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Author Topic: Gaming store models  (Read 2713 times)
Seth M. Drebitko
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« on: November 02, 2008, 06:06:21 PM »

  Hello folks so I have my thread on http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?action=post;board=12.0 in regards to intellectual property purchasing, but I also have a business model for development that I am looking to get together. The goal of the model would be to create an environment that did not depend on the sale of gaming materials to thrive, and also would not have to deal with undesired stock. The only thing I am not 100% sure about the idea so I wanted to get some opinions.

  The core of the profit will revolve around a tea house/sandwich/soup deal with extra comfortable lounge like seats and tables where people can game. We would also have war game tables set up, and some computers. For internet and computer access I was thinking of doing what a fast food place in Manhattan did. When they sold things it created a unique code that people could enter when trying to access the internet or use the computers to get an allotted amount of time based on what they bought. If for what ever reason it was desired you could also save them.

  The “gaming store” end would come from an online discount store which would make deliveries to the store of anything ordered twice a week without shipping and handling costs on the customers. The store website could be accessed from the actual shop without purchase of anything, while customers could also choose to purchase and have things ordered to the store and pick it up when their group goes in to game, or simply to get a cup of tea and a sandwich. I would also be possible to create separate online discount stores people could purchase other things than gaming material, for example electronics.

Ultimatley the desire for this would be to create an enviornment where I could work the store during normal business hours when it will be a bit slower and have time to work on my own material.

Any opinions, ideas, criticisms?
Regards, Seth
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #1 on: November 02, 2008, 06:18:43 PM »

Messed up the link to your other thread...

What sort of income structure do you have in mind for this idea? Would the gaming space have some some sort of rental fee, or would all income come from the cafe part of the operation? My first instinct tells me that in the latter case you'd end up with unsustainable pricing, considering the extra expenses of the gaming space. What's worse, you'd have constant strife with the customer base over the socially acceptable levels of freeloading - how many cups of tee a group should buy before they can concentrate on gaming with good conscience.

If you get the numbers to work, though, this is certainly interesting. I could easily imagine being a customer for something like this myself, if I were living down south in a big city again. Feasible, public gaming space is something that communities will have to start addressing sooner or later somehow. Here in Finland we're getting good results by playing in libraries and such public culture spaces, but a gaming cafe has lots of appeal as well, as long as you can build a regular enough customer base who are happy with your pricing and get along with each other socially. Should have no trouble out-competing the traditional game store in the public gaming space market; the only question at that point is whether that's a market that really sustains commercial rent levels on the space itself.
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Seth M. Drebitko
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« Reply #2 on: November 02, 2008, 06:45:10 PM »

http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=26904.0 fixed

  Well I was kinda thinking that the gaming space would be a bit of a sacrifice could set up a tip system where people can donate to keep the space free or some such. Ultimately the two big things would be rented computer space and the café area. The extra space would earn its keep with hosted events and tournaments primarily.
  We definitely have the gaming community to support it, two stores one with a large yet overpriced selection and little play space, and another with better prices and game space but no selection have good customer bases that are both not please with the stores set up. With use people would have a wide selection at very competitive prices, and a nice relaxing hang out.
  One of the stronger points I see is that we are a spitting distance from three colleges which means we would have locals who make up a good portion of consistent customer base and “pass-through” customers who after three to four years of patronage and getting good deals may even continue to purchase from the online end of things even after moving.
  Our goal would be to purchase one of the very numerous buildings that has the large store on the bottom and housing above it as a starter home/business space.
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #3 on: November 02, 2008, 07:57:47 PM »

Hey, I seem to have replied to that particular thread. Wonder why I missed your answer...

