endgame.jpgEndGame is nestled in a really charming area within the historic district of Oakland that draws you towards the bright orange logo on a quiet corner near the Oakland Convention Center. Walking in, you’re greeted by a host of puzzles and board games with ample gaming space on mezzanines above the retail floor, creating roughly a 60/40 split in the massive 4200 sq. ft. area. Walking around the store, you see signs clearly identifying the types of games in that particular section, each emblazoned with the orange and white logo of the store. Each type of game has its own dedicated space with new or interesting products displayed prominently as you enter that section of the store. The gaming area above the retail space is essentially two platforms connected by a bridge, one dedicated to traditional gaming tables and the other featuring a wide range of miniature gaming tables with shelves of terrain for various genres. I wish I’d had my camera, as the space itself is amazingly well done and really draws the gamer into the store.

Party 006.jpgAs engaging as the space itself is, my main reason for getting to EndGame was the opportunity to talk with one of its owners, Chris Hanrahan. Chris is well known within the hobby industry, having been involved with GAMA for a number of years and providing early funding to both Catalyst Game Labs, co-owner of Indie Press Revolution and One Bad Egg and is a frequent podcaster on various gaming topics (particularly 2D6 Feet in a Random Direction and That’s How We Roll). Our conversation covered a number of topics and featured a lot of the challenges facing retailers, like competition from Internet retailers, crappy publisher marketing practices, the odd distributor-retailer dynamic created by the current economic downturn and the habit of some miniature manufacturers to act like they hate their customers. More interestingly, was the discussion on what makes EndGame work. “The biggest thing we have going for us is our community” says Hanrahan and its easy to believe he’s right. Based on his research with advertisers, Hanrahan believes that “this area [the Bay Area] has one of the highest densities for gamers in the country,” a hypothesis that seems born out by the staggering number of game stores in the combined metro area: 30! But beyond the raw location, EndGame goes out of their way to create community. In the time I spent at the store, I had the chance to speak with a number of regulars, including one Warhammer Fantasy player preparing to head off to the Big Waaagh! in Memphis. After the customer had left, another of EndGame’s employees (Chris was helping another customer) pulled me aside and told me all about the customer’s army and how everyone thought it had a real chance at winning the Player’s Choice award – its the sort of attention that shows a deep interest in the activities and interests of the customer. But EndGame does more than just show an interest in its customers. “When I tell them [other retailers] how we build community here, they’re really surprised. Its a lot of hard work!” This “hard work” includes a dizzying number of activities, full enough to satisfy the most avid gamer:

  • Quarterly Mini Cons are probably the best known EndGame outreach program – essentially, each Mini Con is a one-day role playing con featuring pre-registration and 7-8 tables of RPG goodness over a full day
  • While the Mini Cons are impressive, its the annual Anniversary Party that is the main attraction, featuring food, tons of gaming of all types and door prizes, the Anniversary Party is a massive “thank you” to the community
  • Young Generals is a fairly neat program where young children get to play in structured miniature games for about 3 hours under the direct supervision of one of EndGame’s staff – no parental supervision required; the event costs $5, but this is immediately converted into store credit that can be accumulated for larger purchases
  • EndGame has become so well known for throwing small scale cons in its store that other organizations host small, regional cons in the store as well (Good Omens and the East Bay Games Day are two examples this month alone!)
  • A dedicated night for board games with great participation and a selection of games available from the store drives a good bit of midweek traffic
  • As with any store, EndGame offers open play for various games throughout the week
  • The newest EndGame event, the Swap Meet, is a fascinating event – customers bring in their miniatures and accessories and wheel and deal for a few hours before breaking out a few games

EndGame doesn’t stop at ensuring that they have a top notch retail space – just check out their website. Every week, new releases are announced on the front page with full descriptions. Events are posted well in advance and are updated as they occur. They actually use their forums to talk with their customers (and allow customers to talk with each other) about whatever – not just store business. Heck, the main page of the site even features their Twitter feed, simultaneously letting you know that you can follow @endgameoakland and giving you the latest breaking information.

Its probably not fair to say that every store should be like EndGame, but I would definitely propose that there’s at least a few things every store could learn. Thanks to Chris and the EndGame crew for taking the time to show me around (and the customer base for showing me how bad I really am at Race for the Galaxy!).