Being the biggest gaming chain in the world doesn't happen overnight; ten years into the Good Games journey, the company's co-founder, Scott Hunstad, gives us some insight into why Good Games exists.
You see, I was that kid too - that fat kid with glasses that grew up during a time when 'bullying' was still tolerated, toughens a kid up, see. I was the kid that used humor as deflection, was introverted and geeky (you mean I can copy these 4,600 lines of assembly code on my Commodore 64 to get that stick man to walk across the screen?? Done!!), with, at the time, a treasure trove of board games. And no one to play them with. My mum would placate me and she would force my little brother to join in, but generally mid-way through any game they would have lost interest or wandered off and I'd be left to 'take their turns for them' like some sort of sad parody of a real game. “Mom! (calling out to the next room) You rolled a six!” Even that had value though – it wasn't an isolated experience. I can write that and laugh at it, but it's absolutely true that one never truly escapes ones' childhood.
One of the reasons I so much enjoy doing what we do here is that I can remember what it was like for me when I first went into a game store. I was home from university for Christmas and my cousin had a couple of Magic decks – a red one and a blue one. We had just come from the airport to the “Millstone Family Restaurant” I got the blue one was soon casting Walls of Water and Air Elementals to my hearts content. It was 11PM when we got there and we were there for hours. There was only one place in my town to buy the game and the next morning I was there when the store opened. I had no idea what to expect and to be fair, “Daddy K's Leisure Ways” was not your typical game store - but they had Magic and tables and microwave burritos, so all-in-all they qualified. I remember buying some Fallen Empires (I know…) and leaving, and then coming straight back that afternoon to buy something else to get some land – and then spending most of my Christmas holidays at that shop. The whole experience was nothing short of an epiphany. Returning to Chicago I found ten or so local game stores that I ended up frequenting, and the rest, they say, is history. To say that that original experience changed my life is a laughable understatement. It has defined my life.
One of my favourite things these days is coming through the door at the bottom of the stairs at the Burwood store and hearing the din of players… cavorting – because often times that is the word that fits – above. To me, that is a joyful sound. It is a magical sound that represents a comfortable acceptance that I unknowingly had spent the years of my youth trying to find.
I was in Perth a few years back for a convention and we had heard about a great restaurant called Balthazaars (It IS great) and wanted to go but it seemed a bit – you know – fancy. I ring up the place and it went something like this:
Me: Hi, do you have a table for four at 7pm?
Them: (checking) – yes that's fine – name?
Me: Hunstad. I wanted to check though – we're here in town for a convention and are dressed very uhh, casually – will that be a problem?
Them: I don't know, do you have money?
Them: Well then, it won't be a problem.
I have a four year old daughter now – Helen. She's pretty outgoing and often times we'll be at a cafe or something and if there's a kid at one of the tables she'll go up and say “Hi.” Generally something like.
Kid: (blinks, looks at their mum)
Helen: Do you want to play hide and seek?
Kid: (smiles) Yes!
They play for seven minutes
Helen: (yells out to me) – Daddy, this is my best friend.
Me: Ok... that's nice..
Which leads me to this. I have seen approximately 4,370 variants of this situation:
Regular kid in Good Games store, playing something – say Pokemon. New kid comes into Good Games store under watchful eye of parent. Kid has eyes as wide as snowflakes. He's looking from tables to poster to cards to kids to his mum, repeat. Someone in the corner wins some game and does a shout out and kid winces at the sound but stares at what is going on. Kid whispers to mum and mum encourages – 'it's ok, go' on her lips. So kid timidly walks up to Regular kid playing Pokemon with other Regular kid and watches, and waits, and then it goes something like this:
Regular kid: Hey.
New kid: Hi.
Regular kid: (blinks)
New kid: (blinks)
Regular kid: So… do you play?
New kid: No… well, I mean... no. I have the DS.
Regular kid: Yeah, me too. X and Y was pretty easy.
New kid: Yeah!
Regular kid: You want to learn the cards? (points at chair)
New kid: (looks at mum – mum nods) Yeah.
New kid sits.
New kid doesn't know it. New kid's mum doesn't know it, but new kid's life has just changed forever. Another variant goes something like:
Guy walks into a game store one very cold December morning. Last night his cousin introduced him to Magic for the first time and it struck a chord. Guy doesn't know anything about anything relating to Magic – asks the guy behind the counter. New set came out, Fallen Empires. Guy buys some packs and leaves. Guy comes back a couple of hours later. A few people have congregated at some tables at the back of the shop.
Guy: Yeah hey, I bought these this morning – they don't have any land cards – how do I get land?
Shop guy (Daddy K): Usually you get them in starters like this one
Guy buys starter
Daddy K: Guys back there are playing if you want a game.
Guy: Cool. So I can just, what, go over there?
Daddy K: Sure – they probably have some extra cards for trade if you have any
Guy: Trade? (insert explosion)
Guy wanders back to tables of other guys playing. Mostly high school aged, a few younger. Watches.
Magic playing guy: Hey.
Magic playing guy: You got a starter, you play?
Guy, looks at unopened starter in hand, looks back at Magic playing guy: No.. I mean, well, I just started.
Magic playing guy: Cool. Are you going to open that here? Let's see what you get. I got a Shivan Dragon yesterday.
Guy: Oh. Yeah, ok. Cool.
Magic playing guy: There's a Subway a couple doors down, but the burritos are pretty good here.
Magic playing guy: Not really.
Guy chuckles, peels the wrapper off his starter deck.
I guess what I'm getting at is that, yes, we are a retail chain and have a very specific goal of making money, but we have a very real opportunity – often – to assist in cracking that shell. Everyone loves the creation stories in comics and we have the means to both witness and guide those stories in our customers. We can't take that for granted. We need to be aware that some of them – both current and as yet unknown to us – may require that little extra help.
See, more than almost any activity on this planet, for what we do it doesn't matter if you're man, woman, old, young, Hindi, gay, fat, abused, handicapped, straight edge, tattooed, Jewish, have purple hair or cancer. You play 7 Wonders? Yes? Take a seat. Join in. You are welcome here.
So maybe our mission statement should be just that.
You are welcome here.