Friendly Local Game Stores (FLGS) are more than just places where we buy games. In the last decade or so they’ve become vital nodes in our global community of gamers, where people go to meet and play with other gamers, to find out what’s hot at the moment, and generally hang out with friends. To get the perspective from the other side of the counter I caught up with Simom Waugh, co-owner of Gatekeeper Games in North Fitzroy, to find out just what it’s like to run a FLGS.
GvP: I’m interviewing Simon Waugh, co-owner of Gatekeeper Games in North Fitzroy, Melbourne, Australia. Thanks for being on Games vs Play, Simon.
SW: Not a problem at all.
SW: That’s right.
GvP: So is there in fact a multidimensional gateway hidden somewhere in the building that you’re not telling us about?
SW: [Pauses] Well, I can’t actually answer that question without answering the question. Soooo … I guess I would have to refuse to answer the question, wouldn’t I? There are certainly some secret, staff only areas in the store. That’s all I can say. As to what’s inside those staff areas, I’ll leave that up to your imagination.
GvP: Some mysteries are best left untouched. So where does the name come from?
SW: To be honest, it was a bit of a mish-mash. When we were originally looking at starting the store, both Paul and myself – Paul is the co-owner – were just throwing names out there, writing them on paper wherever we happened to be, and every time we got together we’d look at the names and try to get them down to a short list. [Gatekeeper Games] was literally a mash-up of two of the names we both really liked. The funny thing is, I seriously think we had more discussions on the name of the store than pretty much any other aspect. It was more of a drawn out process than naming my two children. [Both laugh]
GvP: That’s great! What do you like about the name?
SW: From my point of view, the one thing I wanted – and maybe it sounds obvious – was “games” in the title. So, whenever people are looking for us online or a directory anywhere, we have “games” in the title. In terms of the “Gatekeeper” element, it harkens back to the old roleplaying days – like the “dungeonmaster”-type thing. There was also the fun Ghostbusters element to it as well – you know, the keymaster and gatekeeper thing. There were lots of visual things that came out of it as well – a gateway into different games, and the keeper of games. It was just a lot of little things that spun out of that name rather than, say, “Bob’s Games Store,” or something like that, which is pretty ordinary and pretty boring.
GvP: And inaccurate, because Bob doesn’t own the store.
SW: Correct! Not that we know of, anyway. [Both laugh]
GvP: Yeah, good! What made you decide to open a games store?
SW: Er, stupidity? No, no, no. Obviously it went hand in hand with liking games. Between us we had a huge amount of retail experience. And personally for myself I’d had some time off work, because I was a househusband for a couple of years. So I had this quote-unquote “bright idea” of opening a games shop. I mentioned it to my wife Rachel, and at that point I thought that was going to be the end of the conversation. But she was very supportive and said, “That’s not a bad idea, we should explore it.” So I brought it up with Paul, and coincidentally he’d had pretty much the same thought. So we did a little bit of research, and some due diligence to work out if it was actually going to be practical and viable and economical, and all that sort of boring stuff. That took a little while, and once we thought, “Ok, it’s actually not as stupid an idea as we thought,” we went further. Once it actually started happening, it happened very, very fast. From the time we made the decision to the time we opened it was maybe only four or five months.
GvP: You mentioned before that back in the day you played roleplaying games. How long have you been into tabletop games?
SW: Back as a kid I would’ve played Cluedo and Risk and things like that, so pretty much from day dot. And obviously the staples like Monopoly and Pay Day. Then when I was a bit older I got into card games, the CCG glut back in the ‘90s shortly after Magic came out. There was a bucketload of games that came out at that point, quite a lot of them were absolutely dreadful and absolute dross. But there were a few that were really good that I still play to this day. Around that time I got into roleplaying as well – D&D and Vampire and Call of Cthulhu, and a couple of others. We had a really good group, probably half-a-dozen to a dozen guys that played pretty regularly. It’s been on and off throughout my life, it sort of comes and goes depending on “real life”, work and family, but it’s always been there. In the last five to six years I’ve really got back into it properly. With the resurgence of boardgames in particular I’ve started getting into boardgames a lot more, ‘cos there’s just so much cool stuff coming out. And then more recently in the last couple of year I decided to get into miniatures, because you know, I didn’t have enough time on my hands, apparently! I like all aspects of the tabletop stuff, if it’s a good game I like to play it regardless of what it is.
