Richard Lyke is a single father of two who has been gaming all of his life. Recently, his daughter developed an interest in gaming as well, but Richard saw that not every gaming store was as accepting of kids--especially little girls. He decided that a shop that celebrated tolerance, inclusion, respect, and education was imperative, especially in a place where minorities and people with disabilities were having a hard time finding places that valued diversity. He is taking it upon himself to open such a store in the Knocksville, Tennessee area.
I thought this sounded like a great idea, albeit a challenging one, so I caught up with Richard to find out more about his vision for this gaming store.
Hi Richard! Tell us a bit about your project, and what inspired you to start it.
Many years ago I was just a fan, comic collector, strategy gamer, RPG gamer and finally a Magic player. These were the hobbies that filled my youth and teen years in between devouring every SF/F book I could lay my hand on. I came from a family used to providing for themselves. I grew up helping my Grandfather grow our winter food in a 3 acre garden. He was always out of the workforce due to an industrial accident where both his hips were shattered and replaced. Then as a teen helping my grandparents working the ceramic shop my grandmother took from a hoppy in the dining room to the largest shop with classes in 3 counties. They taught me my work ethic and how to never give up and to do what is best for your family. I never thought as a teen about turning my hobby passions into a business. Then in 1992 as I was reaching the end of my time in the military a friend of mine suggested we open a comic/gaming store together. Unfortunately after 18 months he left for overseas duty so we closed the business, but I now had the urge. From then until now I have desired to turn my passions into a business the serves the community as well as being successful. I have taken almost 15 years off and worked in the corporate world due to the needs of my family. And it is the needs of my family that bring me full circle back to a passion that is able to give back to and support the fandom community that I have loved for 40 years. I wouldn’t call this a start, but more the continuation of a journey.
Many communities have gaming stores. Why should they support yours, even if they aren’t in the community it’s located in?
I feel that we as a gaming community have lost something over the decades I have been involved in the community. As a teen being a nerd was something that made you an outcast. Playing AD&D was something that labelled you as a Satanist, reading comics and science fiction meant you probably had no social life and those like us needed to stick together to avoid bullying and derision. The one thing we all shared was a chivalric ideal and a love of knowledge. I believe the type of game store that is a hub for the community to gather is essential for the growth of our hobbies and interests. In my view a game store should be a pub without the alcohol. A place that if you want to discuss the latest comic plotlines, the newest anime, get help with plot for your gaming world or cosplay/fandom meet-ups, that you can hang out there and others in the community are always happy to help. Over the years at my locations I had the opportunity to help youth that had no male figure with things they were unable to take to their mother. Able to teach them knightly virtues and call them on inappropriate behavior. Others in the store also took on this role and helped guide them in a positive way. The advent of professional Magic: The Gathering play aspirations introduced a highly competitive atmosphere that undermined all that and changed the gaming world immensely. In these times we NEED that place that is not just there to foster competition but to also foster comradery and willingness to see beyond the end of our collective noses. Beyond the mail order discounts through my website is the connection to building something positive in a world besieged by self-interest. If we fail to nurture and lead the future generations and invite them to feel included then the hobbies we love will eventually fade. I want to rebuild something we’ve lost to create something new for the current generation and create a homecoming for those of us with advanced…. experience.
What are some special ideas you have for your gaming shop that makes it different from others?
In my area there have been several game stores. Two major chains and several small stores that have come and gone over the years. One of those chains went out of business. Not due to lack of business – they were being very successful – but because the owner had tax related issues and was forced to liquidate. Many of the small stores that have failed have done so because of the large chain that remains. The smaller stores have attempted to depend on one product to carry their business: Magic: The Gathering. This played into the strength of the chain as they are primarily a Magic store but have very deep pockets so whenever the small stores would try to hold a major tournament the larger store would hold a corresponding one that offered 5 times the prizes to suck the air out of the smaller location until they fell. Then went back to business as usual.
The first differentiator is not depending on one product with one night a week with the store having gamers there. The large chain started out as a toy store, then shifted to Beanie Babies when they became popular, then pivoted to discover Magic and Video Games when the Babies lost their appeal. They are not gamers but opportunists and they actively discourage any other gaming besides Magic. While Magic Singles is a strong market it is not the entirety of the genre.
Knoxville hosts an Anime convention annually, but does not have a single store other than Best Buy with an anemic selection that offers any Anime products. I will open the store to the Anime Club for weekly viewing nights and have a projector so the screen will take up an entire wall and provide a small theater quality experience.
