Friday, April 10, 2009

I Need a New Shop

Another comic book and hobby shop is closing the doors.

Between classes yesterday I had a little free time so I drove over to the comic book shop where I get my books. As I pulled into the parking lot I noticed all the lights were off. At first I though they might have changed their business hours and were now closed on Thursday, which seemed odd. I was just about to turn my car around and head back to class when I noticed the sign in the door. The shop was going out of business!

I've been going to Pulp Heroes for the better part of a decade and I've been happy buying my product there. Is it the greatest shop I've ever been in? No. It is a fairly small shop, in an old strip mall, right next door to a Mexican restaurant/grocery. They often had to special order books I wanted because the selection of books on the shelf was pretty much the most popular indie and mainstream books, but there was nothing wrong with that. My taste in reading material does not stray too far from the mainstream superhero books. When you compared my little shop to some of the larger, chain owned shops across the river, they may not have seemed so great. I have heard some customers complained it was too dark and cramped, but I never noticed. If anyting I liked the atmosphere of the shop and I liked the people.

They didn't carry a lot in the way of gaming material, mostly just comics and action figures, but I still found some great deals on RPG books, such as the Authority RPG I got for $5. They also carried Heroclix, Magic and Pokemon cards and that is pretty much it. Still I really liked my little shop and didn't want to go anywhere else.

In this economy and with stores closing all across the country I don't guess I should be surprised, but I most definitely was. There always seemed to be a small, but steady stream of customers going in and out, so I never considered they fact they would close. I guess you just never think it will happen to you.

I bought my books at Pulp Heroes for so long for several reasons. First it was convenient, it was really the closest shop I knew of, I went by it on my way home from work and they were always really nice to me. I've seen quite a few guys behind the counter over the years, most of whose names I honestly can't remember right now, but every time I walked in I was greeted with "Hi Mike." It was kind of like Cheers, everyone knew my name.

If I missed a book that should have been in my pull file, the owner, or one of his employees always made sure I got it. Even if they had to give me one of the higher priced variants at cover price. They would pull books for me that I didn't normally buy just because they thought I might like it, or it had an appearance by a character I really liked. I wasn't obligated to buy these extra issues, they put them in my file just in case I wanted them. They actually took the time to do that and I appreciated it.

So, stunned, I sat there in the parking lot trying to figure out how to get my comics. I considered all the shops across the river in Louisville. Then I thought about how much farther I would have to drive and quickly dismissed the idea. I figured I would just be stuck ordering my gaming and comic books online, beefing up my my mail subscriptions and even *gasp* buying more pdfs and subscribing to digital comics. I was not a happy camper but I had class in less than an hour, so decided to head back to campus.

On my way I suddenly remembered another shop that wasn't too far from my old shop. I had completely forgotten Empire Comics and hadn't been in that shop in years. So I drove around for a little bit, until I remembered where they were. They were open!

I went in, and was instantly struck by how many customers were inside. It was almost crowded. I met the owner, who was a really nice guy and he told me that he was picking up a lot of new business because of the closing of my old shop.

Now the comic selection was comparable to that of Pulp Heroes, but Empire also has a lot of gaming stuff. They run tournament games, I think only Magic and D&D, which means they have a game room for people to gather and play. Which means I may be able to get in on some games.

When I filled out the form to make sure my weekly comics were pulled, the owner described his program to me. Everything is pretty much computerized or automated in some way. He sends out weekly emails telling you what is coming out the following week. If you see something on the list that you want him to pull, email him back and let him know. He also sends out an excel spreadsheet letting you know what is in the Previews catalog. All you have to do is fill in what you want, send it back to him and he can order that stuff for you too. On top of that he sends out a Dungeons & Dragons newsletter. Did I mention he also has a website where you can order and a message board? Can't make it into the shop for a while? Call him, use your credit card and he will ship your books to you.

Needless to say I was shocked. I haven't seen this kind of attention and customer service in any shop I've ever visited. I honestly began to feel guilty. I was genuinely excited about the new shop and felt like I was betraying a friend by consorting with the competition, changing my allegience.