As for the game store thing here, I'm skeptical of the market wisdom of making the gaming space free of charge. Of course, if you get the numbers (rent of space vs. projected tips & value add for the main products) to match comfortably and are confident that the locals wouldn't respond well to straight pay-to-play type arrangements, then that's some basis for the decision. What I'm worried of most (aside from the high cost of business space) is the social atmosphere that develops in game stores that have this sort of service that is essentially coupled into a package deal with the overpriced secondary produce sold there - I don't feel myself comfortable with gaming regularly somewhere when I'm either socially pressured into buying a tie-in product, or the business owner is fucked over by his own generousity. I'd much prefer paying some fair price for the space I'm taking at the store and buying my beverages and whatnot at something close to reasonable prices. Then there'd be less pressure from the proprietor to limit bringing your own snacks, too, as he wouldn't be so dependant on selling refreshments to the gamers. And nobody would need to be uncertain about whether they're carrying their weight in keeping the system afloat, too, which would be important for me, at least.

But that sort of thing is highly cultural, so individual opinions are probably the wrong thing to go by there - if the rest of your business idea is agnostic to how the game tables support themselves, I suggest canvassing the local gamers about this and going with the dominant preference; this happens to be an issue where anybody who could be in your potential audience can easily tell you what sort of payment scheme they'd prefer for the service of public game space. I can totally understand that when we move away from the individual level into how the masses think, the benefits of "free" space paid for by donations and higher pricing of other items might become more attractive. One of the major benefits in the donations & surcharges plan is the social flexibility it offers for genuinely poor gamers and the damaged tightwads that seem to be so common to the gamer culture in places: when the cost of gaming space is covered by voluntary donation, the more fair-minded fraction of the customer base can essentially pay for everybody, which could be easier socially on everybody involved than having the individual game group argue among themselves about how the venue fee should be divided.

Also - I'm harping on the cost of space, but if hosted events and tournaments bring in a lot of money on the space, then of course that part of the equation is moot. How does that sort of thing work? We don't have a lot of game store culture around here to begin with, so I'm pretty vague on how you leverage hosted events and tournaments into money. Do you charge admission fees like a small convention, or is it just that you get more people into the store to buy things with a MtG tournament or whatever?

One thing to consider would be to go for close cooperation with the university rpg club(s). If I were doing something like this in Helsinki, I'd make a point of investigating the costs of basically offering the space as a club room for the university club with some very attractive terms - their needs are really just to have some closet to store their stuff in, and being able to hold club meetings for 10-20 people once a week, which basically means that they're going to be playing something 80% of the night, anyway. The particulars of something like this would depend on the local history and circumstances, but getting a rpg club to exclusively support your store could make for some serious inflow of customers. In Helsinki I'd look into getting the University student body to subsidize this sort of arrangement, too, on the basis of helping them with their ever-present club-housing problems.

--

What sort of property market do you have in your town currently? You seem to have a rough idea worked up about the location, so perhaps that's something to base further research on when canvassing the customer base. I also like the idea of combining home ownership with the shop space, as that helps control the risks somewhat - home owning is a very secure investment (inherently lossy in monetary terms, of course), which balances nicely with speculative enterpreneurship, at least if you don't have to put the home part on line in the business plan.

More generally on the topic of starting a game store - I'm sure you've thought about this stuff a lot, but if you're seriously doing this sort of high-investment project, you need to think like an enterpreneur. And that means thinking of what money is used to pay for the project and what alternative needs for that same money there might be. Furthermore, think up risk-control strategies: if one or more of the initial projections fail, how does the plan cope and shift to recover? Is there sensible ways of estimating the risks and dividing them into smaller parts, perhaps by separating the singular vision into smaller, self-sustaining steps or portions?

That's all most likely self-evident to you, but those following along at home should remember that game stores are far from low-risk enterpreneurship.
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jag
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« Reply #4 on: November 03, 2008, 02:50:26 AM »

A few years ago, Eudemia (www.eudemonia.net) opened in Berkeley CA, with a very similar model (plus an extra bank of pay-as-you-go bad-ass gaming computers).  The owners are quite nice and accessible (I rented it out one night for a party), and it might be helpful to talk to them about what they've learned, what's worked, and what hasn't -- assuming you aren't close enough to be competition, of course.

I always thought their profit model should use food more.  Come to an agreement with neighboring restaurants to offer delivery of pizza, burritos, thai, etc, as well have a decent snack-food and soda selection will allow you to tap into the gamer need for food while playing.