Next I will have weekly Board Gaming nights where people can set up and play their favorite board games From Talisman to Risk, and Arkham Horror to Railroad Tycoon. All games will be welcome. Miniature leagues and strategy games like the old Avalon Hill games will be a staple as well. Also my years working the convention circuit have provided contacts at most of the gaming companies that will come to demo new products giving fans a connection to their favorite creators.
Role-playing was where I began my gaming experience and The Pathfinder Society will be at my location, as well as a variety of tabletop RPG’s. Live Action Role Play will be welcomed and venues like Nero and Solar supported. Also the Society for Creative Anachronism and Amtgard will be supported and have a place to meet.
Finally – Fandoms such as Harry Potter, Firefly, Game of Thrones, and any others that want to use the location will be welcomed and supported. Special events, guests, cosplay and other community building will be a mainstay of the Dragon’s Guild.
Prize tournaments, Friday Night Magic, Warhammer 40K Leagues and other competitive environments will also be fostered but in a healthy way that will build up players just beginning and provide challenges for experienced players.
Can you explain why this idea, a place where gamers of all backgrounds can fit in and be comfortable and safe, is so important right now?
Over the last 15 years I’ve lived in Knoxville I have been to almost every game store that has been open. I’ve helped some of them with ideas for displays and other things to try to help them survive. In that time I’ve seen a lot of things happen that I would consider inappropriate, but they are overlooked because the perpetrators are high dollar customers – and they use that to their advantage. I want my store to be a place where it is safe for all players and all players are treated with respect. I have a 9 year old daughter who is the light of my life and she is growing to be an intelligent, opinionated Geek Girl with Nerd tendencies. At the moment there is not a single store in our area I would be comfortable with her attending as a middle teen.
The current selection of stores perpetuate the idea of gaming as a patriarchal event. Women that play are viewed as being there because their boyfriends are. People who are socially challenged – like one excellent player with Aspergers – are excluded or ignored and when they win are the target of derision and bullying. I have seen beginning players verbally harassed by experienced Magic players for playing slow while they think about what they are doing to not make mistakes by experienced players who want them to hurry up so they can get to the money rounds. All of these behaviors are wrong and will not be tolerated in my location for The Dragon’s Guild.
I live in a kinda purple area of a very Red State due to the University of Tennessee but in this environment it is very important to have a store like the one I want to build. I want a location able to teach the young another way besides the Red State attitudes they run into daily. I am building a safe place for women gamers to be empowered and able to feel comfortable and accepted. Stereotypes must be shattered for everyone to be equal.
Have you seen any backlash about your project?
Yes. When I first announced the crowdfunding initiative it was on several Facebook Groups. One of the Magic Groups from Atlanta immediately started with personal attacks about how pathetic it was that I was asking for money to open. That I must be a horrible businessman if I couldn’t go to shows and sell cards to get open. There were attacks about using my daughter as a marketing tool when I answered questions about why I felt the store was needed. And finally why bother with a store that was not in their area. The comradery of gamers supporting gamers was completely gone. The ironic thing is that Magic players are willing to travel several states for prize tournaments, and one of the foundations of the store will be every other month two day magic events with $2500.00 to $5000.00 prizes. It’s a core fundraiser for the store and when I was in Atlanta for a 5K tournament there were people there who travelled from Texas and New York to play – so with Atlanta being only 4 hours drive all of those players will most likely come to play when I am open.
What are some of your favorite games?
Advanced Dungeons and Dragons – I have a 3 year and continuing 1st/2nd edition game I DM.
Warhammer 40K – My Dark Eldar army is a favorite for me and a terror for my opponents. I love the hit and run tactics.
Magic: The Gathering – Although I haven’t played in this standard block I started playing with Beta and have never really stopped. When my son turned 16 we would go play together every Friday Night. I played pro-tour in it’s infancy and almost broke into the top 100 during Necro Summer.
Talisman with all the expansions for board games, and Dominion for a deckbuilder game.
xXxenophile is my favorite out of print game – just because of all the cool artwork and puns.
ANY of the old Avalon Hill board games like Battle of the Bulge, Squad Leader and Flat Top.
I know that gaming with your family is important, but do you manage to find time to game with other adults too? If so, HOW?
I have friends over every other weekend to game. We play the game I DM and I am currently using the city of Ptolis which I placed on my world and tweaked a little to fit. They are really enjoying the city campaign. Working 3rd shift right now seems like 3 days off when I get my weekend so there is plenty of time and we game while my daughter is sleeping so I don’t miss any time with her. My son is 26 and plays in the game as well.
