Monday, July 13, 2015

Teach A Man To FIsh.....Building A Better Game Community

I have had a lot on my mind as of late.  I started a new job at a growing game store in Battle Creek Michigan.  One of the main things that I was hired for was to help build the war games community at the store and in the area in general.  I started doing what I normally do and started talking to all the players that played regularly in the store.  I wanted to gauge where the community stood at that particular moment in time.  As I talked to people, I started to really think about how I would build the community.  I looked at the thriving community that had built up in Lansing and tried to break down exactly what things were in place that made the community grow to the level that it was at.  To build a good community you need time and patience and there are a few other key things you need to make it happen.

Location, Location, Location!
Be it a store or somebodies garage you need a rally point for the community.  A place to meet is really only the first step though.  I find a store is the best place to meet up as they are always open regular hours and its easier to host a group in a public location, especially when you are trying to draft new players.  The choice of store is important though

A good FLGS not only has product for the games you want to grow, but they will have space and tables to play on.  A shop owner or manager who is worth his salt will recognize the need for play space and try to accommodate players.  Sometimes you do need to take it upon yourself to improve the play space though.  Game stores can be lacking in staff and manpower.  You need both to really get terrain and tables built.  I have rallied the troops in the past to help out stores needing terrain and tables built.  Most shops will be happy to supply the materials if you are supplying the labor.

The location of the store is also important.  If its in the middle of nowhere and its hard for people to get to it, this could be the major issue facing community growth.  If you have a good store, but its out of the way, you have to make it appealing enough to make the trip.  This all feeds into the other points I am going to make.  Product, Gaming space and terrain and regular events all help build community and make a shop that's out of the way a destination location for gamers.

Regular events
Tournaments and one off events are always fun for players.  To foster community you should be doing a couple of these kind of events every month.  More importantly to fostering a community is to have regular weekly events or game nights.  Designating a day for a particular game or activity is really essential.  Not only does this give your core and regular players a set time to plan around, it also allows new players to be able to just show up.  If there is a regular posted night for a particular game or activity it is easier for new players to come in and see games being played.  Having a forum, facebook group or other social media platform to coordinate games and nights also helps a lot.  It allows for quick advertising and reaches players that word of mouth might not reach.

Game nights may start out slow and you may not even have people show up, but do not lose hope.  stay the course and be there ready to play.  Work on models or other things related to the game.  The act of painting or putting together models for a game may peak somebodies interest.

Be A Leader!
One thing I have always noticed is that every successful community has a "Leader".  A community leader is not what you think though.  A community leader is somebody who is excited about games and gets everybody else excited.  They lead by example.  They paint and hobby, they play and above all they help the other players.  Volunteer reps, like WarCors, Vanguards, Henchman and Press Gangers are in prime positions to help foster a community.  They can lead or help community leaders get things going.  Basically the leader is a cheer leader.  Enthusiasm and inclusion is very important.  All to often I see "Leaders" who make it difficult for new players to be included.  People who others have rallied around, but are actually toxic to the community and future growth.  This can be because they make new players feel excluded or they run events targeted only at a small niche of players.  They can also be fixated on only one game.  New blood and fresh perspectives keep a community exciting and fresh.

Many stores may have gaming clubs at them.  Although this is common in Europe and elsewhere, its not so common in the United States.  I am not a big fan of clubs which only play one game or play games only by one company.  Its all well and good if people like one game, but much like religion its not cool if you try and push that game on everybody, even if they are not interested in it.  If there is a club at your local shop check them out and see what they are all about.  Not all clubs are bad, in fact a lot are great and really work with the local stores and players to grow the community.  Clubs with good working relationships with stores are awesome. Stores are way more likely to carry product for a game if there is a big base of players ready to play it, but you have to be careful.

Models and gaming aides are important as are their availability.  Stores will support games that have a good community and it can be a challenge to get them to carry product for new games.  It is a monetary investment for the store in question so it can be a gamble.  As we know gamers can have game A.D.D. and the FLGS is the primary victim in this.  I find that the best way to get stores on board is to run demos of the game you want there in store on nights other war gamers are present.  Advertise it and have the store do the same.  Sometimes you have to blaze a trail.  Most war gamers play a couple different games.  This is how you introduce more games.  Play a game others are already playing and introduce other games to them.  Grow the community for game A while introducing game B.  This potentially brings players into both games.

Consistency and reliability is the foundation of a good relationship with a FLGS.  Do what you say you are going to do and back it up with actions and results.  Once trust and a relationship is established  do not do anything to jeopardize it.  Do not say you can bring in 40 players for an event and then fail to get even 10.  Start small and build it up.  Don't over reach and take on more than you can handle.

My two cents.  My apologies though as I wish I could have quantified my thoughts better.  This is a topic that I could probably write a whole paper on.  Its the foundation of our whole hobby.

Until next time..........

Crush the Alliance and as always......


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