As a gamer, i like the model a lot, but i've always wondered about their profit model.  They've been in business for several years, so it's worked that long at least.
James
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David Artman
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« Reply #5 on: November 04, 2008, 10:43:24 AM »

One thing you haven't mentioned, which I think could be a big winner (in a large enough city, or with a nearby university):

Gamer Bar.

Yep, let people sit and play for free--just like Chess players and card players at the bar.
Yep, make your money off of meals and a steady stream of beer and wine consumption--just like a bar does.
Yep, sell you game products (though, in my model, the game store is like a "pro shop" that's closed at around 7 or 8 even though the bar is open until 2am).

The point is that you have this "issue" of folks not eating... but that's becaus4e you front as a game store with free space. Front as a pub which encourages gamers and supports them (loaner mini models and games, the store). Folks come in a sit down... your ait staff approaches and takes their drink order. Returns and takes food order. Returns for more drinks; repeat. And here's the best part:

You'd get non-gamer customers coming in, then noticing games, then asking, then playing a loaner... then buying. NEW gamers, who already came in the pub for the food and drink. This is why you need to seriously consider getting AWAY from the mega-games (D&D, WW) and favoring known converters (Looney labs' Fluxx and Icehouse; Euro board games; PTA and Universalis; etc). You already have a store in town with a huge selection--be the niche; carry the unusual and the closer-to-mainstream and "gateway games." Because you're REALLY a bar, see.

Face it--aside from miniature gaming and some board games, playing games takes up little to no more space than eating a meal. Be tricky with the table designs (frex, trays under the table edge, into which drinks and other stuff can be put so they aren't on the table top) and you wouldn't even need much more dining room space than the average pub (at least, average in my area in NC).

And the time from about 1:30pm to about 5pm WILL be slow.
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Seth M. Drebitko
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« Reply #6 on: November 08, 2008, 05:11:03 PM »

Hmmm, I do really like the feel of the classic pub style setting, admittedly alcohol always seems to deter productive gaming habits. What do you think of sectioning off a section of the shop where drinking and gaming happens but also a more quite area where people who still want the silence can relax.
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #7 on: November 09, 2008, 12:10:59 AM »

If I sit down at a table at a Max & Erma's with three friends, about the least we'll spend on food and drinks for the four of us is $60 for the 45 minutes or so we're there. Can you tell me how we'd spend even $30 per 45 minutes if the four of us sat down for four or five hours of gaming in your gamer pub? If you have a restaurant infrastructure (waitstaff, kitchen, etc.), you need to generate revenue per hour from your floor space like a restaurant.

And if you're not a restaurant, and your gaming space is free, you're day-care on the weekends. Moms drop their kids off in the morning with their M:tG cards or Warhammer figs and a single crisp Jackson for food and snacks and they're there for the whole day.

Paul
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #8 on: November 09, 2008, 07:38:14 AM »

That's my worry also, Paul, just more succinctly said.
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Lance D. Allen
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« Reply #9 on: November 09, 2008, 07:49:38 AM »

Paul,

What keeps this from being any different than a gaming store with free play space now?

I see people disparaging the whole free play-space angle, but all of the successful gaming stores I've ever seen have free play-space in varying amounts, dependent on their level of success. The various concerns about how the space will lose you money have already been successfully addressed by all of these places.

Adding a revenue stream from food and drink aside from the Mt. Dew and Junk Food model that many of the places I know offer can't really be a bad thing, can it?

I've considered many times over the years a similar model. I was going more coffeehouse than teahouse, and most food would be of the deliverable and pre-packaged variety, such as pizza and sub sandwiches.. The sort of food your average avid game-store gamer thrives on anyway.

