The internet makes game shopping boring

Mike Mearls has an interesting post about the effect of the internet on the way he views his local game store:

Before the Internet, a trip to a game store was fun. I liked shifting through racks of Ral Partha and Reaper miniatures looking for cool figures. In high school, I was lucky to have a well-stocked hobby store that dabbled in a few obscure miniatures lines, so there was always something new to find. The same applied to a lesser extent to RPGs and boardgames.

With the dawn of the Internet, that enjoyable part of shopping is gone. There’s little there to discover, because I know what’s out there. My information is a little too good.

This is something I’ve certainly noticed as well. When I was but a wee lad, a trip to the game store was an exciting, momentous occasion; I had no idea what strange and wonderful game books and other goodies were waiting for me on the shelves. I had little concept of the game “industry” and no understanding of the way that game lines were developed; I could never predict what game products were coming next. I might go to the store one month to find a book about psionics in D&D, or I might find a Battletech sourcebook unveiling crazy new mech designs. Whatever it was, it was always unexpected and exciting.

(Sure, I had a few outdated game line catalogs that sometimes came packaged in with boxed sets, but the odds of any particular book from those catalogs making it to my local game store were pretty slim, and I didn’t do the mail-order thing much.)

But with the internet, we now know all sorts of details about upcoming game books well in advance of publication–sometimes years before they actually hit store shelves. Publication schedules are planned out months or years in advance; book previews are made available to entice gamers into pre-ordering products online. If you pay attention to the major game publisher sites, chances are you know nearly as much about the next batch of upcoming games as the developers do.

It’s really, really hard to be surprised by a game these days.

That’s certainly not a bad thing–I like knowing what’s coming down the pipe, personally–but it has robbed the excursion to the game store of any sort of suspense or anticipation. If the game you want isn’t on the store shelf, you can just order it online and have it show up in your mailbox two days later. And so one major reason for bothering to frequent a local game store–to find out what’s new, to pick up rumors about what’s coming next–is gone.

In the post above, Mearls notes that this has caused him to approach his local game store less as a source of news and discovery and more as a social hub. (Speaking for myself, since my own local game store isn’t really a place I’d want to spend serious time hanging out at, I mostly patronize it to support local business.) The old thrill of discovery is gone, so he’s found different ways to make his trips to the game store worthwhile.

An interesting situation, to be sure. I’m a fan of this internet thing, myself, but there are certainly times when I wish for the relative “ignorance” I enjoyed during the pre-internet era!

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