I sincerely will miss my old shop and have many fond memories of my time as a customer there. It is always sad to see an "old friend" go, and even more saddening to know that someone who was living most fanboys' dream, just saw that dream fall apart. I wish the PH crew the best of luck and hope to see the shop reopen sometime in the future.

Despite the tragic story of another shop disappearing, there is a bright side to this. Business just increased for another shop, meaning he will be in business that much longer. Hopefully, I'll be happy with my new shop and won't need to look for another new shop for many years to come.

Another Legend Passes

Dungeons & Dragons co-creator Dave Arneson dead at 61

Dave Arneson, born in 1947, an American game designer, teacher and entrepreneur and the co-creator of the seminal Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game, passed away on Tuesday, April 7, after a long battle with cancer. He is survived by his wife and daughter.

He met up with Gary Gygax at the second official Gencon. From there they decided to write Dungeons & Dragons. Since they were unable to find a publisher they started TSR and published the book themself.

It saddens me to see the founders of such a wonderful game and genre passing. Over the years greed, lack of leadership, and lack of concern of the product has driven fans away. Plus technical advances in society, video games, and tv have prevented new fans from flocking to the game. It is almost like living in a d&d world were the Gods have left us to fend for ourselves.

I send my best wishes to his wife and daughter

Jason James

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

WotC drops pdf, Other Publishers Try to Draw in Customers

As anyone who reads the RPG blogs knows WotC pulled all of its pdf products from every online distributor with almost no advance notice. To make matters worse, fans who previously bought WotC products as pdf's have lost the ability to redownload their books from the sites where they bought them. Though pdf's can technically last forever, as they only exist in digital form, this decision means that if your hard drive crashes and you didn't back up your pdf's, they are lost forever and you wasted good money. WotC cited piracy as the basis of the decision but some think it was, as Geek Related put it, just a "dick move" by the industry giant.

While it has been said that this decision may benefit brick and mortar stores, which is a good thing, it has also further lessened the image people have of the company. Because WotC has seemingly shown little regard for its partners and fans with some of their choices over the past few years (lying to fans, laying off good employees, cease and desist letters to fan sites, suspending publication of magazines, pulling licenses, etc.), their image has been tarnished substantially in the eyes of many. This is just another reason for fans to turn to some of the other companies that put out quality products

As one of the companies affected by WotC's decision, the former publisher of 3e products, Paizo, is offering 35% off Pathfinder pdf products in retaliation, according to ICv2. White Wolf, who some consider to be #2 in the RPG industry, is offering the second edition of Exalted free through RPG now and if you use the code, wwlovesyou, (expires April 12) you can also get a one time, 10% discount on any White Wolf pdf. Green Ronin, makers of the Mutants & Masterminds RPG, are now offering their True 20 pdf for $9.99, likely in an attempt to take advantage of fans' response to WotC's decision.

WotC, and by default Hasbro, may hold the license to the biggest name in the RPG industry, but with so many complaints arising since the announcement of 4e, I wonder how long before a competitor steps into the top spot. Right now any lessening of the brand is detremental to the industry, since a very large portion of new rpg gamers get their start playing Dungeons & Dragons. If long time fans begin turning away from the game that started the hobby, and a lesser known brand takes top spot, will the new top dog have what it takes to draw in new players? Or will D&D remain the game that brings in the ever dwindling new gamer, while experienced players support another system? I almost hope that Paizo, Green Ronin, Kenzer or one of the many other quality game producers does have what it takes to knock WotC down a peg of two, draw in new gamers, and hopefully breath new life in to the hobby.

While WotC says they are not abandoning the idea of digital distribution of their products, they will be doing it on their terms from now on. Given the companies near inability to follow through on any digital initiative they have attempted, DDi still isn't what they promised and it's been almost a year since 4e's release, I tend to think they may have bitten off more than they can chew once again. However, this time the fans may not be as forgiving.

For a list of other pdf deals from some of the other great RPG companies out there, in response to WotC's decision, check out the great post over at Mad Brew Labs.
I also recommend reading the 10 Theories About WotC's Bonehead Decision as well as this post from RPGpundit