The part I'm not sure about in your model, Seth, is the online store part. I mean, sure, by all means have an online component to your store.. But if that's the entirety (or at least the majority) of your store, I think you may have problems. Many of the benefits of the game-store space have to do with perusable stock. Minis for the game you've just started, paints to paint them. Dice. ALWAYS dice. Casual games to play while you're waiting for the rest of the group to show up. That supplement you need when you level up next, so you can go with the prestige class you were eying. Gamer swag, because really, where else are gamers going to buy it? (besides GenCon).

It's quite possible that, with the main focus on the food service part of the store that the perusable stock will be less important, but then the restaurateur concerns brought up by Paul and Eero become more important.

Really, either way you do it, the idea has merit. I really love the idea of a game store with food service built in. But you'll definitely want to do some serious research into restaurant management as well as normal small business concerns. The liquor license may actually be a good idea, too. Perhaps you've had bad experiences with drinking and gaming, but some of my best gaming was done in a group where casual alcohol consumption was the norm, rather than the exception.
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David Artman
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« Reply #10 on: November 11, 2008, 11:27:10 AM »

...admittedly alcohol always seems to deter productive gaming habits.
I think this point is a non-starter. Because I could easily counter with, "well, I almost never game without drinking, which is why I almost never game in a store." It's about habits, and everyone's got their own, and any anecdote is worth just that: one vote, one demographic, out of thousands (or millions, if in a big city). Judging from what I see at local cons and DragonCon, I think there's a BIG percentage of gamers who like a nip of whiskey or a pint with their minis and dice.

Quote
What do you think of sectioning off a section of the shop where drinking and gaming happens but also a more quite area where people who still want the silence can relax.
Eh, if you've got the space, why not? I've been to pubs where there's a quieter back room, for private parties or whatever. But I'd bet the average gaming table is quieter than the average sports-fan table or birthday-party table, so you've got a bit of apples and oranges comparison, when you imagine a "normal pub" but full of gamers. Sound levels would be closer to those at a convention. And all that said, we haven't spoken a bit about interior design, some elements of which can dampen sound very well.

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Can you tell me how we'd spend even $30 per 45 minutes if the four of us sat down for four or five hours of gaming in your gamer pub? If you have a restaurant infrastructure (waitstaff, kitchen, etc.), you need to generate revenue per hour from your floor space like a restaurant.
You're waffling me here, a bit, and begging the question.
1) I said pub, not restaurant. The pub I hang out at has a "kitchen" about the size of my walk-in closet at home, and it serves (IIRC) about 60 seats of tables. It has one cook most of the day; two, if it's a busy weekend night dinner crowd. The bar is tended by one person all but about 5 hours out of the day (where there might be two waits and, if REALLY busy, another bartender).
2) You re-flipped my mode back into a bunch of gamers sitting in a bar, not the direction I was going (a bar that supports and encourages gaming by its decor, furnishing, loaners, and lack of loud-ass sound system or blaring TVs). I'll get plenty of "regular" folks coming in, table for four, $60 in an hour and done.
3) Neither my concept, nor any pub I've hung out in, needs anywhere near $8 gross revenue per seat per hour to make money. And most at which I hang out can expect to earn near that anyway (gross), from pint or bottle beer sales, nevermind liquor or top-shelf (or multi-mix) drinks. There's a sweet spot, sure--that's why bar owners spend a lot of time pouring over their books, looking for what sells well for decent margins. That's why food costs are controlled and menus are carefully structured to require minimal labor and storage. It's business as usual, but....
4) I've never attended a bar that can earn hundreds, if not thousands, a week selling paraphernalia. But the game store "pro shop" attached to it is going to be a little store, with a minimal footprint (remember: no gaming space; no DVDs and comics--just shelves of games and more games). It won't even stay open past 7 or 8 or 9, and it could be staffed by one (steely-eyed) clerk. A few hundred square feet, shelves, and a register.

So I think you're thinking places like Applebee's or some such, with big ass line kitchens and freezers and such (I suppose--I have no idea what Max & Emma's is like); but I'm thinking of pubs where a solid 80% of their total under-roof space is for patrons and you've got MAYBE one wait to backup the bartender, most hours of the day.

