top of page

The Endless Appeal Of Board Games

“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated!” - so wrote author Mark Twain following a false rumour circulating alleging that he had died.

For much of the nearly twenty years I have worked in the toy & board game industries, people/colleagues/customers of mine have speculated as to the future for board games. Firstly, there was the video game console explosion offering much more immersive, much more addictive gaming experiences. Then we had the tablet & smartphone revolution which gave us anything we wanted on a device always to hand. Why (I was repeatedly asked) does anyone still need board games? Well the answer is that we apparently do still need board games, despite all the technological advances of the last few years.

This ancient form of gaming dates back thousands of years, developed further through the twentieth century and today is still standing as one of the prime pillars of the toy aisle in retail. In fact, in recent times, just as the tablet/smartphone has become ubiquitous, so the board game seems to have undergone yet another renaissance. In fact, I would argue that the board games category has not been in such a good state since board games were a genuine prime leisure activity decades back before media content became such a big part of our lives.

There are several reasons/drivers behind the current/recent renaissance of board games:

Firstly, there is a fundamental benefit of board gaming that is genuinely timeless. People are social animals, we live in/interact with other people around us. Sometimes this social interaction needs an aid or a prop to keep things fresh, to avoid any bickering or other negativity and to have fun with family and friends. This is the fundamental purpose of board games – social facilitation. Technology has not taken this benefit of board games away or delivered it any better to date. The back end of the year is the real peak season for board games sales & playing (in the major Western markets), because cold weather, increased hours of darkness outside and ritual family get togethers (like Thanksgiving or Christmas) deliver the play occasion that best suits board games.

Secondly, society and people in general are now struggling to combat the reality of excess screen time – staring at small screens all day is not such a positive thing in terms of lifestyle, social cohesion and eyesight among other things. Therefore, the toy industry as a whole and board games specifically are benefiting from their deployment as an antidote to screen time – both for our children and for ourselves! Parents nowadays struggle to get their kids off devices, in fact many children would be looking at tablets all day if left to themselves. Board games and toys in general offer play patterns which are perceived by the majority of parents to be more worthy and more positive. The more we come to rely on/be hooked on these devices, the stronger this impulse/counter reaction becomes. In reality, that doesn’t mean parents succeed in using board games to get their children off screens, but it is a definite purchase driver, even if usage doesn’t always follow purchase!

Thirdly, we have a much healthier, much broader array of board games available to us today than we did say ten years ago. The old model of product selection was all about getting past gatekeepers – from the inventor/author to the game company, from the game company to the retailer and from the retailer to the consumer. Crowdfunding has today completely revolutionised & at least at the start of the process, circumvented this old way of doing things. Today games which would have been too quirky for anyone to launch ten years ago are able to go direct to the final arbiter – the consumer. If enough consumers like the game, it can be made via crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter. Thus we have had such hit games as Cards Against Humanity and Exploding Kittens – these much more politically incorrect/less old fashioned games and game concepts have opened up board games as a relevant medium to today’s young adults, bringing in a whole new ‘forgotten’ generation to board gaming as a cool & hip activity. The glorious fact about this massively powerful trend is that it is still in the infancy stage – look forward to many more games pushing the boundaries to come – that ‘staleness’ that permeated parts of the board games industry some time back is thankfully long gone.

It would appear that all that talk of the eventual demise of the board games category are fundamentally unfounded!

Check out our Board Games Business blog here:

Toy Industry Value Chain

When I first entered this industry, my focus was on the fun elements of it, the lack of stiff formality, the amazing product and the glamour & gleam of big entertainment driven launches. The longer I remain part of the toy industry (sure someone will kick me out one day, but until then…!) the more success seems a matter of formula, risk management and process.

Process management. Not a very exciting topic really when there’s so much whizzy stuff to look at in our industry. However, despite the lack of glamour and shiny-ness process management is probably the most neglected business discipline in our industry, and has the potential to make the most quantifiable £ difference to so many toy companies.

Far be it from to suggest that many toy companies develop products on a whim, chuck them at the wall and see what sticks…but it’s surprising how many companies do that! It’s even more surprising how often companies roll into very expensive marketing collateral creation, or manufacturing without enough structured process. And even more importantly, it’s often shocking to see how ad-hoc management sign off processes are.

Within our industry there are some easily compartmentalised parts of our process with only so many categories of variables. For instance we would normally split by function i.e. R&D, Marketing, Sales, Sourcing, QA, Finance etc., in smaller companies some people have responsibility for several of these functions, in larger companies there are normally separate departments for each.

