Over four decades I have taken part in games hosted in many different type of settings. As one of the first Coordinators for the Adventurers League, I helped to grow the Dungeons & Dragons hobby throughout Houston. The friends I’ve met at all the places I’ve played have been memorable and enjoyable, and I would not have met so many were it not for public play places. However, I’m realizing now that there’s a certain, ‘magic’, that seems to have left the play group, as I’ve seen more focus on public play over private play in the most recent years. I’d like to explore perhaps why that is.
A Not-So Brief History
The first games I rolled dice in were only ever hosted in private areas. The idea of playing at the game store, wasn’t even in an option in Houston, Texas, 1979. So by it’s very nature, the private games I was part of, were by invitation only, made up of friends who generally knew each other, and already got along well together. Those adventures helped lay the foundation for my expectations for all future games.
For me, public play wasn’t something that started until the 1990’s. In Abilene, Texas, we started BR&WL, and began playing at a computer store called the “Software Asylum”. They happened to have a large area of their store that accommodated up to 6 tables of players at once. We gathered once a month at the “Software Asylum” and played from Friday to Sunday evening, usually with very little sleep. Needless to say, BR&WL Gatherings were a blast!
However, private gaming was still dominate.
Public Game Rooms Look Cool!
There were a few Game Stores at that time that started building ‘Game Rooms’. They would sometimes rent them out for players, but I didn’t take advantage of them, nor did I see others doing so either.
When I left the Air Force, taking me away from BR&WL and Abilene, Texas, I traveled up and down the East Coast, adjusting back to civilian life. I came across game stores hosting more public events, but they were still at most 1 or 2 tables.
Then … “Magic the Gathering” happened!
The MAGIC of MTG
Game Stores, started using 50% or more of their floor space to give players a chance to card-flop with another. Keeping MTG players in a store for hours, buying more boosters to get a better deck, was a huge BOON to the entire gaming industry like many have never seen since.
Magic the Gathering not only grew the gaming hobby faster than any other game in one year, but also saw the first time that gamers actually, SPENT A LOT OF MONEY!
Before MTG, it was very hard to get players or new gamers to buy into collectible games like Games Workshop’s Warhammer Fantasy and 40K lines.
MTG proved that gamers HAD MONEY!
When MTG starting dying out, games stores were left with lots of open play space, and something new. A Group of ‘Regulars’.
The Game Store Regulars
Those Regular players starting migrating to other games. Some returned to RPG’s, and went back to playing and hosting games in private.
Others trying out table top battle games, like “Warhammer Fantasy Battles” and “Warhammer 40,000”, which by nature require more play space than most of us could offer at a private location.
These games not only used a LOT of space, they also involved lots of play hours, giving players a “Familiar Face”, at the game stores they played most.
Sometimes, perhaps, this wasn’t always a positive thing. The presence of “Regulars” at game stores, inadvertently created feeling of “clicks” within stores for new customers. It made it difficult for some new players to fit in, immediately, just as it made it more difficult for regulars to try out other games stores and meet new players.
The one time that players from all over a local area, would get out of their private or regular game groups and meet others were at Conventions. the late 90’s into the 2000’s saw a growth in this industry as well. Players looking to get together for a weekend without interruptions and just enjoy their hobby with old friends, and make perhaps some new ones.
I’ve helped organize several of these conventions in Texas and Florida, and have always welcomed the chance to get to meet new players, and the opportunity to grow the hobby.
In one case, I met a young couple who’s son told them, they had to check out this game called ‘DnD’. The parents has both played before, and quickly dove into enjoying the game with their son.
Within a few months, that family started a game store, “Golem’s Gate”, in Missouri City, Texas, and have keep the game-gathering idea alive and well.
Conventions absolutely gave gamers a chance to feel accepted, beyond the ‘Regulars’, and for all games to grow.
Forced to Play
The downside however, is that sometimes public play, also means “Forced Play”.
There are some Games Masters, who should be, and some players who lack the ability to be enjoyable. Public play venues, and organizations give bad apples a change to spoil the lot.
Even with as many friends as I’ve made at conventions I’ve seen players ostracized because they didn’t align with the political beliefs of the GM. I’ve had to personally get security involved with disruptive players.
I am not certain why it seems more prevalent at public play that these things happen.
Grow Up Dude
Perhaps, because those players weren’t able to mature in a private play group. Where players were kind of forced to be friendly and accept one another, in order to have fun and continue playing.
Private groups are some kind of kumbaya meeting, where everyone gets along. But there is more of a concerted effort to do so.
Public groups, allow for in and out players, that don’t care if they disrupt a game, as long as they get what they want. They’ll just move on to another game and another GM.
We all know the type.
Some of us are that type.
So Where to Play?
The short answer is BOTH!
You should look at hosting games publicly to support your “Friendly Local Game Store”, many of whom for several reasons, have a business model that relies on public play.
But at the same time, look for players that you can foster Private Play with.
I strongly feel we can grow our hobby, by growing stronger friendships that are made outside of the ‘PUBLIC’ play space. Taking the time to build friendships by inviting players into our private homes, and getting to know each other beyond rolling dice, or flipping cards.
Those player types that can sour a public play venue, can also benefit from the guidance of real friends, and a focus on building lasting relationships with other players.
Support Your FLGS
For myself, I will start focusing on playing more games at the home, and reaching out to players that want to experience the gaming hobby, but for what ever reason aren’t excited about public play. I’ll also be focusing on building more personal friendships again, with players in the local area, beyond the few hours of public play I’m able to enjoy each week.
But at the same time, I’ll be encouraging players to always return to their FLGS and purchase their gaming needs there.
I feel our hobby needs both STRONG private groups, and STRONGER FLGS support.