[Musings of a Frugal Gamer] Paying Where You’re Playing

People like me exist in an awkward relationship with people like Lo.

On the one hand you have a group of people whose raison d’etre, or at least whose everyday living, comes from being enthusiastic about a wide range of games and game-related produce, and communicating enough of that enthusiasm to their victims customers to induce purchasing. On the other, you have a group of people who are defined by their bone-deep resistance to hype, their inimical opposition to impulse buying, their allegiances to the secondary market and the third party manufacturer, and a general reluctance to purchase anything that they haven’t angsted over the potential input/output reward of for six months prior to levering their wallets open.

This can result in a little tension.

Rolling up to the Friendly Local Game Shop with no intention of spending any money there feels… a bit weird, to put it mildly. It is, after all, a retail space, even if games are being played there; the owner isn’t running a social club, are they? Doing this time and again, week after week, crosses a line from ‘weird’ to ‘downright rude’ – you’re playing games here, you’re using their space, and you’re not putting any money into the business to justify your use of its resources. Frankly, it’s parasitic.

It’s also a bit balls from your perspective. Nothing brings home your status as a grubby pov quite so sharply as being around other people who are freely spending money. Watching people buy Colossals while you’re shaking your head and going “I dunno, I could get into a whole new game for that kind of money”, or setting down your 40K army that hasn’t seen a new recruit since the Dark Eldar were the new kids on the block and asking if you can borrow a rulebook “’cause I can’t justify dropping forty-five quid on something I only play three times a year” isn’t especially fun, particularly if you’re interested in the competitive side of things but know you can’t keep up with the development-curve-riding Joneses.

It’s this sort of thing which has, in the past, tended to drive me into the arms of unaffiliated clubs; organisations which aren’t tied to a retail space and don’t have that same implicit awkwardness of being in a place where purchases are induced to happen and not purchasing anything. I’d rather pay for my table time and quiet my conscience that way than play for ‘free’ and pay for it in guilt. On the occasions when I’ve been too hard up to spring even for table time, it’s been back to the garage gaming for me – or it would have been if I’d ever had a garage. Shh.

This is about as good as it gets for me.

Some shops, like the one where I play most of my Warmachine these days, charge folks for table time. One that I’ve visited even has a policy of charging miniatures gamers (who take up a lot of space per pair, and don’t tend to buy things every time they’re in) but letting CCGers in for free (they pack better, and they’ll tend to buy a booster no matter what). It’s a leery policy until you realise that it’s based on the sales figures and has, in fact, been well thought out. I’d prefer a more equitable ‘you can buy something or pay for the table’ policy across the board, but what the hell.

Anyway, this sort of thing settles my guts to the point where I can get out of the house and meet new people occasionally (which is nice, given that these games we play do tend to require other people), but tends to provoke some grumbles from friends and learned colleagues of the tabletop. Many of the gamers I know would quite happily stump up the same costs for access to the local club; there seems to be a sense of entitlement surrounding the shop table, a sense that paying to play in a retail space is somehow bad form.

I can understand that – sort of. There are enticements to spend all over the place, after all – those tables are put there not for the sake of having games played there but to encourage and motivate spending… no, okay, that’s being unfair to Lo and her kind. They’re put there because community is important and playing games is important and because they encourage people to impulse-buy things in the afterglow of some engaging nerd-fun. The point is that it’s expected that the game shop doesn’t charge for table space – I don’t know if that’s a thought-out, considered expectation based on the “well we’re going to spend money in there anyway” observation, or whether it’s just based on that being the way GW does things. What with GW being the formative experience for many gamers and all it’s bound to set a few standards and expectations for people.

Thing is, though, there are a lot of people like me about. People who don’t like to spend money, but do like to play games. Something has to be done about us. We eat up floor space that could be occupied by more profitable customers. We frequently preach the Frugal faith and discourage ill-advised spending with remarks like “well, it’s your money, but I don’t think three Vindicators are going to solve your army’s problems” or “I’d check Bartertown first if I were you”. And we frequently have an expectation that we’ll be allowed to play in the shop without spending money in the shop, because there’s that weird pile-up between ‘retail space’ and ‘social space’ at work. It’d be awkward charging us an entry fee (just to get into a shop! madness!) but charging us for the use of the table seems entirely justified given that it might be the only money the shop gets out of us for months on end. It’s just a shame that it still manages to set my frugal senses tingling – after all, I can play at home for free, and I won’t feel guilty about most of my army coming from swapsies.

Shame about the Mangler, but you get what you pay for, right?

How does your local nerd emporium manage the tension with tightwads? Do you pay to play, or do you pay where you play? Do you feel the creeping shame of limping into the store with a case full of eBay goodies?

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