It’s Monday morning, and against all natural laws Melbourne-ites have become accustomed to, it’s a consistently sunny summer day. Lined up on the corner of Elizabeth and Bourke St., 30 or so eager gamers are ignoring the weather and are instead waiting for an independant game store to open. It will be one of the last times they’ll have the opportunity to visit Dungeon Crawl, before the store closes its doors for good on Boxing Day.
Later in the day, after the crowd has dispersed, I too check in on Dungeon Crawl for a final trek up the infamous narrow staircase, leading to the store’s admittedly not-ideal location above the street. There, Christian McKelvie, Product Manager, is happy to stick around for a chat, as he will be for the rest of the week with any customer who wants to come in and shop, reminisce or talk games.
“We were pretty much one of the last independent game stores in Melbourne, if not Victoria,” Christian laments. “Ever since Gametraders went under, there’s not many left.”
“It’s pretty difficult to have a physical presence these days. There are big players that are well established, and it’s a lot harder for independent stores to use those loss-leading techniques… Trying to invest in a physical location [is hard], where all you need is a JB or EB Games in the same vicinity and that’s it. Even the threat of it is enough to put you under.”
Despite what you may think the atmosphere would be like at the store, Christian is overwhelmingly optimistic, and with good reason. Dungeon Crawl as a business has many arms – in fact the company began as an eBay store, before it ever had a physical retail presence. Today, Dungeon Crawl also has a large online store, and it’s the success of these two outlets, rather than simply issues with the retail store’s location and landlords, which have prompted the store’s end of days.
“Essentially, both online and eBay are smashing it. Most of the decision to close the retail store is based around the fact that the lease was up, and we’re doing so well online at the moment we’re like, ‘We might as well focus on that for now.'”
“There are still a small percentage of people who do not shop online, and we’ll try to do our best not to disregard them, because obviously we still appreciate them… In terms of general operation, there will be no change. We can offer lower prices now that we don’t have to factor in the costs of running a retail store.”
It’s been tough going up against the big boys of retail gaming in Australia, but even in a time when consumers are overwhelmed with options to purchase games from overseas and online, there are still advantages to local independent shops.
“I think the indie label still has the appeal of trust. People are still kind of hesitant about the very strong retail machine, that they may not be getting genuine advice when they’re going in [to a bigger store] with staff just looking for a sale, as opposed to the genuine feedback with genuine gamers at Dungeon Crawl. That always worked really well for us. That’s why I’m sad to see not as many around… You’ll also find independents are more willing to bring in niche and more risky titles… Big retailers focus on having day one sales, and they might cut games because they don’t do well. By the time you hear about it and may want it later, it’ll be gone, but there is still a demand for them.”
Christian’s latest favourite example of the independent edge over the larger retailers is sitting in a glass cabinet at the front desk – The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD Collector’s Edition, replete with a carefully modelled replica of Ganon from the game’s memorable climax.
“There was not a shop in Australia that got that, which was shocking. For THAT not to make it over was a bit of a shock, and it was nice for us to provide that, and we did have a demand for that.”
Small triumphs like that are what made the Dungeon Crawl retail store so memorable, for both staff and customers.
“Hotel Dusk. There was a girl who was almost moved to tears finding it at Dungeon Crawl. Of course, you can find it used or second-hand, or on eBay at some exorbitant price, but not new in a store. She was just ecstatic to the point where I was like, ‘Wow’. That was the most emotional reaction I’ve seen here.”
On the subject of whether we’ll see Dungeon Crawl re-emerge in the future, as a real physical store where gamers can shop, chat and see their favourite titles on the shelves, Christian is hopeful.
“I think eventually, yes. For now, it’s purely 100% online, but it would be nice to still have some form of physical engagement of the brand with customers.”
Ultimately, what Dungeon Crawl sees as their biggest asset is their relationship with their customers. After seven years on Elizabeth St., the store has seen every type of gamer out there – from mainstream to casual, hardcore to niche, and even from small children to their parents, looking for genuine advice on what to buy. Many of them have kept coming back, and Christian is certain they’ll continue to keep up with Dungeon Crawl on their website and eBay store.
“It’s the heart and character. I think that’s what that endears us to people. We’re not just a faceless brand – and I think that is Dungeon Crawl’s great strength.”
If you’re in Melbourne, head over to Dungeon Crawl’s store before they shut their doors for the last time at COB 26 December. There are sales running throught the week until Friday 20 December. 183 Elizabeth St., Melbourne, VIC 3000
[This article has been amended with Dungeon Crawl’s proper closing date.]