Getting gamers in
(Revised January 2015)
I’ve been gaming in various venues as part of ORC Edinburgh, and what follows maybe something of personal observations. It’s basically about the places I’ve gamed and some of my experiences at these places, and what I’d prefer to have in a venue. I’m pretty certain that some folk will empathise with what I’m talking about. If you run a venue and want to get a society or group in, then you might want to think about what I mention here (not just gamers).
Having a gaming group play in a venue makes financial sense, considering that you have six or more people clustered around a table (in the case of RPG groups). They’re likely to be there for a few hours, often during quiet times if a venue serves food or drink. There’s a better-than-average chance they’ll buy a lot of food and drink too – playing RPGs (and running them) is hungry and thirsty work! A game in session also gives the place a busier vibe than just a few folk sitting around.
This is not exactly a “code of conduct”, but could be construed as a foundation for a “best practice” agreement between a group and a venue.
Space. Space to play is essential. It is all very well getting large tables (wargamers and board gamers especially need these) but if there’s very little space between each group it can become impossible to hear what folk are saying, and can become a shouting match with the other group(s) – not ideal if you’re running an RPG. The seats need to be comfortable, and not hard wooden benches, as they will be used for a long period. Being able to rearrange the furniture shouldn’t be a problem. There should also be enough tables to play on and still have non-gamer customers too. Ideally, RPG sessions need their own space away from loud music or live sport (worth bearing in mind for pubs).
Cleanliness. If you want folk to feel comfortable in a venue, make sure it is clean. Seriously. I shouldn’t have to say this. At the very least the toilets should be cleaned regularly (both Male and Female) and be functional – at least one Edinburgh venue didn’t do this, and it turned into a manky hole. If food is served, the serving area should be spotless, or at least the area that prepares/serves food. At the very least some ventilation is necessary, especially in the summer. It’d be nice if gamers also made sure they bathed regularly and used deodorant, but sadly there’s often one who doesn’t.
Food. Gamers traditionally don’t eat healthily, but that’s no reason to feed them poor quality food. Yes, they do eat chips and burgers, not “fine dining”. Gamers have a preference for certain kinds of food – soup, nachos, chilli fries, gourmet burgers, pizza. Desserts like cheesecake or hot puddings are popular too. Make them good quality; you’ll sell more – and word gets around. As gamers often tend to order food at the same time it is worth having some kind of numbering system for orders (e.g. a number-on-a-stick or plastic number you sometimes see in pubs). A venue that sells hot food needs to be meticulous about hygiene, and need to make sure food is heated properly (see Cleanliness above). At least two venues I know of in the past have given folk food poisoning (one of those suffering was myself), possibly because all they did was reheat the food. Not eating there again, and I make a point of telling folk why. It’s also a good idea to make clear the policy on cleanup. I always ask my groups to clean up after themselves (including empty wrappers and plates etc.), but it helps to make it clear from the outset.
Drink. If you’re serving alcohol, it’s always a good idea to check if any of the gaming group are under 18 (or 21 in some places). Try and set some clear guidelines for a group in these cases (e.g. under-18s cannot sit in the bar area, but can order food). Will bar staff come and collect empty glasses, or should the group themselves do it? As with Food above, it’s usually best if groups clean up after themselves but it is a good idea to make this clear. Also, many gamers have a liking for cask beers or similar other than the usual brewery fare so it may be worth a a thought (and may get other custom such as real-ale drinkers). Cocktails are pretty much a no-no, but soft drinks are also good (many gamers will drink these rather than alcohol).
Communication. Vital on both sides. Make sure the venue and group have a Group Contact. Someone the venue can deal with personally, either by phone, email, or PM (or all the above). It’s IMMENSELY frustrating for a group to turn up to find that they can’t use a venue. If a venue has an event going that might impact a group’s attendance (e.g. use of a function room), make sure you let the Group Contact know well in advance. It’s also worth pointing out that if gamers are in another part of the building, some event managers may not like to share a venue they may have paid to use. It never hurts to let the venue staff know, and be aware of any potential problems (e.g. room use, music concert, etc.). If the venue is likely to be unavailable (such as during the Edinburgh Festival, for a wedding, or corporate event), let the Group Contact know – likewise if a room is needed earlier/later than normal.
Customer relations. Customers are customers, and there’s no reason to treat gamers any different. All too often gamers are treated as second-class citizens. We’re paying customers – often regular paying customers -and should be treated accordingly. I’ve had staff be openly rude to us in one venue – bang out of order, particularly since we had to pay to play. The fact that gaming groups can get loud and boisterous should be seen as adding character to the place: if it’s too loud, let the group know. If gamers have a block booking, honour it and let them get on with it, rather than badgering folk during the time they’ve booked. If you’re selling food make it clear to the groups that they can’t bring in food (or drink) from outside. Gamers can make for the best customers in smaller venues, and there’s no reason to treat them like crap. We may get the venue for free, but that’s no reason to run roughshod over gamers if there’s something else on.
One final thought: it’s a bad idea to rely purely on gamers for business, especially as they can be fickle at the best times. All too often groups are kicked out because they’re not buying food or drink in a venue. There’s a simple answer to this: flag this up with the Group Contact.
Ultimately, getting gamers in is no different to any other special crowd – real ale drinkers, live music, etc. – all it needs is a bit of forethought, and possibly some ground rules.