GvP: What are some of your favourite games at the moment?
SW: Certainly regulars of the store will know this, but my favourite boardgame now of all time is Dead of Winter. I haven’t played D&D 5th Edition properly yet, but from what I’ve seen I’ve really liked. Eldritch Horror, I really enjoy that even though it’s like a four-hour, all-day or all-night thing. It’s a lot of those big, epic games that I really love. I have to admit that I’m more of an Ameritrash fan. At the same time I’m discovering the Euro style as well. But Fantasy Flight Games, pretty much anything they do is towards the top of my list.
GvP: I think we have similar tastes.
SW: Yeah, FFG is on absolute roll at the moment. I don’t think they’ve done anything wrong for a very long time. Game of Thrones is an absolutely brilliant LCG. All their LCGs are brilliant – they’re all excellent games and they’re all very different. Star Wars Rebellion and Imperial Assault are probably the ones I play more often. The only reason I don’t play X-Wing is that I don’t have the time. But if I had the time, I could see myself having way too many X-Wing ships sitting on the shelves. I’m going through a Magic phase at the moment, which I do every now and then. And a lot of the little games I’m enjoying too. Hey, That’s My Fish!, Coup, and Resistance, and a lot of those inbetweener games. Marrying Mr Darcy is at the top of my list of wanting to play at the moment, because I’ve had no chance to play it but everyone’s absolutely loving it. It’s the typical thing – too many games and not enough time.
GvP: What’s been really popular with the people coming into the shop?
SW: In terms of boardgames you have your staples like Catan and Ticket to Ride, which always sell. There’s certainly other games too which aren’t going to be a big surprise – every time we get Pandemic Legacy it flies out the door. Mysterium, Dead of Winter, those sort of big selling games. We’ve tried to focus on some of the Australian games as well. I don’t do a blanket “buy everything Australian,” but I’ve got a soft spot for the Australian games, and if they’re good Australian games, well priced, well-made, then we’ll get it in. A lot of the Aussie games that we’ve had come through have been really, really good. The Grail stuff has been excellent, Elevenses in particular has gone bonkers. And then there’s the Rule & Make guys who do Robots & Rockets and Entropy and Rise to Power. The other big one for us is X-Wing. X-Wing is just ridiculously bonkers in terms of the number of people playing it, the stock we have to get, things like that. It’s the number 1 selling miniatures game in the world, and it’s definitely the number 1 game for us overall.
GvP: Awesome. Now, the next one is a big question – what do you think is the role of the Friendly Local Games Store in the gaming world, and in the gaming community?
SW: That’s a really good question. From my point of view, the biggest thing I wanted to do going into the shop was to introduce the hobby to as many new people as possible. When a lot of people think boardgames, they think of Monopoly, which is arguably one of the worst games ever made. If people want to play it that’s fine, that’s not a problem at all, but at the same time there’s so many awesome games out there. One of the biggest reactions we’ve had since we opened is when people come in here and expect to see Monopoly and Scrabble, and then they see the massive range out there. And you see those people take the steps from the gateway games into the more “gamey” games. One of the things I’m happiest about is the number of people who come in here and ask our advice on what’s a good game. It’s kind of cool that people trust us to that extent. And from a boring, business and economic point of view, you have to go with the market. We’re not directly in competition with any other games stores – there’s obviously other stores around us, but I don’t see them as direct competition – but at the same time if we don’t grow the market, none of us are going to grow as a business either. So you have to introduce games to new people from a purely business and financial business point of view as well. Grow the market and hopefully the rest will look after itself, is the theory.
GvP: What sort of events have you put on here that have been really well received?
