we don’t see the need to carry the stock. If we aren’t carrying the stock, well, why would we run events for that game? Surely we could instead use that same play space for a different game that is going to be better for our store.

There just isn’t enough space.

Our store has the capacity to run one event at a time, so our challenge is scheduling them. We need to have them taking place during a time when players are available (typically evenings and weekends), but also fit within our opening hours wherever possible. Events on average run for 3-4 hours, so we can fit one event per day on weekends (where we are only open 5-6 hours a day, for reasons we discuss below). We normally close by 5pm or 6:30pm on weekdays too, so that makes things difficult. The result is that we do two events outside our normal opening times (Beginners D&D on Wednesdays, and Friday Night Magic on Fridays) and anything else takes place on the weekends. Pokemon runs every Sunday, leaving us one day – Saturday – for every other game we want to run. Most months have four Saturdays in them, meaning typically we can run four Saturday game events per month.

Now when we only have four Saturdays per month to fit in every other game we want to run, how do we choose? Our rotation typically reserves one Saturday for a Magic: The Gathering event (as we have a large number of players who have told us they can only do weekends). We also want to fit in Marvel Champions and RPG one shots as these are things we are regularly asked for by a large number of people, so that takes another two Saturday slots. The one slot left will often be aimed at some kind of board game event, but can vary depending on what else is going on (such as Free Comic Book Day, national holidays, prereleases, etc). It just doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room to be adding in new games, particularly if we don’t know if there’s an audience!

So why not open more hours / do more evenings to fit in more events?

Short answer: work/life balance.

Long answer: Running a comic and game store involves a lot of work that isn’t seen by most people. With only two of us (and no capacity to hire anyone), most of that extra work has to be done outside our opening times, typically before we open in the morning or at home in the evenings. Additionally, this is an industry that has new releases every week of the year bar one (the time between Christmas and New Year is blissfully quiet), so taking a week off to recharge that energy is not an option. In fact, we typically only close our store when we have no realistic alternative, such as for significant physical or mental illness, emergencies, or circumstances completely out of our control, like comic delivery problems or extreme weather warnings.

Adding additional hours across the week would mean pushing all the things that can’t be done while we’re open to a different time in that week – and since every day is pretty much a full day, that would require me to work on my day off. While I will give a lot of my time and energy to the store and the community, losing my one day off a week is likely to lead to complete burn out – at which point we wouldn’t be able to run any events at all.

The best way to see the events you want in store is to talk to your local store.

If you want to play a particular game in store, tell the store you want it. Turn up if they run it. Order that game from them, or buy it from them if it’s already in stock. Encourage other players you know to do the same. Do all these things regularly, so they know your interest is genuine. If you have the time, energy, and inclination, ask how you can help them build the community further. All of these things will help your local store and other local players, and help you have more events to play in!

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