Paul Van Der Werk
We caught up with three executives from Australia’s Good Games chain (Co-Founder and Director Paul Van Der Werk, General Manager – USA Robert Teirney, and Director of Experience Jaime Lawrence) at GAMA Trade Show to talk about the company’s plans for a U.S. chain of game stores and for its new game publishing initiative.

ICv2: Why did you decide to open your first retail store in Indianapolis last year (see "Australian Game Store Chain Opening First U.S. Store")?
We were looking for a downtown location when we visited the U.S. in the past.  When we compared it to what we have in Australia, in Australia, every couple of cities has four/five game stores within the city.

What we found was that it didn't seem to translate over to the U.S. (at least, where we were looking). We were questioning that, to be honest.  We said, "It works very well in Australia, and we want to see how that could translate into the US market."

We were looking at Chicago as well.  We started to look outside of there, and we knew there'd be the benefit of Gen Con, so we decided on Indianapolis.

So you were specifically looking at locations in more central urban areas as opposed to the suburbs?
Yes, because we wanted to be able to come here and get the brand out there a bit quicker.  We thought that would be a good way to do it.  We just didn't understand why it hadn't been done as much in a downtown.  We know a little bit why.  There's some challenges with that.

Rent. [laughs]
Rent, parking.  It's very successful in Australia, so we wanted to try to replicate that.

How many square feet does the Indianapolis store have?
Robert Teirney:  It's 3400 [square feet].

OK, so it's a big store. A lot of play space?
Van Der Werk:  Yes.

Tierney:  Play space for 120.

Where do you think this might lead?
Van Der Werk:  From here we'd like to establish at least another company store and from there to franchise the brand.  Where that leads from there, ideally as many stores as we can open that could work well, and not step on other stores' toes but really try to...

Tierney:  ...serve a community that's underserved, communities that are underserved.

Van Der Werk:  Yeah, and grow the brand and also try to give people that want to open a store an opportunity to do so and to help them to be successful.  What I found 10 years ago, when we opened our first retail store, was that there was no one to talk to.  It's changed now.

I think the industry, with GAMA obviously, who've been doing it for a long time, is more accommodating and gives a lot of information.  Just to have that someone to talk to ongoing about issues, not making the same mistakes as what we may have done 10 years ago, is really crucial.

What we have is a network of 50 or so staff (a lot of them are in Australia) that a new franchisee can speak to and bounce ideas off and have support.  It's going to be a large support network for a new owner to be successful.

What's the mix in Australia between company‑owned and franchised stores?
Van Der Werk:  It is 10 company‑owned and 17 franchises.

How many hobby game stores are there in Australia?
Van Der Werk: 350‑ish.

Based on that number and the population in Australia, there's probably room for a few more here.  What makes a Good Games store different?
Van Der Werk:  A while ago, I would have said it was organized play and being very community‑based, but all these things are becoming quite the norm.  Ten years ago, when we started our store, there were many points of difference but I feel a lot of stores are evolving into that because of online pressures, etc.  We would be consistent with a lot of good stores, I believe, so very focused on community, getting a good product mix.  It can't just be a bunch of Magic or whatever the person who buys would play.  One of those questions I ask a franchisee is that, "will you focus on all the different aspects of gaming and not exclude, and also be very inclusive of the customer base?"

We're doing a big push to really get all the owners and managers to be very supportive of everyone that comes into our store, because it needs to be inclusive.  It's very rewarding to have the same people come into your store for five years, and almost become your friends.

That's more why we do it than just to sell games.

Jaime Lawrence:  Also, we've got a big focus on organized play throughout the organization and a support network in the organization to enhance that.

We're not just running it individually as several different stores in different locations.  We coordinate.  We work together.  We actually work to make those programs work hard.

What’s the distribution situation like in Australia?  Do you buy direct from publishers, or do you buy through distribution?  What are your plans for that here?
Teirney:  We have different distributors, but we predominantly use GTS as our preferred distributor.

Van Der Werk:  We went through the process last year of assessing all the distributors, the primary distributors, and honestly everyone was impressive.  It's almost like you can't make a mistake, but we had to start somewhere. GTS impressed us.  The person and the manager of other reps there was very, very on the ball helping us establish our first store.

We thought that's the kind of relationship we want all of our stores to have with their distributor.  We thought we'd start off there, and so far we're very happy.

Teirney:  That's the strength of the group, as well.  We want to be able to have as few amount of partners to try to get better buying up for the group.  That's a benefit of having a number of stores.

Where do you want to end up here? How many stores?
Van Der Werk:  Good question.  As many as the market can support, to be honest.

Do you feel like you're maxed out in Australia?
Van Der Werk:  Yes.  Our model now, in Australia, is more about converting stores to become a Good Games rather than creating new ones on their doorstep.

That might be an option for us, too in the US.  Again, as our brand grows, if we can work with stores to be part of the group, that would be fantastic.

Do you do any nationwide marketing for your stores in Australia?
Van Der Werk:  Yes, we do.

Teirney:  Absolutely. Most of it is social media marketing, but we definitely have nationwide programs, and we're constantly advertising.  Each individual store has a social media presence, but we also have a national overarching one.  Yeah, absolutely, we market.

What about the categories?  Some stores emphasize collectible games more, some more board games, some of them more family games.  How do you describe a Good Game store in terms of your product mix?
Van Der Werk:  What we’ve found is that it depends on the location.  We started off originally as a very strong TCG‑based store.  We've been trying to change that.  We have succeeded, actually, but we actively tried to make sure we were a more broad business.