In scintillatingly exciting project management terms, if you look at the value chain involved with all these departments in conceiving of a toy product or range and getting finished product on and off retail shelves there are literally hundreds if not thousands of moving parts. Taking an ad hoc approach to managing this morass is not a formula for success.

You may not have ever written down all the parts of your moving jigsaw. If you haven’t you should do it now, and consider how in control you are of the overall process and the many micro parts of it.

Effective project management should include a senior management risk review & signoff process, a pitching process for potential & existing suppliers, clear process milestones i.e. concept sign offs, sales forecasting, manufacturing sign offs and more. For each area there should be a clear understanding of who is responsible for what, and what needs to be more clearly thought out/signed off further up the chain of command.

For sure you still need brilliantly persuasive sales teams and amazingly talented creatives, but above all to succeed you need to deliver via following successful formulas & managing efficiently & effectively. In the end this approach will likely be less entertaining, but significantly more lucrative.

We run a Consultancy business for toy companies. We work with major toy companies through to start ups and one person bands. For more information on how we help toy companies grow their distribution around the world:

For more articles & insights on the toy and games business, sign up here for our free e-newsletter sent straight to your inbox:

How To Validate The Appeal Of New Toys Before Launch

Anyone who has been in the toy business for more than a few years will have launched products that seemed like a good idea and which garnered strong retail listings, but which died an agonising death on the shelf. Some products just don’t sell and have to be marked down to ever greater levels to get rid of them so that the next round of new products can have space on shelf.

If we could routinely predict which products would fail as badly as this, we obviously wouldn’t launch them, and every toy company would be a roaring success going from strength to strength. In reality though, for every 10 products that a toy company launches, one or two are likely to fail badly.

One of the key success factors for the toy business then is raising the hit rate of successful new products versus unsuccessful products, as well as being well prepared to deal with the downside when a product doesn’t work.

There are four primary ways in which successful toy companies seek to validate the appeal of new toys to reduce the risk of launch failure:

1. Test the product with the target consumer – this should be blindingly obvious, but if we had to estimate the percentage of new toy products which have not been anywhere near children at any stage before launch, we would estimate at least 95% of toys won’t have been consumer playtested with children. That seems like a ridiculously high number, but aside from the top 5 toy companies, where consumer playtesting is integrated to varying degrees in the product development process, for most toy companies it is an afterthought or only an occasional consideration. Formal consumer research with an established research agency can be expensive (although not in comparison with the tooling, marketing and inventory costs of a new product, and not in comparison with lost sales and margin from failed products!), but anyone can conduct rudimentary testing with the children of office staff or via local schools, after school clubs or via directly recruited research participants. Unless you actually want your products to fail why wouldn’t you test them with children?

2. Benchmark against other products – other products have undoubtedly been launched in a similar space to the one you are trying to inhabit. How did they perform? Did they sell into retail well but then fail to sell out of retail again? To what extent were they a quick sales win versus a carry forward item? What was their marketing message and which marketing media did they focus on? Did the products sell better in some retail channels or markets versus others? There are a whole host of questions that should be asked by way of due diligence before significant expenditure is committed to a new product.

3. Milestone product reviews – because large companies tend to be run under strict financial protocols, they tend to have a formal process for evaluating new products ahead of launch as a matter of financial risk management. Depending on the company these product evaluation milestones allow the company to evaluate and if needed redirect product development to ensure the end product is more likely to succeed. Smaller companies tend to lack the formal disciplines and structure to implement the same type of process, but strong management teams often do periodically review products in development to keep things on track. Companies that routinely throw stuff out there with little evaluation are less likely to achieve launch success.

4. Retail input – if the first time you preview a toy to your customers is when you have already made it, then you take massive risks. It is quite common for new product initiatives to be cut from product lines if they do not preview well. There is though an art to managing retail feedback. Retailers are not always right on products, but if enough of them won’t list your product whether they are correct or not you can’t make much progress.

We run a Consultancy business for toy companies. Sourcing and factory finding is one of our primary specialisms. We have worked with hundreds of toy & game companies to support their Sourcing efforts. We have saved our clients more than $10m. We are considered by many to be the leading Consultancy for toy manufacturing in India and other toy manufacturing hubs. From plush to plastics, from dolls to play dough we have worked on nearly every toy category. To find out more:

You can also find out about our work with Indian toy factories here:

For more articles & insights on the toy and games business, sign up here for our free e-newsletter sent straight to your inbox:

Home: Blog2
Home: About Me
bottom of page