Quote
And if you're not a restaurant, and your gaming space is free, you're day-care on the weekends. Moms drop their kids off in the morning with their M:tG cards or Warhammer figs and a single crisp Jackson for food and snacks and they're there for the whole day.
Yep, that's a game store for ya--if you don't like a day care job, don't open one. DEFINITELY don't open one near other major shopping destinations.

Of course, if it's a bar.... Well, they can't just drop a kid under 21 (or 18) at the bar without a parent, can they? Would they even try? ;^)

In short, I think the gamer bar is a solid, unique concept... but I don't know FOR SURE it can work, or I'd have one up and running already (Atlanta, I bet, could handle one). But if we're gonna bandy about ideas for gaming + other service, it's a strong hit with more profitable goods (pub food and alcohol are know high margin items, not to mention $6 packs of cigarettes!) and it's a niche that's not served by the other two big stores in his area (remember the original post?).
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Seth M. Drebitko
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« Reply #11 on: November 14, 2008, 04:18:17 AM »

  I could easily counter with, "well, I almost never game without drinking, which is why I almost never game in a store."
This is true quite a bit does get done at a lot of the bigger con’s with people drinking.

  One of the reasons I wanted to divide the bar up from say where normal beverages can be purchased is because it means I could get things zoned so that in say the 2/3rds of the bar not selling drinks people under 21 could still enter.

  I think ultimately with the thought of the bar added in the best model would be:

- 2/3rd standard sitting area, and 1/3rd as the bar
- The extent of food would be some few baked goods, home made breads, sandwiches and soups.
- Internet access/computers
- Our personal games would be on stock
- Twice a week free shipping orders at amazon prices for gaming/miscellaneous material
- The bar, and normal side would have special events, and possibly (depending on the size of space we get) setting up personal rooms for private parties or gaming nights.

  Ultimately the first step will be putting out our games first so we have our products to keep on hand.
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David Artman
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« Reply #12 on: November 14, 2008, 09:02:19 AM »

One of the reasons I wanted to divide the bar up from say where normal beverages can be purchased is because it means I could get things zoned so that in say the 2/3rds of the bar not selling drinks people under 21 could still enter.
Well, I hear ya on wanting the kids. but you're back to day care, then. And I doubt a mere "zone" would be sufficient for unattended children under 18, if you have liquor under the roof (local laws vary, though). You're talking about two disconnected, but associated, business now (here in NC, at least).

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- 2/3rd standard sitting area, and 1/3rd as the bar
Great until about 7 or 8... suck after that, until 2am (or whenever, for your area). The bar is a money engine, why limit it in size?

Now, if local laws allow you to partition space as a sufficient "barrier" to separate kids from the bar... well, then you got a potential sweet spot: you can make it "mostly club" until about dinner time (6ish), then repartition with some sliding walls and so forth (see most hotel convention rooms for examples) and maximize the bar space for dinner and late night. THAT could be HOT!

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- The extent of food would be some few baked goods, home made breads, sandwiches and soups.
Selling yourself short. Again, that closet-sized kitchen I mention above supports a full menu of entrees, salads, sandwiches, "pub grub" (fried shit, basically) and appetizers. Now, if the above just happens to be what you and yours KNOW how to easily make... well, I'd advise you to at least consult with a professional chef or cook, to build a menu that's efficient (space, ingredients, and appliances-wise) and still diverse. And don't forget specials--the best way to sell off nearly spoiled food and control wastage. THOSE will take creativity and some trips to the local grocery or farmer's market.

I'm just saying--the more you value add and distinguish, the more customers you'll draw, gamer or not. A "convenience store" menu like the above is no better than what's offered at your competitors' places, right (and I bet those places are on strip malls with other restaurants and so forth--TOUGH competition, if you're not unique).

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- Internet access/computers
Mistake. We can make a new thread, but Internet Cafe is about to be a bust industry. The $100 laptop will kill it dead. And do you REALLY want to compete with that space, adding a third (or are we up to fourth) cost center and maintenance chores and depreciating assets?

Ugh... I would just as soon slit my throat as maintain "gaming PCs" for a bunch of kids. (No offense, kids!)