That's what we're going for.  If war gaming is not becoming as successful as we'd like, then we'll move into something more like family games.  We'll just assess the market in each store, but still try to cover all the categories as [inaudible 9:12].

Teirney:  We do have a core line that we maintain in each store.  Which, is primarily just a set of board games and role playing games that we know works everywhere.

Van Der Werk:  And TCGs.

Teirney:  And TCGs.  We've customized for the location.

Van Der Werk:  I visited every store in Indianapolis.  Some stores had a tiny bit of everything, and some had a lot of something.  You don't know, so we started very broad. We started with most main categories.

We have about six months of data now, which probably isn't enough to make accurate assessments, but we're starting to get a sense of, for a downtown location, what's going very well and what we need to either work on or move on from.

You talked a little bit about being more inclusive in terms of the audience you were trying to appeal to, and the consumers you were trying to appeal to.  I assume that means you're trying to get a broader demographic than the old core TCG market of teen and young adult males?
Van Der Werk:  Yeah, like for role playing, and for board games.  We want to foster as many communities as we can, and let them have a place to come and play.

In your evaluation of the US market, did you find any differences between the market here and the market in your home country?
Van Der Werk:  There seems to be a lot more of an online presence here, and a lot more customers basically that will buy online, compared to Australia.  That might change in Australia, but that's the way we look at it.

We're seeing other big differences.  Again, we just try to combat the same way we do in Australia, anyway.

Have you noticed any differences in what games are popular?
Van Der Werk:  Not too much difference there.  What's hot in the U.S. is hot in Australia.  It's very similar in that aspect.

What are your plans for publishing?
Lawrence:  We began with the plan of bringing Australian game designers to the world, but we quickly found that there are game designers everywhere in the world who are crying out for a voice.

We were generally looking for games that really fit with what we consider to be enjoyable and fun, which is a very broad scope.  If I was to boil it down, we're really big on quality in components and appearance.  We have, for both the games we've released so far ‑‑ Monstrous and Unfair ‑‑ gone all‑out on art and production values, and made sure that we've got really, really top quality on‑the‑table presentation.

We've also got a big focus on trying to diversify our game line.  We don't want to just create miniatures games over and over again or Eurogames over and over again.  We want to try a little bit of everything. We're looking for the best of each of those categories that we can bring out.

We try to find a couple points of difference for every game that we release from what's already in that space.  Really, it comes down to just finding the right designer and getting it out there.

What have you released here so far?
Lawrence:  Monstrous, it's a tactical dexterity game where you’re Greek gods throwing monsters down at cities (see "Australia’s Good Games Chain Announces ‘Monstrous’ Publishing Plan").  Unfair is just about to be released (see "Build the Best Amusement Park in ‘Unfair’").  Both games are now available through our partnership with CMON.

Unfair is just about to be released through them.  It's being delivered on Kickstarter at the moment.  It's a game about building a theme park.  It's very modular.  You get different decks of themes.  You could have a vampire theme, a pirate theme, or a ninja theme, which you then build a series of rides.  You upgrade them.

You get income, and you try and score points for making the biggest rides, and having the best park at the end of the game.

Both of these were kick started.  Unfair has been doing amazing things.  We've been seen it on the front page of the distributors' websites. It's on the hot list on BoardGameGeek.  It's looking like it's going to be a really, really big thing for us.

Is this a new program for the company overall, or were you publishing more games in Australia, and just are starting to do them here?
Lawrence:  No, this is a new thing for the company overall.  We began last year, and the sky's the limit from here.

What were you not seeing from game publishers that you thought you could do better?
Van Der Werk:  I would say the reason we are publishing games is because one of our own thought that that would be a really cool, neat thing to do. [laughter]

At least that started the process.  It's like, "Wow, we've opened a game store.  Oh, we've got a few games stores. Gosh, imagine if we had our own game."  That may not be the actual reason, but that was the seed and the kernel.

Lawrence:  I don't think that it's necessarily a lack, or something that was missing, but it was an opportunity.  Like we said before, the market in Australia is the same as the market in the US in that people like the same sorts of games.  They're just as passionate about their gaming.

We had all these Australian designers that we knew and were talking to, and they weren't getting the attention, because they're so geographically distant from so many of these companies.  We looked for an avenue to bring that out.

What are your plans in terms of how many games you plan to release this year or in future years?
Lawrence:  It's a tricky question.  Our first two games have really been about finding our pace.  We've only done one last year and so far, one this year.  We'd like to hit a pace of about three a year, not counting the odd expansion here and there, but we're still growing as a company.  We're not sure where it's going to end, exactly.

Anything else that you think our readers ‑‑ which is largely retailers, but also publishers, and other people in the games business ‑‑ might be interested to learn about Good Games?
Van Der Werk:  We're going to have a really big footprint at Gen Con this year. We're going to utilize our position as being very close to Gen Con to really show ourselves as a brand.

As a publisher or a retailer?
Van Der Werk:  All things, but from my perspective, as a retailer. I want people to see what a Good Games store is like. I want them to talk us.  I want people to come up to me and say, "I've always wanted to own a games store, but I had no idea how"" and at the very least, have a conversation with them.

I guess for me, I'm super excited about the eyes of the gaming world, actually the world being on Gen Con and being on Good Games.

Lawrence:  I think the bottom line message, really, is if there are people out there who are interested in opening a games store, come and have a talk to us.

Van Der Werk:  We've done it before.