SW: Events in general are one of the things that when we opened the store we didn’t expect to play such a key part. A lot of my time is spent organizing events, and it drives the business and drives interest in what we do. You’ve got all your standard stuff – regular weekly nights for Magic, X-Wing, Game of Thrones and things like that. Thrown in there we’ve got the bigger events like International Tabletop Day and Free RPG Day. Very shortly after we opened was International Tabletop Day 2015, and even though we were only a couple of months old it was a great success. We loved the day, so we thought why wait 12 months to do it again? and literally started our own mini-convention, which we imaginatively called Gatecon. The first one had about 20-30 people, and it’s grown pretty much every time. We do that every 3 months, and it’s just literally 12 hours of gaming. That’s proved really popular. And then we just try to muck around with different things as well. We had a massive New Year’s Eve event last year, which was really popular. That was a combination of, believe it or not, cabaret show, murder mystery, and laser tag – all in one night.
SW: That went really well. And we had a Full Moon event, which was basically a sleepover or a lock-in, depending on how you want to see it. That started at 10:30 at night and went through to 10:30 the next morning. So people were able to play for 12 hours straight overnight! By the time I got home I worked out I’d been at the store for just under 30 hours – that’s not something you’re gonna do every week! It was a huge amount of fun but yeah, I’m getting too old for that shit! [both laugh]. But yeah, a lot people seem to look forward to the events. We’re starting to introduce school holiday stuff as well because there are a lot of schools in the area. We’re starting to do little “Learn to Play” events to introduce this stuff to the kids as well.
GvP: That’s great. So, would you say the tabletop gaming community is big in Melbourne?
SW: I think so. It’s still obviously a niche market, it’s not, you know, AFL or anything like that. But it’s definitely growing, it’s definitely there. There’s a lot people who love their social gaming. In terms of people coming out to venues like us and the other stores, I know numbers are growing all the time. People are realizing there’s a lot more out there than Monopoly. The other thing I found really interesting is that a lot of guys in their 20s and 30s who maybe played video games for 10-15 years are just sick of that. I’m not saying they don’t play video games at all any more, but they might play a couple of video games a year rather than every month, and they’re spending the rest of the time playing tabletop games. And that’s what they want, instead of sitting in front of the TV screen. So I wouldn’t say there’s been a backlash, but definitely a swing back to the old-school gaming, which is really cool.
GvP: Yeah. Alright, final question is: if you could encapsulate it in one sentence, what would be your advice to someone who said, “Hey, I want to set up my own friendly local games store”?
SW: Um … [ponders for a moment] Make sure you have a plan. Just because you like games doesn’t mean you’re gonna run a successful business, and I think that goes for every business be it comics or games or whatever. Make sure you have a plan for at least a couple of years, realise that you’re not going to become a millionaire doing it, and do everything you can to promote the hobby. If the hobby is growing, then the rest should theoretically take care of itself. Look after the hobby, look after the games, and look after the people who come into your store. Either that, or just don’t do it!
GvP: That’s great advice. Actually I will ask you just one more question. How do you pronounce “Cthulhu’? We’re doing a poll with everybody’s who’s played Call of Cthulhu.
SW: I pronounce it “Kuh-thool-hoo.” I mean, that’s how I’ve taught the kids to say it.
GvP: It’s important to pass this knowledge on to the next generation.[Simon’s daughter, who’s been listening to the last part of our conversation, starts singing “Kuh-thool-hoo, kuh-too-loo!”]
SW: But I’ve only ever said “Kuh-thool-hoo.” Are there any other variations?
SW’s daughter: Kuh-NOO-NOO!
GvP: Yeah, there’s a number of different ways of saying it. I say “Kuh-thool-hoo.”
SW: So we’re right, and everyone else is wrong.
SW’s daughter: What about “Kuh-nee-soo”?
SW: That could work.
GvP: Did you mean “khaleesi?” Oh hang on, that’s a different story …
SW: Yeah, that’s something else. [To his daughter] Yeah, you’re not gonna watch that just yet.
GvP: Probably with good reason.
SW: Maybe in a few years.
Games vs Play would like to thank Gatekeeper Games for permission to use images appearing in this post. Gatecon Spring will be taking place Saturday 12 November at Gatekeeper Games, 323-327 St Georges Rd, Fitzroy North Victoria 3068.
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