By Kingsley Montgomery
Paladin Tech & Game
Though a similar phrase has fallen into ill repute of late (and rightly so), there is a lot to be said for spreading games around. In fact, not only does it make good business sense for a game store, it is also good for the industry at large.
It starts with kids in Elementary or Middle School. This age group is overly sensitized to digital media and video games, which are just too much of a temptation for parents to overuse to keep those pesky kids quiet. Reaching them has become increasingly difficult for the table-top game industry. Our problem is similar to the novel publishing industry – why actually read when you can play the video game or watch the movie? Many of these boggle-eyed video drones do not understand that novels are universally better than their digital counterparts, and the same is often true of games. The average video gamer plays a video game for 18 days. The average table top gamer plays a game for 18 years (okay, not scientific, but if you were to analyze this, I am sure it would be an even larger disparity). Another negative aspect of digital mania is that these kids don’t get out much – so how will they know your store even exists?
What do we in the analog game industry care? Well – do you want your store or your favorite analog game to exist in another 10 years? If the answer is “yes” then you’d better care! How does a game store reach out to these kids? Simple really, but you may not like the answer: schools.
Paladin Tech & Game has been a Partner in Education (PIE) with several local schools since we opened nearly five years ago. This is a good first step to building relationships with academia. PIE programs vary in form, depending on the school district, but most have a dedicated PIE representative (usually a teacher). Find out who that is by calling the school, then phone them and let them know you are interested in helping them out as a partner business. That will open the door to everything from after-school leagues to being able to pass out flyers to the kids. Of course, the school will expect something in return – usually giving them coupons, small donations, or help with an event of theirs, all of which can be leveraged to advertise your games!
Another good way to get in with the schools is to sponsor game clubs. Over the last few years, we have conducted numerous “game days” in conjunction with after-school programs (at the schools), which are very popular. The best target ages for this is middle school and high school. Again, contact the right person and you can get a lot done – finding the right person is often the hard part, though a simple call to the school should point you in the right direction. For older kids (high school), it is easier. You probably have some of them as regulars already. Just ask them to help you find the right school contacts. Failing that, set up a meeting with the principal.
Paladin also conducts week-long game summer camps at the store. These activities introduce kids 9-13 to the wonderful world of table top gaming, and allow parents to see the benefits. As entertaining as video games and movies can certainly be, their impact on education is often limited.
Analog games have a higher learning component since they regularly require things like speech, reading, and math, not to mention healthier social interaction.
Enter Kaijudo. After a hit-and-miss run with encouraging kids to play Pokémon (which still remains popular, in general), we had a surge in the amount of interest generated by Kaijudo, a game that has been around awhile but whose US popularity is fairly recent. Kaijudo is an attractive game. It has art elements that merge the oft-overused Japanese Anime style with more realistically proportioned Western styles. It is a simple game to understand and play, and yet provides a wide range of viable strategies. There is even a cartoon for it on the Hub cable channel.
One middle school that we work with now has two dozen new players, and we are trying to tap into more schools and set up inter-school competitions. We got in with them because they are in our neighborhood, and we are Partners in Education with them. I contacted their extended-day coordinator (their fancy word for after school programs), offered to do a game club, and was offered the opportunity to try it out a week later. It became popular enough to do every week.
Before long, kids that have never read a thing outside of school are reading the flavor text and rules on hundreds of cards. Those that could barely count in class are adding, subtracting, and multiplying with abandon. Others that had trouble communicating with their fellow human beings (in real life) learn to speak better and improve sportsmanship. They begin to think more logically, and learn to piece together strategies.
What just happened? You just interested the kids. Better than that – you just interested them in learning through gaming, something that will stick with many of them their entire lives (especially the more creative ones) meaning you created a new customer for the long term.
So, the intrepid adventurers at Paladin resisted the temptation to shut our doors to this often troublesome and attention-deficit age-group. Instead, we opened them wide and offered league nights just for kids. And it has paid off, both in volume of people in the store and in revenues. It may be a challenge to find employees willing to take games to an elementary or middle school, but it is worth the effort, and well worth the extra hours of payroll. After all, many of the kids that start playing in this age group will become analog gamers for life (of course, they will also be digital gamers – the best of both worlds).