What’s a great game for someone to start with, who has never played a tabletop game before?
There are so many…it really depends on the genre they want but one I really enjoyed the concept of was Rifts because of the wide variety of settings. I like Rolemaster but most people find it to be too much math – but the crit descriptions are really worth it. The White Wolf line is also a really great system because there are a multitude of character backgrounds you can explore.
I see that anime is going to be a focus in your shop. Can you tell us a bit about that?
When I had my first store – The Camouflage Dragon – a customer approached me about using my store as a place for the people of Chattanooga to meet for viewing their anime collections together. Every week they would bring in a VCR, a DVD player, and a 45” large CRT Television. Then at the end of the night cart it all out again. We ended up with about 40 people who were regularly at the store for viewing. I had very little experience with Anime at that point but they were some of the most loyal customers I have ever met. Their weekly viewing nights kept the store in basic expenses almost by themselves. There were months when rent was paid just from sales of cans of cokes and Little Debbie snacks they purchased. They wanted to meet on nights during the week, but I intend to use Sunday as Anime and Fandom day so instead of just a few hours they will have a whole day for viewing their favorite Anime, Fan Shows and Movies. It is also a shame that Knoxville hosts multiple conventions and events through the year but there is not a single store in the area that supports this thriving community with products or time at their locations. Before I decided to start this process I did ask the major chain that is left about hosting an Anime Club at their locations and they refused because it would never be as profitable as Magic or Console Games.
Why, if you feel certain the business will be successful have you not tried conventional financing like banks or investors? If you have great ideas why turn to strangers?
When I started this process I began with selling cards online. Unfortunately with a huge amount of competition and paying retail to break boxes that the profit margins were too small to make a large impact in the amount I needed. I then went to a bank for a loan and discovered very plainly that banks don’t speak geek. I was told that if I wanted funding for a video game store it would be easier because paper and dice, boardgames, and cardgames are all on the way out due to video and electronic games. The banks all felt there was no upside to a business based on service, tournaments, and community that video gamers don’t want a community store they want to buy then play at home alone.
Then I found two investors – sequentially not simultaneously – who were willing to completely finance the store for a percentage of the business. Unfortunately the first one was flipping homes and went upside down on a home he couldn’t move so backed out. The second possible investor was completely on board – then weeks before we planned to open and were ready to sign a lease the presidential election happened. Not being happy with the results and the challenges a progressive store could face in a very red state he decided – and I quote – “I think my money would better place right now going into hard metals and a fallout bunker.” There were other possible investors but they wanted creative control and to dictate changes – like removing the Anime Club: they thought it was a non-starter, also doing away with Boardgame tables as a waste of space when Magic Tables could be put in instead. They were very conventional business and not community oriented at all. Thus I turned to crowdfunding.
The beauty of crowdfunding is that no one needs to go broke trying to support a goal. What I’m looking for is 5000 people who believe in community and that gamers can build a better more tolerant world to donate $25.00 each. Or maybe 10,000 to donate $10.00 each. For less than the cost of a game night pizza a dream can be made real….AND you can get a discount on mail orders for a prolonged period of time. Especially if we exceed our goal. For gaming groups wanting to pool their donation to get a bigger discount for a longer period of time this is an ideal opportunity to be able to purchase the games they love at a rate that will be reduced for them.
The goal is to find those who believe in community. People who want chivalry and fair play to be taught to the next generation. People concerned about how their daughters, sisters, gender altering friends, disabled friends, and anyone who bears the stigma of being a Nerd or a Geek are treated and wanting them to have a community to support them. In these times that support matter. The Dragons Guild is made up of Gamers who love gamers and we want to invite you to be a part of that community no matter where you are.
If someone wants to contact you to talk about helping you fund your shop, or with suggestions, perhaps, where can they do that? Is there a website for people to learn more?
I’m always willing to talk about my business plans and ideas. People who are interested can e-mail me at email@example.com . Also my views on a store and other things fandom related are available at my blog https://dragonsguild.wordpress.com/ . It has been inactive due to the rough social climate at the end of the year but I’ll give expansive answers to any related questions.
Thanks so much for joining us!
Melanie R. Meadors is an author of fantasy where heroes don't always carry swords and knights in shining armor often lose to nerds who study their weaknesses. She is a blogger at The Once and Future Podcast, a professional author publicist, and a dabbling fiber artist. She studied both physics and astronomy at Northern Arizona University. You can find her at her website, melaniermeadors.com, on Facebook, and Twitter, @melaniermeadors.