Comic Store in Your Future: Friday Nights Aren't Magic Anymore

Rod Lamberti of Rodman Comics writes weekly for Bleeding Cool. Find previous columns here.

I had a friend let me know that he went to visit his brother, and his brother talked him into going to a local store to play in a Star Wars Destiny tournament. It was $5 per person. He won first place and won four promo cards, and four booster packs along with some other material. Second place had two people tie for it. They won two promo cards and three boosters. Two tied for third place and won two promos and one booster each.

Five people played in the tournament, so the store made $25 in entry fees. Even my friend stated that if they didn't lose money for hosting the event, then they came pretty close to it.

As most people know, gaming is common nowadays in comic stores. Heck, people that have never heard of my store and just drive by and see the Rodman Comics sign stop in and just assume now that comic stores carry games.

Magic the Gathering sales years ago were a big boost for us. It was quite popular. Then I was talked into hosting Magic events. We were the first store to my knowledge in Ankeny to host Magic gaming. I did not understand why all the stores that hosted Magic in central Iowa hosted Friday Night Magic. I had ours on Saturdays. It did well. Then I had people tell me that we should have it on Fridays. I had Heroclixs back then on Fridays. But it all wasn't doing well. It was an excuse for people to hang out and play for next to nothing.

I talked with the makers of Magic the Gathering, Wizards of the Coast, and they told me they wanted Magic to be on Friday Nights because when people travel, they would know that local stores would have their Magic events on Friday Nights too. I thought that was pretty weak. I didn't see the need to have yet another store have Friday Night Magic on the same night all the other stores in central Iowa did. Then I was told if I did have Friday Night Magic, they would at no cost supply price support along with my store would be listed on their store finder website for free. For free? I thought, I can't even get Diamond Comics to list my store on their comic shop finder service for free, and I spend far more on comics than cards. I was sold.

Then I was told by Wizards of the Coast that Dungeon & Dragons encounters were for Wednesdays and had to be held on Wednesdays. I thought that was a foolish day to have it on. New comic day and D&D Encounters? I did try it for a while, and then when Wizards got cheap on D&D and stop sending physical copies of adventures for people to play on Wednesdays I dropped Wednesday D&D and moved D&D to Thursdays. Had a D&D group on Thursdays that went from playing for free to the ones that had pull boxes that were playing in the group abandoning their pull boxes. I told them that we would charge $3 for them to play three hours of D&D here. They disappeared. $3 was too much for them. Our D&D sales are currently the strongest than they ever have been, and we currently do not have a D&D group playing here. Selling books like the D&D Player's Handbook for $49.99 is a good thing.

Friday Night Magic is now something I debate about keeping. Magic sells. The casual player who never plays in Magic events is what drives sales for us. Wizards of the Coast had their own stores years ago, and even with their millions couldn't make a go of it. Yet, somehow they expect stores with a fraction of the money that they have to make a go of it.

Here is where it goes wrong for stores. Wizards of the Coast has three levels. We are in the second level. I have no interest in making it to the next level. In order to do that we would have to host more Magic gaming, and it is just a super waste of time and money for my store. Bigger, more established stores are able to host big events and draw big crowds in. They often have added prizes to the events out of the store's own pocket. Booster boxes, even. New stores are screwed. They have to start off on the first level and somehow bring in people since they are brand new, which can be quite challenging. So what can a new store do? Have very cheap events or even free events, which devalues having events for stores. They are not doing anything wrong. The new store is trying to fight to get noticed and draw in players.

Wizards of the Coast is not very encouraging in getting players to buy their own product at a store, oddly enough. They are more focused on how many people play instead of how much is spent. Basically butts in seats instead of buying their product.

Wizards of the Coasts have "judges" to run their events, which are "volunteers". I put both in quotes, since there is currently a lawsuit against Wizards of the Coast brought by "volunteer" judges for lost wages. But judges that run events don't care if any product is bought from a store. From Magic to Heroclix, judges couldn't care less if a store they are at makes any money. It isn't what they were taught.

In years past, when I went to the Gamma Trade Show (which I have decided not to this year) a common concern from other store owners was that players were just hanging out. From people that played Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, Heroclixs, Magic, and more. If they could hang out for nothing or next to nothing, they would.

I have cut back on Magic gaming events and have been debating about getting rid of Magic gaming events altogether.

I understand if stores are having trouble selling product that gaming can look like an attractive way to make money. We can sell, though. We can make more money just listing product online to sell at a fraction of the work and time it takes for hosting gaming.

Gaming is challenging. Currently our Heroclix group is a great group. An ideal group. They all get along. Play for fun. Support the store instead of the common gaming mentality of taking a store for everything a gamer can. Some of our current Heroclix players have pull boxes and clear them out when they come in to play, which is great. We have no Heroclix "judge".

That said, it could easily change. With gaming being open to the public, it could go backwards for us. A person who doesn't bathe may come in. An incredibly rude and hostile person may come in and rub the other players the wrong way. A cheap person may come in and question why on earth they'd spend money at the place they play at. All things that have happened in the past.

Large groups of people are somewhat like when a large group of family members get together. They all have something in common, but the more people there are, the less likely they will all get along.

I struggle with this a lot. On average, our comic customers and casual gamers come in spend roughly 15 minutes and spend more money than a gamer customer who is here to play events does. A gamer may spend three hours or more and not only spends less, but appreciates the store less than our average comic and casual gamer customers.

I understand that Wizards of the Coast, Wizkids (the makers of Heroclixs), and other gaming companies really don't care where people get their material as long as they are buying their product. If people are buying their product online and hanging out at a store for next to nothing, that isn't their problem. They are making money.

If the companies want small businesses to host gaming, they better give some more incentive. That cheapness mentality a diehard gamer learns means they keep spending less and less until they aren't even buying their product anymore.

Comic Store in Your Future: Friday Nights Aren't Magic Anymore

About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.