Quote
- Our personal games would be on stock
And that's it? Umm... OK, I guess. your baby. But you're pretty much cutting out hundreds (or more) in weekly revenue, with this idea:
Quote
- Twice a week free shipping orders at amazon prices for gaming/miscellaneous material

I could see that working ONLY IF it's YOUR Amazon store, with you taking profits. This, however, just makes your "game store" into some warehouse somewhere, from which you haul what folks bought that week. Why not just have a normal brick and morter store, supporting the games folks want to play, with all the supplements they'll impulse buy as they're leveling (or the TCG/Clix they hoover up just on principle)?

And where's the "entry-level" games, the stuff that will intrigue non-gamers who wander in and "want to give it a shot"? You can't plop down just any game and expect them to run with it--you'll need the Fluxx and tthe Munchkin and so forth, to sell them... and maybe THEN, they end up meeting a group of RPGers and learn our (somewhat arcane and confusing, at first) hobby from one who can teach them.

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- The bar, and normal side would have special events, and possibly (depending on the size of space we get) setting up personal rooms for private parties or gaming nights.
That's fine. Sort of goes unsaid, if you're a "gamer bar"--you're going to have tournaments, promotional nights, mini-cons (day-cons), etc.
-----
I'm talking myself into this business. :)

I know for a fact that such a place would immediately be my regular pub, assuming it wasn't staffed by assholes (what is it with gaming store staff, anyway--another thread, maybe) or slackers (what IS it with... yeah, yeah). And I would definitely be running min-cons out of it (and hosting them--MACE uses a Golden Corral for its mini-con, for Pete's sake!).

Ah.... maybe when the credit market loosens up....
-----
Anyhow, not trying to piss on your parade. I'm just giving you advice based on the experiences of a 25-year gamer, 20-year drinker, and 12-year food service and hospitality worker. And PC game support technician (2 years) and service tech (6 years). (Yes, I ABHOR the internet cafe/gaming PC concept.)
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #13 on: November 14, 2008, 09:16:03 AM »

Hey David and Seth,

It's pretty clear you're not disagreeing on how to do X. Instead, you're arguing the merits of doing X vs. doing Y. It's also clear that Seth doesn't want to do Y under any circumstances, and David doesn't want to do X under any circumstances. The thread is getting to the point where X and Y are simply being attacked, spuriously in some cases, and the thread is turning into a badminton match.

Both of you can stop now. Seth, you asked for opinions, ideas, and criticisms, and you got some. Take what you like and let the rest go without attacking it. David, you provided those things, and now it's time to let Seth choose what he wants rather than defending your input.

Best, Ron
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David Artman
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« Reply #14 on: November 14, 2008, 11:34:56 AM »

Fair enough--just tossing out refinements of the "split" business (first one was split into "pro shop" and "eatery space"; now it's "kids space" v. "bar space"). And, believe it or not, I'm trying to be encouraging... while pointing out weaknesses in some of the offerings (viz Internet cafe).

In the spirit of moving forward with more models...
Now, I'm wondering if a pool hall model would work as well: beer and beverage sales, table rentals per hour--with BAD ASS miniature elements to borrow, and games, and painted minis and so-forth--the thing the folks are REALLY renting. And we all know pool halls are happy to sell cues and gloves and cases and shit.

Or the casino model--similar to the pool hall (and bar, frankly), but you have GM staff (dealers) who run regular games, on a posted schedule, with sign-ups and so forth. This might be, again, a pay-per-hour table arrangement.

Hehe... roller rink/Lazer Tag arena model, for contact LARPs! Warehouse space, team battles on a schedule, tournaments, selling costuming and boffers (and food and drink). Actually, I've had friends thinking about how to do this affordably (and, ideally, profitably) with a permanent site and structures that can be reconfigured for various genres.

OK, ok... just riffing, now. As might be imagined by now, I've thought a LOT over the years about how to make some kind of "gaming store PLUS" business, so I can quit my boring IT job. :)
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